For Year Five of our decade of stok memories in recognition of stok’s 10-year anniversary, stok Culture Champion Jolene Goldsmith reflects on her past six years at stok, from bookkeeping to bodysuits.
How did you get connected to stok?
Craigslist, actually. I had graduated from college with degrees in Environmental Studies & Sociology and just started applying to any job having to do with the environment – and didn’t have any luck. After a long interview drought and a brief stint at a smoothie shop to pay the bills, I came across a Craigslist posting for a part time Office Manager/ Bookkeeper at stok. I knew nothing about bookkeeping but had a feeling I could figure it out. I got a call for an interview the same day I applied.
I wore heels and my best business casual, which I instantly regretted when I walked in and saw everyone in flannel shirts and jeans. Burke, who was interviewing me, said he needed to take his dog for a walk, so we went to the dog park together to talk. I knew right then that stok was the place I wanted to be – it didn’t feel like all the other interviews I had been to, in stuffy conference rooms with the same uninspiring interview questions. Instead, it was just two people getting to know each other, their interests, their values, and how they could work together to make things better for others.
I started the next day (a Saturday…) at 8am with all-day billing training. Definitely not an ideal first day experience, but the excitement I felt to go into the office that day (and every day since) just proves the true power of stok’s culture and vision.
What were some of your challenges during the early years?
Personally, I needed to figure out what I wanted to be doing. The plan was for me to become a Project Coordinator and move into project work, so I started working on the LEED Sustainable Sites credits. I quickly learned that while I liked the concept of sustainability consulting, I wasn’t a big fan of doing it myself. But I really loved the business side of the company. I talked to Macko and Burke to figure out a plan to get into the operations side of stok, which aligned with my passions and strengths much better.
“Figure it out” was also a common theme for the company at large. We were still a small shop with a start-up vibe when I first joined. Most people running the company had never run a company before, most people on LEED projects were on their first LEED project, I was doing bookkeeping, then sales, then HR, none of which I had any experience in. It was that “figure it out” mentality that defined us. We may not have known the answers to most things at first, but we had the grit, passion, and innate drive to solve problems, which made the challenges enjoyable and brought us to unique solutions.
What projects were you working on?
When I first started, my main project was weekly snack and beer trips to Costco – they didn’t deliver yet.
However, I luckily soon found my niche in developing internal systems for stok, of which we had next to none when I began. The first big project I contributed toward was the sales process. I developed our sales process in CRM, created proposal and RFP templates, and envisioned what a sales support role would look like within stok so Macko and our other sales people could have more time out talking to people rather than behind a computer.
With our process dialed and Macko able to be out in the industry, we started winning a lot more work that we didn’t have enough bandwidth for, so we started bringing in a lot of new people. I noticed we’d hired a pretty homogenous group that year, so I asked the person leading the efforts if I could get involved. Our hiring process was essentially nonexistent — see dog walk interview and under 1-week hiring timeline above for reference — so I developed one. By getting a majority of the team involved in the hiring process and making a stronger effort to promote our open positions across a number of groups, we’ve been able to reach a much larger and diverse applicant pool that’s led to stok now being 50% female and 30% underrepresented minorities, with inclusion always at front of mind.
This ability to move between teams and roles is another thing that makes stok uniquely successful. While most of my friends have been job hopping the past 6 years, I’ve had three different careers within the same company. We hire people for who they are, not for what they do, and are flexible when their interests change.
What factors have contributed to stok’s growth?
First, the people. Clients enjoy working with us because everyone at stok is fully dedicated to what they do and brings their full heart and mind to every single project they’re working on – all while making it fun. On the recruiting side, it’s the same thing. So many times when people are considering multiple companies they choose stok because they are drawn to our culture and values. We truly appreciate our people and the joy and brilliance they each bring to the team, which unfortunately isn’t celebrated enough in most companies.
Second, curiosity and no fear of failure. We don’t want to do things the way they’ve always been done. Whether it’s projects or our organizational structure, we are not the people that go with business as usual, and in fact enjoy saying no to it and finding new and exciting ways to do our work.
Back then, could you have imagined stok being where we are today?
Yes and no. I knew from the beginning that we’d grow – and grow quickly – just because of the talent, passion, and drive that we had. But it was hard for me to imagine what that’d look like.
The office is the biggest marker for me. Sometimes I look around at our (LEED v4 Platinum and certified Net Zero Energy) office, with screens showing our bad ass projects and three full conference rooms – with walls! – and just have to stop and remember the beginning: 15 people in what’s now one of our team members’ one-bedroom apartment (our then “conference room” is now his loft bedroom). The physical aspects of how we’ve grown have been the biggest ones for me to see, and they’re still sometimes unbelievable.
What’s been the biggest change over the past decade, and what’s stayed the same?
The recognition that we have now is the biggest change. When I first started going to networking events in 2013, I’d occasionally meet someone who’d met Macko. But now, even though we’ve since rebranded and changed our name, the recognition we get when I go to events even outside of the sustainability realm is incredible. Most people I connect with have either worked with stok or knows someone who has. I think that’s from our strong brand presence – stok is memorable.
Though we’ve definitely matured from our early teenage years (see pic), our culture has remained the most the same for me. Hiring some more experienced people really helped us grow up and move past our college phase of icing everyone in the office. But the familial bond, the fun, the fact that we’re all able to depend on each other, and the “figure it out” mentality – despite us tripling in size since I’ve been here, all of that has stayed the same.
Anything else to add?
The picture above is from the USGBC’s annual Superhero Awards, where they honor leaders in the healthy and sustainable building industry. It used to be a costume event held around Halloween, but that year they had changed the event to be a much more formal “gala.” Of course, that didn’t stop us from dressing up, and we went all out with head to toe green bodysuits, complete with a choreographed dance. Yet another example of us doing things a little differently, with our trademark joy and a dash of weirdness.