When Jake Nickell started Threadless in his apartment a decade ago, it was easy for the tiny T-shirt maker to feel fun and familial. Growing companies often lose that ethos, but Nickell built play and collaboration into the Threadless culture with pool tables, arcade games and what he calls "awesome time." Even with 80 employees, rank-and-file workers say they feel like they matter -- and the company matters to them. "If you want people to do work that's inspired instead of just punching a clock, you have to give them some freedom to do so on their terms," Nickell says.

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