Andrew Sieja is the founder of kCura, which makes a document management system for lawyers. The company began with just a handful of employees over a decade ago; in the last few years, it has become one of Chicago’s fastest-growing companies. As Sieja tells Fast Company, one way to hold on to your company culture during a rapid growth spurt is with literal relics of your company’s past.
FAST COMPANY: There’s a green leather couch in your office. What’s its history?
ANDREW SIEJA: I bought the couch when I first started the company. We had this office, and we wanted to build a game room. I was young, 24 years old, and we bought this couch at a garage sale for 25 bucks. One of the guys found it somewhere in the city, I don’t remember. I started the business originally with two partners, and we had three employees, so there were six of us at 20 North Clark Street. It was basically just three rooms. As we moved from office to office, we took along the couch.
Why didn’t you throw out this used couch as you moved up?
We liked the couch. It just happened to stay with us. We were at 20 North Clark for two or three years, then we went to 333 West Wacker, and took the couch with us, and then we went to 200 West Jackson, which was our first real office, 10,000 square feet. We had maybe 40 employees, and we took the couch with us and put it in reception. We just thought it was funny. When people came in, they’d be like, “What’s up with the weird couch?” We made a sign for it, and ended up putting the sign above the couch.
What does the sign say?
I have a copy of it here. It says, “We built our business on this couch. We bought it for twenty-five bucks at a garage sale so we would have something comfortable to sit on. It has been a bed, a break room, a waiting room, a think tank, and even an intern’s desk. The couch was also in many of early conference rooms and has participated in hundreds--if not thousands--of meetings, all-nighters, strategy sessions, and late night deployment parties. It is as steeped in kCura history as any person. Our business models have changed, the desks have been replaced, and the computers have been upgraded, but the couch is still here.”
And it’s still there.
We just moved into 80,000-square-foot offices, and we had a fancy design firm put it together. The main designer’s name was Ledda, and I’m looking at the plans, and I'm like, “Ledda, where’s the couch?” And she’s like, “It’s in the cafeteria.” And I’m like, “Ledda, put the couch in the lobby.” She’s like, “But it’s kind of ugly. Andrew, you’re a company now, you gotta project an image.” And I’m like, “Ledda, make it work.” And they made it work.
Does the couch smell okay?
It’s clean. I think it’s clean. You can totally sit on it. We’ve refurbished it. It looks pretty ratty, but it’s definitely clean.
Do you think other companies, as they scale, should cling on to relics of their past like this?
I don’t know. Every company’s different. What works for us may not necessarily work for another group. I don’t think something like that can be manufactured. These things kinda just have to happen. I think people have similar types of, if you want to say “relics.” Look at an old attorney carrying around the same briefcase the last 40 years. I carry a ratty old briefcase too, and I refuse to get rid of it. I built my business with this briefcase. The only other thing I have from the real early days is an ugly fake fur coat that was in the closet at the first office. I used to wear it as a joke every once in a while. It’s hideous and ugly and fake, but no one knows about it.
The green couch is significant for your new employees, but it must mean a lot to you. What do you think of when you look at it?
If anything it probably just reminds me of... the fun. The early days of the business were a lot of fun. It was special. It was like us versus the world, you know? I’m a grown man now, and we’re a business going through its adolescence, but you look at your childhood very fondly. I look at the couch and it reminds me of those early years, everything we went through, the hard work, staying up all night to fix problems for our clients, doing more with less. We were so broke back then, scrounging for payroll. In those days I’d go to conferences to sell our software, and sleep on hotel room floors. A customer would say, “Come to the conference, meet a bunch of people, you can crash on the floor of my room.” I’d hang out in the bars where everyone spilled out and I’d meet people and give demos on my laptop. I was a little sniper crawling around the show, and we had competitors with booths that were 30 or 40 people strong. Early on, man, early on it was kinda fun.