In November 2014, a former ZocDoc employee said she would be filing a lawsuit against the company.
The anonymous employee said the company, which lets you find and book doctor’s appointments from your computer or mobile device, was a “frat house.”
“There were things the men who worked there could get away with saying like ‘you aren’t bubbly enough,’ ‘you look hot today,’ ‘That secretary is a c—,’ etc.,” she said in an anonymous rant on Kinja that is no longer online.
“It was just accepted.”
In addition, the former employee claimed, men openly discussed their female colleagues’ bodies, the company’s upper management treated women differently from men, and the building had a rodent infestation.
ZocDoc, which was founded in 2007, is one of New York’s biggest startups. Last year, reports said the company was seeking to raise $US152 million at a $US1.6 billion valuation, adding to the $US97.9 million war chest it’s amassed over the years. Its institutional investors include DST Global, Goldman Sachs, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, and SV Angel.
The former employee who said she would file a lawsuit against the company did not end up taking ZocDoc to court.
But since then, more than half a dozen other former and current employees have spoken with Business Insider to discuss their experiences at the company, which mirror the woman’s original complaints about ZocDoc’s company culture. These former employees asked not to be named, citing non-disclosure agreements they signed while working for ZocDoc.
Some of the issues they cited are typical in many sales departments and startup offices: employees work long hours, there’s significant employee burnout and turnover, and the staff is dominated by immature-sounding men (in Silicon Valley, there’s actually a term for this: “bro-grammers.”).
Other issues seem ZocDoc-specific and troubling.
“A catcall mentality throughout the office”
ZocDoc’s headquarters occupies two floors of a building on Broadway in New York City’s SoHo neighbourhood. One floor houses the sales team; the other is for the company’s other departments, like product and customer service.
Former employees tell Business Insider that the two floors are culturally segregated, and ZocDoc’s problems are contained to its sales floor. ZocDoc’s salespeople contact doctors to sign up for ZocDoc.
Several former employees told us about a “hookup culture” at ZocDoc, catalyzed in part by company happy hours.
“There would be a catcall mentality throughout the office,” a former employee tells Business Insider. “It felt like a college party every day. There was no line between after-work party and work.”
Another former employee describes ZocDoc’s sales floor as a “meat market,” and says that the majority of the sales floor’s hires are good-looking people fresh out of school.
One former saleswoman says she was “lucky enough” to work for a female manager.
“She kind of understood that we needed someone who was able to give us training and look at us for our sales skills versus our gender,” she told Business Insider. “Some of the sales floor people, mostly men — even managers — would objectify the women.”
For instance, this former ZocDoc saleswoman says, she would take an alternate route to ZocDoc’s lunch room to avoid being subjected to her male colleagues looking at and making comments about her body or her outfit, like “your shirt is a little too tight or your skirt is a little too tight,” she says.
This same former saleswoman also says that when ZocDoc makes new hires, the company sends out pictures of new employees and that male colleagues would make comments about their appearance by saying things like, “Oh, we have a bad batch today.”
Male colleagues would make comments about the appearance of other new hires, saying things like ‘Oh, we have a bad batch today.’
Other former ZocDoc saleswomen shared similar anecdotes with Business Insider.
“I would definitely recommend any male out of college to go to ZocDoc to build their sales acumen, but girls I would steer away 100%,” a former salesperson told Business Insider.
Another female former employee says what happens at ZocDoc isn’t abnormal for a sales company. Based on her experiences at ZocDoc and other companies, she says, these places target and attract recent college grads who crave competition, energy, and most importantly money.
“Sales isn’t the safest career path for any woman and it’s obviously not the most stable,” she tells Business Insider.
“Of course [young, male employees] are going to womanize and gawk at the only two women on the sales floor. Of course they don’t know what an actual office environment is supposed to look like and how they’re supposed to act.”
“Churn and burn”
On the sales floor at ZocDoc, employees say there’s a phrase used over and over again: “churn and burn.” Former employees say this phrase indicates the competitive, often stressful nature of work in ZocDoc’s sales division.
“They are full steam ahead,” one former salesperson told Business Insider. “They have this arrogance in the company where the human capital is of zero value.”
A former employee at ZocDoc told Business Insider that employee turnover at the company is high. The company recruits and brings in batches of new employees regularly because so many end up leaving or quitting, the employee alleges.
“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” this former employee says. “And I’ve been in sales for 11-plus years. It’s mind blowing the amount of people that leave or get fired.”
When new sales hires start at ZocDoc, they go through a training program called Med School. One former salesperson tells Business Insider that she started her Med School class with 30 new hires.
Most of them were gone in three months, and now, a year later, there’s only one other person from her training program left.
“To be there for a year is an accomplishment,” she told Business Insider. “Either you are really crazy or you’re doing really well.”
One former employee says the stress of working at ZocDoc led her to seek out professional psychiatric care.
“I never used any psychotropics until I worked at ZocDoc,” she says. “I went to a psychiatrist, and I was put on Prozac.”
This person left ZocDoc several months ago. She says she’s no longer on Prozac, either.
“It was bizarre. It was really really depressing,” she recalls. “I honestly don’t know how I lasted that long.”
Because of the hours that people on the sales floor work, one former employee says some ZocDoc salespeople took cocaine or Adderall.
“There was a lot of cocaine around the office — because you know, you gotta come in and cold call from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., take an hour commute home, go to sleep and then wake up in the morning and do it all again,” he says.
There was a lot of cocaine around the office — because you know, you gotta come in and cold call from 7 am to 8 pm, take an hour commute home, go to sleep and then wake up in the morning and do it all again.
Other former employees corroborated this story.
“All the employees were on Adderall, pretty much. There was one salesperson who was promoted and is no longer there as of two weeks ago, but he was giving other employees Adderall and coke,” a former salesperson told Business Insider.
A company spokesperson provided the following statement to Business Insider when reached for comment:
“We hear time and again from our team members that ZocDoc is a great place to work. We try every day to uphold a positive culture that encourages people to speak up and use their voices to make our company better.
“We have a long-standing policy against any forms of unlawful harassment or discrimination and never condone illegal drug use.
“Our sales team is an important engine of the company and, like any maturing sales organisation, is evolving. Over time, we have strengthened our recruiting and training programs and continue to emphasise and support quality performance.”
Who’s running this place?
Former employees say ZocDoc’s founders and CEO are open to speaking with employees, offering “office hours” and one-on-ones for employees who have questions or problems. They are aware there are problems on the ZocDoc sales floor, but they haven’t done much to fix them, former employees say.
“Getting to know the founders and CEO definitely made the job a little more bearable because they understand the stress behind it,” one former employee says. “However, they don’t really care or want to fix the turnover issues, or any other issues for that matter.”
Other former employees echoed this sentiment. CEO Cyrus Massoumi, according to one former employee, is “extremely aware of the problems with the hiring and firing.”
Interestingly, ZocDoc has been named a “best place to work” by Crain’s for several years in a row and one of the 50 best small- and medium-size companies to work for by Fortune. These rankings are determined, in part, by employee surveys administered by anonymous, independent third parties.
In addition, 30% of ZocDoc’s leadership team and 40% of the company’s entire team are women. For comparison, at Google, 22% of the company’s leadership team and 30% of its entire staff are women.
A bigger issue
Two of the former employees who Business Insider spoke with say that while ZocDoc’s sales floor does have a problematic culture, the stressful, male-dominant environment is not specific to just the one startup. Rather, that culture exists on the salesfloors (and elsewhere) at plenty of tech companies, the two ex-employees said.
Startups have repeatedly earned a reputation for being environments dominated by young men fresh out of college with no experience leading companies.
At a 2012 SXSW talk called “Adding Value as a Non-Technical No Talent Arse-Clown,” Matt Van Horn, then an executive at social media startup Path, told stories about sending “bikini shots” of women to the company’s co-founders and talked about using campus recruitment as a way to “attract the hottest girls.”
“Van Horn wasn’t even 10 minutes into the talk [when] several clearly irritated women (and a couple of men) had gotten up and walked out,” says Mother Jones’ Tasneem Raja, who attended the talk. “I joined them.”
The “brogrammer” and frat-house mentality extends beyond employees.
Female entrepreneurs seeking funding for their startups are both ignored by investors who say they don’t invest in women because they “don’t like the way women think” and hit on when they’re trying to present their pitch decks and talk business.
In May 2014, Valleywag published emails sent by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel in 2009 and 2010, while he was an undergrad at Stanford. Spiegel’s emails to his fraternity brothers, littered with obscenities, describe women as sexual objects.
A month later, Tinder’s former vice president of marketing Whitney Wolfe filed a lawsuit against her former employer. In her complaint, she alleged that Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen “repeatedly called Ms. Wolfe a ‘whore,’ including in front of CEO Sean Rad, and he told Ms. Wolfe that he was taking away her ‘Co-Founder’ title because having a young female co-founder makes the company seem like a ‘joke’ and ‘devalues’ the company.” Wolfe later settled with Tinder and IAC, its parent company, for just over $US1 million.
“I’ve been through three different sales companies and they were all like a ‘frat house,'” one former ZocDoc salesperson told Business Insider.
“You’ll see people giving high fives, chest bumps, chant, or just ‘bro out’ as if they won the winning goal in a game,” this former employee added. “That’s what all sales really is anyway, playing a sport and winning.”