“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Most people have heard this adage, and many may have rolled their eyes at it. But for all of its saccharine sentiment, it seems to be a driving force behind the Great Resignation. Millions of people are leaving their jobs behind in pursuit of something more intellectually stimulating.
Music and sports lovers might consider working at Peaksware.
As a portfolio of brands offering training tools for musicians and athletes, the company appeals to employees with diverse passions. Outsiders may wonder what these two disciplines have to do with each other, but it makes perfect sense to the team, which applies a strict methodology for deliberate practice across disciplines.
“There are a lot of similarities in the DNA of a musician and an athlete, and oftentimes they do cross over,” said Sonia Bertek, vice president of operations at MakeMusic. “Our whole purpose at Peaksware is to help people get better at the things that they like to do, and have fun doing it.”
A Peek Inside the Peaksware Portfolio of Brands
Peaksware was founded in 1999. The umbrella company includes MakeMusic, Alfred Music, TrainingPeaks and TrainHeroic.
Peaksware Chief Operating Officer Michael Bonenberger agrees. “When you look at the nature of our sports and music brands, these individuals have to be driven to stand in front of people and perform or compete,” he said. “There’s something special about the people at this house of brands.”
So what does this look like in practice? Built In Colorado connected with employees across the company — and got a peek at the company’s brand-new office in Louisville — to discover what it’s like to pursue their passions within the Peaksware portfolio of brands.
Putting Passion to Work
Music was a formative part of Bertek’s youth. In a fifth-grade pageant, she played a woozy Red, Red Wine on the alto saxophone as her talent, and said she often sought refuge with her band teachers. Though she no longer plays the sax, she still cares about creating a platform to support musicians. That’s what drew her to the company when she started in marketing ten years ago, and that’s what kept her invested when she relocated to Denver for the job in 2014.
“This software helps connect teachers with students, and maybe makes practicing music a little bit more exciting for the students of the future,” said Bertek. “At the core, it is very meaningful work. I can’t say that about a lot of other organizations.”
There is a universal understanding of the challenges that come with being a musician or athlete among the staff at Peaksware. For instance, any musician would tell you that getting people to come out and support events is an eternal struggle. But at the Peaksware family of companies, there is a Slack channel for that, and it’s one of Bertek’s favorite aspects of the culture.
“We have a lot of gigging musicians who do shows. They’ll post their event on Slack, and people actually show up,” said Bertek. “On a Sunday afternoon, families will go and watch their coworkers play music. I can’t think of a better testament to the fact that our coworkers support each other.”
That same support can be seen across the aisle in athletics.
“I did a weightlifting competition a couple years ago and had 15 to 20 coworkers show up, which was amazing. A few weekends ago I went to the American open finals for weightlifting with a couple of my coworkers,” said TrainHeroic Senior Software Engineer Annie Venable.
Working at TrainHeroic allowed Venable to merge her passion for athletics with her skills in tech. Venable previously worked at a company with a traditional Microsoft tech stack, but she wanted to advance her career beyond those tools.
“I wanted to work somewhere that moved faster, had more autonomy and had more diversity of tech,” said Venable. “There is a lot of autonomy and ownership of the tech we use here; it’s not set in stone.”
Now, that autonomy extends to employees’ mode of work. The Peaksware family of companies recently implemented new, flexible work options that allow employees to choose the formula that works best for them.
The New Peaksware Flexible-First Policy
- Office-flex: a commitment to three days in-office each week.
- Home-flex: work mostly from home, with the option of coming into the office.
- Remote-flex: fully remote in any of the 23 states the company operates in.
- All together, now: The company hosts four on-site all-staff meetings per year.
The Future of Work
Peaksware brings together passionate workers in one house, both metaphorically and physically. Recently, that physical space has gotten an update to match the changing nature of work at the company.
The organization moved to a new space in 2021, and designing the Peaksware “office of the future” was the ultimate passion project for Chief Operating Officer Michael Bonenberger.
The project married Bonenberger’s skill sets of UX design and developing teams. His team drew on employee input to build a space that catered to workers’ needs, with the knowledge that those needs were changing with the flexible-first policy.
“The spaces are designed to meet the mode you want to work in, configured in multiple ways. We honored the passion within each of our brands,” said Bonenberger. “Not everybody is most productive in the same exact environment.”
If one were to look for Bonenberger in the office — he chose the office-flex option — they likely would find him in the break room. “It’s the largest space, with two garage doors, accordion windows and indoor and outdoor seating,” he said. “It’s got 24/7 access to beer, kombucha and cold brew. It’s the place in your neighborhood where you want to hang out. It blends the comfort of home with the work environment for people to come together.”
Peaksware’s New Office Specs
The new Peaksware office has a litany of features including a music, photography and video studio; an athletic performance and recovery center; a full hot and cold kitchen; tech-enabled conference rooms; and workspaces suited to a variety of productivity styles.
The new office is suited to accommodate both work and play — or as often happens at Peaksware, a combination of the two.
The in-office days are invaluable to Venable, who chose the home-flex option. Her team is highly collaborative, often using whiteboards or pair programming to collaborate, and they’ve also recently tried out mob programming. Her team likes to use the new athletic performance and recovery center after they work on a product. “It’s cool to have worked on a product then go train with it and see if you like the updates you made,” she said.
“We often will have people hop in the music studio and test out a new product feature to play around with it,” said Bertek, who chose the home-flex option to spend more time with her children. “I took voice lessons from one of my colleagues because I wanted to see how the program would work for our users. A lot of people in our organization do that.”
Practicing What They Preach
The deliberate practice philosophy that brings together the company’s products also unites employees. “Deliberate practice is an important part of our culture,” said Venable.
The Peaksware Principles of Deliberate Practice
- Specific goal: Your journey starts by defining a very specific, achievable goal.
- Expert instruction: With direction and motivation, you will stay focused, make the most of your time and overcome obstacles.
- Focused practice: With an expert’s instruction, your practice will be purposeful and calibrated, not too much or too little.
- Immediate feedback: When you pay attention to the feedback you receive, you’ll learn and adapt.
There are growth frameworks for every role in the organization, and they incorporate the principles of the Peaksware method. The company also recently brought on a learning and development specialist to help coach employees.
“We’ve got rigor behind our own professional development, which mirrors what we are providing for our customers,” said Bonenberger.
The portfolio presents a constellation of growth opportunities and employees often leverage knowledge and share expertise across companies. Bonenberger pointed out that there are plenty of opportunities to grow across brands if someone caps out their trajectory in their current brand: “I can think of a dozen case studies where someone comes into the company through one brand then ends up working for another brand.”
Bertek agreed and noted that the company also supports employees who want to explore entirely new paths. “We actually created an apprenticeship program for one of our employees who wanted to move from customer experience to UX design,” she said. She sees this as a testament to the drive of the individuals at Peaksware, and the willingness of the organization to support its employees.
“We hire people who want to push themselves, be better and work on a product that helps others do the same,” said Venable. “It’s something really special.”