The COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations to shift the way they do business. Some companies adapted to this change with the thought that it would be temporary and everything would go back to normal, while others saw the forest for the trees and realized they’d need to shift their way of thinking to accommodate a rapidly changing workforce.
Drift firmly belongs in the latter category thanks in part to founder and chief technology officer Elias Torres.
Drift’s people-first policies helped the company adapt not only for the short term but also for the long term in a world where employees found their needs and wants changing in the age of remote work. As a family man himself, Torres probably understood more than many about workers’ changing preferences and priorities. He says he has spent much of the past year reflecting on how important it is for a company to put its people first.
“We often say that Drift is 98 percent people and 2 percent product, and this became especially clear during the pandemic,” he says. “With the sudden shift to remote work, employees across the country were forced to adapt swiftly. People were expected to suddenly balance the responsibilities of both work life and home life, all at the same time. Having a family of my own and understanding how difficult this undertaking can be, I was reminded of the importance of leading with empathy and ensuring that our employees felt supported, both in and out of the workplace.”
To this end, Drift went digital first in early 2021 and made remote work the primary work experience, he says. Drift offices evolved into what Torres refers to as “conversation spaces” that have meeting rooms and broadcast pods, with no permanent desks for individuals.
“We made this decision before many other companies had decided on definitive return-to-work plans, because we knew we needed to be decisive about the future of our work to allow employees to make informed decisions for themselves and their families,” he says. “Since announcing digital first, there have been countless Drift employees who were able to move closer to friends and family, something they’d been wanting to do for a long time but weren’t able to because of the expectation to be in office.”
In terms of the actual business, Drift has had much to celebrate. In September, the company announced a strategic partnership with Vista Equity Partners. Vista’s investment helped Drift achieve unicorn status and made the company one of only 1 percent of Latin-founded startups to exceed a $1 billion valuation, Torres says.
“This is a big step toward those goals.”
When it comes to the future of sales and marketing, Torres believes the two functions will continue to innovate on behalf of customers. That’s certainly the goal at Drift.
“That’s our biggest focus at Drift—putting the customer first and making sure that our products are helping them do their jobs quicker, easier, and more effectively,” he says. “This customer-centric approach is what allowed us to achieve hypergrowth, and I think other companies are catching on and starting to adopt a similar philosophy.”
In terms of his own future, Torres just wants to keep doing what he’s currently doing: pushing the envelope in tech to make sure it’s a more inclusive space for all and ensuring that Drift remains a shining example of what a company can do when it’s founded—and led—by members of underrepresented communities.
“As someone who rarely encountered anyone else in the tech space who looked like me until I met my cofounder, I know how difficult it can be to keep pushing when you feel like you don’t belong or that you don’t have the resources to succeed,” he says. “I want others to see Drift’s success and know that they can do the same. This has always been one of my greatest personal ambitions, and it will continue to be until we start to see more equitable representation in tech.”