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From 0 to 10: How we built an unconventional Silicon Valley startup

Matt Pizzimenti
August 7, 2019

This month, Olark turns 10! It’s hard to believe that a business we started as a post-college side project has grown into a 30+ person company. We’ve served tens of thousands of customers, generated tens of millions in revenue, and experienced our fair share of failures amidst a full decade of sustainable innovation and growth.

In many ways, we’ve also defied Silicon Valley stereotypes, despite “growing up” in the heart of Silicon Valley. We walked away from funding offers and acquisition discussions, bootstrapped almost everything from the ground up, became a remote-first company spanning multiple states and countries, and committed to focusing on customers and culture over the quickest path to profit. We allowed our perspectives on work and life to evolve as we welcomed Olarkers of diverse backgrounds into our team and settled into homes and families of our own. In 2009, we knew we wanted Olark to be a great place to work; today, we have an even fuller view of what that means.

And we’ve learned a lot in the last decade! From hiring and training employees, to defining company values, to hosting remote holiday parties, many of the lessons we’ve picked up along the way speak to the reasons we’re committed to building a small, sustainable, human-centered company.

Olark logos, then and now

Our anniversary feels like a good time to start a conversation about these values with other small business owners and founders. Starting today, and continuing over the next few weeks, we’re going to share some of our reflections in a series we’re calling “From 0 to 10.” We hope they’ll be useful to you, and that many of you will add your own stories and perspectives to the conversation.

Here’s a quick preview of the topics and insights we’ll touch on:

  • Starting a business by solving our own problems. We built the first version of Olark to solve a problem we encountered while working on a completely different project — which, as it turns out, is not a bad way to start a company.
  • Building an intentional culture. From 2009–2011, Olark’s four co-founders all lived together. By default, we shared everything…from ideas and expectations to toothpaste and shampoo. But as the company grew, we learned (sometimes the hard way) that we needed to be more proactive about fostering cultural alignment.
  • Nurturing a long-term perspective. In 2010, years before anyone at Olark had children, we had an opportunity to create a comprehensive parental leave policy — and we went ahead and did it. The ripple effects of that and similar decisions have shown us just how much a long-term perspective can contribute to long-term sustainability.

We’re excited to give you a window into our journey over the coming weeks, and to hear your thoughts and stories; feel free to comment on these posts, or reach out to us directly on Twitter (@jaminben and @mjpizz) or LinkedIn (Ben and Matt). We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for Olark, our customers, and our team!