Previously, I worked with the clean technology sector of Seattle’s startup community. Read: accelerator programs that teach brilliant scientists and engineers how to sell their (world-saving) products or services. Unfortunate logos, lack of online presence and poorly written statements piqued my interest in branding.

Understanding that branding is the difference between an idea and a successful company—game changing.

My career path has often felt like waving a machete around the brush in the dark. Through food/beverage, non-profits and freelance, I keep coming back to storytelling. I’ve explored analog through drawing and bookmaking and digitally experimented with social media, blogs and other projects. Identifying branding as an avenue that requires storytelling was the lightbulb.

As a kid, you say things like “I want to be an astronaut” or “I want to be a doctor.” Sooner or later, dreams get crushed and we learn our strengths (words) and limitations (math). Skills develop where our talents are fostered and encouraged. Eventually, we seek out employment based on these aptitudes. As we climb Maslow’s pyramid we then ask our employers, “But what can you do for me?”

I found States of Matter serendipitously. While working in a café organizing an event, my cohort turned her laptop around, declaring “I think you should apply for this job.” After a considerable time looking for a sign from the universe, this posting was what I needed. My eureka line was “Genuinely interested in what makes humans tick” followed by “always looking for ways to do something better.” I liked the job description so much I applied, twice.

I survived the phone interview thanks to hours of prep and research. It payed off because Britt then reached out to bring me in for an interrogation. The first time I met her face-to-face was the first time I met the rest of the States of Matter team and included a tour of the studio in Pioneer Square. The swoon-worthy space oozes personality, features high ceilings, natural light and walls equipped with push pins to hang mockups and current pieces of work.

One-on-one in her office, we examined two clever pieces of packaging while she grilled me. The question that stuck, and had me kicking myself the whole way home: “Why work at this branding agency, why not go do marketing somewhere else?”

On the spot, I blacked out. I wanted the safety of my laptop to let the words find their way through my fingers. I wanted time to thoughtfully explain that I wanted to get to know the team I had spent hours researching. I wanted to help companies tell their best stories to the right audiences. I wanted to learn from her, someone who has spent 20 years in this industry. I wanted to work somewhere that allows dogs in the studio. Any of these would have worked in this moment but blacked out, I’m not even sure what I said.

The more I think about it, and I do, it still boils down to one thing. Culture. 

I didn’t need Britt to tell me that States of Matter has a good culture- it’s visible. Each person I met with (and now work with) is excited about the work they do. The studio layout is open (and dogs are allowed). Someone cooks lunch once a week for the rest of the team.

That’s the thing. It’s a team. It requires everyone to function. In my experience, the best cultures are found in organizations where you can work side by side with every member from intern to CEO. The best environments are those with coworkers who don’t have to tell you to do your best work because it would be a moot point.

That’s the thing. It’s a team. It requires everyone to function.

My role in the company was so important that they had me meet each person in it. Each person warned me that everyone else has a “strong personality,” or that “arguments happen.” I was warned that feedback is honest and often critical, and after a month here I can attest that that is all true.

While on my job search, I had a recruiter tell me, “Our company has great culture,” but I’m not convinced that catered lunch every day and a snack wall is what makes a culture strong. 

And I love snacks.

Great culture is when the work feels impossible but the minds around you inspire you to investigate every solution. Both leadership and your peers challenge you to do your best work, but when enough is enough for the day you go laugh about frustrations over a beer.

I want to work in branding because I have seen early-stage companies with world-changing solutions. I know that without thoughtful branding behind their products and services, all the marketing in the world might not be enough. I want to shape the story that makes or breaks a company. That is why I want to write for a branding agency.

It’s evident that the culture of States of Matter permeates to each project. The camaraderie from team lunch follows us to group brainstorming sessions. From Henry Yiu’s critical design eye to Britt’s analytical strategizing, the moving parts work together. Every project brings the team’s diverse expertise and experiences to help filter how to best help our clients articulate their brand.

When it’s just us, conversations can get heated but inevitably someone breaks the stress with a perfectly timed joke. No longer am I swinging a machete around in the dark, I am on a ship with people that are willing to teach me how to sail, because they believe in me and listen to what I say. That is why I want to work for this branding agency.

As far as culture, please, bring on the critical feedback. Inspire and challenge me to discover the answers. Buy me a glass of wine on those tough days. I’m not afraid of hard work or constructive criticism. I am, however, afraid of an organization that confuses a snack wall with the soul of the company.