The Opportunistic Culture

Robbie Allen
3 min readFeb 5, 2016
I overheard an employee talk about Teddy Ruxpin, so I bought him one on Amazon the next day.

Opportunistic is a word I use to describe many aspects of the way we run Automated Insights. It’s all about seizing opportunities as they arise. I started the company in 2007 with this approach. Most of my competition at the time included slow moving, big companies. I attacked the market by being more nimble.

Opportunistic is also a good word to describe my hiring philosophy. Because I look for generalists over specialists, we bring in candidates with a wide variety of skills. A new hire may enable us to do things we weren’t planning to get to until later. We’ve interviewed a candidate for one position only to hire him for another once we learned more about his skills and culture fit.

I’m also opportunistic when it comes to our company culture. Automated Insights is an ongoing experiment to create an environment where people enjoy working. I don’t have all the answers ahead of time, but I’ve found that if I listen carefully, the answers will find me.

As a CEO, one of the great things about sitting in an open floor plan is you overhear interesting conversations. It’s these conversations that provide opportunities to do things for our employees they aren’t expecting.

Once, I overheard an employee mention that he was a Teddy Ruxpin fan growing up, but never owned the doll. Aha! That’s a perfect moment to surprise and delight an employee. I hopped on Amazon, ordered one and it arrived in a couple days. Teddy Ruxpin is kind of a strange/funny doll/robot so you can imagine the discussion it generated when it arrived.

Another employee sent around a link to a new game called Kooba that he thought would be fun. Several people agreed so I ordered one (without telling anyone) and it arrived a few days later. Kooba was a popular game for several weeks and facilitated all sorts of good interactions within the team when different people tried it.

Recently during lunch, a group of employees made a large order at Heavenly Buffaloes, a great local wings restaurant. The selection of sauces and coordination of money generated a lot of discussion that day. We had an internal hackathon a couple weeks ago, so I ordered a big batch of wings for the people that stayed late. It was a hit.

It also works the other way when you don’t get something you hear people ask for (repeatedly). We have a running joke about my refusal to buy an aquarium for the office. Anytime we mention we might get something new for the office, we’ll get at least one request for an aquarium. One weekend I was cleaning out my mom’s attic and found the perfect maintenance-free aquarium, so I brought it to work:

That’s just a few examples. I’m constantly listening to what our employees say in case I hear something I can take advantage of.

Often the result is fleeting. Just because it doesn’t last isn’t a bag thing. Teddy Ruxpin is sitting on top of our fridge now. No one plays Kooba anymore. However, you will still hear folks reference them occasionally. It was a small price to pay to create a cultural memory.