Hulu is on a mission; a mission that droves of people have come to appreciate. That mission is to help people find and enjoy the world’s premium video content when, where and how they want it and it’s no small task. Needless to say, they are off to a good start. Hulu now offers content from over 400 companies including Fox, ABC, NBCUniversal, MTV Networks and Comedy Central. Some content is free. Hulu Plus, on the other hand, offers unlimited streaming (including entire series and many current seasons) for a reasonable $7.99 per month. That’s the Hulu you already know and possibly love. To show you the Hulu you don’t have access to, DailyTekk connected with Lonn Lee, Director of Product Management at Hulu, who is responsible for driving product initiatives in close collaboration with designers, program managers and developers. Here’s what it’s like in the belly of the beast in Lee’s own words:
Hulu’s culture, in a word, is Brain-Spray Awesome. Ok, so I cheated. That is three words with a hyphen. But it’s with good reason. We’re not happy with just being “ok” or “good enough.” Our goal is to always blow our customers away by creating a service they unabashedly love. Brain-Spray Awesome style. This is where we set our sights. We pride ourselves on sweating each pixel and holding ourselves to an atypically high quality standard because it’s important to us. It’s who we are. Whether it’s for our users, content partners, distributors, advertisers or ourselves, Brain-Spray Awesome is the minimum bar we aim for and it’s something that I think resonates deeply with all Hulu team members (or, “Hulugans” as we call ourselves).
My favorite part of the office? The HQ lobby. The lobby is a unique area of our HQ. The lobby brings together key elements of our culture into one physical area. The first thing everyone will notice are the professionally taken photographs of every employee at Hulu arranged along the walls. It’s a fun celebration of the diversity of people we have at Hulu, as the photos provide a glimpse into each Hulugan’s interests or personality. From photos of Hulugans playing chess, djing, piano or rugby, to posing with their pet cats, dogs or fish, to a impersonating the infamous 1993 Janet Jackson Rolling Stone Magazine cover, the wall is a reminder that you are part of a unique team of individuals relentlessly pursuing a common mission. The lobby also houses multiple live screens that display real-time Twitter comments about the service from our customers, key team milestones, public “thank you” notes from one team member to another. And, of course, no lobby would be complete without a life size set of the Simpsons, and our beloved, and rarely idle, pong-pong table.
To pick the ‘best’ day I’ve ever had at Hulu is pretty challenging because so many of my days at Hulu are great. Two specific days in particular stick out in my mind. 1) First, a day that I wasn’t even at the office. It was 2:00 am, and I was admiring the visibility of the stars while in a 6 mile leg during a 200 mile, 30 hour relay race in Nevada. I was there as a part of a Hulu sponsored team, and the proceeds of our run went to benefit childhood cancer research. There were 12 Hulugans on the team and it was an event that not only brought us closer but also showcased a willingness to always give back to the community. It was an awesome experience. 2) Another ‘best’ day I had started off pretty normally. While plugging away building our mobile product, I received a link to a blog post which was written by a user. This user, as it turns out, had tweeted a suggestion for a new feature. After reading the tweet, we huddled as a team and one of our developers decided to spend his own free time to build it. When we released the feature, our customer support team reached back out to the user to let him know we did it… and the user was floored. The user was visually impaired and his suggestion was to improve the Hulu UI for visually impaired users. He replied in a new post where he thanked the Hulu team for taking the time to build out the accessibility support that he needed to enjoy our content on his iPad. His kind words stick out in my mind as a reminder of the impact that we can have on people’s lives. I’m proud of our team for the work we did to enable that experience.
Our workspace is fully open and collaborative. There are no offices and everyone sits out in the open together with our senior leaders. In fact, our CEO Jason Kilar’s desk is right out on the floor with the team. My desk is littered with the latest smartphones, tablets and connected TV devices. It looks like what is best described as the aftermath of a tornado tearing through a Best Buy or Apple store. I display my Canadian flag proudly, next to my “Community” poster and Optimus Prime action figures. Next to my desk, my co-worker Rebecca has her desk fully covered in an 8bit floral designs rendered by florescent post-it notes. The desk behind me has a small (but energetic) family of Mexican jumping beans. (Some days they get wild!) Just to my left are a few meeting rooms, one that comes complete with a full size Justin Bieber cut-out and an ever-present chess board set up for ad-hoc games. I still want to take all the empty smartphone and tablet boxes to create a life size tetris game on the wall… One day I will get around to it.
There is a strong culture of working hard and playing hard. We love what we do and are adamant about the need to go above and beyond, be pixel perfect, no matter how small the detail. At the same time we don’t take ourselves too seriously (we call ourselves Hulugans, after all) but we take our mission and work seriously. Humility is something we strive for and always believe we can do better. We also probably watch more TV at work than the average person. It’s a perk of the gig.
We have an April Fool’s Day pranking addiction which surfaces itself in 2 ways. 1) It is a time honored tradition to prank our VP of Marketing, Pete Distad. Whether it was the year that his desk was fully covered in real grass sod, the time that his desk area was transformed into a Zen garden (complete with 500 lbs of sand), OR the time his work area was filled with 1000+ multi-colored plastic balls (little kids jumping around, not included), the Hulu prankster team works tirelessly to ensure we have that one great reaction photo to post on our blog the next morning. It’s worth all the effort, for sure. 2) Our addiction to April foolishness can also be seen by our users. My hands down favorite execution was the April Fool’s day when we launched ‘retro-Hulu’… We redesigned the site to appear as though it would have if Hulu had launched in 1996. We showcased X-Files in the masthead, had an animated ‘under-construction guy’, placed Geo-cities and Netscape navigator icons at the bottom and, my favorite, launched a modem handshake sound playing right before watching a video…. Special thanks to the very caring and concerned users who immediately let us know that our site had been hacked.
At Hulu, picking a top secret code name for your product in development is almost as important as launching it. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but it is pretty important around here). Some examples: Our Hulu Plus subscription (“sub”) management (“man”) service is called “Jared”. The service that chops up large video files into smaller segments is called Samurai. The service that distributes video playlists is called Deejay. Our CMS tool, which acts as our mission control (M.C.), is called Hammer… and my favorite… our Android tablet app is called Thorn (Tablet -> 10 Commandments -> Charlton Heston -> Soylent Green -> Detective Thorn… obviously). And there are many more.
Here’s a tip: If you have just been teleported smack into the middle of a meeting at Hulu, I’ll give you a hint on how to blend in. It is possible that someone in the meeting may ask what you are doing and what you work on. All you need to say is, “I’m finishing up some work on Twinkie to expand functionality for Cube and then will be helping out with some updates on Fonzi and Mozart.” Pause, then add…”Things are going to be so awesome when Concerto is fully deployed.” People will nod, and be none the wiser that you aren’t a true Hulugan. (Please use this knowledge only for good and not for evil.)