David Engle is the CEO and co-Founder of Demere.co, a a virtual clothing platform that allows users to upload photos of their garments and within 20 seconds – based on age, gender, weather, and personal style – Demere can predict the best outfit for the user to wear in addition to notifying them of what to purchase online to add to their current wardrobe, as well as while they are shopping in physical stores. Currently, the platform is in a private beta, which is one reason why David is participating in the the Dingman Center’s Terp Startup summer incubator program. Leading up to the full site launch in early fall, David and the Demere team are spending the summer collecting valuable user data to improve the platform.
David’s first introduction to the Dingman Center was during his freshman year when he came to Pitch Dingman to discuss an idea for a food cart on campus. The university’s selling rules made this idea difficult to pursue, but David always knew he would be an entrepreneur. Since graduating this past December, he has formed a solid team, launched the private beta version of the platform and made countless connections. Now, Demere is one of seven companies awarded a $5,000 stipend to work on their businesses full-time this summer, while working in an incubator space in the Smith School’s Van Munching Hall. His choice to stay in College Park this summer was fueled by a desire to build upon his existing network and take advantage of the Dingman Center’s community of entrepreneurs. Taking cues from Bob London‘s Marketing & Branding workshop, David is also focused on continuing to hire while building the brand and culture of the company.
“No matter what stage you are at (a company that is), culture is important to define one’s vision, company focus points, and direction of how a company will acquire and retain new users. We believe that by focusing and driving an open environment that supports creative thinking, fun, and excitement that we will be able to drive innovation, user growth, and overall success of our employees and users.”
– David Engle
David has built a unique company culture for Demere that encourages the team spend a lot of time together – working and otherwise. The team eats most meals together, in addition to grocery shopping and preparing the meals as a group at least three to four times per week. They also make it a point to travel to the UMD Farmer’s Market every Wednesday, and the staff is even encouraged to take advantage of the company’s free gym membership perk. The Demere staff know a lot about each other’s lives and have built strong relationships with one another.
Every company creates a culture that works best for them, and each one is different. Progressive, for example promotes a sincere customer service culture, while Adobe strives to make their employees good corporate citizens and foster innovation. One might question if the blend of personal and professional life is troublesome for employees, but for the Demere team, it’s what brings them together and motivates them to do their best work. David’s goal is make everyone want to come to work every day and enjoy being there. This recent post on Medium.com discusses the company’s perks in detail and how he’s making it work with a limited budget. What is clear is that it’s working. Enjoying the work environment has made it easier for Demere to operate lean, having operated on less than $5,000 for the past six months.
Outside of full-time staff and interns, David is also considering bringing on formal advisors. If he could have any entrepreneur in the world lead his advisory board, David says, “it would be Bob Iger, CEO of Disney. He has taken an extremely strong brand and strong company and still found ways to bring it to the next level. It’s amazing what he’s been able to do for company culture.”
David will likely take cues from Bob Iger as he continues to hire front and back-end developers as well as a business development team to focus on expansion. When hiring, of course, technical skills will be high on the priority list, but David is also concerned about personality and work ethic in order to maintain the dynamic of the team as it grows.
What do you think companies should consider when making a new hire? Is culture important to early-stage startups? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.