Your friends at Viget present Flourish, a Viget News & Culture Blog

Reborn: The New Baby Bookie!

A little more than two years ago, after subpar experiences with other online tools, I set out to make my own online baby pool application. I blogged* about my experience with the competitor's interfaces and created my own in a google form/survey as a proof of concept. Brainstorming with talented friends we hatched a name: "Baby Bookie" — it was perfect! 

As I sat back down at my desk and attempted to research the domain name, I found the entire idea executed with stunning quality and ease of use. I was so impressed I wrote an email**:

Email to the Baby Bookies

Quickly replied to by "Co-Founder / CEO Brian Williams" (Yes, I did get permission to share this email) I shortly thereafter found out about Pointless Corp., Viget, and eventually met some great folks that do great work. I also learned the site was built in only a weekend — which to this day has blown me away. 

Baby Bookie is special to me, not because I spent the sleepless*** nights making a fine product — but because it served a need for me and others, and it brought me here to Viget. So many feature ideas I had years ago were recalled and pitched, and when time allowed, I recently took a lead attempting to improve the application and setting our sights on a redesign of sorts. 

And I'm very excited to announce that it's here [insert birth joke here]. A few highlights:

Responsive Design 

Knowing the original Baby Bookie was created in only a weekend, this was no two day task. So working with Jason, Billy, Mindy, and Chris we crafted a responsive layout that was flexible for the new features we had planned. The result is an experience absent of the "pinch and zoom" of many of our competitors — and one we are quite happy with.

Pool God Parents

When looking at user behavior, we found that many pools were abandoned. In addition to some simple UI changes, we created a "Pool God Parents" feature where users can assign a "back-up" admin to assist in managing the pool. New parents like Ryan (lead Baby Bookie Developer) and Khanh (Baby Bookie Fan and Office Manager Extraordinare) thought this was a particularly helpful if you are busy with the (new) demands of parenthood, but would love for a grandmother, best friend or uncle to help out in completing the pool and crowning a pool winner. 

Comments

Baby Bookie users have been filling out our famous feedback form and requesting this feature for at least a year. Now you can provide the parents with some written support, or brag about your bet — anything you want to type with our new commenting functionality.

Virtual Announcement

Perhaps my favorite feature (and not because the example image is my [now 3 month old] son Winston) is the update to the pool announcement page. All too often nowadays we see informal (within the hour) birth announcements via Facebook and Twitter, and we thought to provide our users with a quick way to do the same with a simple, elegant, and sharable design. 

These are just a few of the improvements and features that the team thought through over the past 3 months. A team**** of (mostly) parents helped raise this baby, and we're excited to share it with the world and get feedback from our users as we continue to improve and grow the application. 

So get your own baby pool started or share Baby Bookie with those who are expecting.

Happy Betting!

http://babybookie.com

* No one reads my blog, really.

** Note: using "dope" in an email will eventually get you a new job.

*** Shout out to the original Baby Bookie team: KP, McRibs, Elliott, Josh KorrMinhTommy, $teak, Jaems, Zach, and pretty much all of HQ.

**** Big ups to those who pitched in the last ~3 months including: RyStenManning, Tothy, Mindy, and Billy, but also Ben T., Doug, Garber, and probably someone else I'm forgetting.


A Gamified & Personalized Shopping Experience: The New ID.me

When ID.me first approached us, we were excited to help them expand the reach and breadth of their brand via an expansive online shopping and cash back rewards website. ID.me started as an identity verification company that enabled users to access military-specific online discounts by authenticating their personal information, but they were growing quickly and needed a new web platform that would allow them to aquire more members and secure a following of regular, returning users.

The project started as a UX/design/FED-handoff, but as we delved into the depths of UX, ID.me approached us about working with them on the development of the app as well—a large-scale project that we jumped at the chance to tackle.

Months of hard work from the team produced a robust web application that not only allows users to find offers that are relevant to them, but also motivates them to continue shopping through ID.me by gamifying the cash back rewards experience.
 

Group-Exclusive Rewards

ID.me specializes in facilitating access to group-exclusive deals and rewards (for members of the military, students, first responders, and teachers), but the new site also features thousands of offers that any user can redeem. We focused on finding the balance between making the site inviting and usable for users who don’t necessarily belong to a group, while still allowing group members to easily find and browse group-exclusive offers.


Gamified Shopping

The new ID.me site also enables users to take control over their cash back rewards by turning shopping into a game. We created a “cash back dashboard” where users can earn higher levels of cash back on their purchases by personalizing their account, shopping through ID.me, and sharing ID.me with friends.

We enjoyed partnering with ID.me to create a destination website where users can easily find offers that are relevant to them and maximize their rewards by increasing their cash back level.

Intrigued? Read more in our full case study and check out the new site here.


What types of educational backgrounds do Vigets have?

Recently, I overheard a couple folks here talking about being homeschooled when they were younger.  I was surprised because I wasn’t aware that these Vigets had been homeschooled.  The experience made me curious.  Just how many people at Viget had homeschooling backgrounds?  Had folks been homeschooled in just their primary years or during their high school years as well?  Do those with homeschooling backgrounds make up a large portion of our workforce?  Additionally, how many Vigets were products of private schools vs. public schools?

I decided to send a short survey to staff.  I received an 80% response rate (a response rate bested only by surveys that concern food).  And, the responses reflected a passion for the topic that intrigued me.

As it turns out, nine percent (9%) of Viget staff were homeschooled for at least a portion of their elementary school years (grade 1-8).  That figure dropped to four percent (4%) for high school years (grades 9-12).  According to the U.S. Department of Education’s most recent data (which covers the 2011-2012 school year), approximately three percent (3%) of the nation’s school-age population is homeschooled and that number continues to grow.  During the 1980’s (the average time frame in which our staff was in elementary school), homeschooling was just beginning to gain traction in the U.S. -- so it seems we have a higher-than-expected portion of our workforce with a homeschooling background.  When asked whether staff are homeschooling (or will homeschool) their children, however, only 4% of the staff said they planned to homeschool their kids in their elementary years and only 1% said they planned to homeschool their kids in their high school years.  Interestingly, none of those who plan to homeschool/are homeschooling their children were homeschooled themselves.


When the “Casual” Workplace Is Confusing

Like most companies in the tech industry, Viget offers a casual workplace. It’s a big draw for full-time and internship applicants alike. After working with interns for a few years, however, I’ve learned that a so-called “casual” workplace can be confusing for young people starting their careers. That’s because underpinning the informality of our office culture is a profound professionalism that can be hard for interns to recognize. And it’s a professionalism that, for some time, I’ve felt reluctant to articulate because the very word “professionalism” smacks of a Xeroxed dictate emerging from the dusty HR office down the hall. But professionalism is alive and well in the world of tech, and it’s important for interns to figure it out.

Casualness at the office starts with what we wear. The casual dress code common to start-ups and creative agencies—T-shirts, jeans, etc—seems to defy the very term “code.” That’s, of course, an illusion; casual dress is as codified as formal wear and often inches toward formal (blazer plus jeans) for different roles at different times. When it’s time for a client meeting or a presentation, we start looking positively “nice” or “dressy” and, mysteriously, we all seem to know what those vague terms mean (though it’s arguably trickier for women).  Around here, we joke about “the elusive Vigesuit” because, in the right contexts, we’re glad to conform to traditional standards of professional dress—and some of us “dress up” from time to time even without an excuse. Understandably, the subtleties of these choices are hard for young people to pick up on because they require experience over time, which is exactly what they don't have. If they sometimes dress too casually, it’s more often for fear of seeming ludicrously buttoned-up rather than from a lack of concern altogether.

But our casualness goes beyond our clothes. At Viget, we enjoy the ping-pong tables that have become a cliché in our industry, although (tragically or thankfully?), we’ve passed on the indoor slides and the scooters. Our Boulder crew regularly welcomes a cute canine on site. When it comes to how we speak, behave, and interact with each other, we often describe ourselves as “laid-back,” “chill,” and “easy-going.” Spontaneous conversations are the norm, as are jokes, pranks, experiments, and play.

All this is to say that, on the surface, it looks like we’re mostly having fun most of the time. Many young newcomers get the impression that the basic, boring parts of doing a good job at work—like showing up to meetings on time, responding to requests promptly, and proofreading work—aren’t very important. But read past the gifs and jibes, and you’ll discover that our emails—including those mundane internal exchanges that set our daily rhythms—are grammatically correct and well-crafted. We prepare. We meet deadlines. We show up, and we follow up.  We treat each other’s work and time with respect, courtesy, and maturity.

So, if we’re all actually being pretty professional most of the time, why promote a casual environment in the first place? First, there’s some history to this: the tech world’s casual dress code has its roots in the post-war rejection by counter-culture programmers of the “suits” running the legal and government worlds (the divide persists today). Additionally, top programmers are relatively young compared to the leading members of other industries; if top talent comes straight from college campuses, it’s unsurprising that campus fashion trends come too. More significantly, though, casualness has also evolved into just one part of the messy and multi-faceted search for meaning that defines our contemporary understanding of work. Our hope is that, by doing away with formalities and dressing and acting like our “real” or “normal” selves, we’ll come to know each other better, establish more genuine connections with each other, and find more meaning in working with each other.

As a result, when this comes up with interns, I try to convey that we’re not talking about “casual” in the sense of purposeless or indifferent or low-pressure or sloppy. Quite the contrary. Our casual environment is effective only because, at our core, we maintain high standards of professionalism in our interactions with each other and in our work.

At the same time, when it comes right down to it, we’re not really promoting a “casual” mode of behavior per se, but an “authentic” one. One of the promises of our industry is that, in the best case scenario, the two merge. Judging by the popularity of Stefan Sagmeister’s TED talk on sabbaticals, for example, or Elle Luna’s recent blog post (and countless other examples), job, career, and vocation can and should be the same thing. When they are the same thing, the logic goes, you find your work intrinsically meaningful. Doing your job is and feels like just being the person you truly are.

Whether this promise is merely a myth is open for debate. Either way, I find that, for most of us, especially at the outset of our jobs (or careers or vocations, or some combination thereof), “professionalism” and “authenticity” are at odds much of the time. If interns and young professionals find the two hard to reconcile with each other, that’s because they are hard to reconcile with each other. For most of us, building a career means we must learn to strike a balance between the two on a daily basis. There are times when we need to prioritize a more professional mode, and that means feeling less “authentically” ourselves. And there are other times when we need to prioritize “authenticity” at the cost of professionalism. Striking this balance takes a certain measure of experience and good judgement, which is why it’s understandably confusing at first. That’s also why we gladly welcome interns and young professionals onto our staff—to begin helping them get there.


A Look at Viget Turnover

In Human Resources circles, one often hears talk about various companies and their turnover, attrition, or churn stats (terms used interchangeably which all refer to the same thing:  the percentage of one’s workforce which leaves each year).  In the high-tech sector in which Viget belongs, there’s often accompanying commentary that cites a search for variety, impatience with regard to professional growth, and a surfeit of available jobs as underlying factors for high-tech workers leaving jobs at higher rates than in other industries. There’s also a supposition that companies are experiencing the effects of a changing view of employer loyalty by Generation-Y.

The Society for Human Resource Management has a wealth of information on HR-related topics and they produced a benchmarking study in 2011 which cited average turnover in the high-tech industry in the U.S. at 11%.  But, there are lots of studies by lots of organizations -- each of whom parse their data differently.  One can look at turnover rates by industry, of course.  But, one can also look at turnover from the lens of how big a company one is (e.g., 500+ employees, 200-500 employees, under-50 employees).  One can also look at turnover by employee type -- officers, middle management, supervisory, etc.  This article from last year references a 10% target turnover rate that one should aim for -- because some level of attrition is perceived to be healthy.

At Viget, I am often asked about our turnover rate.  Sometimes, new staff members are simply curious.  Sometimes, the recruiting team or our management team ask.  Sometimes, it’s a formal request in the form of a Department of Commerce census or something related to our insurance policy renewal.  

No matter what our turnover rate happens to be, people want to know how it compares to other companies and if it’s a “good number.”  We’re still small enough at 67 people that each departure is noticed and has an impact.  So, to some extent, the response to that question is always “Well, how does it feel? Does it feel like it’s too high?  Do you think we have a problem?”.  There are lots of healthy reasons people leave jobs (including jobs at Viget): they want to relocate to another part of the country; they want to explore an opportunity to do something we can’t offer; they want to change careers completely; they want to stay home with their kids; or, yes, they want to make more money.   

For those interested, here are our turnover rates for the past 14 years (and a projection for this year as we head into Q4):