Local Startup Takes New Twist On Employee Morale, Sets Up Fight Club

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo


Most companies, when they're looking to raise company morale, might set up a company picnic, Friday night beer bash, or maybe go on a ski trip. Instead, the executives over at Culver City-based Fonality decided on something different: a full blown, mixed-martial arts (MMA) tournament between its employees. Fonality, which is a venture-backed developer of PBX software used for replacing corporate phone systems, is in the midst of its own version of an employee morale-booster: training for the "Fonality Fight Club" and a competition refereed by martial arts expert Chris Reilly, who regularly trains fighters for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). According to CEO Chris Lyman and VP of Product and Marketing Corey Brundage, the idea for the fight club came when Lyman ran into Reilly in a restaurant, and learned about his fighting class. Lyman explains that because of the lackluster economy, the "energy was different" around the firm, and they felt instead of solving by "hugging it out" they'd "punch it out."

"I think the CEO and VP of Marketing are expendable, but I do worry about the guys in support, who actually do the work," Lyman said in an interview, when asked whether he had any worries about their key employees being injured. Lyman also said that the participants will be wearing lots of safety guards, like shin guards, mouth guards, head wraps, and more. The company has also banned people who have previously fought before, or had experience in martial arts, from participating, with the exception of one employee. Lyman said the firm now has 17 employees signed up for the event.

What do employees get out of beating each other up? The firm is giving the winner two free weeks of vacation. The loser will have grow a mustache, commensurate to which round in the fight they lose, plus write a hand written note to the winner's mother, apologizing for losing to the winner.

As for the firm's business, Lyman said that the company--which recently reported it had strong financial growth in recent months--is not immune from the current slowdown, but said the company is using the environment to become more efficient in its business, explaining that some of the best companies have been built in recessions.


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