Cockroach Companies

Healthie moved offices this week, to the largest space we’ve had since we became remote-first during COVID. It’s a WeWork office with plenty of space, natural light, and most importantly, no cockroaches.

The last one should be a given, but hasn’t always been. Pre-COVID, we were fully in-person, and were subletting an office from a company that moved out after they got acquired.

The space was huge and pre-furnished, above a sketchy (but lovable) bar. The building was an old Garment District one that was slowly falling apart.

Our employees had mixed feelings. On one hand, the ping pong table was great! On the other, the block felt unsafe.  It was a close race, until the roaches appeared.

Nothing kills employee morale faster than roaches. No creatures are harder to kill. Exterminators came and went. The cockroaches ebbed, flowed, but ultimately always seemed to stick around.

At a certain point, a begrudging anthropomorphizing respect began to set in. These things were unkillable! Healthie had just gone through a huge layoff and  a nightmarish crunched product rebuild. We had taken a beating, and in the long hours and late nights, there’s an appreciation of kindred spirits that refuse to die.

Years later, in late 2020, I was at a bar with a group of founders and a VC. The VC went around the circle asking about company spirit animals. Healthie was doing much much better at this point, and back on a growth trajectory. Still, I took pride in my answer, “cockroach.”

The VC recoiled. These were zero interest rate days. This was the time for explosive growth, not survival. This was not the answer to give if you needed to raise money.

Thankfully, at Healthie, we didn’t have to. We were profitable and felt self-sufficient and in control of our destiny.

Today, as we approach 2024, we feel the same way, but I no longer think cockroach was the right answer. Cockroaches are isolated. They survive seemingly anything, but no one wants to be around them. They feel solely focused on survival, and do not take any advantage of the upside of thriving or growing.

It’s much better to be a company that can survive in the worst of times, but also excel in the best. I feel that’s what Healthie has been these past few years. We’ve grown an incredible amount (both in revenue and employee count), matured as an organization, and became a known name in our space. I don’t know what animal that maps to any longer, but I know it’s not a cockroach.

Survival mindset can turn into a starvation experiment if you’re not careful. Knowing when to bunker down, and when to try to focus on growth is a gut decision that doesn’t have a clear right answer in the moment. It’s a hard decision to make but it is critical, and ultimately a human one. Next time, I get asked the spirit animal question, I think I’ll go with “human.”