Get­ting Schooled in What’s Im­por­tant


EvoText doesn’t seem like a text­book ex­am­ple of a tech startup. Granted, its 40 full-time em­ploy­ees en­joy great ben­e­fits, a lib­eral time- off pol­icy, and many of the other perks of tech­dom. But what sets EvoText apart are some of the things not on the menu. It’s a com­pany of com­puter geeks de­sign­ing soft­ware for teach­ers to in­ter­act with stu­dents and dy­nam­i­cally im­ple­ment cur­ric­ula—and yet there’s not a foos­ball or Ping-Pong ta­ble in sight. Don’t go look­ing for the mas­sage ta­ble, a pantry filled with or­ganic food, or yoga sign-up sheet. Pushed against a white­board is a sin­gle sta­tion­ary bike to which some­one has play­fully at­tached a sign: “EvoText Cor­po­rate Fit­ness Cen­ter.”

When Jo­hanna Wet­more and Christo­pher Robert launched the Burling­ton, Mas­sachusetts–based ed­u­ca­tion soft­ware busi­ness in their at­tic in 2012, the soon-to-be­mar­ried cou­ple set out to build the sort of firm they’d want to work for. “If you pick the right peo­ple, treat them with re­spect, and leave them to their own de­vices, they are go­ing to do what they need to do to get the job done,” says Wet­more, now CEO. “Peo­ple just want to be treated like adults.” That’s not to say folks at EvoText aren’t fun- lov­ing. They have their pub trivia night and an­nual re­treat. The dif­fer­ence is that when they’re at work, they’re kind of, um, grown-up. So if you’re into flash, EvoText isn’t for you, but if you’re sen­si­ble like a school­teacher, then by all means get on the bus. Just con­sider where EvoText re­lo­cated once it out­grew the at­tic: a bland, sub­ur­ban of­fice build­ing across the street from a car dealer. “I don’t have a lot of re­spect for the prac­tice of cre­at­ing very ex­pen­sive, elab­o­rate of­fice space, but not giv­ing em­ploy­ees the ben­e­fits they need,” says Wet­more. “We need a place to get to­gether, but it’s not go­ing to be de­signer and I’m cer­tainly not pay­ing for down­town Bos­ton.”

That no-non­sense at­ti­tude might be ex­actly what you would ex­pect from a for­mer ed­u­ca­tor. Af­ter teach­ing English in Asia, Wet­more took a job in ed­u­ca­tional pub­lish­ing in the States, which led her to her fu­ture busi­ness part­ner and hus­band. Robert’s ex­pe­ri­ence in dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing helped land their first client, the Col­lege Board, for which EvoText cre­ated a dig­i­tal ver­sion of a pro­gram that preps stu­dents for Ad­vanced Place­ment classes and stan­dard­ized tests.

Six years later, the com­pany is up to $8 mil­lion in rev­enue and has a staff who en­joy the free­dom to pick the hours they work, gen­er­ous va­ca­tion time, tu­ition re­im­burse­ment, a matched 401(k), and a health plan that cov­ers half the de­ductible along­side the pre­mium. True, there’s no decked-out of­fice in a shiny down­town sky­scraper, but most em­ploy­ees pre­fer work­ing from home when they want—even if home is in an­other state. Fif­teen EvoText em­ploy­ees work re­motely—in Ari­zona, Wis­con­sin, Ten­nessee, and seven other states. As peo­ple have moved for per­sonal rea­sons, they’ve asked to keep their jobs. The re­sponse: “Why not?”

The com­pany has a habit of adding ben­e­fits sim­ply be­cause em­ploy­ees make the re­quest. Two years ago, Meaghann Jack­son, head of HR, and Laura Curry, VP of qual­ity as­sur­ance, were com­mis­er­at­ing about the cost of or­thodon­tics— each has tween-age twins. When they sug­gested that the com­pany cover kids’ braces, the re­sponse was im­me­di­ate: If the com­pany could swing it fi­nan­cially, some cov­er­age would be added to the den­tal plan. “Now, ev­ery­one gets braces,” says Jack­son. More re­cently, some­one asked the com­pany for op­tional sup­ple­men­tal life in­sur­ance cov­er­age for fam­ily mem­bers. Done.

Granted, life in­sur­ance, braces, and mov­ing for fam­ily rea­sons are all pretty grown-up things to think about. But this is a grown-up kind of place.

BAR­BARA KIVIAT is a free­lance writer based in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts.

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