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The Differential Handbook

On a Mission to Rapidly Unlock Value for Good People with Meaningful Ideas
 

Welcome and congratulations on the best "career decision" you'll ever make (JK. Sort of. OK, well we hope that becomes true!). Seriously, though, we don't take making an offer lightly, for a lot of reasons. So congrats and welcome to Di! As you've likely heard us say by now, we try our best not to hire jerks, no matter how "good" they are at their craft, so you obviously are someone we're genuinely excited about adding to the team. In fact, we have the same policy of our partners and clients; we work hard to make sure you get to work with and for great people. 

As you'll quickly learn (see values section), we thoroughly embrace change (in fact, we build for it), so while we can't tell you exactly what your Differential experience is going to look like, we can promise: 

  1. People are everything (notice a trend yet?). We know that this company, our products, services and livelihood are nothing without great people. It should come as no surprise, then, that we take care of our employees the best we can. We may not be the top offer you could get, but we do fairly compensate our team and firmly believe that pay should NOT be the reason you come to (and stay with) Differential. 
  2. Culture matters. A lot. This is something we talk about regularly and over-invest in relative to our size. You are talented. You are valued. You are sought-after. Also, life is too dang short not to love what you do. We know all of this and understand that we MUST create a great place to work. But, YOU are responsible for helping continuously improve, so we are ALWAYS open to suggestions.
  3. We work on stuff that matters. I'm not sure if we'll ever get a chance to work on curing cancer (but who knows, I'd put money on software eventually playing a significant role!), and not every project will change the world, but we use "meaningful ideas" from our mission statement when evaluating new opportunities. We want to build stuff that matters beyond profit (both for us and our clients). 
  4. If you make the effort to work hard, respect our team, clients and process, and things don't work out for whatever reason, our partners will do whatever we can to support you beyond Differential. In fact, this is why we have created the Differential alumni network. 
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OUR MISSION

Rapidly Unlock Value for Good People with Meaningful Ideas.

Rapidly: While speed is relative, even if a project will take a year, we seek opportunities where a significant portion of the value we offer is speed to market.

Unlock Value: We work on projects with potential to create massive value.

For Good People: Life is too short to work with jerks or with bad clients (note: good people can be bad clients).

With Meaningful Ideas: We want to help launch products that we are proud of and that have a deeper purpose (beyond money) with a chance for significant impact.  

 

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CORE VALUES

Less, but Better

Focus on getting the right stuff done, not the most stuff. “Think 80/20.”

We believe that doing better often means doing less. Less but better meetings; we don’t have a lot of meetings and the meetings we do have are focused and effective. We focus on landing the best possible clients/partners, not the most clients; we’d rather build deep, lasting relationships with a few companies rather than have small projects with dozens. A great team is much more valuable than a big team; we’re not against growth, but we fight the agency model of just “adding bodies” (that are often expendable).

Entrepreneurial Mindset 

We take ownership and pride in our work and move at startup speed. “Done well today is better than perfect tomorrow.”

We take ownership in our work. We are scrappy; we accomplish a ton with limited resources. We are proactive; we naturally find opportunities for improvement because we care and err on the side of taking action and asking for forgiveness (vs. permission). Build for change; we move fast, experiment and listen to users.

Invest in People

We put a high value on building relationships with coworkers, clients, friends and family. “People first.”

We believe in investing in personal relationships (employees and clients) and getting to know the whole person. This is why we have Alliance meetings, 1:1 meetings, and talk on the phone with our clients outside of meetings to see how they are feeling. Because we hire people we trust, we invest in benefits that reflect the “free and flexible” culture we desire.

Grit

We are relentless, passionate, dedicated doers. “Passion and persistence.”

We believe that one of the most predictable measures of personal and professional success is not how much natural talent we have - it’s what we do with our gifts. There is a unique blend of passion and persistence towards a singular goal that is the X factor in high achievers. The top achievers know where they are going, are passionate about it, and have a routine and a plan (that they stick to) for getting there. You will have days where you just can’t figure out a particular bug and it beats you up for the day. That sucks. Take a break, come back the next day, and try again.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.” - Calvin Coolidge


Ego Free Communication

We believe in clear and transparent communication, asking for help and a willingness to over-share for greater good. “Just say it.”

We aren’t too prideful to admit our limitations or mistakes. We celebrate direct communication while still having empathy for those we are talking to. In person > on the phone > email and Slack. Bad news doesn’t get better with age; as soon as you share, it becomes “our problem” instead of just your problem. Asking for help is a sign of strength (not weakness). Be direct and “just say it,” but as with all things, don’t be a jerk.

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Do the Right Thing

We believe in being good people and value integrity and honesty. “Make your mom proud.”

We internally know the difference between “right” and “wrong”. Do the “right” thing, even when it’s the hard thing and even when no one is looking. We will choose the “high road” when emotions get high or someone’s frustrated. We are willing to suffer short-term pain (as a business and as people) in the interest of the greater (long-term) good of the company, culture and people.

Land the Plane

We finish tasks, tie up loose ends and complete what we commit to. “Let your yes be yes.”

It doesn’t matter how great of a pilot you are at takeoff and in the air. If you don’t land the plane well, you’ll leave a bad impression on people. We finish projects strong. When we launch products, all hands are on deck to make it as smooth as possible. We don’t leave meetings without next steps and we follow-up on those next steps (as quickly as possible). We don’t let problems/issues fester; we attack them aggressively to remove them. We take pride in committing our code or finishing that PR before ending the day/week.

Where We Came From

Incorporated and First Client (Cladwell)
MARCH 2013

 

Venture Studio (work with startups for equity)
MARCH 2013 - OCTOBER 2014

 

Separate Entities Into a Holding Company (Differential, LLC) and a Services Company (Differential Dev Shop, LLC)
OCTOBER 2014

 

Focus on Services or Spin Off
APRIL 2015

 

"Remove Barriers to Growth" for Middle Market Companies
OCTOBER 2015

 

Clarified Position as a Digital Innovation Agency - Helping Big Company Intrapreneurs Build Digital Products like a Startup
FEBRUARY 2017

Company Structure

After much research, discussion, trial and error (and more to come, no doubt), we've landed on a team-based leadership structure. We value diversity of experiences and thought across all teams, so ANYONE can (and should) find ways to contribute to teams that are non-core for them. 

Below is a rough organization structure document as of the summer of 2016. To learn more about the different teams and leaders, see Differential Organizational Structure.

 



Onboarding

As soon as you sign your contract, you will fill out your I-9 employment forms as well as receive your Differential email and access to Differential's Slack.

You'll then get an email outlining what to expect in the coming weeks and months, including how to prepare for your first day and week.

TOOLS WE USE

Slack 

If you're not already familiar with Slack, you will be very quickly. This is our go-to day-to-day tool for water-cooler talk, project specific discussion, company updates, jokes and well-timed GIFs (because who doesn't love a picture of a cat coding?).

Google for Work 

Email, calendar, file sharing/storage and Google Docs. If you're reading this, you should already have access.

GitHub

This is where we store the code we write (both internal and client projects).

Sketch 

A interface specific vector graphics tool we use to bring user experiences and interfaces to life.

Who Should I Contact For X?

If you have general questions (or aren't sure who to ask), start with your buddy, your manager or one of our partners (we're always happy to chat). 

Sean McCosh - sean@differential.com

David Woody - woody@differential.com 

Tim Metzner – tim@differential.com

Colin Flynn – colin@differential.com 

Unlimited Vacation

Background: Because we hire good people that we trust, and because we believe in the benefits of taking time off (building into your family, recreation, exploration, re-charging, friendships, etc.), we have an unlimited vacation policy.

Who's Eligible: Full-time employees of Differential.

How it Works and Restrictions: 

  • You must add time off to the Differential Company Google Calendar. This is not intended for purposes of tracking how much time you're taking (or to limit you in any way). It's for capacity management and planning purposes (as a client-services company, we must make sure we're fulfilling obligations).
  • You must share your vacation plans with the immediate team you're working with well before (at least a few weeks) your trip. Be a good team mate and make sure you tie up any loose ends. Give people any critical information they need and a way to reach you (in case of emergency only).
  • You can not take any more than two consecutive work weeks without prior discussion with your manager or a partner.
  • Use good judgment with timing. If you're working on a project with critical dates/needs, plan around them to the best of your ability.

Final Thoughts: Please don't abuse this policy. For many reasons, we think this is the best possible policy (and checks the "flexibility" box very well), but it only works if you respect your team mates and our clients and use good judgment.

Use it! While not required, we highly recommend taking a total of at least 2 weeks of time off per year.

Actually disconnect. Don't be "that person" that is responding to emails throughout their time off. While we know that it's sometimes necessary to be available, legitimately spending some time "off the grid" is amazing for you and your personal and familial relationships. Also, no one person (partners included!) are so important that this company would fall apart if checked out for a week or 2.

Holidays


Background: Though we do have an unlimited vacation policy (see the previous section, "Unlimited Vacation"), meaning you can technically take whatever days off you like (by following the procedures outlined in that section), the following are paid company observed holidays, meaning we don't expect anyone to be working (and you do not have to request it off). 

Who's Eligible: Full-time employees of Differential.

Company Observed Holidays:

  • New Year's Day (1/1)
  • New Year's Eve (12/31)
  • Monday after Super Bowl Sunday
  • Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September)
  • Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November)
  • Day after Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Eve (12/24)
  • Christmas Day (12/25)
  • Day after Christmas if Christmas falls on a weekday (12/26) 

Parental Leave Policy


IT IS THE POLICY OF DIFFERENTIAL TO PROVIDE UP TO 26 WEEKS OF PARENTAL LEAVE TO ELIGIBLE EMPLOYEES, WITH THE GOAL OF REINFORCING THE FREEDOM AND FLEXIBILITY OF DIFFERENTIAL.

Background: The purpose of this Policy is to give parents the needed flexibility and time to bond with their new child and adjust to their new family situation. At Differential, we believe in family over work and know that flexibility and family-friendly policies are essential to cultivating an atmosphere where employees can thrive professionally with relatively minimum sacrifice to family life.

Who's Eligible: Full-time employees of Differential who have been employed at least six months. The employee must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have given birth to a child
  • Are a spouse or committed partner of a woman who has given birth to a child (inclusive of children born to surrogate mothers)
  • Have adopted a child who is 17 years old or younger (does not apply to the adoption of a stepchild by a stepparent)
  • Have become a foster parent to a child who is 17 years old or younger 

Contractors and Interns/Apprentices are not eligible.

Amount and Provisions: Eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks of Parental Leave in total. For women who have given birth, the first six weeks will be compensated at 100 percent of the employee's regular pay with an additional 20 weeks available, unpaid. For everyone else, the first three weeks will be compensated at 100% of the employee's salary with an additional 23 weeks available, unpaid. 

If the employee is enrolled in the ZaneHealth plan, the benefits will remain the same while an employee is on Parental Leave. If the employee is contributing to a 401k through Guideline, the contribution amount while on Parental Leave is up to the employee’s discretion.

All Parental Leave described in this Policy is available for a 12-month period following the birth, adoption or placement of a foster child. 

Multiple births, complications, adoptions or foster placements and anything else not mentioned here do not automatically increase the length of Parental Leave, but if there is a need/issue, let's talk – chances are we'll be glad to work with you. If an employee leaves Differential, they are not eligible for payment of unused Parental Leave. Parental Leave can not be used for purposes other than those described in this Policy.

Notice: As with all Company Policies, Differential reserves the right to modify this Policy.

Can I work from home?

Yes. And from coffee shops, another country, a co-working space, your Grandma's, wherever.

 

We do ask that remote employees have a strong and reliable internet connection, a camera for video conferencing and a reliable space (quiet, private and presentable background) for calls.

 

If you're in Cincinnati, there will be times we ask you to be in the office (and you'll probably want to regularly, it's pretty awesome), but by and large we trust you.

Sidework Policy

Background: As with many agencies, and especially development agencies, you might be approached and asked to do some side work outside of Differential. Here’s how we expect you to handle those opportunities as they come up. When in doubt, ask your manager or a partner.

What is Side Work? Side work can come in many forms, but in general it is anything for which you are using your skills and talents that doesn’t directly benefit the company. Side work will take some of your time, attention, and talents away from Differential. 

Some examples of side work include:

  • Entrepreneurial or Passion Projects – these can be something you are passionate about but there isn't an opportunity to bring that inside of Differential (i.e. blogging, writing a book, remodeling a house, creative a company or business on the side).
  • Community and Charity Projects – these benefit the community at large, may indirectly benefit Differential, but are not directly supported by Differential (i.e. being a board member of a non-profit, mentoring and assisting entrepreneurial organizations, running meetups and groups).
  • Personal Improvement Projects – these are specific projects that are targeted at growing the individual in a specific area of their life (i.e. taking classes to get a master's or an MBA, learning web development of design if you are a business development person).
  • Freelance Projects – As individuals with skills in demand, freelance projects might allow people to help a friend out while making extra money. This has the biggest potential conflict of interest in regards to Differential (i.e. getting paid to build or design a website or app).

Who qualifies for side work (specifically Freelance Projects)? We actually highly encourage taking part in passion, community or personal improvement projects. They provide benefits to individuals, and in many cases those benefits carry through to Differential. Freelance work, however, is a bit different. While anyone can technically take on side work, the expectations would be that they are reserved for the more senior employees of Differential. If you are not at an equivalent Product Lead level, there should be enough growth opportunities at Differential to keep your full attention.

What are the expectations if you engage in side work?

  • Other than your family, Differential must remain you FIRST PRIORITY and MAIN FOCUS to be a full time employee. You have to be willing to let deadlines slip on your side projects.
  • Client work comes first.
  • Side work shouldn’t interfere with getting your work done. This means that if a client project is behind schedule, side work would not be viewed as acceptable. Because of the collaborative team environment and culture we have, we also expect that you would be willing to help out your teammates if they are behind or struggling in other projects, before looking outside of Differential
  • It is your responsibility to bring side work up to your manager or a partner.
  • While you might have a great deal of excitement about your side project, conversations about side projects should be kept to a minimum during work hours (just be thoughtful about appropriate times to share with your co-workers) .
  • For Freelance projects, they should first be brought to Differential for evaluation and require sign off from a partner that the project wouldn’t be something Differential would take on.

Who You Should Talk To: Talk about it with your manager or a partner in the company to ensure there isn’t a conflict of interest and let them know about the side work. This conversation should take place as soon as possible (ideally before you take on a side project).

Notice: This policy may change in the future as we evaluate if side projects interfere with the business in a meaningful way. We are taking the approach of treating everyone as adults, who can make good decisions about what is acceptable and unacceptable related to side projects. We believe we have an incredibly free and flexible culture, and would like to continue that in the future. 

 

Confidentiality

By nature, we deal with confidential and sensitive information about our operations and clients. Everyone on the team is expected to keep these secure within the company. Please refer to your employment offer letter or your manager for details.

 

What do people wear?

We're generally super casual in the office. If you don't have client meetings (or we don't have clients coming in), you'll definite see flip-flops and shorts in the summer.

 

Obviously clients vary widely, but in general, err on the side of the new business casual: jeans and a shirt with a collar/blouse or nice looking non-logo t-shirt or daytime dress works just fine.


We do sometimes work with more formal corporate clients and may occasionally want to dress up a bit more, but jeans and a nice shirt will go a long way. 

 

Can I bring my dog into work?

Yes, assuming they won't be a huge distraction to you/others and will "play nice."

Are there performance reviews?

Yes, every month you will connect with your Career Coach to discuss (among other things) progress against your Statement of Alliance and current Tour of Duty.  

 

Pay

Now the fun stuff! Everyone is paid on the 15th and 30th of every month via Gusto. We pay via direct deposit. If you have questions, ask colin@differential.com.

We look at competitive rates from the Cincinnati area, and target to be in the top quartile of pay.

CAREER GROWTH AT DIFFERENTIAL

Compensation Philosophy

Our compensation is simple but powerful. While you may be able to make more money working somewhere else, we are willing to make sacrifices in pay in exchange for the freedom and flexibility we currently enjoy. 

A Value Based System

It’s extremely important that we have a fair and transparent system to empower employees and ensure that they aren’t being taken advantage of. No intense salary negotiations are accepted. Instead, we offer competitive salaries at every level of employment.

Hiring

The hiring manager and leadership team decide what level a person should start at based off of their experience and skills. Each hire is decided by a manager and the leadership team. We hire people who grow quickly, and unless you are not growing as fast as we would expect, a pay increase can happen every 6 months. In the circumstance where we’ve made a mistake on an entry level, we will quickly change the level to match the employee’s skill level.

Alliance Based Growth

In order to grow within the company, the employee needs to grow and accomplish goals within their “tour of duty”. The “tour of duty” is an agreed upon growth plan between the manager and the employee by following the Statement of Alliance framework. Each "tour of duty" will have a target salary to reach by the end of the tour, and an expected time to reach the end of your tour. Typical timeframes of a tour of duty are 24 - 36 months. 

Salary Research

We base our tiers on the midwest pay scale, specifically focusing in Cincinnati. We evaluate the tier levels every year based on compensation (using pay scale or equivalent) and then we adjust our pay to be in the top 25% of salaries in the Cincinnati Area. We also use the CPI (consumer price index) to evaluate the rates of inflation on cost of living. If a trend is prevalent, we will adjust levels to keep pace with inflation. We may choose to lag a quarter or two behind so that we don’t ever adjust salaries lower. 

Tiers

These levels are the pay scales as you progress throughout the company. The important thing to note is that all of these are with “proven ability” and “proven experience,” meaning that you should be performing and doing the work of the level above where you currently are, and be capable of reaching the level above that before a promotion would take place. Our typical hires fit into one of the following tiers: Designer, Senior Designer, Developer, and Senior Developer. 

 


Flex Reimbursement Policy


THE GOAL OF THIS POLICY IS TO REINFORCE THE FREEDOM AND FLEXIBILITY OF DIFFERENTIAL FOR ITS EMPLOYEES, ENCOURAGE EDUCATION AND TRAINING, PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR A HEALTH AND WELLNESS PROGRAM, AND KEEP EVERYONE'S TOOLS UP TO DATE.

Background: After an all-team meeting in Cincinnati (Di Week 2015), one common answer and theme to the question “What does the last company you ever would work for look like?” was the concept of freedom and flexibility (including benefits). 

Who's Eligible: Full-time employees of Differential. Contractors, Interns/Apprentices are not eligible except as noted below.

Amount: $1,000 for every year of service (with a maximum of $3,000) per employee per year. The account resets on January 1st each year. A new employee who starts January 1st or later will be granted that stipend immediately ($1,000 as people need items when they start). Apprentices can be reimbursed up to $200 strictly for parking / transportation.

Potential Expenses:

  • Parking
  • Red Bike membership (http://www.cincyredbike.org/)
  • Bus tickets
  • Second monitor
  • Standing desk
  • Computer accessories (mouse, keyboard, phone charger, computer stand, etc.)
  • New computer
  • Co-working space
  • Gym membership
  • Tech conferences (SXSW, Meteor Dev shops, CodeMash, etc)
  • Online classes / tutorials (egghead.io, teamtreehouse.com, codeschool.com, etc)
  • Software (Sketch, Adobe CC, etc)

How to Get Reimbursed: You must use Abacus. Talk to your hiring manager or Colin Flynn (colin@differential.com) about getting an account. Receipts must be added and the expenses must be categorized for proper accounting.

Travel Stipend

We love when our remote employees come hang out with us in Cincinnati! Full time remote employees of Differential have access to a travel stipend of $2,500 per year to aid them in traveling to and from Cincinnati. The aim is for these funds to cover each remote employee's travel expenses for Di Week, plus two more trips to the Queen City per year.

The stipend can go toward airfare, bus tickets, train tickets, gas, lodging and food. We trust our team members to make good decisions about how they spend their travel stipends and be good stewards of company resources. Just as with the Flex Reimbursement Policy, you must use Abacus to get reimbursed.

401K - Guideline


Background: A 401(k) plan lets you contribute money, pre-tax or post-tax, to a retirement plan. These assets can accumulate tax-deferred until withdrawn during retirement, and are limited by the IRS to a maximum pre-tax annual contribution of $18,000 if you are less than 50 years of age.

Our selected provider has the lowest fees in the industry (0.03% participant fee) with average fund expenses around (0.10%). 

There are also three socially responsible investing (SRI) funds available to select in our plan. 

Did you know that only 12% of small businesses have a retirement plan. Isn't that crazy?! So please take this opportunity to invest in yourself!

How it Works: You are automatically enrolled when you are hired.  4% of your salary will be put into the retirement plan unless you opt out. You can also learn more at Guideline.com

Health Insurance Premium Reimbursement - Zane Benefits


Background: While we don’t yet offer a full health insurance benefit, we do offer reimbursement for health insurance premiums through Zane Benefits.   Each employee is reimbursed up to $275 per month to go toward healthcare premiums. This plan should not disqualify you from being eligible to be on your significant other's health insurance, if applicable.

Who’s Eligible: Full-time employees of Differential.

How it Works: Learn more here and ask your hiring manager if you have any questions. 

We're thrilled to have you on the team and look forward to helping you rapidly unlock value.

Ready? Set. Go!