I met Jaspar Weir, co-founder and President of TaskUs, in Silicon Valley. You may never have heard of TaskUs, but they support all of the companies that you have heard of: Eventbrite, Oscar Health, MailChimp, Hotel Tonight and Turo, to name a few.
TaskUs helps fast-growing tech firms scale their customer support and back office operations.
TaskUs has almost 14,000 employees globally, most of them in the Philippines, some in El Salvador and San Antonio and recently launched in Taiwan and Tijuana. They have corporate offices in California, Texas, and New York.
Call centers are not sexy. But the way the founders built the business has a lot to say to other startups about the recipe for being successful.
“Bryce (Maddock) and I started the company when we were 22-years-old,” Weir told me. “We knew nothing about anything, so we voraciously read everything and were obsessed with building this cool place to work.”
When TaskUs was just a few years old, they had one corporate office in Santa Monica and an office on the outskirts of Manila. The founders wanted to figure out how things were going out in that office in the Philippines. They had the impression that there was great energy there, but they also knew that when they showed up everyone put their best face on.
They decided to track culture using the Net Promoter Score (NPS). They asked a lot of questions on their survey, but used one question to track employee happiness: “How likely are you to recommend working at TaskUs to your friends and families?”
The NPS is tracked on a scale of -100 to + 100. They did their first survey in 2014 and eagerly awaited their results. “We got a 4. That was a transformative moment for us,” Weir said.
“We realized we are not what we thought we are,” he said. So they dug into the data. “We looked at hundreds of verbatim comments, stuff that was really hard to read.”
How did he handle seeing those comments? “The natural reaction is to get defensive. It requires a lot of patience to listen to people and be open to what they say. But we realized we had to do that.”
Weir and Maddock started focusing on culture. They created core values that would be truly distinctive to separate them out from other contact centers. The values include: always strive for excellence; teamwork makes the dream work; work hard and have fun; inspire others by believing in yourself; and be ridiculous (the complete list of the core values of TaskUs is here.)
“Everything we do now is centered around our employees and we think that allows us to be better than our competitors,” Weir said.
In an industry known for ugly offices and high turnover, TaskUs has inviting offices, designed by their employees. They have one office in a mall in the Philippines, for example, which looks like an artisanal coffee shop. Anyone can go in and get a free coffee, but behind the closed doors is a recruiting and production areas. “You can come in for the coffee and stay for the career,” Weir said.
This strategy works. “The employee referral rate is very important to our business. We interview thousands of people per week and hire hundreds. It is a constant battle to get the best talent. The industry average of employee referral rates is 30%. It is 71% for TaskUs which is a number we are really proud of.”
I asked Weir what were the hardest parts of maintaining culture. It’s hard to hire executives, he said, because the company has such a strong filter to make sure they are hiring the right people.
He also talked about the challenge of continuing to maintain the culture across all of their offices. “We can use data to figure out something is wrong. I can talk clearly about the process and the structure,” Weir said. “But in practice, process and structure does not create culture. “
The team uses core value stories as a way to reinforce how they want employees to do things. “We grew over 100% last year,” Weir said. “When you’re doubling your workforce you need to think about how to keep people together and how to make sure front-line employees know how to act in keeping with the values.”
“For example,” Weir continued, “we have a client who came to us and wanted us to maintain a 50 NPS score on their work. We got to the 50 and then we sat at the 50. Two months later the client was upset with us because we should have improved from the 50 to the 70. How come nobody on our team stepped in to say that even though we reached our goal but how do we get even better?”
“That story will resonate for people,” Weir said, “and I want them to hear about that story so they know what it means to strive for excellence, which is one of our values.”
“Or we’ll tell stories about someone staying late to help a teammate,” he continued. “That’s how we demonstrate our value that ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’”
Another secret to their success, said Weir, is the partnership of the co-founders. “Bryce and I have been best friends for 18 years and business partners for 15 years. We think a lot about partnership.”
How have they maintained their successful cofounder relationship?
“Approaching problems without ego, having a shared value of doing the best thing for the company, and communicating. If you do that, you will have a successful partnership,” Weir said.
What they are doing is working. And in August Blackstone bought a large portion of the company for $250M.
What does he reflect on now that the company has achieved success at that level?
“I have a deep sense of obligation to the company, to my business partner, and to Blackstone. We just got an amazing partner that has global reach that can help us and be instrumental in our growth.”
“I would love to see us become not only a great company but globally recognized as one of the best cultures in the world.”