Increasingly, high growth companies are investing early in HR — and that’s a good thing. Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures sums it up perfectly: “I’ve heard multiple founders and CEOs tell me that the biggest relief they had in building their companies came when they finally hired a strong leader for the people side of the business,” says Fred. “It’s not even accurate to say, ‘people side of the business.’ People are the business!”

Toronto’s Coinsquare is a company that understands the value of hiring a dedicated people lead. Founded in 2014, the company is Canada’s most trusted trading platform for Bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital currencies. Coinsquare has an ambitious mission: grow into a multi-faceted financial services company anchored in blockchain technology. And the leadership team’s hyper growth vision has been founded on an open-minded culture.

Coinsquare hired its HR lead at employee Number 17, breaking the traditional rule of 50 often used by founders. “Why wait for things to go off the rails?” says Sandra Ugrin, the company’s director of people experience. A seasoned startup professional, Sandra’s seen first-hand how investing in HR early helps build a sustainable culture. When Coinsquare was 85 employees in, Sandra already had a team of eight. Today, the company boasts a staff of 156 and has attracted $53 million in funding. “Hiring and retaining the right people (people who embrace our values) has been a huge part of our success,” Sandra says.

So, how do you make your values stick when you have anywhere from four to ten new people arriving every week (often through referral)? According to Sandra, it starts with values-building exercises with lots of input from employees — building the values into company rituals like all-hands meetings, reward programs and onboarding.

Sandra’s team fosters repeatable learning for team members across departments to ensure that they ramp up quickly and that people add value as soon as possible.

Sandra shared how Coinsquare is building a culture of agility on the premise of learning from others, being transparent and encouraging collaboration. A good example within the HR team has been swiftly evolving the onboarding program to ensure team members are ramped up as quickly and effectively as possible:

“The first iteration of the program was quite basic — getting folks set up with IT and off they’d go. Today’s version has evolved to two hours every morning across four days, covering all aspects of the business and providing exposure to every team, department and function that powers Coinsquare. With the evolution of new sessions, they’ve opened up attendance to early stage team members who perhaps didn’t have the opportunity to participate in something that wasn’t around when they started.”

As Coinsquare grows into a larger company, it remains a challenge to keep everyone connected. One strategy has been to pair team members who don’t often interact, using the Donut app on Slack. But given the company’s size, the leadership team felt they needed to do something more dramatic to create the space and time for building relationships.

Enter Camp Coinsquare, a three-day unplugged retreat in cottage country running in June and September. Open to all employees, there will be no Wi-Fi, just hanging out and building cohesion. “Collaboration and teamwork is paramount for us,” Sandra says. “We understand the value of reconnecting to build trust, promote discovery and invest in our people.”

True to their inclusive culture, Coinsquare has team members from diverse and rich backgrounds. If you’re scrappy, motivated to work in an industry with more questions than answers, and intrigued by blockchain, Yiorgos Boudouris (talent scout) invites you to join the Coinsquad. Yiorgos was drawn to the company by both the hiring mandate and investment in HR — even before a marketing department existed. Bringing on the people who make the company values attractive just made sense. “Hiring HR before marketing? Who does that?” asks Yiorgos.

Coinsquare. And that’s a good thing.

Daneal Charney

Daneal is the director of talent for MaRS Venture Services. See more…