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.