Corkcicle: They Make Cool Culture

A Million Little Moments Series

Company culture is not fully in your control. As owners, HR directors, and culture champions we can make nudges and suggestions to how it is shaped, but ultimately, culture is made up of a million little moments happening all over your workplace — — from private Slack channels to one-off interactions between the CEO and an intern. What do those moments look like? How can we make leadership choices that give us more of the moments we want and less of those we don’t? The A Million Little Moments Series is an exploration of successful, often enviable, companies in Orlando and the million moments that have shaped them.

If you’re local to Orlando, you’ve likely attended a College Park JazzFest or Winter Park block party where you’ve noticed more than one person carrying an immediately recognizable, brightly colored canteen or metal wine cup — a Corkcicle. Founded in 2011, when they released the white elephant gift of the year: the “corkcicle” (a wine cork with an attached frozen icicle to keep wine cool minus the ice bucket), Corkcicle’s drinkware can now be seen on the pages of O Magazine, in the hands of celebrities on the street, and even sneaking into an episode of WestWorld. A company that started as a passion project by 4 friends has to be doing something really right to have had the continued growth that they’ve had for the last ten years.

Kimberly Devitt joined Corkcicle as one of the first three full-time employees in 2015 by running their social media and then being placed in the seat of marketing manager.

Rarely do you get to speak to an employee about a company’s culture when they have been there from the literal beginning. In the first 5 years, Corkcicle outsourced most of its labor, from customer service to accounting. In 2016 they had 12 employees. But in 2019? Over 60. That’s a massive amount of growth in a short amount of time. So, I was very interested to hear what impact that level of growth had on their culture.

The Stronger The Brand, The Stronger The Culture

What becomes pretty clear when walking through the aspects of the company, from ownership to hiring, Corkcicle started with a strong perspective and a clear brand vision from the beginning, although not one you’re going to see written out on a new hire worksheet.

Kim: “Our vision and values were sort of an unwritten, unspoken thing. But it started as “We make things that cool. We make cool things.” Then we dropped the first part. So it became “We make cool things.” We adopted that as our tagline.”

Is that phrase and a set of values painted in large letters across the office walls? Absolutely not. A common thread that many owners of modern businesses have is that they see your “How To Make A Business 101” handbook and they say, “No thank you.” The owners of Corkcicle had seen the corporate world, its red tape and rigid rules, and intentionally started this passion project of theirs with the intention of never having a corporate vibe. Which meant disregarding traditional values written in a handbook for something that spoke to fans and employees equally.

Kim: “We said we are going to make what we want our customers and employees to feel about the brand. And we thought a video would be the best way to capture who Corkcicle really is.”

The 1:30 video does capture everything you need to know about the brand whether you want to own one or want to work there (truly, who doesn’t?). We get a taste of their audience, how innovation is at their core and growth, and even the one thing every Millennial and Gen Z employee is looking for: their philanthropy.

We Only Hire Rockstars

As Kim and I are talking through the history of the company, I notice she’s continuously referring to the same people. This might not seem unusual, but I assure you it is. Not once does Kim say, “That’s when we hired Jonathan and then Sandra when he left.” That’s because, remarkably, hardly anyone has left Corkcicle in the entire span of its 10 years. (Kim names and gives me very heartfelt, personal reasons for the 3 who did leave. Three people. Let that sink in.)

How does a company have a nearly flawless hiring record? As Kim sums it up: “Really thoughtful talent acquisition.”

Kim: “We didn’t have a traditional interview process. We took [candidates] to Santiago’s Bodega to see if they were good at sharing.” (we have a laugh over splitting the flaming cheese dish.) “It was a way of seeing if they were a good fit without going through an HR checklist. We knew if we wanted to grow strategically, every hire had to be a strategic hire. The positions naturally developed and then we were very thoughtful with the individuals we wanted to place in them.”

At some point they became large enough that hiring an HR Director became necessary. But that doesn’t mean the level of involvement and attention given to hiring changed. It might be slightly more structured, but every team member in the department still gets an opportunity to interview the candidates before hiring and there are several rounds of interviews. This comprehensive involvement seems to be something consistent across the company that might contribute to the loyalty each employee feels towards the brand.

The Trust Factor

With four captains of the proverbial ship, Corkcicle found ways to keep the passion in their passion project, while staying in their lanes. Separating their departments, they each let the other leaders actually lead.

As I dug deeper, a major theme becomes clear — the strongest bonds are formed in trust.

Kim: “One of the reasons our culture thrives is that everyone IS a culture champion.” (I gave her this term, so credit where credit is due, Kim!) “We all feel our work is meaningful and valued, and we have a runway to mess up if that happens, but also to grow. If there are opportunities to identify inefficiencies and to create efficiencies, I think everyone is really receptive to that. So you feel like your voice is heard, and that makes a huge difference. You can have all the company perks in the world but if you don’t think your voice is being heard, it’s ultimately not going to [work].”

Corkcicle has structure but overall it functions on a flat hierarchy, with each of the owners heading up one of the four departments. Access to them is as easy as walking over to the desk next to you in their warehouse style office. Ideas are accepted freely and even more importantly, ideas are followed through on. This manifests across the company from suggestions on who to gift with “charity bombs” and joining in on community events like Immerse Downtown. But it also manifests in how they treat employees when it comes to life.

Kim: “I’ve even made jokes like, ‘Man! I ought to have a kid!’ because if you’ve got to get them at soccer practice, everyones like, ‘Ok! See you later!’ They bend over backwards to meet the needs of our team members that have families and responsibilities outside the office.”

A true level of trust has to be felt both ways for team members to be comfortable meeting their needs outside the office knowing that their company recognizes it doesn’t change their value or contribution to the company. In fact, they even support that outside life with perks like a company Uber account so every employee can get where they need to go.

One of A Million Moments

I’ve found culture is defined by a million little moments — — they happen all the time and collectively make up culture. If you ask, most people can bring up one incident that sticks with them and gives them the warm fuzzies. This is Kim’s:

Kim: “One defining moment that really stands out is, we had an interview that took place in that office” (that office was a warehouse with no windows, under construction) “in what we called the conference room, which was really just a hallway where the bathroom was. And it had this teenie, tiny little couch. They were interviewing a candidate who came from the west coast, also familiar with the Directors of People and Culture” (Kim and I shared that title, while pretty commonplace for over a decade on the West Coast, is not so common in Orlando.) “And [he] had this whole different experience. I think he was used to having a corner office. And I think he was really excited about the opportunity to explore and work for a brand that was really growing from the ground up. When they interviewed him, it was in that room. They didn’t rent an office space downtown for that interview. They brought him there and I remember thinking, ‘There is no way that his guy is going to uproot his wife and child and move across the country for this job.’ As much as I love this brand and believe in this brand, I couldn’t imagine someone else with less familiarity with the brand would move across the country. And sure enough a week later they said they were excited to welcome our new hire! And I almost fell out of my chair. I was blown away we were able to recruit that level of talent. And that he was excited about joining. To me that was a turning point, because it was the first time that I realized that there were others who were excited about the brand other than those who were familiar with it in the Orlando community.”

While there are many ways to develop a company culture, Corkcicle’s approach has alway been to be protective of, and stay vigilant to, who they are. Yes, they are a company that was born in a warehouse in Mills50 and they still live there. They make cool things with even cooler people. And that’s about as simple as you can make it.

Kim: “When you have a product or service that you believe in and you believe in the people you work with, that combination makes every day exciting and like you’re part of something meaningful. I couldn’t work for a company that I didn’t believe in.”

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The A Million Little Moments series is created and written by Chelsea Stonerock, a Director of People and Culture in her hometown of Orlando, Fl. Interested in sharing your company culture’s million moments? Email MillionMomentsORL@gmail.com.

Want a great piece of office swag? Corkcicle makes custom canteens and tumblers in a variety of styles. Contact kdevitt@corkcicle.com for more info and a quote.

Million Moments celebrates the inspiring, unique business cultures in Orlando.