YML hired more than 150 people in 2020: How we recruit and retain our culture

by Will Leivenberg, Director of Marketing, YML

2020 was the year that companies had to live up to the values at the foundation of their brand — otherwise, they were exposed.

We’re humbled that in 2020, despite the chaos and uncertainty, YML hired 150 people globally, earned a 96% retention rate, and grew our business substantially. We believe that’s deeply rooted in our approach to hiring. Here’s how we did it.

YML Team Makeup

  • 150 new hires globally, 45% growth YoY
  • 40% BIPOC
  • 46% women (15% increase YoY), 54% male
  • Equal pay among men and women
  • 26 languages spoken across the team
  • 65% Technologists
  • 96% retention rate among our staff in 2020.

We look for “culture-adds”, not culture fits

YML ‘s hiring strategy mirrors our client strategy — build durable, dedicated relationships. We view the people we hire as long term partners (we don’t do project-based hiring), and from there, the mantra is simple: do it mindfully. We recognize and value the courage and trust that people place in us as their employers, and so we are very intentional in returning that same courage and trust back to them.

To date, YML has never had a layoff.

We find folks are drawn to YML because the opportunity is genuinely unique — to work on industry defining projects that make an actual difference in people’s lives. From designing the future of tele-medicine for the largest healthcare provider in the US, to engineering the mobile grocery experience of one of the largest grocers in the country; these digital strategies, products, and experiences, have substantive, measurable, cultural impact.

We don’t act like an agency

We’ve modeled YML off of leading Silicon Valley brands — Apple, Google, Tesla — not leading agencies. And the world’s most culturally relevant companies share one thing — they move fast. They’re tinkerers, constantly building and testing, and when something doesn’t work, they move on.

First and foremost, we are builders — architects, designers, and engineers, building and launching digital products, businesses, and brands.

Bringing in great clients allows us to bring in great talent, who then produce great work — it’s a virtuous cycle from there.

Interested in learning more? YML is hiring across engineering, design and strategy. Check out open roles on our Careers page.

We hire from everywhere

And not just from leading agencies like Huge, AKQA, Razorfish, and W+K, but also seasoned talent from the best product and technology companies in the world; like Amazon, Sonos, Disney, Google, WeWork, AirBnB, Everlane, IBM Watson, Uber, WarnerMedia, Pagerduty and Mindbody. and an array of open roles in Bangalore, which will bring us to 400 staff globally.

Although remote work had been built into YML’s culture prior to 2020, since Covid, our talent pool has truly become global. We’ve hired from Nigeria to Portugal — Portland to Bangalore — and Toronto to Sao Paolo. Our most recent All-Hands call had well over a hundred people, dialing in from six different continents, over 22 countries and 16 states in the US.

We’re relentlessly people-centric

The moment that our executive team saw how the spread of the coronavirus was causing rampant uncertainty and anxiety, their instinct was two-fold: first, how could they give security to our team? Second, no matter what happens, they refused to let any staff go.

This was a daring promise — and nine months later, they’ve kept their word.

The demand for what we do — design and build digital products — didn’t decline, it increased, dramatically. Digital products are, after all, the ultimate social-distancer.

As our business grew, we invested resources to serve and support our team.

Perhaps the most impactful change: a weekly, 30-minute All-Hands meeting. Ashish and Sumit, YML’s founders, wanted this to be more than an update on new business wins. They encouraged the kinds of spontaneity, candor, and fun that we used to have at the office. Neil, a creative director, opened one meeting by playing a song on his banjo that he wrote about the ‘wicked’ design team. Maggie, a project manager, showed us chickens outside her Airbnb she was renting in Montana. Hamish, our CFO, gave us a 360 experience in what was his kid’s treehouse, now his WFH office. Sumit, one of our co-founders, showed up with a new member of the Mehra clan as he wore a Baby-Bjorn, with his newborn strapped in.

We began evolving our culture; one there was no precedent for, but that we made our own.

With progress, however, came palpable problems we needed to face head-on.

Alongside the Covid-19 crisis, the racial reckoning and civil unrest that occurred in wake of the murder of George Floyd and countless other black men and women spun into the spotlight. As a sea of protests for racial justice swept through the US and the world, we invested heavily in finding ways to support our black teammates and began implementing advocacy into our messaging, but there was more work to be done still. We needed to learn how to be vulnerable — over Zoom. Empathetic — over Slack. Patient — over Gmail. Everything the pandemic had already been testing us with was intensified to a degree we didn’t know possible. We collaborated to build into YML’s culture a newly supportive, active ally-ship for social and racial justice. We launched listening sessions, donated to Color of Change and Black Girls Code, created a monthly diversity and inclusion speaker series, and repurposed All-Hands meetings to open the floor for anything the team needed to say, ask, or share. This effort crystallized with a custom designed package for YML staff centered around recognizing and celebrating the fact that Black Lives truly do Matter. To touch and feel each of these items was powerful; a sign of our team’s investment in the work we needed to do, and a tangible commitment to inclusion, accountability, and growth.

That moment in March and April was unforgettable: economy plummeting, new consumer trends emerging, and new business coming in fast. We pivoted quickly for the benefit of our team and our business. That people-first approach is built into the core of YML, and it is the North Star of our talent recruitment efforts. When we put heart into our people, our people put heart into their work, and together we set out to achieve excellence. That strategy, paired with YML’s digital product and design agency model — positioned us to thrive in this wild year of change.

It has led to YML’s most impactful year from a talent growth, quality, retention and diversity perspective. Here’s a snapshot:

Interested in learning more? YML is hiring across engineering, design and strategy. Check out open roles on our Careers page.

YML is a design and digital product agency. We create digital experiences that export Silicon Valley thinking to the world.