Wealthfront.org: How an Engineering-Driven Company Delivers

January 09, 2014

Recently, Avery discussed the characteristics of Engineering-Driven Cultures in companies. While it’s a great characterization of what a great technology company looks like on the outside, I thought I’d give another perspective of what a great technology company looks like from the inside. One particular example I’d like to give is a story of Wealthfront.org, our offering to 501(c) organizations.

Just like many other products, Wealthfront.org started as an idea inspired by our clients. In interviews with clients by our research, business development and client services teams, we would occasionally hear the question, “do you manage money for charities?” It turns out that our clients are quite passionate about giving back to causes they believe in. Strangely enough, charities have even less selection in choosing a good investment manager than the average investor, and frustratingly, pay significantly more in fees.

Now, managing accounts for charities is admittedly not going to be a significant factor in the bottomline of our business. As a company who is heavily influenced by metrics in our decision-making and is extremely focused on making sure our resources are applied on our highest priorities, getting a product like this to the top our roadmap requires a little extra help that only an engineering-driven company can provide.

Great engineering cultures are the catalysts for great products. Previously, I had implemented our support for Joint and Trust accounts, and felt strongly enough about the project to carve out some of my free time over the course of a couple weekends to get things off and running. Using our continuous deployment infrastructure, I had a working prototype in production ready for demonstration to the rest of the team pretty quickly.

As Avery said in his post, “engineering must be embraced from top to bottom,” and I can speak directly to the positive support I received to the effort from our whole organization. With working prototype, we were able to elevate the priority on our roadmap and I was given the support to complete the project. From there, everyone chipped in and we were able to get it out the door and off to a great launch.

Aligned with our core mission of bringing sophisticated financial advice to everyone, it was easy to get the team excited and the result turned out great. Offering up to $1 million managed for free and then only our standard fee, we delivered something that only a technology company can. Using software, it doesn’t cost us much more to manage the account so we don’t need to be concerned about how much money we make from it. Frankly, we never need to.

As one of Wealthfront’s longest tenured employees, I’ve been witness to many of our cultural tenets, and by far my most favorite is the ability to take something you feel strongly about and make it a reality. It’s the kind of thing that can only be achieved in a place where your mission and passion align. For me, Wealthfront isn’t just an engineering-driven company because we say so. It’s an engineering-driven company because it’s in our DNA and something that we practice every day.