22 min read

#0 - Culture 0 to 1 with Niko and Andy

#0 - Culture 0 to 1 with Niko and Andy

Welcome to The People Everywhere Show where we explore how leaders are creating vibrant and engaging workplace culture in a remote setting.

As more and more companies are exploring remote or hybrid models for work, we wanted to start a conversation to explore what's working, findings from the latest research, and the bright spots across organizations of various sizes.

Niko and I have been building remote workplace since 2015. This podcast allows us to continue this exploration while offering a platform for the pioneers who are laying the groundwork for what will become the best practices of remote work in the years to come.

In this episode, we share our experience building and scaling culture at Redox. We explore how the cultural DNA emerged from the founding story. We look at crises as moments to forge culture. And we talk about today's challenge of fostering belonging at scale.

You can subscribe to our mailing list to stay up to date with new episodes as they come out. And shoot us an email if you have any feedback or suggestions.

Where to listen:


Niko: So we're going start a podcast, right?

Andy: Yeah. Right now.

Niko: Right now?

Andy: This is us starting a podcast in real time.

Intro: Welcome to the People Everywhere Podcast

Niko: Welcome to the People Everywhere Podcast, where we explore how remote companies create thriving cultures. I'm Niko Skievaski.

Andy: And I'm Andy Kitson. So normally we interview founders, executives, People people, authors, and academics about how culture works and how leaders of remote teams can foster healthier, richer cultures.

But for this, our first episode, Niko, I thought we'd share a bit about ourselves and why we're doing this podcast. And to do that, we'll take a look at a company called Redox that's R E D O X. Niko cofounded Redox in 2014. I joined as an early engineer and helped grow the engineering team and eventually became head of people before leaving in 2021.

Niko's growth and my growth are intertwined with the story of Redox. Redox is where he came to appreciate the enormous promise and the challenges of remote [00:01:00] work. Redox is also where we came to care about company culture and really understand how much more important and also harder culture is in a remote setting.

So for today's episode, we're going to take a look at the founding of Redox and how the cultural DNA was established. We'll talk a bit about how Niko's role and my role evolved as the company grew. And we'll end with a conversation about where Niko is focused today in regards to Redox's culture, which is really how to scale a sense of belonging as the company grows.

But first let's start out with just like, what does Redox do? What does this company that we're talking about? All right. Let's dive in.

Meet Redox

Andy: So Niko, you are the co-founder and president of Redox.

Niko: That's the title we made up for me.


Andy: What does Redox do?

Niko: Redox is a healthcare technology company. We move data around in healthcare is kind of the, the highest level way that I like to describe it. But essentially what we're doing is connecting up to various health systems around the country. We're, we're connected to around 2,500 health systems now and we standardize the data that they have so it can be [00:02:00] used by software applications to introduce efficiency gains into the healthcare system or you know, more effectiveness of care.

Andy: How big is the company today?

Niko: Yeah. So we have about 250 ish employees. We're, we're gonna hire, you know, much more people this year. We're gonna probably be at 300 by the end of the year.

Andy: And, and it's a remote company.

Niko: Yeah, I missed that part. We, we are fully remote from the beginning.

So yeah, we founded the company in Wisconsin, but our first employees were not in Wisconsin. And so we've been running this, this remote since 2014.

Redox's Founding Story

Andy: We're going to take a look at that founding story. It's really interesting to me because in it, you can really see the cultural DNA start to form. The story is a bit complicated, but basically Redox is co-founders came together not to start Redox, but to start a healthcare incubator called 100Health.

100Health was itself an offshoot of a coworking space called 100State that two of Redox is founders. Niko and James had previously helped start. They recruited Luke reacts his third co-founder [00:03:00] to help get 100Health off the ground.

Niko: James and I linked up and, and said, let's, let's try to get these, these co-working members to focus on healthcare. You know, maybe we could build an ecosystem around it. And so we came up with the idea of, of creating an incubator in the proverbial corner of the co-working space to focus on healthcare.

James is a, is, is really kind of like a visionary. He has amazing ideas. He's a technologist.

I think I'm particularly skilled in getting from like zero to one and getting things started and and getting people excited about things, but neither of us were, were very good at like project management and managing people and just, you know, that execution muscle.

And so we, we thought, Hey, we should probably bring a third person in, into this incubator. And that's where Luke, our third co-founder came from. I called him up and we had a meal and I just shared what we're doing in the startup community and our idea for this incubator. And he was excited. And so we started 100Health, the healthcare incubator part of 100State.

Andy: Over the years, I'd [00:04:00] heard the founding story of 100Health, dozens of times. But this was the first time I'd heard the story about how the founders came together based on their strengths. James was the technologist. Niko was the zero to one guy. Luke was the execution muscle and getting things done. And it fit perfectly. Not just what I knew about each one of them individually, but about the culture overall.

Years later as you're scaling fast and designing how we wanted to hire. One of the things we decided to look for in every candidate was the ability to identify and support the strengths in other people to recognize where are the people around you great? And ask the question, how can I help my teammates perform at their best?

It was really cool to see that show up in the founding story.

So at this point, the founders have come together to start 100Health. That's the healthcare focused incubator. But how do we get from 100Health, the incubator, to Redox the healthcare data company. Well, that story illustrates another piece of the cultural DNA. Listening to feedback and taking it seriously.

Here's Niko talking about raising money for 100Health. [00:05:00] At this point, they have an incubator. It has a handful of fledgling companies. One of those companies is Redox, but again, the raising money for 100Health, the incubator. Not Redox yet.

Niko: When we went to go raise money, we would go and talk to angel investors and venture capitalists. And I, would make a presentation about our vision for, for starting all these companies in healthcare and Madison and why it was a great idea.

And then I went into examples of some of these companies, and it was funny every time that we talked about Redox people would, would, would pause and they'd be like, Hey, let's talk more about that one. That that's an interesting business.

These other things that you're talking about are interesting ideas, but this Redox one actually sounds like it might have legs. And this whole incubator thing, one investor said I would consider that God's work in that it's very important work, but no one's ever gonna make money on it. But this Redox thing seems interesting.

And so eventually we decided, okay, let's, let's put this incubator on hold and focus on Redox.

And as soon as we did, we were able to raise money. [00:06:00] And it was basically since, since we closed that angel round, we have not looked back at that incubator. Our slack environment is still called 100Health and that's probably the only one of the only relics of of the incubator now.

Andy: So now they've got some money to go all in on Redox.

Niko: What we did with that money was we we said, okay, we're gonna need some developers here to actually make this and design this.

We're gonna need someone to help us with business development and, and selling. So we, we hired two developers who were friends from epic. We hired one friend who was, who was good with sales. And so we had a team of six now and everyone was, was distributed around the country.

Redox Becomes Remote

Andy: It's at this point that Redox becomes a remote company.

And was that a decision you gave much thought to, or, or did it just kinda like make sense, given that like a, we wanna work with these people?

Niko: Yeah, it, it was really it, we, we, we didn't consciously come out and say we were gonna be a remote company at the beginning. But the people that we knew that we wanted to hire because of their unique skillset and our relationships [00:07:00] with them didn't live were where we lived. And so we. Said, okay. We're gonna have to make it work.

And what that might mean is flying people to the same city every now and then, so we can, you know, work in person. But what, what it will definitely mean is altering the way that we work together using video conference tools, writing more using slack things like that became really important from, from day one.

Documenting Values

Andy: With the first team coming together, they started documenting culture.

Niko: In one of our early, I think probably the first time we, we brought all of us together in person, we sat down and we brainstormed on what is the type of company we wanna start. And, and, and not, not in terms of strategy or business model or anything, but like, what is the culture of the company that we wanna be a part of that we'd be proud to be a part of that we think exemplifies our own values.

And we wrote, we wrote down ideas on sticky notes. We put them up on the board, we grouped them. And what that turned into was a set of values that [00:08:00] described not only who, who we are as a company, but who we also wanted to be.

Andy: I joined Redox in mid 2015, just a week or two after this first set of values came together. I remember that distinctly. There, there were kind of like two major impressions that I took away from this period. The first was, I was really impressed that this team was so thoughtful about who they want to be the character of the company and that they were so pumped to have these values. It was a team I wanted to be a part of.

The second though, was. It felt there was kind of like this open question. Of, Will we be able to live up to these values. There was aspiration built into them. For example, one value was delight our customers, but at the same time, we didn't really have a product yet. We didn't have customers. And, you know, what happens when things get hard?

Well, once our platform was live, our values got put to the test

Early Product Instability

Niko: You know, and, and the first product was used in the operating room. So someone was literally lying, cut, open on a table bleeding and the data we [00:09:00] were sending could impact that person's life. And so it got real and our commitment to, to making it work. I felt like it doubled down during this time period.

There were a lot of sleepless nights, especially for our engineering team, because the product, you know, any early product, there's gonna be challenges with it. And there certainly were, and we had to figure out how to, how to work through those.

Andy: I remember that well.

Niko: Yeah. Whereas before we had a live product in the world, you know, our sleepless nights were only self-inflicted because it was just like, we wanna get more done.

But now it was, we have to, because there are literally lives on the line. And. You know, those companies depending on us to succeed, but also the human beings on the other side. And I think that brought a, a real reality to, to it.

Andy: That period that Niko is alluding to, there was really, really hard. So I was on the engineering team at the time we had just launched our product. We had our first set of live production customers up and running. And these customers, [00:10:00] they were healthcare technology products. They were used to deliver care to real patients, to, to people.

And what we did is we transmitted data between the health system and those products. So if our platform was not working the way that it should, that data would not flow and patient care was disrupted. And sometimes that patient care was critical to their health.

And early on, we had product stability issues we had to figure out. The month from mid December, 2015 through mid January, 2016 was like having a newborn. But instead of a newborn crying, our pagers were just going off all the time. And it was pretty regular that, that we were having 2:00 AM hangouts to fix issues with the system.

And this wasn't just the engineering team. It was really the full company. Because we had technical issues to fix. Definitely. We also had customers and had to maintain trust with them. And that meant we had to communicate and be on top of like helping them figure out how to mitigate any impact to patients.

This was extremely hard. [00:11:00] It was also a really important moment in our company's history. Leading into that, there was this open question of, you know, will we do the hard thing when the hard thing presents itself? We certainly had aspirations too, but until you go through it, yeah, those aspirations are really just kind of an open question.

It was by going through that hard month that we grew into the company that we needed to be.

Let's Fast Forward Through Some Growth

Andy: So we're going to fast forward through the next handful of years. You know, we worked through those products stability issues in early 2016. And from then things took off.

Revenue grew consistently the product handled our customer growth. And everything was still hard, but they were the sort of problems and challenges that come with growth. And those are exactly the sort of challenges that you want to start up.

Meanwhile, my role was changing. Over these years, we pretty much doubled head count each year. And during that time, my focus shifted from being an engineer in the team writing code. T to figuring out how do we grow the engineering team or [00:12:00] support our product growth. And eventually I moved into a head of people role.

And thinking about how do we build out the people infrastructure to support the growth of the entire company. And during this time, really all indicators are up into the right. And the main challenge was really just how do we not get in the way of that growth?

And then, well, you might've been waiting for this. But then COVID hit.


Niko: Redox had always been a place where we hit our numbers and we were growing really tremendously. And we had a lot of confidence. We hired accordingly with that confidence and then the pandemic came and no one knew how it would affect the healthcare market.

Certainly hospitals were gonna be full of patients. And what that did for our business was it made a lot of the projects that we had in flight with health systems get paused or canceled or delayed. And suddenly we had way too many people for the amount of business that we were projecting to do.

And so we had to make the hard decision to, to reduce the, the size of the [00:13:00] team. We, we laid off 44 people, which was 24% of the company. It was the hardest thing that we've ever had to do as a company. And certainly a reality check in what was otherwise, you know, looking back a, a, certainly a fairy tale of a, of a startup and that created, that created some cracks in the cultural container at the company.

Andy: This was a moment that prompted a lot of soul searching across the company.

Niko: For those of us who were left, who didn't get laid off, there was a, the question of why, why, why not me? Why, why wasn't I. Why wasn't there a mark next to my name on that spreadsheet?

Niko's Wakeup Call

Niko: And for myself personally, I, I had this idea got in my head of like, well, heck I, I focus on early stage startups.

Redox is, you know, we've raised a series C we're, we're a scaling company. Heck, we even got cash flow positive a couple months in a row. Like that's, you know, that that's, that's some late [00:14:00] company sort of characteristics there. Maybe it's my time to move on.

And I started really considering that, and I started advising other startups and looking, looking for options and trying to figure out like, should, should I start something new? Should I join another early stage company?

And meanwhile I could see, I could see challenges within the Redox culture. You know, people not being as motivated as they were in the past or, or people starting to leave. And, and that was sort of a wake up call for me that there, there is something, something wrong.

My hypothesis for how, what I could do to help fix it was to get the company rallied around our mission. Potentially find an enemy, a common enemy, even if the enemy is the status quo, but find a common enemy that we can all focus on, you know, battling against.

And I was talking this through with with some other founder friends that I have and sort of sharing my, my challenge and what I thought would, would, would help fix it. And it was so funny. They were like, [00:15:00] Niko, that's absolutely wrong. What you need to do is rather than focusing on the market, like you always do, you need to turn around and focus on your, your people and let them know that it's gonna be okay. And so that was kind of the wake up call for me in, in 2020. And that's when I started focusing on culture.

Andy: As Niko was working through all of these questions for himself. Well, I was going through a reassessment of my own at the time. I had been in my people role for three years and Redox had grown tremendously. I felt immense pride in the team we built, I really loved working these people, but I also felt myself itching to start something new. So in early 2021 I left to start a business of my own. Eh, not fully sure at the time what it would be but sensing the time was ripe.

And as I was starting, my next venture, Niko and I stayed in touch. He helped me navigate the early customer discovery process. And I got to hear about the work that Redux is doing on culture and to act as a sounding board. And in that it's, it's just been so cool to see the level of creativity and energy that's been channeled into [00:16:00] this cultural work. Ah, since Niko took up culture as his main focus.

And we'll spend the rest of the episode, digging into two pieces of that work. Uh, the first is a rewrite of the Redox values and in particular, a new focus on belonging as a value. I want to understand where that came from and how he's going about it.

And to the second piece is a training program called Camp Redoxy. Now this is a training program focused on building skills to scale culture.

But first let's hear Niko. Talk about a theme that underlies both the values rewrite and Camp Redoxy. And that is the value of making culture explicit

Culture Needs to be Explicit

Niko: In the past talking about culture kind of seemed like, I don't know, a little too on the nose. Like it almost seemed like talking about how to be cool, cool people don't talk about how to be cool. They're just cool.

But I think at a, at the scale that we're at now or, or, or, huh, I don't even know if it's a scale thing, but like certainly in a remote setting because people's behaviors, aren't just effervescent. They're not everywhere with, within the actual physical confines of an office building. I think you have to go above and [00:17:00] beyond and talk about it and make it make things that would otherwise be implicit, explicit, and allow people to, to sink their teeth into like actually how you define culture so that they can, they can both assimilate to that, but they can also improve it.

Belonging as a Value

Andy: Defining values is one powerful way to make culture explicit. Earlier we had talked about. How Redux defined values very early in the company's history. And these values guided us through a lot of the early challenges we faced as a company. Uh, now Redox had grown. It was time to update those values to help the company evolve into the next stage of growth and face the next set of challenges. This new set of values is simpler than the previous set. There are just three.

Niko: We have three values at Redox. They are growth mindset, which is really about living in your learning zone. The second one is give a shit which is caring about the impact of your work. And the third is belonging. Which is striving to create an environment where everyone at Redox can thrive.

Andy: The first two of these new values that that's growth [00:18:00] mindset and give a shit. These first. First to really capture the essence of a lot of what the previous values had been getting at. Yeah. They, they, they get the gist of those previous values, maybe state. It in a simpler and more powerful way. It's his third value of belonging that, that feels new . And I'm really curious to dig into with Niko.

Niko: Belonging is I would say the most challenging . But it is really about striving to create an environment where everyone who works at the company can thrive, can feel open to being their full and authentic selves at work.

The reason why this became value and, and why it became really important to me is because when I think about the times when I've been my best performed the best, been on the best teams I've ever been, a part of the sense of belonging was really, really high. I understood what my role was. I felt a strong connection to my teammates.

And that's the environment that I want to build at Redox is one where people can have that sort of collective flow within their teams and know that they have a shared destiny, they have a shared identity.

[00:19:00] But it can be really difficult because if you invite your whole self to work and people take you up on that, it can get really vulnerable. It can get into conversations that are potentially polarizing . We don't wanna be a workplace where you have to leave all that stuff at the door.

We wanna be a place where, where you can bring it all and we can accept you for it and have grace in understanding people have different opinions, different positions on, on issues but still build a trusting environment. And that is way easier, said than done.

Andy: What's the hardest part about belonging for you personally?

Niko: Yeah, that is, that is . I am, I am I struggle with this every day.

A concept that, that Brene Brown brought up in in her most recent book, Atlas of the Heart is, is the concept of a near enemy. And I think about this a lot with belonging and that you know, the opposite, the enemy of belonging is, is exclusion.

But a near enemy of belonging something that is, is still not belonging, but is a lot closer to it is conformity. And that's something that I think we deal with a lot in. If, if [00:20:00] I conform to the way that you think about a problem or a situation, I can feel a sense of belonging because we're on the same page, but that is not being authentic necessarily.

And Th that's, that's a, that's a really fine line to walk when we're trying to build belonging, because we, we want people to have a shared identity and a shared goal and shared mission and all of that, that builds belonging. But the way we go about achieving that, we want the diversity of thought and we want people to to, to challenge the, the ways of thinking and the, the solutions that we've put forth and all of that.

Yeah, so I, I think that's, what's really challenging about belonging is, is sussing out people's authentic views and understanding how much, you know, trust we have in a relationship to be able to share those types of things versus encouraging people to conform to, you know, the way we do things around here.

Belonging as a Skill

Andy: One key element, the way Redox approaches scaling belonging is thinking about the challenge in terms of building skill throughout the company.

Niko: There's like different sets of skills within our, within our values in [00:21:00] that we, we want the entire company to be at the foundational layer, and, and if, if everyone at the company is at the foundational layer, then you have a culture of assimilation in that you join the company, and I'm really good at being like, this is how we do things around here, and this is why we do those things. And this is why it's great.

The emerging layer is basically going beyond that and saying like this is how we do things, but how, but now I have additional skills to, to learn how you do things and learn where that might be incorporated into the culture to, to change it and make it better.

So that's kind of how we, we think about like, like for instance, the, the foundational skill set around the cultural container, like is, is knowing your role and feeling safe in that role. And the emerging skill set around the container is, is actually actively repairing the container when something damages it.

So if, if someone drops a slack bomb, which causes a, a [00:22:00] flurry of conversation are you part of the, the flurry? Or are you part of the repairing the container and building bridges between people and saying, not taking aside, but saying, Hey, this is, seems like it's an interesting conversation. Maybe we should hold, hold a space where we can have a productive conversation about this topic, whatever it may be.

And so that's, that's sort of a different layer of skills and different level of, of working on, on something.

What's amazing is that oftentimes belonging can be generated from one person. So if you, if you walk into a group of, of 20 people and you're, you're the new person it just takes one person to walk up to you and welcome you and introduce you to some people.

And, you know, there's probably been situations that you've been in like that where there's, there's been a, there's been a lifeline thrown to you. Playing that role is a skill knowing how to include people, how to advocate for the, for the voices that wouldn't otherwise come forward, how to normalize behavior to, to help people feel like they, you know, aren't, aren't othered.

Those are [00:23:00] all, those are all, you know, skills and doing that within a group setting. How, how you can facilitate, if you're a leader at leading a meeting, how you can facilitate a meeting in such a way where it builds more belonging how you can develop relationships with people on your team.

But these are all sorts. The sorts of skills that we, we go into in, in camp and in the subsequent programs that we have afterwards

Camp Redoxy

Andy: That is Camp Redoxy that Niko's referring to there. Uh Redoxy as in Redox-y, Redox-like. You get it um but Camp Redoxy is how Redox is systematic about training the skills that foster belonging

Niko: we run a retreat at Redox called Camp Redoxy and this is what I would consider our leadership training program for our cultural initiatives.

We bring 10 to 15 people out into the woods and outside of Austin or outside of Boulder. And the first day we, we build a really strong sense of belonging. So we let people feel what it's like [00:24:00] to to belong. And then, and then we actually do some activities together.

We, we have some competition. We, we call it the, the Camp Redoxy Olympics, where we we split into teams and, and we, we teach skills to build belonging within those teams. And then we compete and the remarkable thing that happens is people do really well on, on things that they didn't think that they would do well on. And they work really well with people that they have never met before . And so, so it gives people, this lived sense of like what it actually feels like to, to be on a team that you feel a strong sense of belonging and what happens when, when you are, because there's such fulfillment from that and really great performance as well.

Andy: So, what are some of the events in the Olympics?

Niko: The actual events in the Olympics are not as important. But it's more so a way for us to practice some of these skills. And so we, we do things like, you know an egg race where you balance a egg on a spoon with in blindfold and, you know, there's specific rules around it. Or we blindfold everyone and, and have people make. [00:25:00] You hold a string and you need to make, make a square with the string, but you can't see where other people are. And so you have to use communication in different ways. So there's, there are different sort of, you know, things that you would do at a summer camp kind of events.

But the point is to figure out how to use the skills that we worked on during the day to to make the team work really well together and to flow together. And what's remarkable is that because we just came out of those sessions and learning these skills, these teams operate really well and they feel a really strong sense of teamwork and of belonging and they and, and they're satisfied with the work. They feel happy with it. They also, you know, build great relationships through it.

And the sort of epiphany that we're trying to evoke is that you can do this with anybody. And it doesn't matter the activity because we've just done three different random, you know, childlike activities. But imagine if you did this with your team, going back to work imagine if the people that you worked on every day building the product or supporting customers, imagine if you felt the same way [00:26:00] in working with them. That is the inspiration that we, we, that comes back with them back into the real world, back into the default , as they get back into Zoom land.


Andy: Alright. And with that, we will wrap our first episode. Thanks for listening.

And we hope that you tune into our next episode where we interviewed Dr. Nikki Blacksmith. Nikki is an industrial and organizational psychologist. Niko and I sat down with her to talk about how to build great teams and her research on adaptive culture. It was a fascinating conversation and I learned a ton.

Okay. Now, if you want to subscribe and follow along with the show, you can do, so, wherever you get your podcasts. If you like the show, please leave us your review or share the podcast with a friend. That really helps us grow this show.

And if you have feedback or would like to suggest a guest email us at hi@peopleeverywhereshow.com, you can also sign up to hear about new shows at our website. That's again, peopleeverywhereshow.com.