How keeping an eye on culture helped us grow sustainably

When it comes to growth we’re thinking long term, which to us means prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our team.

How keeping an eye on culture helped us grow sustainably

From the beginning, DrugBank worked to be a people-centered organization. As a bootstrapped startup we relied solely on revenue to grow our team. We were efficient and careful with our revenue, hiring only when we knew our cash flow could support a new employee for the long term. We prioritized strong roadmaps, identified key skills needs, and curated roles to try to fill in those specific needs when hiring.

I remember having a discussion about company culture when we were still a small team, and thinking it felt strange to talk about ‘culture’ at that point. In hindsight, that was a stroke of genius and a big reason why folks are so happy here—we figured out what kind of company we wanted to be early and we grew with that culture in mind, rather than at the expense of it. And now we’re the same fun and quirky place that we were 3 years ago, but we get to share it with more people! - Jordan Cox, Senior Biocurator, 4 years

While we have grown a lot and are now backed by investment, this outlook on hiring and team growth hasn’t changed. We aren’t interested in filling seats for the sake of short-term gain—we’re truly focused on creating a long-term sustainable, scalable, and profitable future. It isn’t always easy to avoid the “growth at all costs” mindset, nor do we execute our growth plans perfectly, but we’re committed to continuously improving our efforts. For us, continuous improvement is more than a vague notion. It is a key company value, and it has helped us make smart, data-driven decisions, key investments, and helped us adapt our plans to stay on track.

This focus on sustainable growth has paid dividends. It has not only strengthened our company culture, it’s helped us earn the engagement and commitment of a wickedly talented team. On average, tech companies can expect a team member to stay with them for two to three years. We’re seeing team members stay for the long haul and we’re pretty proud of that. We believe our retention rates have to do with a combination of our hiring values, our efforts to provide a competitive compensation package, and a great work environment. Our tenured team members agree:

I’ve been at DrugBank for 4 years now and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad day at work. In a constantly changing environment there’s always new problems to solve and new things to learn, but DrugBankers are great communicators and support each other’s learning. Even the hard problems feel easy here. - Mark Franklin, Biocurator, 4 years

DrugBank is a company that values the growth of the company and of the individual employee. I’ve always felt my personal and professional goals fully supported here. It’s a safe place that gets my curiosity and excitement going whenever I ask, “what’s next for me?”
It’s also a place that takes people’s well-being seriously. Work can be hard wherever you are, but people will stick around if a company cares about them and does its best to maintain a safe, supportive workplace for its people—and I see that with DrugBank every day. Team members, managers, and the leadership team all contribute to creating an environment where people can have open and sometimes difficult conversations. - Lucy Chin, Senior Biocurator, 6 years

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Beyond just what our long-time team members say, and how we feel about how we are doing, we try to keep ourselves connected to what’s really going on through regular, anonymous engagement surveys. These can be great for getting a true sense of what a team is experiencing, and so far it looks like our efforts are paying off.

Despite our best laid plans to build a stormproof, people-centred company, there will always be new challenges we have to contend with. Right now the tech industry is facing upheaval and uncertainty, and it’s impossible to exist in this space without feeling the pressure. Naturally our team sees these industry challenges, from big layoffs to disruptions in the banking system, and worries. That’s just human.

People sometimes ask why I’ve been at DrugBank for so long. My answer is that I love what we do and I’m never bored. I’ve had the opportunity to grow my role in the company, and DrugBank itself has grown so much that it feels like every year brings something new. On top of that, the team is exactly the kind of people I want to work with—they’re ultra smart, super nice, silly, ambitious, and nerdy. We have a blast and I learn from my colleagues on a daily basis. - Alex Wilson, Knowledge & Insights Team Lead, 7 years

We want our team to feel confident in their place at DrugBank, and in the face of these challenges, so we’re committed to providing insights into our overall health as a company, business progress, and are upfront about the challenges we are facing. And we work to do this as transparently and as regularly as possible.

For us this means proactively discussing industry changes as they come up, addressing concerns, and being honest about the outlook and strategies we plan to take. Change and uncertainty can easily get into the hearts and minds of any team, so we try our best to address any issues head-on so that our team feels seen and supported. Fortunately for us we’ve had great feedback about this approach and believe that prioritizing clear, honest communication has given our team a sense of safety and confidence that keeps everyone engaged and passionate about their DrugBank careers.

The DrugBank team from all over Canada

I was notorious for jumping jobs when I felt unmotivated, undervalued, or unchallenged, but that all changed when I joined DrugBank. I feel more committed to growing a career here than I ever thought possible, and it’s because of one simple reason: the people. Every day I get to see people succeed, grow, and make an impact in their work and on the world. And that happens because our leadership believes that a people-first company is how we win. - Shay, Director, People & Culture, 4 years

Simply put, it can’t get better than this! We’ve built an incredible culture that fosters trust and growth. Whenever I’ve felt that I was getting too comfortable, my role changed to allow for continuous improvement. I’ve always felt heard and that my opinion matters. We have the best people who trust that everyone is doing their best, accepting everyone for who they are, in the most comfortable environment. Most importantly, as a mom of two little children, DrugBank offers the flexibility that allows me to have maximum work/life balance. I’ve never felt that changes in my priorities have affected my worth here. - Nadhar, Director, Operations, 7 years