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TextNow’s Environmentally-Conscious Waterloo Escape

A decade ago, texting was a lucrative business for telecom providers. It wasn’t that long ago when phone plans included SMS text limits and overage charges that were up to a whole dollar-per-message.

That didn’t fly for TextNow Founders Derek Ting and Jon Lerner. As students at the University of Waterloo, they came together in 2009 to create a cheaper alternative to texting. Together, they founded TextNow and quickly realized other people felt the same way about outrageous text message fees.

TextNow is one of the only full-service free wireless providers in the world. They assign users a phone number which can then be used within each service in the app. There are no contracts, which means users are in complete control of their own plan and can upgrade, downgrade, or switch it off and on whenever they please. Essentially, users can send messages to friends and family without worrying about changing their phone numbers, even if they swap devices and SIM cards.

Now serving as CEO, Ting and his team moved into their new 40,000 square-foot Waterloo office in October 2018 and have not looked back. Designed by Gensler, the updated space is located in the evolv1 building, which is the first Canadian multi-tenant structure of its kind established with a goal of achieving a new-positive carbon output.

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Colorful art adorns almost every wall at TextNow.

Work

Created long before Facebook Messenger, and just one month after WhatsApp was officially incorporated, TextNow is one of the original messaging platforms. Now boasting more than 150 million user downloads and offices in San Francisco, Seattle, and Waterloo, TextNow is still helping users find better ways to contact friends and family, all while maintaining a solid growth rate.

With over 100 total, TextNow is quickly taking advantage of the phone revolution in North America and abroad. More and more people are frustrated with restrictive phone plans, so joining TextNow and untethering a phone number from a device or singular network offers is hard to resist.

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TextNow’s Waterloo location has a host of different teams within its walls, including engineering, customer success, operations, business development and more. The company supports inter-office learning and encourages employee development, whether it means attending industry-leading conferences or various lunch and learns hosted on-site.

The messaging motif flows throughout the office. TextNow ran a contest with its employees to name the new meeting rooms, and the communications team won by suggesting emojis. Each meeting room bears a familiar emotive face, and the in-house design team was responsible for creating the themes and imagery to go along with each meeting space.

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Nothing makes a meeting feel cozier than a fireplace.

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Culture

TextNow is all about the employee experience. In the early stages of planning for this new office, the company sent out a survey to aid in design and planning. Some of the top requests were more collaborative spaces, extra whiteboards, and an abundance of meeting rooms. TextNow collaborated with the folks at Gensler to fully explore what they wanted from an office, and a clear focus on collaboration came from that. Even the building TextNow is in illustrates this choice.

“As TextNow grows, it is important that we are in a space that reflects who we are as a company,” says Ting. “Evolv1 is not only a cool workspace, but it is also the perfect place for us to collaborate with other growing Waterloo companies that share our values of taking risks and building cool stuff together. The icing on the cake: we can feel good about being in a building with a zero carbon footprint.”

There is a real effort within the design of the office to encourage collaboration and teamwork while also providing private spaces to get work done or take a break. The space feels open-concept even though there are distinct work and break areas, playing on what innovative offices need in order to keep their employees energized and able to build great products.

The main staircase and live wall inside the Evolve1 atrium.

The main staircase and live wall inside the evolv1 atrium.

There is a set of clear values within TextNow, all created with participation from various teams across the company: No brilliant jerks, take action and ownership, be bold and take risks, be respectfully candid, and be resourceful and scrappy. The culture team at TextNow realizes that “In a company of one hundred people, all it takes is five bad hires to destroy company culture.” So to really hone in on culture, TextNow had their employees write single words that defined their experiences. Words like grit, honesty, integrity, and inclusion floated to the top.

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Get yo’ game on.

To build on that, TextNow sent a cryptic email to employees asking them “We have decided to relocate TextNow to Mars. To establish the business at Mars Base, we are sending you and three other people from the company. Who would you pick to come along?” From there, TextNow selected a list of those who were most-often picked, who then chose the single words that would define those core value statements.

TextNow also has a unique approach to being charitable. One initiative involved asking employees to bring in food for a potluck, then donate the typical food costs for that day (around $400) to a charity. This was a win-win—employees got to share new recipes and socialize, and a charity could use the money to make meaningful progress. Another idea involved McHappy Day, a day where each Big Mac sold at McDonald’s contributes one dollar to children’s charities. Thus, TextNow invented the Big Mac eating contest, where they build a small burger pyramid and see who can scarf them down the fastest. Charity + burgers = win-win.

To work off those burgers, head to the on-site 4,000 square-foot gym and yoga studio. Choose from spin classes, personal training sessions or group classes. Hate sweatin’? You might be into massage, and once a week, TextNow has an on-site RMT to massage away any stress. Oh, and make sure to keep an eye out for TextNow’s volleyball team—they compete against other Waterloo companies, and are apparently pretty good.

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Food

Obviously, the Big Macs weren’t enough if you’re reading this food section, but TextNow has still got your back. Breakfast and lunch are catered daily, including a fresh salad bar. A separate area of snack drawers keeps employees well-fed throughout the day, as TextNow really learned from their last office that food brings the company together and translates into more engagement and a better overall experience.

Coffee at TextNow is no joke either. Multiple machines are placed around the office, meaning each employee is never more than a few steps from their daily dose. A fully-stocked cupboard of David’s Tea will satiate the non-coffee enthusiasts as well.

If catered meals, great coffee, and ample tea supplies don’t do it for you, maybe the designated office pub will. There is a space within the office that brings employees together to share a pint or a glass of wine or simply offer a place to unwind after a long day. Often, TextNow will bring in employees from their San Francisco and Seattle offices to tour around the area, checking out the nightlife and everything Waterloo has to offer.

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TextNow’s very own office pub.

Do you have an amazing office and would like to be featured here? Get in touch with us: killerspaces@techvibes.com.

Techvibes is a Media Partner of Gensler.

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