Dan Castles Knows That People are Inspired by Culture

Telestream has remained a technological leader for nearly two decades by focusing on culture and instilling a sense of ownership in every employee

When Dan Castles says that no job is too small, he really, really means it.

“Whatever the other guys didn’t have time to do or needed help doing, I did,” recalls Castles, who has now led the company for eighteen years. “People here know it’s absolutely unacceptable to tell me, ‘It’s not my job.’ You’ll never hear that from a Telestream person.”

When Castles and his two business partners—whom he met when the three men’s children shared a preschool class—started Telestream, their goal was to create a company with a culture they could be proud of. In fact, those two business partners, Shawn Carnahan (CTO) and Steve Tilly (VP of engineering), remain in those roles as active members of the management team today,  a testament to the management continuity that has been part of the culture from day one.

On its first day of operation, Telestream had only eleven employees. Ten of them were worried about getting the technology off the ground, but Castles was setting the example for the company’s environment.

“Culture is where people are inspired,” he says. “I get pretty focused on how we do things and why we do them.”

Dan Castles, Telestream, CEO | Photo by Jim Beckett

The business end of Telestream focuses on solving challenges between people creating videos and those watching them, whether that is a grandparent making their first video on their home computer or a major cable network such as HBO or the Discovery Channel.

Focusing on the entire spectrum of video creators and users is what makes Telestream unique, Castles says.

“If you’re creating content, we want you to have the highest possible user experience,” Castles says. “That means removing the technology limitations and just making it very easy for you to tell your story.”

Every year, Telestream grows, which Castles attributes to the focus on sustained performance. “We aren’t a flash in the pan or a one-hit wonder,” he says.

Their lasting success, though, all comes back to the company culture. “Company first; egos aren’t allowed,” Castles says. “We don’t hire superstars; titles don’t matter. You earn your respect by what you do, not what you’re called.”

Castles admits that his ideal culture is uncommon in the fast-paced West Coast technology sector but says it has been the company’s secret to lasting success.

As far as work-life balance, Castles says the Telestream culture encourages people to be out of the building more than they are inside, but also to understand when it’s necessary to “put the pedal to the metal,” he says. “You have a job to do and we trust you’ll do it, but how you do and when you do it, that’s up to you.”

During a major push, that might mean working seven days a week, but it also allows employees with children to go home and work on a schedule that accommodates their families.

“What happens outside this building is what impacts the attitude that forms inside this building and we understand that,” Castles says.

No matter how hard people work, life happens. At any point in time, Castles says, executives should understand that somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of their workforce may be dealing with stressful personal issues. It is in those times that having a strong backbone of company culture can help everyone. “We band together,” he says. “I just want to get the best they have to give at the time.”

When it comes to dealing with customers, Telestream’s culture emphasizes not cutting corners.

“We will never not take responsibility for something we should own up to,” Castles says. “We will incur true pain to make it right with the customer.”

Castles began his tech career as a financial analyst for Tektronix in Portland, Oregon, which at the time was one of the largest employers in the area. Switching from the security of a big organization to start a new business was a risky venture, but Castles says Telestream has been able to remain a success because it has stayed focused on its most important asset—people.

“It’s not just what you want to do, but how you do it,” Castles says. “The most important capital is the human element.”

Now, with thirty-four years of experience in video-focused organizations, Castles is leading Telestream into the next generation.

In 2012, Telestream was acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo. In January 2015, the company was sold to Genstar Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm. The transition has meant looking at their growth differently and consistently working to exceed expectations.

“Since 2012, we’ve had to really improve our processes and learn how to use metrics to manage our business,” Castles says. “It’s been different, but it’s been very healthy.”

No matter the changes in the company or the video industry, Castles comes to work every day feeling inspired.

“The amount of content people are making is increasing rapidly. People are willing to watch more content and watch it in different ways on more devices,” he says. “Every day you have to believe there is no one better to do your job at this moment than you.”