Managing Growth: Highlights from New Orleans Entrepreneur Week
Nowadays, March in New Orleans doesn’t just mean the return of Mardi Gras, Crawfish boils, and beautiful weather, but also the celebration of newer traditions like New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW). New Orleans has become a hotbed for startups across a variety of industries in recent years, gaining national recognition as an emerging hub for industries like film, technology, and healthcare.
This year for NOEW, Align’s CEO Doug Walner sat down with three men who’ve made a huge impact on New Orlean’s start-up community through their work with some of the fastest growing, most successful businesses in the region. The panelists were as follows:
- Andy Ellis, Chief Revenue Officer of Lucid, a leading global market research and survey platform that has raised over $60M in funding since their founding in 2010
- Kenneth Purcell, CEO of iSeatz, an industry leading booking engine for ancillary travel products whose clients include IHG and American Express
- Scott Wolfe, CEO of Levelset, a platform for construction payment management who has raised over $16M in funding since 2008
Doug asked these three about their experiences managing rapid growth following when their start-ups took off. The discussion focused on three critical areas for growing organizations: culture, communication, and data. All of the executives on stage broke down their different approaches in these areas but agreed on the importance of transparency and focus for any scaling business.
Below are some highlights from the discussion. If you would like to see the entire video, it is available here.
Highlights from “Managing Growth: What to do When Your Business Takes Off”
Doug (to Andy): Lucid has seen many iterations of scaling growth through the years. What has gone right and what hasn’t?
Andy: 7 years ago, I joined Lucid with a little less than 15 employees. I often give the advice to people coming up through an organization, “What gets you here does not get you there.” The same advice is very applicable to your business.
One of the constants through all of that is culture. Culture is just such an important ingredient in getting all of that right. The other constant is speed of decision. You’re always trying to make speed of decision work. To end on a cautionary thing, if what you’re doing in terms of scaling is not promoting your culture, scale should not slow you down, it should allow you to continue to operate at the same speed. Scale should not taint your culture, it should improve your culture. If you’re implementing scale and its doing either of those things, you’re doing something wrong and take a step back and look.
Doug (to Scott): You’ve been adding a bunch of new employees. How do you maintain a great culture?
Scott: What makes a good culture? Three things: The leaders of the team are accessible to everyone. The second thing is there’s no black box of information. And the third thing is that there’s a shared consciousness that the company has. It’s easy when its five people in a room or 10 people in the room, but it’s hard when you have 150 or 250 people across multiple locations. Some of the things I do is meet everyone who comes on the team. You don’t have to do that thing, but you have to do something to make yourself accessible and create that shared consciousness.
Question from the audience: What are innovative things you do as CEOs to drive employee engagement? Any out of the box things that drive loyalty productivity?
Kenneth: Transparency. When we started out and were borrowing money, it was really hard to be transparent because you don’t know where your next dollar is going to come from. Now we talk about revenue, we talk about EBITDA, we talk about what our plans are in the next three to five years. We’re working to be more transparent. To truly get an engaged work force, which is what powers our business, people have to understand whats important to me. We do about 40 ‘fun’ events a year and that list continues to grow. We believe we’re well positioned from a benefits and comp perspective. We’re home grown and have some of the dog-friendly built in New Orleans thing going on. My door is always open.
Scott: We play a Taylor Swift song every time we get a 5 star review. You have to give a lot of space to let your culture be discovered in your organization.
Doug: Communication across an organization is critical for growth. What strategies do you have for communication and keeping everybody informed?
Kenneth: In terms of communication, we have quarterly kick offs and we’re starting now to have skip level meetings, where I’m meeting with my direct’s direct. It’s important that my direct’s directs are hearing directly from me whats important so when we get into our goals meetings on a monthly basis as an extended leadership team it’s not them hearing it for the first time it’s me reinforcing. Then we have a sense of transparency with our team members too.
Andy Making something a habit is the most important thing you can do to achieve change. We have an all hands every Thursday, it is broadcast to the world. It’s all a cadence by which we can achieve consistent communication across the organization and make sure we are backing up our managers and leaders in terms of what they’re saying.
Make sure you’re all working on the same thing. At Lucid, we’re really good at ideas and we love shiny objects. We realized we could go chase shiny objects all day, but we weren’t advancing the cause. So we focused, and actually your tool, Doug, Align, helped a lot in this capacity, to focus our energy on “What are our priorities” and communicating that out to the organization… The visionary founder’s curse is the ideas.
Scott: All of our teams have a daily standup. We have an executive standup on Monday and Friday but executives are in other stand-ups every day. We have an all-hands every month. I got advice from Doug a while ago when we were at 50 employees and everybody was confused. When you’re at 50 or 100 people those people don’t hear your ideas everyday and they get confused. Doug told me maybe I had an over-communication problem. That’s not a transparency thing, its don’t let your team go astray with what’s being worked on. Make sure they’re thinking about the right thing.
Doug: Besides revenue and profit, do you have one critical number you focus on?
Kenneth: Revenue and EBITDA are obviously important. One thing that’s become really important to me is speed. Not speed at the cost of quality, but speed in everything we do with quality expectations being very small. Our customers are using us because they think we’ll be faster… so we have to be the fastest.
(Doug to Scott): How do you make sure everyone sees the numbers you’re tracking?
Scott: That goes back to communication and cadence. The thing about transparency is if you work at our company, you can see everything you just won’t understand it. It’s part of the organization’s job to teach them what it all means. You teach it during on-boarding and you bring it up during the all-hands meeting. You bring it up constantly. You want to keep it simple, don’t over communicate it, make sure they understand it, and keep it in front of them all the time. At every communication point you want to focus on the same metrics over and over and don’t ping-pong around all the different metrics you’re trying to follow because you’ll confuse people about what they should be working on.