Category Archives: Blog

This will make you a better Founder & CEO

My first consequential team leadership experience occurred when I worked at Service Merchandise in Derby, Connecticut.

I volunteered to lead our annual MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) fundraising event. Basically it was a big car wash on steroids. There were carnival games for the kids, visits from Miss Connecticut and the town mayor, lots of tables with homemade baked goods for sale, and of course, lots of cars washed by almost every junior high and high school sports teams in the area.

It was a spectacle. It was chaotic. It was fun. Many were happy. We made lots of money for MDA…record breaking for this annual event.

The next year, I volunteered again. It seemed much more difficult to replicate the same atmosphere, spirit, and fundraising results.

I was baffled.

Some of the dignitaries decided not to attend. We had a smaller number of volunteers making and selling baked goods. And, we didn’t raise nearly the same amount of money as we did the year before.

What was different? Me.

A few kind-hearted people shared with me that I didn’t take the time to celebrate and acknowledge all the hard work, dedication, and time that all the volunteers provided in the previous year. And, they remembered that.

I was so focused on meeting my personal leadership milestones that I hadn’t really taken the time to acknowledge the milestones of our task force team and the volunteers. Their sense of accomplishment at a personal level and group level were different and I had not noticed.

Fast forward to 2017 and Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tirl, shared a similar lesson in a recent candid interview on the “From Founder To CEO” podcast.

Here’s her quote that caught my attention: “…what we realized is…there needs to be intentional recognition of incremental successes daily, that we celebrate…”

Carisa went on to explain that she was focused on the big goals of the company and not necessarily the daily achievements that her team and team members were accomplishing…because they were often different.

Has this happened to you? As the Founder you are so focused on scaling the company. You are so focused on transitioning from startup to scaleup, that you forget that a small act of recognition to one of your developers, or marketers, or anyone on your team, can go a very long way to building a culture that will stand the test of time.

I’m reminded of the famous meme that travels the internet. It is from Arthur Ashe. “Success is a journey, not a destination.”

From a practical perspective, you’ll get more from your scaleup team when you, as the Founder & CEO, model the behavior of celebration and acknowledgement on a more consistent and authentic basis.

I do think this is a relatively difficult thing to do for many of us Founders. We are often high achieving and results-driven people who are never really satisfied with the status-quo. That’s often the reason we became entrepreneurs in the first place.

I encourage you to think about this. Do you celebrate the accomplishments of your team members enough? Do you acknowledge the milestones of individual team members? Do you give praise with the biggest gift you have to offer? Your time and attention.

If you realize that your answer may be no. Take heart. Just begin asking your team members what acknowledgement and celebration looks like through their eyes. Take note and begin to incorporate their ideas into your own calendar, behaviors, and the culture of your company.

You will probably end up getting much better results than I did on year two of my MDA fundraising leadership experience.

What works for your team? How do you celebrate at your company?

Please consider sharing your thoughts below so we can all learn together.

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I’d Rather Waste Money on Jet Skis Than Invest in a Sales Funnel

SPECIAL NOTE: For this post, I asked Musa Sulejmani to share his thoughts about  how he has managed to build such a strong and committed team at Volume Technologies. Musa was our guest in episode 189 of the “From Founder To CEO” podcast. Let me know what you think. – Todd

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By: Musa Sulejmani, Founder & CEO of Volume® Technologies, Inc.

Yes, I’d rather spend my day riding a jet ski, sipping martinis with my best friends and run up a tab than invest in a sales funnel.

Spoiler Alert: My best friends are my co-workers.

I believe at the core of any business, whether you’re Google, Facebook, or even one of the high school students who have an idea, team development is the most important part of your business. The most powerful empires of all time began as a movement, a team of people who were brought together because they shared a similar vision.

Not only do these groups share a vision, but they grow together. Teams that develop together, share their visions, their fears, all while growing together. A lot of the time, they even fail together. That’s because team development increases productivity, fosters innovation, and creates unbreakable bonds.

I like speaking from personal experience. Let’s rewind back to February 2017 when my company, Volume Technologies, released its principal product, Volume, in a small, controlled market in Champaign, Illinois. Our team was small and outside of the founders, there wasn’t huge commitment. Productivity was slow, I was micromanaging, and pretty much forcing our meetings. I found myself irritated constantly wondering why the team outside of the founders didn’t care. Why was it that they’d rather spend time on homework and not hands-on projects that people wanted to use.

There was no emotional investment in the company.

I realized quickly that no one wanted to work on something with people they didn’t grow with, they didn’t care about. Why should they?

I had an idea. I merged the software development culture with our event-planning culture. I began inviting our development team to the events we were planning at the release of our product. Not even a week later, I was getting messages from the development team asking when our next meeting was and what they can be working on. They cared. Because I merged cultures together, gave them a platform to all grow together on, in this case it was parties, we were all able to grow together. This is why I now encourage all product managers, founders, etc. to plan company retreats or get togethers and have fun with their team.

When I was receiving those messages and calls from my team, I wondered how I could get away from my micro-managing tendencies and increase buy-in. Every book on leadership I ever read talked about team buy-in. I wanted to learn about it in the real world. I began asking my team if they felt we were innovative enough. What could we be doing better? I was amazed at the feedback I was receiving. In fact, it was so moving, when I emailed my mentor for advice, he told me I was doing fine, reassuring me that most product managers would “kill for that type of buy-in.”

Letting go of what I wanted and asking what others wanted was the first step in learning about delegation and the truth about innovation. Innovation never comes from the vision of one. It comes from the perception of many and change occurs collectively.

Becoming more of a, dare I say, ‘cool’ founder, has propelled my company forward. Being ‘cool’ has developed unbreakable bonds between myself and my team. I’ve almost never feared abandonment from any of my core team members. We have already all grown together, endured a lot of failure and a lot of success. It’s in a sense, like a marriage. The more you go through and stick together, the more you grow together.

We were working with a company whose founder had a decently successful track record in the 90’s during Web 1.0 (necessary step forward for tech, but ew). I pride myself on giving everyone an opportunity. That’s the person I am. After working with this company for a few months, we learned they were trying to backdoor fund their own company using our company’s success. Nice. Flattering, but in poor taste. After this obviously exploded in their face, they tried to poach every single one of my team members.

I never worried.

I had the trust in my team to stick together. We did. Not only did we stick together, but we grew stronger and grew faster than we even imagined. Now, we’re on track to release a national version of our app, Volume.

What I learned from this experience was that, by investing in my team’s future and caring about them, I not only grew myself and became an insightful leader, but I helped give a lot of people a sense of belonging and purpose. That’s invaluable.

What I encourage people to realize is that your team is like any relationship, especially like a marriage. Well, I’m not married but from what I read/see, it’s like a marriage. You have to always be communicating, compromise, and grow together. Sticking together and growing together with your team can do wonders for your company’s productivity, innovation, and bonds. After all, if you aren’t all in the water riding jet skis together, you can’t all drown together.

Musa Sulejmani is the Co-founder & CEO of Volume Technologies. Volume is a data analytics company that focuses on how people interact with not only each other but with their surroundings. Volume measures crowd and traffic movement at various areas including wait times, capacity, male/female ratios, and more. Volume uses machine learning and predictive analytics to forecast traffic patterns which has helped businesses plan for staffing, delivery drivers plan for pickup, and more.

Website – volumemobile.com

LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/msulej/

Twitter – @musa_sulejmani

Facebook – www.facebook.com/msulej512

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Want more productivity?

Try some of these 63 productivity hacks from 50 Top Founding CEOs.
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Hiring: Systems, Discovery, and Discipline

SPECIAL NOTE: For this post, I asked Bob Spence to return to my blog to make a very important point about hiring that we all my know, but often forget. Let me know what you think. – Todd

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Hiring: Systems, Discovery, and Discipline

By: Bob Spence, current Vistage Florida Chair & Founder and former CEO of  Creative-Leadership Consultants

Since 1992 I have been speaking and presenting seminars about my five step hiring process, the Choosing Winners™ System. I have discovered that far too many leaders have no concept of how to select the right people.

Leaders make hiring a whole lot more difficult than it is in reality. Part of this is due to a lack of specific training. However, the single greatest problem is the refusal of leaders to devote the time and effort necessary to improve their hiring success. They are all looking for the magic potion, the single test that will tell them who to hire. Guess what? That single test is a myth.

I developed my ideas about hiring while working as a school principal and superintendent. The single most positive influence on me was Ken Cardinal. Ken developed numerous structured interviews and I learned how to interview from him.

Ken always spoke about hiring as a discovery process. I found that with a discovery process mind-set I was able to focus on the interviewee’s responses and learn more about them. In discovery you want to learn all you can about a person before you make the job offer. Unfortunately, most leaders do not do this and after the person begins working it is “oh, no, why did I ever hire them?”

Hiring right is all about discipline. For years now managers have not been disciplined in their hiring of new employees. I really do not care which system is used in hiring new employees for a company. All I know is that you will be far more successful with a system, a process that everyone in the company supports and follows without exception. (Including the President!) My Choosing Winners™ System provides a framework, a process that requires discipline on the part of the leader. I never present my system as the answer, but rather as a model from which a company can plan and then implement a process.

When you hire the wrong person, the cost to your company is at least three times the mis-hire’s annual compensation not to mention the negative impact on the team. And remember, as it is written in the Book of Proverbs, 26:10, “Like an archer who wounds at random, is he who hires a fool or any passer-by.”

Bob Spence completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and also has done Ph.D. work at BGSU. (ABD) At BGSU he received the Distinguished Service Award. Bob founded Creative-Leadership Consultants, a human resources company, in San Diego, California, and grew it to 15 professionals and 4 licensee offices. He has experience in construction, manufacturing, retail, services and high technology. Bob is based in Orlando, Florida, serves clients throughout the United States. He is also a Vistage Florida Chair and a Senior Resource for Vistage International. In 2016 he received the HR Lifetime Achievement Award from Columbus CEO Magazine. He can be reached at his email address: bobsp@me.com

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Want more productivity?

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When the Company Needs a Sabbatical from the Founder

SPECIAL NOTE: For this post, I invited one of our popular podcast guests to share more about his journey From Founder To CEO. Jeff’s mission and vision will inspire you and his humor and wisdom will engage you. Please let me know what you think about it. – Todd

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By: Jeff Ginn, Founder and CEO, Prolanthropy

My name is Jeff Ginn and I am the Founder & CEO of Prolanthropy.  I had the great honor and pleasure of being the 8th podcast guest for “From Founder To CEO.”

For most of my journey from Founder to CEO, I felt like Prolanthropy was attached to my hip like a two-day old infant child. In the beginning, it felt that way because Prolanthropy needed it that way. For the last four years, it has felt the same because I needed it that way. I have spent the last decade being all-in, 24/7/365 and that defined who I was.

In the beginning, Prolanthropy was a young company that needed its founder all-in 24/7/365. It constantly needed more horsepower and I was the engine. Like many of you, I was working 80+ hours a week and my family got the rest of my time. I didn’t need balance in my life. This company had one shot and I was going to make the absolute most of it. It was all work and all family, and that was enough. I loved what we were doing at Prolanthropy and I was very happy being all-in, all the time.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016. For almost a decade, I’ve been the all-in guy. I’ve been the work 24/7/365 guy. I’ve been the horsepower guy. The firm doesn’t need that guy now, it needs more of an aerodynamics guy. It needs an improved energy efficiency guy. The good news is that our firm now has those guys on our leadership team. The bad news is that I am in their way. More bad news, I am not disciplined enough to sit in my office and let the world happen outside my door.  I’m a fixer and fixers fix. Even more bad news, our team has not weened themselves off the Founder just yet. To quote Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”.

So, what can I do? The firm’s leadership needs me when they need me, but needs me to be at a distance so they can lead. I’ve heard of something like this before. It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Yes, it was Grand Jedi Master Yoda. They need me to become Yoda, or should I say, “Yoda they need me to become”.

Ok, I am up for the challenge. The success or failure of this is going to require two things: 1) my being at a distance and 2) my being disciplined in staying out. I stink at both.

I started with what I felt would be the easiest – distance.  In January of 2016, I informed our leadership team that I would be taking an office sabbatical for five weeks during the summer. I knew if I were in town, that I would find a reason to stop by the office so my family and I moved to Southwest Florida (SWFL) for the five weeks.

Then I had to conquer the harder of the two – my having the discipline to stay out of the day-to-day. In the beginning, the “noise” is what kept me awake at night, but then it became the “silence”. How could I trust the silence, especially if I was going to be out of the office for five weeks? I want to be able to simply focus on the results, but the results are a trailing indicator. I needed a leading indicator that ensured the results were good. Enter the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). We implemented our phase I of EOS and had a strategy that would ensure the expectations, predictability, transparency and honesty that would enable me to stay out and measure results.

So off to SWFL I went. It was easy; I worked every day on the business but rarely in it. I was over 1,000 miles away and that kept me from poking my nose back into the day-to-day. EOS kept them from pulling me back in. Ok, now the truth. It wasn’t easy. I felt lost, I got bored and some days it took everything I had not to pick up my hero device and call the team to see if I could save the day. I didn’t and it was painful. Here was the problem – as Popeye said, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am”.  There had to be a release for all-in guy, work 24/7/365 guy, the horsepower guy. I never truly found the release, so I became stir crazy.

The good news is that the firm survived my absence from the day-to-day. In fact, the firm thrived. Why? – because all-in guy, work 24/7/365 guy, the horsepower guy was being Yoda and he wasn’t disrupting the leadership of aerodynamics guy and energy efficiency guy.

The bad news, Yoda came back from SWFL at the beginning of August. What now? Surely, I had the discipline to stay out of the day-to-day from the distance of my office. The team had experienced the freedom of having Yoda staying out so there is no way they’d pull me back in. We had all experienced the results while I was in SWFL. This should be easy. Guess what – it wasn’t.

As Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

The truth is, the firm performs better when Yoda is out of the day-to-day. Remember, I am not disciplined enough to sit in my office and let the world happen outside my door. So, in December I announced that I would be permanently working remote on Monday and Friday from my home office. This meant that I would only be available in the office a maximum of 60% of the work week. It worked.

It not only worked, it worked so well that last month our leadership team respectfully requested that when I return from my second summer in SWFL that I limit my office availability to 40% of the work week by adding Tuesday to my working remote schedule. What? Why? It wasn’t because they don’t need or like Yoda, but because they needed Yoda there less. With our leading indicator measurement working, our new aerodynamics and energy efficiencies mean that two days of Yoda in the office gives the company all the horsepower it needs to achieve our goal speed.

More good news. I am writing this blog from my second summer in SWFL and I am not stir-crazy. Here is the bad news – the fish in SWFL are becoming very acquainted with all-in guy, work 24/7/365 guy, the horsepower guy.

Prolanthropy is the largest and most successful provider of philanthropy management in the professional sports industry. They proudly collaborate with some of the biggest names in professional sports to create opportunities for these professional athletes to share their success and gain positive exposure through their own charitable efforts. Their vision is to continue as the industry leader by keeping the philanthropic goals of their clients in the forefront of everything they do and operating with complete integrity by living up to their Guiding Principles.

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Want more productivity?

Try some of these 63 productivity hacks from 50 Top Founding CEOs.
Download the PDF today!

You’ll also receive our ezine full of podcast updates and tips and tricks from Todd.