Chattanooga’s tech hub reputation continues to grow alongside businesses like cloud-native company and INCubator client, StratusGrid.
With a team distributed across Spain, Colombia and several U.S. locations (with HQ in Chattanooga) plus clients ranging from local to international, StratusGrid has seen exponential growth including revenue growth of more than 400% from 2020 to 2021. Their team has gone from 3 people to 43 in less than 2 years. (And they’re still hiring for both engineering and operational roles.)
We sat down with experienced engineer and StratusGrid CEO Chris Hurst to learn more about this fast-growing startup and a culture that has its team members raving.
Trend: How does StratusGrid help companies?
Hurst: We build and operate mission-critical platforms in the cloud. And when we say mission critical, we mean driving revenue for your business. If it stops working, then your business stops making money — to us, that means mission critical. We help build either changes to systems or new systems that help drive revenue for our customers. We’re obsessed with quality and we want to deliver the absolute best value we can as efficiently as possible.
Trend: Your team members feel like StratusGrid is a special place to work. Why do you think they feel that way?
Hurst: Well, we do a lot to help that be the case. One thing that drives it all: we balance the perspectives of shareholders, the market and our customers, and our team members. When we’re making critical decisions, we ask what the effect will be on all three of those groups. Whereas most companies ask about the effect on only one or maybe two of those groups.
Trend: Was that your experience at other companies you’ve worked with?
Hurst: I never worked for a company that invested in me heavily, honestly. I experienced individuals who would go out of their way to mentor me but not because the organization itself invested in setting resources aside to develop me. I always thought that someday if given the opportunity, I wanted to provide an environment that did things differently.
Trend: How did your background prepare you to be a CEO?
Hurst: Team leadership experience helped. It was always engineering teams, but ultimately it doesn’t matter what kind of team. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage to know too much about the work your team is doing because it can be harder to give them autonomy than it is in an area where you know you aren’t an expert. I think if you’re doing a good job leading a team, you’re listening a lot and taking their advice. You’re letting them learn with you and experiment, grow and iterate. And if you apply that you can probably step into any position of leadership.
Trend: Talk about a favorite StratusGrid project you’ve found especially rewarding.
Hurst: We work with one of the world’s largest anime-focused streaming services in meaningful ways, partnering with them to introduce cutting-edge methods of managing their infrastructure. We helped differentiate them with a culture of collaboration and innovation because that’s how we operate. We brought cool technology, but I think we were also an agent for positive change for the culture internally.
Trend: What do you love about Chattanooga?
Hurst: I love the technology community that’s here and the remote work community. The local industry helped drive our focus on logistics, but we also want to invest and be part of the city’s growth and culture. At one point, my wife and I thought we might end up in Charlotte because Charlotte has a strong technology scene, but we visited and realized the culture wasn’t what we were looking for our family. In Chattanooga, there’s an element of wanting to get things done, but also be fun, have a good culture and care about people.
Trend: What unique employee engagement tactics can you share?
Hurst: We use a request for comment (RFC) process with any company changes or initiatives to give a voice to people who don’t get to be in the room for all the meetings. This way it’s not people high up handing down the way things are going to be because you can miss a lot of inclusiveness, which would have been gained for no cost, by not listening. This is a form of active listening. If you’re not intentionally giving all team members a voice, they feel they don’t have one, even if the company doesn’t actually feel that way. We also have a Flight Instructor role born from our desire to invest in training and professional development. This person’s only job is to facilitate learning and leadership growth opportunities for our team. Before that, we’d have ideas for the team that never got done because it was never anybody’s job. One of the learnings we took from 2020 was: if it’s nobody’s job, it’s never going to get done. We care about continuous learning on our team, so we’re going to make it someone’s job. We run internal lunch and learns weekly so the team can find out how things are being done and give feedback on other processes. Since we have a distributed team, we all call in separately for meetings even though many of our team members are in Chattanooga. We’re not all sitting in a conference room where we can have side conversations because we want equal opportunity for relationship building.
Trend: StratusGrid is located in the INCubator at the Hamilton County Business Development Center. How has the program there been helpful?
Hurst: Having a place where people are here to help and that’s all-inclusive of what you need… You don’t have to manage utilities … there’s a lot of things you don’t have to worry about so you can instead focus on your business. The Chamber’s staff at the INC are always happy to help you. Another cool aspect is partnerships that we might not have had because you can walk down the hallway and meet people in different industries and support each other.
Trend: What do you do for fun?
Hurst: There’s really only one other thing about me to know besides StratusGrid and that’s my family with four kids. I love spending time with them. They’re 3, 6, 7 and 9. I guess you could say I pursue aggressive growth on all fronts.
To learn more about the technology and cloud solutions offered by Hurst and his team at StratusGrid, visit StratusGrid.com.