Keen Decision Systems: Creating a Culture for Growth

Behind most successful companies you’ll find a successful culture. But how does a young startup foster a culture that propels high-performance growth?

For the answer we turned to the co-founders of Durham-based Keen Decision Systems, a company whose software-as-a-service solution helps marketers make dynamic, data-driven decisions that improve the financial contribution of marketing to build winning brands.

Nearly 11 years ago Keen’s co-founders, CEO Greg Dolan, a former brand marketing executive for consumer brands such as Kraft and Campbell’s; and John Busbice, chief product officer and a marketing data scientist, joined forces to disrupt what they saw as the flawed, knowledge-limited way in which brand marketers were making multimillion-dollar spending decisions.

While the technology they built was powerful, the two agreed that the secret to building a successful business would be to ground their mission and vision in their core values, so they took time to agree upon values they wanted reflected in the company as it grew. Those values include value teamwork first; be empathetic; grow or die; inspire trust; communicate transparently; and celebrate wins.

Rather than seeking to instill these values in its new employees, Keen instead looks to attract individuals who embody and embrace their values. In the last two years Keen has increased its workforce from five to nearly 25, and the founders say that exponential growth rate will continue.

What do these values look like lived out day-to-day at Keen?

“Everyone at Keen understands the importance of what they do for our mission. Our goal is to balance that with what’s important to growing them as individuals, both personally and professionally” Dolan says.

The company is intentional about fostering a culture of transparency and hard work in its hiring process. Keen seeks employees who are results-driven and goal-driven, and team-oriented, trustworthy and selfless in how they approach what they do, across the many diverse roles in the company.

CFO Ellen Grantham, who recently joined the organization and now leads the hiring process for Keen, says she looks for “people who are very versatile and who can perform a wide range of responsibilities; people who really enjoy the challenge of solving different problems every day work really well at Keen.”

While its software solution and team are responsible for accurately guiding marketers’ investment decisions over multi-million-dollar consumer brands, the team still makes time each quarter to give back to the community by assembling food items for Durham’s Backpack Buddies program.

“Our values make it safe to take risks and just as safe to admit when those risks go wrong,” one employee explains. “In a high-growth business where the workload, expectations and strategy evolve and scale rapidly, our values provide a firm foundation.”

Keen’s employees witness the company’s core values of teamwork, empathy and trust being modeled every day. Grantham noted that upon joining Keen last May, she immediately noted the high degree of trust between leadership and employees. Team members are trusted to know how and where they work best, taking advantage of a work environment that is both focused and flexible to support employees’ professional and personal lives. “A lot of companies tell you they’re flexible, but Keen’s values are rooted in trust and transparency and help to foster a truly flexible environment that ensures employees professional and personal lives thrive,” said Grantham.

The success of Keen’s culture is evidenced in the company’s recent accolades. Keen’s solution was honored as the Best Predictive Analytics Platform of 2019, and the company just announced it has earned a place on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies. Learn more about the company and its career opportunities at and on its company LinkedIn page.

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