Compensation—like many things at Kano—is a work in progress. Our people are our number one asset, and it’s extremely important to us that they feel valued, motivated and recognized for their efforts. It’s also important that we remain fiscally responsible to our business to ensure short-term decision-making does not harm long-term growth and sustainability.
When we first started Kano, we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about compensation because we were just too busy simply trying to survive and attract a customer base. Once we had a successful game and shifted our focus to growing a company, we knew we needed to hire people, but were really unsure of what we should even be paying them. Our conversations at that point went more like, “So your last job paid you $XX and we think we can afford that and are doing something cool, do you want to work with us?”
We definitely felt it was important to build a great culture and compensate people well but, being new to business, we didn’t actually know how to do that and find a balance where we avoided bankruptcy. That said, we tried our best to create a great working environment with lots of perks, introduced a benefits program and paid out yearly bonuses from the profits we weren’t rolling back into the business.
As we grew, we sought out sources to better understand how we compared in the market. At the time we stuck mainly to local and comparably-sized companies to benchmark against as we assumed that much larger companies were compensating way above what we could afford. It wasn’t until we learned about surveys from local organizations like VIATEC and the HR Tech Group that we started to collect more information to better understand where we were doing well and where we needed to make adjustments.
At this time we moved to the compensation philosophy we still hold, which is:
TO BUILD A LONG-LASTING COMPANY
TO COMPENSATE COMPETITIVELY
WITHOUT HURTING GROWTH
Another thing that allowed us to change our focus was revenue growth. With incoming revenue, we were able to revisit how competitive we were in the hiring landscape and that we were compensating our team appropriately. Without supporting revenue to uphold consistent payroll, it’s hard to put focus towards reviewing your compensation strategy—we recognize we’re lucky in this regard.
So, how do we approach compensation now? Well, there’s the market piece, of course, and we use data from open and closed (paid) sources like Payscale, BC Tech Group and VIATEC to understand how we stack against our competitors and to create our internal salary ranges. There are definitely pros and cons to the different sources, but we try to use as much data as we can to identify how we compare; for example, we’ll narrow our focus on location (mainly YYJ and YVR for us), size of company (start-up vs. enterprise) and responsibilities vs. title (which can really range).
These surveys are also really helpful for us in understanding how we can provide best-in-class vacation, benefits and other perk packages.
Pro-tip for job seekers: A role in a new city may look really attractive based on salary, but the cost of living can be a factor in that. Check out Numbeo to see how your current location compares.
Often people (more often employees) will consider base salary as the end-all when considering compensation. But we view compensation as a package and also factor in things like time off, flexibility, commitment expectations, growth opportunity, benefits, perks, options (where available), profit share etc. This makes so much sense as, ultimately, a paycheque is not the only part of your job experience. How you feel, which needs are taken care of, how your growth is considered and the way you are either encouraged (or discouraged) to talk about these things are all a part of how you experience your employment and employer.
Many of our intangibles are things we feel we offer as part of our culture and those differentiate us from other companies. Being values-driven and hiring people with a strong sense of ownership, means that work can be really inspiring because you have really smart and aligned people all pushing towards the same goal. We aim to have a culture low on ego and high in ownership where people feel comfortable with healthy conflict and making mistakes to help them grow.
As a bootstrapped company, ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan)—where start-ups often “defer” compensation to a liquidity event (which often never comes)—is another topic that has come up a lot. As owners of Kano, we never had firm sights on a sale, so instead, we chose to implement an uncapped Kano Profit Share Program. Our program allows us to distribute a percentage of our profits to all employees once a year. This allows us to share success frequently, and if we are able to release a runaway hit game that 10x’s revenue, our team can benefit from that immediately. As owners of the company, we’ve also made the decision that, if we ever were to sell, we would share a percentage of those proceeds with our team, too.
Note: As a company, we target profitable growth and have designed the company for profitability; and have actually been lucky enough to pay out profit share every year since we instituted the program.
At a high level, we're proud to have achieved a place where our monetary base compensation is above market benchmarks, and our uncapped profit share gives us the opportunity to pay out substantially more than that when the company shares in team success. The fruits of abiding by our compensation philosophy—where staying competitive requires both regular evaluation and retaining a revenue to support it—are seen in how we give back to our team and the longevity of our company.
TL;DR - Compensate your people well but also ensure that you actually have a company to do that with.
So, that’s us. How about you? Are you a founder, job seeker, HR professional, etc? We’d love to hear your thoughts around compensation.