Growing Businesses With a Personal Touch

These companies keep an eye on the personal while maintaining a growth mindset.

Written by Jeff Kirshman
Published on Nov. 30, 2021
Growing Businesses With a Personal Touch
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Nancy Brignole confesses to feeling skeptical when her company, Freedom Financial Network, assigned her a leadership role just three months before the arrival of her second child. 

Brignole feared that stepping away so early into her tenure could interfere with her development and the way she was perceived within the company. It was also a question of scalability. After transitioning from a firm of fewer than 200 employees to a juggernaut of more than 2,500, would the level of care for her career be the same? 

Brignole’s skepticism, she is happy to report, was misplaced. When it came time for the newly named VP of product to take her leave, Brignole was met with an outpouring of emotional and practical support, allowing her to attend to her newborn without fear of repercussions. 

“Everything went off without a hitch,” she said. “The leadership team, product team, engineering team and everyone around me cared so deeply. They all pitched in, made me feel valued, supported, missed and yet completely empowered to take the time I needed to be with my family.” 

Concerns over care are critical when determining the trajectory of your career, which is why companies like Freedom are more mindful than ever when it comes to ensuring a personal touch doesn’t come at the expense of growth. 

That’s why Built In San Francisco connected with five of the fastest-growing companies in the area to learn how they’re separating themselves from the pack to show local professionals — from salespeople to developers to UX designers — what makes their team unique.


Nancy Brignole
VP Product • Achieve


Describe your company culture in one word. 

Care: It is woven into the core of every person, thought and action at Freedom. 


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

Since joining Freedom about a year ago, I’ve had the great privilege of working with brilliant people across the company to redesign consumers’ digital lending experiences. Lending is an area of fast-paced innovation. Even though I had built digital lending experiences from scratch in the past, this was a brand-new challenge. There is such an exciting suite of services out there, from friction-free identity verification to AI-powered credit risk and underwriting to a multitude of omnichannel communications that nurture solutions. It’s like being a kid in a candy shop, and the candy is completely new every time you enter the store.

Care is woven into the core of every person, thought and action.”



Hannah Gittleman
Head of People • Curebase


Describe your company culture in one word. 

Our culture at Curebase is truly multifaceted, but the main word that comes to mind is “collaborative.” We’ve built trust among each other and include stakeholders across the company to ensure multiple voices are heard, because we all share the same goal: to make clinical research more accessible to more patients across the world. 

For example, with recent — and exciting — company growth, we needed to formalize more cross-team communication and request processes, so the conversation was opened up to stakeholders across our clinical, business development and engineering teams. After multiple meetings, feedback cycles and proposal revisions, we launched an improved method for sharing clinical project requirements across the company. Since the launch, we’ve dramatically reduced response times and improved transparency between teammates. This is just one of many ways collaboration has improved our company culture.

Our leadership is enthusiastic about teammates pursuing their interests with gusto.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

I have grown exponentially as a professional in my three-plus years at Curebase. Starting in operations and quickly moving to project management, I now lead our people operations team and work cross-functionally with stakeholders to define our company culture and center our teammates’ experiences. This means ensuring everyone has access to the professional growth they seek.

Our leadership is enthusiastic about teammates pursuing their interests with gusto. Over the years, most employees have explored different professional opportunities within Curebase, participated in online courses to grow their skills and gained hands-on experience interacting with teammates. From clinical operations to product design, when a teammate comes to leadership curious about the next steps in their career, we work together to ensure they have a clearly defined path at the company. As our CEO always says, “Anyone who wants to work at Curebase will have a place here.”



Yasaman Zaca
Senior Marketing Program Manager • Course Hero


Describe your company culture in one word.

Connected. Throughout the past 18 months, Course Hero has gone above and beyond to help its employees feel connected to not just each other, but also to our work, vision and mission. As remote work became our new normal, Course Hero implemented and updated new perks and communication channels to maintain our strong sense of operating as a team. The company increased the cadence of all-hands meetings, provided weekly updates sharing resources around virtual work and Covid-19, gave each of us a $500 stipend to set up our at-home office, and gave departments the budget needed to encourage virtual hangouts, happy hours and discussions. Our connectedness and shared sense of purpose is our secret sauce here at Course Hero. Our leadership and HR teams continue to do whatever they can to adapt to our new reality and to maintain our company culture. 

Our connectedness and shared sense of purpose is our secret sauce.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

Being a Course Hero employee now for more than eight years, one of the most impactful and valuable growth opportunities I’ve experienced is becoming a better listener. Any skill you can think of — collaborating, presenting, organizing, analyzing, managing — are all dependent on someone's ability to be a great listener. Through my experiences being in different roles, having multiple managers and tackling new projects, my ability to listen and digest information, simple or complicated, has been key to growth and success. This has helped me ask better questions, be more present and solve problems with a higher chance of success, because there is more clarity about the situation I’m involved in. Whether it’s tackling an interpersonal situation or identifying a budget constraint on an initiative, relying first and foremost on listening paves the way for overcoming any challenge.



Charlotte Brown
Senior Director of Product • Qualia


Describe your company culture in one word.

The first word that comes to mind is “collaborative,” and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve stayed at Qualia for so long. While everyone at the company is incredibly smart and focused, they’re also humble and kind. We’ve accomplished so much together in the past few years, but we’re not a company that suffers from conflicts of ego.

A consistent piece of feedback I get from new hires is how excited they are to be at such a collaborative company. When a new hire goes through onboarding, they get a chance to see how far we’ve come and where we want to go. They also get a chance to meet the team, which is often what people find most invigorating. 

We’ve brought together a strong group of people with diverse backgrounds. On my team, we have product managers of various levels, product leaders who have worked at all types of tech companies and industry experts who know the real estate market inside and out. Everyone makes time for the rest of the team and is willing to get their hands dirty, even our most senior leaders. They host office hours, offer guidance and ensure we remain focused on our goal. It’s a pleasure to be a part of such an engaged, compassionate team.

Everyone makes time for the rest of the team and is willing to get their hands dirty.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

When I joined Qualia five and a half years ago, the company was still small, having only just been founded about six months prior. We didn’t have official titles or roles, but I ended up gravitating toward the product team. Over the years, I’ve grown our product function from scratch and built out our product and engineering teams. Today, Qualia has six enterprise product lines and a product and engineering organization of nearly 80 people spread out across five product teams, infrastructure and QA.

The company has grown so quickly. The past few years have flown by. There has been immense room to grow and contribute, and I’m grateful that Qualia has always been willing to invest in its employees. Being at Qualia while the company has gone from just a few employees to well over 500 has accelerated my exposure to all sorts of problems, particularly when it comes to understanding product-market fit and learning how to scale operations. And the great thing is that we still have so much we want to do — we’ve only just scratched the surface. Everyone at Qualia can have a tremendous impact, regardless of whether you’ve been there for five years or only just joined.



Al-Husein Madhany
Head of People • Moveworks


Describe your company culture in one word.

Ownership. At Moveworks, we built something that’s never been built before — a conversational AI platform that solves requests from employees the moment they need help. The problem is, there aren’t any handy instructions lying around for how to radically change the way companies support their people. Every single Movester is the true owner of their function, figuring out what works and what doesn’t while on the job.

That culture of ownership permeates everything at Moveworks. We trust our colleagues because we know they’re the world’s leading experts at what they do, whether it’s our machine learning team breaking down the structure of HR requests, or our customer success engineers integrating three dozen applications for a Fortune 500 customer, or our motion graphics designer optimizing product launch videos to resonate with our unique audience on LinkedIn.

You don’t become a multibillion-dollar startup by micromanaging your workforce. You do it by hiring the smartest people on the planet, giving them the highest level of support and empowering them to make wisest decisions, given the situation in front of them. We’re owners here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You don’t become a multibillion-dollar startup by micromanaging your workforce.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

I joined the company two years ago. As head of people, my goal is to create meaningful career paths for everyone at Moveworks, starting with my own! Two tangible examples come to mind:

First, my own. My team was quite localized and small two years ago, with just a couple recruiters and our office manager on my team. Now, my organization has nearly 30 people scattered across offices around the world. Mind you, I’d never managed this large a team — just like a lot of us at Moveworks. I had to approach the role with a growth mindset. Every six months, I was focused on a different problem, trying to get better in that one area. And every six months, I was growing out of my previous role by hiring my replacement. Of course, that growth was only possible because of the unbelievable support and expertise of those around me.

Second: At many SaaS companies, sales development representatives burn and churn. But not here. I made it a point to create concrete career tracks for every position, from SDRs to office managers. I’m proud to say that we promoted two cohorts of SDRs, who have perfected the science of sales. Today, the first cohort are world-class account executives.



John-Mark Ikeda
Director of Product Marketing • Lyra Health


Describe your company culture in one word.

Mission. Lyra’s mission to expand access to high-quality mental health care brings together talented people and keeps us focused on what matters: supporting those who struggle with mental health challenges. In all-hands meetings, our clinical teams often share stories of the people we help support. The details are changed to protect each person’s privacy and identity, but the essence of the stories is true, and they inspire and motivate everyone. It also reminds us that we really are transforming people’s lives.


What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on recently, and how did it help you grow professionally? 

Business and people leaders right now want to attract and retain employees during what’s being called “the Great Resignation,” so we’re helping them to address things like burnout head-on. We’re also trying to educate everyone that mental health is deeply connected to things like culture and psychological safety in the workforce.

Mental health is deeply connected to things like culture and psychological safety in the workforce.”


What excites me is how this work has informed how I lead. Our people — and their families — struggle with mental health issues, too, so we try to have open conversations about prioritizing mental health and self-care. I’ve learned a lot since joining Lyra, especially throughout the pandemic, and I am truly grateful we have a culture and leadership that recognizes the value of mental health at work.


Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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