I recently conducted interviews for a software developer position here at Atomic. Toward the end of one of the conversations, the candidate said to me, “So, you’ve been with the company for 10 years. What made you stick around all this time?” I responded with a heartfelt speech about how I’ve always loved Atomic’s culture and how the work has always been interesting and challenging to me. The candidate seemed pleased with my response and we moved on to the next question.
The interview ended and my workday soon came to a close, but that question continued to rattle around in my head. As I contemplated it further, I found that my thoughts kept coming back to the Evergreen business principles, and that’s when it hit me. The fact that Atomic is an Evergreen company has a great deal to do with why I have been here for all these years.
About the Term “Evergreen Company”
If you’ve never heard of an Evergreen company, don’t feel bad, a lot of people haven’t; they tend not to attract a lot of attention on Wall Street. While you may not be familiar with the Evergreen model, you almost certainly are familiar with some Evergreen companies and the impact they have had. For example, companies like Radio Flyer, Enterprise, Mars, Spikeball, and many others consider themselves Evergreen.
The term Evergreen, in the context of a business model, was coined by prominent venture capitalist Dave Whorton. After spending much of his career negotiating some of the largest venture capital deals the world had ever seen, Dave came to realize that he and many others were looking at business success all wrong.
“I was too narrowly defining success. It became so much about ‘How much money did you raise? At what valuation? From what venture capitalist?” Dave remarked in a panel discussion put on by Inc. in 2018. He then had this to say about success, “It’s not about making money. It’s not about trying to get money at high valuations. It’s about building something of impact — bringing human beings together to do something really important in service of customers, suppliers, their communities, and their families.” That’s what Evergreen is.
The Characteristics of an Evergreen Company
Evergreen companies exist in many different industries and are located all over the world. However, they do something in common: They all share a set of defining characteristics referred to as the Evergreen 7Ps.
These characteristics ensure that a company has a broad impact and longevity. I believe they also make for an unmatched work environment and work experience for their employees.
In the sections that follow, I’ll describe each of these characteristics and examples of how Atomic Object exemplifies them.
Evergreen companies have a clearly stated and wholly embraced purpose for being in business. This purpose impacts the decisions that are made within the organization on a daily basis.
Atomic Object’s purpose statement is this: To be a source and a force – a source of fulfillment for Atoms and a force for good for our clients and in our communities. It may sound a bit cheesy, but I fully believe that this purpose is at the heart of what we do day in and day out. I believe that this purpose is the cornerstone of what makes Atomic a great place to work.
Evergreen companies recognize that their people are their most valuable asset. They understand and embrace the fact that by treating their people well and putting their needs first, the workforce will in turn take care of the customers, partners, suppliers, communities as well as their own families.
I’ve seen this principle lived out at Atomic in the way we maintain our company benefits, policies, and practices. Rather than remaining rigid and stuck at one point in time, these aspects of our business continuously evolve and refine over time. Our leadership team listens when folks speak up. They respect every opinion. They seek to build empathy and understanding with folks throughout the organization. As a result, things change. The company continues to move in a positive direction and our people (hopefully) know that they truly matter.
Evergreen companies persevere. They have the resilience to overcome many obstacles. They are built with intentionality to anticipate challenges and they put safeguards in place to deal with them. Also, they do this so that the company can survive without needing to take advantage of the employees. As I write this, Atomic is celebrating its 20th birthday and looking forward to many more decades to come!
To have an ever-increasing impact on the world, Evergreen companies grow. But they don’t grow just for growth’s sake. They grow in a paced, controlled manner that doesn’t jeopardize their ability to remain stable and profitable. Paced growth at Atomic has meant that, in our company’s entire history, we’ve never had to lay off a single employee due to lack of work.
Evergreen companies are in it for the long haul. They plan on being around 100 years from now. For that to happen, they must continuously innovate. They must stay relevant and competitive in the marketplace.
At Atomic, we often say that we are relentlessly dissatisfied with the status quo. Good enough just doesn’t cut it. We appreciate quality in all aspects of our business. We improve what’s working well, and we’re always looking for new and better ways. To a maker, this means that the work never has to be mundane. There’s always room for more creativity and improvement.
VC-backed companies don’t focus on being profitable. In fact, turning a profit generally means you’re doing something wrong in that game. What VCs are looking for is constant, aggressive revenue growth and hence an increasing valuation. Turning a profit means you’ve reached a point where reinvesting your earnings can no longer fuel more growth. And that means you’re plateauing.
Evergreen companies see the world differently. They see profit as an essential part of accomplishing their goals and of their long-term survival.
Having a strong profit margin allows companies like Atomic to pay folks fairly and to have the cash to invest in employee welfare activities like team dinners, parties, conferences, professional development, etc.
Finally, Evergreen companies are privately owned. Unlike publicly traded or exit-oriented companies, Evergreen companies are private. That means they can limit their stakeholders to only those who embrace their Purpose and won’t sacrifice that Purpose in order to pursue other goals. In other words, they only answer to themselves.
Atomic Object is not only private but also employee-owned. More than half of our employees have some ownership of the company. This means that not only do we have full control over our operations, but as owners, many employees also have a financial incentive to help the company improve and continue to thrive.
Why Evergreen Companies Are Great
As full-time employees, we spend the vast majority of our waking hours at the workplace. I’ve worked at Atomic for the last 10 years because it has never stopped being a rewarding, enriching experience. I’ve never stopped being challenged. I’ve always felt cared for and appreciated, and I’ve had the opportunity to use my skills to have a positive impact on clients, projects, colleagues, friends, and more. I’ve been at Atomic all these years because Atomic is Evergreen.