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Creating a Culture That Thrives Off Being Different

Depending on when the clock officially started, Duetto will turn 5 years old sometime in the first quarter of next year. It’s both shocking and humbling to look back at how far we’ve come since the beginning, when it was just us three founding partners with a goal of helping hotels become more profitable.

We’ve built a team of more than 100 engineers, designers, marketers, salespeople and Customer Success team members. We’ve helped the hotel industry move past dynamic pricing to a more innovative and profitable revenue management strategy. We’ve made great strides toward the future of hotel loyalty by encouraging hoteliers to ditch the points programs and start tailoring personalized offers and experiences for travellers.

But if you ask me five years later to look back on what accomplishment means the most, the answer might surprise you: I’m so proud of the unique and diverse work environment we have been able to create here at Duetto.

Creating a fun and relaxed office culture is easy when there are only three, five or 10 employees. But Duetto has grown incredibly fast and spread all throughout the world in the past five years. We now have offices in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Austin, Cleveland, London and Singapore. Honestly, ensuring that culture remains throughout our company as we continue to grow is what keeps me up at night.

Watch Marco Benvenuti deliver a keynote address, “The Strength in Being Different,” as part of Cornell University’s Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series.

Why Does Culture Matter?

After receiving my master’s degree from Cornell, I was fortunate enough to land a job with Caesars Entertainment on the Las Vegas Strip. Although I oversaw revenue management for the entire campus of casino resorts, totalling about 25,000 rooms, my office was in a dimly lit basement and my interaction with other departments was minimal. I wore a suit and tie every day and felt ideas were discouraged.

Businesses including Caesars have learned to value revenue managers more since then. But, at that time, the work environment wasn't fitting my non-conformist personality. So I left Caesars after a year and went to work for Wynn, where the work environment more closely fit my style. Unfortunately, when Steve and Elaine Wynn divorced, it caused a fissure within the company that led to a downsizing, and company morale suffered greatly.

At that point, it was time to look myself in the mirror and ask some important life questions. Did I want to continue working in a corporate environment where I couldn’t express myself? Or did I want to go out on my own, risking job and financial security for my own freedom and the ability to be who I am?

Launching Duetto with Patrick Bosworth, initially as a consulting company, was the best choice for me to finally be happy. And that sudden freedom to express ourselves both as innovators and unique individuals was infectious. Our client list grew quickly, and it wasn’t long before we realized this could be bigger than a consulting outfit; that with some coding and engineering help, we could build a cloud-based software company that could help hotels and casinos maximize profitability by thinking differently about valuing customers and pricing rooms.

So based on my experience in the corporate world — and how I felt corporate work environments hindered creativity, ideas and overall morale — I knew what I didn’t want Duetto to become. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted Duetto’s culture to resemble, but I certainly knew what I didn’t want it to be.



Key Tenets of a Successful Work Culture

I wanted the culture at Duetto to fit who I am, but also attract very smart people to come work for us and allow them to express who they are. Instead of writing down a bulleted list of cultural attributes, I did the exact opposite: I identified a list of attributes that I did not want Duetto to conform to.

  • Dress code
    Most of you have seen me or my colleagues out at industry events in T-shirts, jeans and a black-and-white Adidas track jacket. We pretty much-outlawed suits and ties. The jacket is a welcome gift to new employees that creates a unique sense of team within the company and even among our clients.
  • The meaning of diversity
    We wanted to create a very diverse environment without treating diversity as a buzzword like I have seen in other places. You can’t hire someone for the sake of being diverse and then fit them into a normal, one-size-fits-all box. If you don't live it, hire for it, promote for it, etc., diversity is nothing more than a word.

    We try to bring people from all different walks of life and then hope they share their differences and make us all smarter. We’ve become a big family of people who embrace each other’s diversity and try to experience each other’s lives.

  • Can’t everyone just get along?
    Nobody at Duetto has an office — not even the founders — and we’ve managed to foster a community-like work environment.

    We wanted to create a company where everyone got along, but not in the way Human Resources tells you everyone should get along. We truly encourage ideas and expression. We allow dating within Duetto because, as I see it, you spend 80% of your life in the office, why should I interfere with how our employees interact and work together?

  • Coming and going
    Duetto employees can come into the office whenever they want and leave whenever they want.

    The workday can sometimes become 12-14 hours, but not like the 12-14 hours I used to spend in the basement revenue management office. Because we know no one is going to be productive for 14 hours straight.

    I would rather people give me six hours working and another six hours in the office creating that bond with their colleagues and peers.

  • Employee retention
    There’s a fine line between successful employee retention and knowing when to let an employee go. Sometimes you have to fire those who don’t fit your culture. When everyone doesn’t get along with everyone, you need to find out why and fix it.

    That said, we’re amazingly proud of our low turnover rate over the past five years. Not because I’ve figured out how to retain employees, but because if we had high turnover, we wouldn’t have been able to grow to where we’re at today.


Culture Breeds Success

While it may not be measurable, I truly feel the fun, relaxed, open and diverse culture we’ve maintained at Duetto is greatly responsible for our growth and success.

A culture like Duetto is not for everyone — not for every employee, every investor or every client. But we’re OK with that because we understand that if you don’t embody many of the same attributes, we might not end up being a great fit in the long run.


                        Duetto’s Marco Benvenuti Is 2015-16 Pillsbury Institute Entrepreneur In Residence


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