One of my favorite coaching clients of all time, Jake ‘Lead Cookie’ Jorgovan, invited me onto his podcast.
I’ve embedded the audio link below if you prefer listening instead of reading (listen for the first 30 seconds to hear the worst Aussie accent of all time).
If you’d prefer to read, here’s a table of contents to help you pick out the bits you’re interested in.
Table of Contents
- The simple math of the WP Curve model
- How I ended up in the Fox News studio
- Losing focus and launching multiple products
- The sale of WP Curve to GoDaddy
- Navigating the ups and downs of a business partnership
- The sell-side of the acquisition process
- After the WP Curve acquisition
- You are the worst person for every job
- Simple, fun stuff you can do to retain and motivate your team
- Building a team as a consultant or solo-founder
- Tactics to help you ask your team for their input & act on it
- How Dee, my product manager, put me in my place (all. the. time.)
Jake: Hey there pants-less pioneers, and welcome back to another bloody great episode of the Working Without Pants podcast. This is the place to be if you want to build an entrepreneurial empire that generates millions of revenue all with the freedom of working from home without pants. Now you’re probably wondering why I just got a little Aussie in my accent there. It’s because I have my coach and mentor on this call today, Alex McClafferty.
Jake: Alex is one of the Co-founders of WP Curve which if you’re not familiar with them, they were basically a monthly recurring subscription, a productized service focused on supporting WordPress sites which basically paid a flat monthly fee and you had access to your small WordPress fixes and like improvements and maintenance on your site. Really, really awesome service.
Jake: They grew it and sold it to GoDaddy, but while they’ve become legend in the space, on this call Alex shares the good and the not so good, the unpretty parts of that whole journey. The process of going from like the start of that through growing of it. The emotional turmoil with selling it and what it’s actually like to get purchased by a huge company, which is not always as pretty as it sounds. Just a lot of good stuff here. We get into a ton of stuff on leadership and teams like we just shot the shit for like an hour here. And just talked about all the things that I learned from Alex in my time with working with him and delve into some of his stories.
Jake: All right, Alex so the first question I have for you is are you wearing pants right now?
Alex: I am. I am I told my wife this is Working Without Pants and she kind of shrugged and laughed. I think she was happy to see me keep them on for a change.
Jake: That’s awesome. You’ve been just kind of traveling the world lately. I know I’m working with you on the mastermind and everything right now, and you’re just all over it. What’s the work situation or what’s the current life status look like for you?
Alex: You know what, man? Frankly, I’m just like figuring my shit out. The thing that is fun to do is to jump on the phone with founders whether individually or in a group setting and like help them solve some of their problems. I’ve spent some time in Bali.
Alex: Right now, I’m in Europe. Kind of bouncing around, and hopefully I’ll get to run into you in the South of France. It all sounds like super glamorous, I think traveling and working, but it can be extremely stressful as well. So, anyone’s that done the remote thing, as we talked about today, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your hierarchy of needs fulfilled including the WiFi at the bottom of that pyramid.
Jake: For context for anyone in the audience who doesn’t know who you are, I’ll toss it up here just my very quick synopsis. But you are co-founder in WP Curve, which has become literally like for the nomadic and agency owner world out there, the pinnacle success story of productized services. Then you sold it to GoDaddy, literally helped worked there to help implement it, and now you’ve exited and are like finished with that process and are out again. Is that like the synopsis? Or what other light you want to share on that?
Alex: Yeah, I think the other part of it is I was more of the … I think the dark horse. Probably a little bit quieter in my role in WP Curve. The things that happened as part of the acquisition and also like what I’m doing today. So, I have you to thank you for really pulling me into the role that I’m in today which is coaching founders. That’s where I’m spending a lot of my time right now. But I think you know the synopsis. That was pretty on the money.
Jake: I highly credit you for the success of Lead Cookie as I worked for you basically for those first six months and I leveled the hell up as a business person, and just got way more mature and just learned. That was worth more than my entire college education. So-
Alex: Oh, dude.
Jake: Thank you for that.
Alex: Thank you so much, man. I’ve got a huge smile on my face. I think you actually … We won’t bro out too hard on this, but you sent me an email. I think it was New Year’s Eve, just to share your thanks, and share your progress. For me, coming from what was a very scalable business and a saleable business and all of that good stuff back down to doing coaching, it’s like the anti scale model.
Alex: The real reward is in seeing people, like yourself, progress and keep goals, and build really significant businesses. But also do it for the right reasons in the right way.
Man, I couldn’t be prouder of your results and your accomplishments!”
I’m also going to put it out there that if you can maintain your focus on this next venture, you’re going to blow the doors
Jake: Yeah, I’m excited as well. So, yeah. I appreciate the kind words there. But let’s dive now into the backstory. It’s been a bit since WP Curve, and I know a lot of people they look at it retrospectively. It’s like, “Oh, man. Those guys like nailed it. And they sold to GoDaddy. That’s awesome. I need to figure out my model and how to do that,” and whatnot.
The simple math of the WP Curve model
Jake: There’s so many people in this agency space that are … We got our ideas for like start-ups or something scalable, because we know the agency work or the consulting work. It’s good and it pays the bills, but we know we want to build something bigger. Just let’s talk on the early days. Getting to WP Curve. When that actually was like, “Hey, we’ve got something that’s working here.” What was the process up until that point?
Alex: Yeah, you know what? I had a very kind of simple view of it, which was that WordPress was always a nightmare. So, I tinkered around with blogs for a couple years before I started working within WP Curve. I would just get insanely frustrated by trying to update or edit anything on a WordPress website. It was throw your computer out the window frustrating.
Alex: I thought to myself when the opportunity came up, and when I saw Dan was doing with WP Curve. I was like, “Okay, if there are like a thousand people out there who get as upset as I do when they use WordPress, then there is a model. There is an actual business opportunity, and a workable model behind this.” Because it’s so maddening. It’s so painful that you would just throw money at the problem to make it go away.
Alex: I think, for me, I was already there and my head as far as understanding what success would look like. I had a metric which was like 1000 customers, and I don’t know … come up like roughly 80 bucks a month, or something like that. You hit your magical million dollar annual run rate, and then you have a successful business in those terms. Getting to that, I think we had an advantage because Dan had done a ton of content marketing prior to going into WP Curve.
Alex: What had happened was a lot of the good work that he’d done in the early days started to bear fruit, because he’d built an audience, he had a mailing list of 6000 people when we started. What appeared to be somewhat of
How I ended up in the Fox News studio
Alex: But I think that I started to think we actually something real, and something tangible, was I was talking to a customer on live chat. I smirk when I say this because it sounds ridiculous. This guy had a website, and I’m going back and forth with him on live chat. He’s like, “Hey man, I’d love to interview you.” I was like, “Oh, cool.” He was like, “I’m really interested in the model, and it’s all really innovative what you guys are doing and everything else.” I’m like, “Okay, cool. What would you be interviewing me for?” He’s like, “I’m an anchor on Fox News.” I was like:
This guy is completely bullshitting me, he’s having me on!?”
Alex: As soon as I figured out who he was, and what was going on, I kind of scoped it out and figured out a way to get myself to New York on the cheap. I was living out in San Francisco at the time. My wife was working for a tech company. Figured out how to get her into an event over there, so then I could stay with her in the hotel. I was sitting there in the studio, and they filmed this clip which is six minutes of me kind of stumbling through some of the things that we’ve learned at WP Curve, and how we help people and everything else.
Alex: I was looking around and I’m like, “How did I actually get here? What is going on? Is this like legit my six minutes of fame?” I know you’re supposed to have 15, but was that my six minutes of fame? That was the moment in which I was like there’s significant external validation for the business and interests and everything else. Before that, in my head it was already kind of a done deal to say there’s going to be a thousand people that have this challenge. We just need to figure out a way to get it in front of that many people.
Losing focus and launching multiple products
Jake: I had a call with you. This Facebook Live recently went out to my email list. And the part that I don’t know if we talked on, on that Live, was basically I had just recently shut down Content Allies, and I had the call with you right before I decided to shut it down officially. One of the things that you brought up to me on that call, which I thought was really useful though was that before WP Curve, you guys tried like a bunch of different things.
Alex: That was during, dude. That was during WP Curve. Mind you.
Jake: That was during it? Oh, wow. So you guys … I didn’t realize that was during the same time.
Alex: Same time, man. All within the same window.
Jake: Okay. So even then though … You guys at that point you didn’t realize you had the golden egg right here and you’re still dabbling around trying to start a bunch of different things at the same time.
Alex: As far as the like having multiple products, or multiple things happening, one of the downsides of being an entrepreneur is that you see opportunity in everything. When you’re really early in your journey, or whatever you want to call it, because you’re so excited and because there’s so many problems to solve, it can run away with you. We had a content marketing community which had about 30 members, which had really good calls, a really good group of people. I’m pretty sure you were in it. Were you in it?
Jake: Yep, that’s how I met you. Yep.
Alex: Yeah, yeah, so like it served its purpose and it made the right connections, but that could’ve been a standalone business in itself. We had a plugin that then turned into a paid plugin that was really popular for landing pages. A bunch of this different stuff spun off.
Alex: The funny thing is, and the funny thing that I keep coming back to, especially with you is we’ve got something in front of this, which was the WordPress support business. That was infinitely more scalable than those businesses, just because we timed the market really well. We had the processes set up, it was a big enough pain point. It was built in growth into the underlying platform.
Alex: There were all of these things pointing in the right direction. But for a lot of the time we spent bouncing around off different ideas. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, it’s a natural thing that happens when you’ve got all of this energy to point at stuff. Sometimes the day to day gets a little bit boring. But we had to shut some of that stuff down, because it became a distraction, or it wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped it would be. Dude, I took that so personally, so so personally.
Jake: I remember the early days at Lead Cookie. I kept coming to be you, and I’d be like, “Man, everyone keeps wanting us to do cold email. Everyone’s asking for it. Should we offer cold email?” And you were just like, “You know what I’m going to say.” It’s interesting to hear back that I don’t think you guys … I fortunately had you to like kind of steer me from getting distracted and starting so many things.
Alex: Yeah, but in spite of that, dude. You still had some consulting going on the side. Right-
Jake: [crosstalk] That’s true, that’s true. Yeah.
Alex: That’s a very hard thing to focus. People talk about focus as it’s this place that you get to where everything kind of lines up and you can just narrow your focus and lock in one thing. There’s also the commercial reality of going through the first 12 months of a business, that you don’t know if it’s going to come off or not.
Alex: It’s easier for me to tell you like, “Dude, please don’t distract yourself.” But if you’ve got bills to pay, if you’ve got credit card debt, if you got other things racking up, that doesn’t solve your problem necessarily. When I talk about focus, I’m sensitive to the fact that at times you do need to straddle.
Alex: Like when I was doing WP Curve, I also did software customer success consulting to software companies in San Francisco. Again, like that was not a focused thing to do, but it was one of the best things I could do at that time, because I wanted to keep my skills sharp and build a network, and got to work with our mutual friend Nils from Glide Consulting. Shout out to him, I’m sure he’ll be listening to this. But, you know-
Jake: Customer number one.
Alex: Customer number one, baby. You got to look after him.
Jake: I know.
Alex: I look back at all this stuff and you kind of bounce around a little bit like a pin ball. You figure out, “Okay, I can do two or three things at a time, but if I just try and harness this energy and point it at this single thing, I will get a lot further a lot faster.”
Jake: Getting into about the process of like building. You guys start getting some momentum. You’re focusing down. What are the hard parts that start hitting you? What are the challenges actually in this process going towards acquisition? Where is the not pretty stuff behind the scenes that most people don’t know about this story?
Alex: In my experience personally, and also with other folks that I’ve worked with and seen, it really comes down to people problems, man. Like for me, my co-founder Dan and I, we had very different ideas of where we wanted to take things and what we wanted to do with the business, and we had to navigate that.
The sale of WP Curve to GoDaddy
Alex: We were navigating that at the time of the acquisition. We had both talked about buying each other out. We talked about putting it on the open market for sale. I’d started to run a process to figure out what would a fair market value be for the business because things just weren’t working out between us at the co-founder level. What can happen is like that stuff gets glossed over or brushed over, and it becomes just this magical fairytale Cinderella success story.
Alex: But dude, I had so many sleepless nights, and gained so much weight, and got so stressed out by trying to quarter back this acquisition through. To try and do whatever I could on my side to make things happen. That what people see is they go, “Oh, holy shit. That company got acquired. They made a bunch of money. Must be so nice.” It’s like, yeah you make a bunch of money, but I think I aged five or ten years in that five months of trying to figure out how to get the thing across the line. To me, I see it over and over again, relationships with the co-founders especially when there’s diverging interests.
Jake: I had a bad split with my first business partner. It was brutal. It’s not an easy thing. Business partners, it’s hard. So, I know that that can be no challenge in like retrospect for people that are in partnerships. Any advice for people on how to handle it, how to straddle that, how to set those up in a way that’s stronger from now that you’re looking back at that?
Alex: It’s so hard, man. It really is hard. And by the way, like I’m super grateful for everything that happened and how everything panned out. My ex co-founder Dan is doing great things with his brewing company which his called Black Hops. He’s kicking huge goals in a new business venture, which is like super awesome to see. We’re both stoked with how things turned out.
Alex: If I had my time over again, there’s a couple of things that I consider. One, when you get into a co-founder relationship, the commitment level is the same as a marriage because you are going to be on Slack. You’re going to be on the phone. You’re going to be on email. You’re going to be in each other’s pockets. You’re going to be stressing out and taking that out on your business partner. The commitment is really no less than a marriage. It’s super super significant. So, as part of that, you’ve got to make sure that you’re on the same page.
Alex: What we did, because we were just so excited about the opportunity and we’re at these different phases in our life when we started. So, Dan had sold a web agency, he had it for six years, sold it. Took that money, tried to build a SaaS app, it failed. He had two weeks to figure out what to do. Came up with a concept for WP Curve. I join him two weeks after. I was like on the bench, I couldn’t work because I just moved to the States and had a 90 day window where I could do whatever, and I legally couldn’t work. All these things kind of fell into place, where that was able to come about.
Alex: We did a
We didn’t meet for the first 18 months.”
In retrospect, that’s something that I would do as soon as I could, which would probably be at the start of launching the business.
Alex: The other things that I’d say are absolute as far as you can get to it, brutal truth, brutal honesty delivered in a softer tone. I would say things that I was uncomfortable with, I didn’t address them when I needed to. The same thing would happen from his perspective and maybe didn’t get address. Those issues fester.
Alex: I’ve seen it and I’ve had a conversation a couple of weeks ago with a founder, and this founder is doing really well, or co-founder. This guy is doing really really well. But he started to ask me these questions. He’s like, “I’ve got this co-founder, and I’m starting to feel like I could do everything that he does. And I’m not really seeing the value in the relationship.” That’s way too far gone, but people get there all the time, because they don’t speak up or speak about what’s on their mind. Those are a couple things that I’d throw in the mix.
Jake: That is good stuff there. I’ve got a friend who comes to mind. Same thing where it’s just like, “Man, you’ve been telling me for years on this relationship with your co-founder. You’re just not changing anything and you’re still not happy. Still are 50/50 owners in this company. It’s just … ” Yeah. It’s not an easy thing. There’s always these interpersonal dynamics to it. It’s a terrible terrible thing and it can cripple a business. What I’d love to also know, you guys sell to GoDaddy. That is like the dream of most startups.
Jake: Like, “We’re going to start up and then we’re going to sell to a company, and we’re going to get rich and never have to work again.” That’s everyone who starts a startup, it seems like that’s what they dream toward. This was actually a question you asked me at the start, was like, “Is your goal cash flow or goals for an exit?” I thought that was a very useful question whenever you probed that to me.
The sell-side of the acquisition process
Jake: But I’m curious just like what is the actual experience like of going through an acquisition with these big companies? I think that’s very useful for people to know because it sounds glorious, but I know it’s not nearly as glorious as it sounds. So, I’d be curious to hear that perspective as well.
Alex: A metaphor that I could quickly kind of rattle off is, it’s kind of like taking the bar exam without having done any study whatsoever. You kind of jump into the pit with folks that are very good at what they do in the field of corporate development. They look at dozens of companies a week and talk to lots and lots of founders. They know how to run an acquisition process. For me, I kind of got helicoptered into this thing.
Alex: And there was one day, where I was taking … My wife and I were heading down to Half Moon Bay and … I think it was Half Moon Bay. We were going to the aquarium, somewhere in San Francisco I can’t really remember the location. I remember I read this M&A book which was like 400 or 500 pages and I just consumed this thing cover to cover because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Like literally, no idea what I was doing.
Alex: Because of the level of urgency of getting the deal done, the opportunity and knowing company strategy can change overnight, I saw a window of opportunity and I had to do everything that I could physically could to make this thing happen. That was about learning really really fast, and trying to make sure that I had my own process on my side to tick my boxes to know where I was at. That’s not an easy thing to do, man.
Alex: That’s like … because like I say, you are learning on the job but the stakes are basically your livelihood. High pressure situation, super stressful, massive personal growth, and very exhausting. But again, I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But when you’re in it, man, it is brutal. If you talk to any founder that’s been through it, and they’ll probably tell you the same thing.
After the WP Curve acquisition
Jake: You get the deal done. It’s like yeah, you go through this insanity of getting the deal done. You get the deal done, and I believe … I don’t know the exacts, but I know you stayed with GoDaddy. I believe helped kind of because that’s common once like a company acquisition, they need someone. One of the founders has to stay integrated. You’ve got like a buyout period or something. As much as like … I know you can only share certain detail, but what is that process like? And experience of finally getting this deal done, this culminating thing, and then going from being in a startup and working in one of the largest companies? You know?
Alex: Yeah, so there’s a lot to it, man. I think the place that I’d start is probably at the personal and the emotional level. When your identity is wrapped up in a company, and then you hand the keys to that company over to the acquiring party, there’s a huge amount of like separation anxiety because that has become your identity. It’s kind of hard to differentiate it where you end and where it begins. That was a really hard thing for me to do. That was a challenging part.
Alex: I think that one of the big reasons that I stayed around with GoDaddy for as long as I did is because I wanted to make sure that the business was successful, the team landed well, they had the opportunity to scale. There was nothing like stopping me from leaving. So, I could really leave at any time.
Alex: I look at it, and I look at it in retrospective, and again as far as the growth goes on a personal front, you go from solving problems and the problems that we were solving with WP Curve is if we hit a really good podcast and we get a bunch of new signups, how do we deal with that? To GoDaddy’s got 17 million customers, if you turn on a channel and it hits, you’ve got to be ready to go.
Alex: As far as I would say the way of thinking about building these businesses and building the systems around the business, that truly leveled me up. You can do it theoretically, or then you can do it in practice. When you do it in practice you realize, okay there’s a lot more kind of ducks you have to get in a row to make it work.
Jake: I almost want to jump back now here and get more into, I guess the scaling of the business piece, because I think that’s actually relevant to a lot of people. I wanted to dive into this story, but I think there’s also just things that you’ve taught me that I want to share with this audience because it’s been so insanely valuable.
Jake: One of the most valuable things that I’ve learned helped me a ton as I was starting to build up Lead Cookie. It was just like really starting to think of how to build a system that delivered value without me being involved. Kind of your initial thing of you’re the worst person for every job, or like if it’s the more closer it is to being custom or requiring my expertise, the further it’s going to be possible to scale.
Jake: I think those are some of like the big things, mindset shifts I had to make. I’d love to have maybe you just dive into one of those, sharing more of your experience and how that applied and what you learned in that, in practice at WP Curve.
You are the worst person for every job
Alex: Yeah, the worst person for every job, I’m not sure if I came up with that term. I want to claim that I did. I’m hoping that I did because that was something that was running through my mind. The time that it hit me was when I was either dealing with cancellations from customers and just feeling like I had a knife being twisted in my stomach. But there was an angry customer, and I wanted to throw some venom back at them but I knew it wasn’t the best thing. I was sitting there just going like, I’m not very good at this anymore. I could do it for some time, but then I wasn’t very good at it.
Alex: So, my belief when it comes to being the worst person for every job is that as a leader, as an entrepreneur, as a founder, as a CEO, whatever you want to call yourself, the value that you bring along is not only in the ideas that you have and how you execute it, but the team that you can build around you. If you can build a really robust team that doesn’t necessarily need you are far as getting things done operationally, or day to day, then they start to manage you and you get managed by your team, then it’s my belief that you have a really rock solid business.
Alex: The test of this is when you can go completely go offline for a given period of time, whether it’s a few days or a week, or something like that. And then you come back and you see that your business is in better shape than when you left. Those are some of the hoops that I like to get founders to eventually jump through when they get comfortable with kind of letting go of the reins.
Alex: The thing that’s really rewarding in all of that process is seeing people grow. I worked with a handful of different folks who had different skill sets, and maybe not the right skillset for a particular role but to spend some time with them, invest in them, show them the ropes, set them up with a plan to say, “Hey, in 90 days you’re going to be at X level, in 180 days you’re going to be at Y level. These are the things that we’re going to take you through to get there.”
Alex: And then when they get there, seeing how ecstatic they are about having ownership or the main control over the things that they’re doing, it’s really personally rewarding. I’ve got to do that in WP Curve, and I also got to do that in GoDaddy. Having conversations with team members where they say,
Look, we’ve worked for lots of different managers but you’re by far the best boss we’ve ever had.”
Those things are the things that you remember. It’s not the endless meetings, or the emails, or any of that other stuff that you have to kind of deal with. It’s the human element of it.
Alex: I think to kind of put a cherry on top of that one of
If you look after the people, the business will look after itself.”
That was ringing in my ears the entire time I was with WP Curve, and then also at GoDaddy. It’s not always the easiest things to do because there’s going to be other commercial interest or things that come up in front of that, but try and stay true to that. Try and look after the people, and really invest in them, and you are off to the races. You can get some amazing results.
Simple, fun stuff you can do to retain and motivate your team
Alex: I think you’ve seem this in your business, right? Like you’re really starting to see some of these people take off.
Jake: Yeah, that was another thing that I learned just like you. You had one for me, I think it was like the Peter Drucker quote of like, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” I think is the one you told me. I invested a ton into culture. We’ve got a ridiculous culture. In our job applications, we make people say the word moist in the video they send us, is like the first word. It’s become this like ringing joke where our team printed moist coffee mugs and shipped them out to everybody.
Jake: Then like, we had one of our job company places that we post jobs, there was people complaining about the word moist, and they took our job posting down. It turned into this huge thing where my team was emailing the company, “We’re a legit company. They’ve hired like six of us through this job board. We’re legit.” They shared pictures of their moist mugs and stuff. We just have all this like goofy culture and the team loves it. We do weekly jokes, we do work life balance scores on our stand-ups.
Jake: Today, to top it all off, my operations director … I don’t know if … this is the most absurd thing but there’s these things called marble races online where people build these giant like downhill slalom courses, and then they just drop 20 marbles in them. It’s meant to like bet on what marble is going to win, and they have a video operator shoot it. It’s like crazy. The whole team is like picking marbles, and over eight weeks we’re all competing, and rooting, and yelling for our marbles while they roll down in our stand ups.
Jake: It’s like totally ridiculous, and goofy, and over the top like the weird fun stuff we do. It is part of the culture now, and it’s like our team loves it. We’ve had two people ever leave because they got amazing job offers that paid triple the amount, but other than that, everyone just loves it. They’re grateful, I get such heartwarming letters. It’s just the freedom we provide, and it’s just super super cool to see. So, yeah that culture piece. We’ve just totally embraced that, and it makes such a difference in the dedication and just the work you get from people.
Alex: Oh dude, totally. One of the things that I really dug my heels in about when … even before GoDaddy, but as part of going through the GoDaddy acquisition was I used to, and I still recommend people do this is you got your customer NPS, that’s always useful to understand what your customer NPS is.
Alex: But measuring your employee NPS is just as important, because it becomes this indicator for you to understand like, “Okay, what is happening in my business?” Those two scores … You’ve got revenue on the rest of that other stuff that you need, but you get the NPS right and look after those people and they will do what you need them to do. And it’s fun too. You get to go in and have fun which is not atypical of a given office job or something that you’re working on. So, you create your own environment, have a really good time with it.
Jake: I talked with a founder the other day. This was when I was on the Content Allies stuff. This guy says to me, “How do you keep your VAs around? I can’t get anyone to stay with me for more than two months.” And I’m thinking it’s probably because you’re an ass. I didn’t want to say it to him, but if you can’t keep someone on your team for more than two months, and you’re paying them a market wage, it’s probably because he’s got a culture problem. It’s just really got to build a place where people want to come work, and it makes all a difference.
Alex: I saw you write an article recently, and you talked about treating people like people, which seems like super obvious, right? It seems very very obvious. But really, it’s just the little things. They can be as little as like celebrating someone’s birthday. Pinging a message in Slack and saying, “Happy birthday.” We used to goof around and have people record videos of them singing happy birthday to each other, and then it just got out of hand because you have like a team of 60 people, and it becomes really hard to navigate that.
Alex: Those are the things that people go home and tell their partners about. They talk to their family about it, and they say, “I’ve never worked with a company that even cares about this stuff.” We are looking out for each other and having fun. It locks people in, and then you get really good performance out of them, and it seems really obvious and really simple, but to anyone out there building a team, think about those little things and you’ll get a ton of mileage out of your people, and enjoy it too.
Jake: Yeah. I’m going to pull like … I literally just got this on Slack, like moments before this call. One of my team members, I had a one on one with, it’s a woman on our team. Great woman, she was kind of like timid, and really scared to speak up, and I was just like, “Hey, you’re doing great but I just think you could try to step up and lead more. Don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there.”
Jake: This morning I just said, “Hey, I just wanted to say I’ve been seeing you step up more lately, and that’s awesome. So, thanks for taking that initiative and it’s duly noted.” She responded like, “Thank you. Really appreciate you noticed. This message just started off my day great.” It’s like the smallest little thing like that.
Jake: Now she’s ecstatic, really happy from that, and she’s growing as a person because I advised her, coached her into that. All those little things that make such a difference. Not always like the tactics, and what growth channel, or how do you do the ads or stuff. Those are like pieces of the business, but it’s these subtle things that makes such a huge difference in your team.
Alex: Yeah, I want to have fun day to day in the end. I want to have a fun working environment, and I’m going to invest a lot of time into having that. That’s why even when we get on calls, or we do the group calls or whatever else, try and keep it light. Try to have some fun with it. Just have a little laugh. It makes things a whole lot easier.
Jake: I’m sitting here thinking and just trying to think of what are some of the other like … I wish I had just like pulled … I literally at one point, I wrote an article on all the things I learned from you, and you didn’t let me publish that one. I wish I had pulled that one up handy. There’s so many-
Alex: Let’s publish it. Dude, let’s publish it. Let’s do it. Let’s publish it, and let’s see what’s actually still appropriate today. I would be interested to see what’s still appropriate today.
Jake: Yeah, I will get that one out there and I will put that out there, of just all the things I learned from you. Another one that I loved was just like the … this kind of goes along with thinking you’re the worst person for every job, but like the tollbooth analogy, is one that you shared with me with along those lines. I actually shared this with someone the other day, and they loved it. You kind of described as a business owner, you eventually … You start off and you have like a small flow of customers, and everything flows through you.
Building a team as a consultant or solo-founder
Jake: That’s how it is as a consultant. As you build a business, and more customers are trying to come through, if you’re the only one at the tollbooth, everything flows through you. So, you have to build these other lanes within that, which are basically the other employees, or other roles, or routes for other people to go, for you to be able to ever step away. That metaphor is so visual, and so strong.
Jake: Even right now, I still sit in the sales seat at Lead Cookie. I was looking at it, and I’ve held onto that seat for a number of reasons. Part of it, it’s one of my favorite things. But I’m hitting a point where I literally don’t have enough time slots on my calendar to take the calls. People can’t get a call off me for a week and a half. I’m becoming a bottleneck. It is hurting our business because I’m not letting this go.
Jake: In that tollbooth analogy just makes it make sense whenever you start to realize it at any point you’re like, “There is more flowing to me with this one aspect of the work than I can reasonably handle.” Then that’s where you just have to open that up and get it off to someone else. That analogy has just stuck with me really well over the years.
Alex: Yeah, the thing about this, and this is where I like to talk to single founders or folks that are going from a consulting background and wearing many hats and doing everything themselves. You got to pay a price for this either up front or down the track. Like one way or another, you will pay the price.
Alex: So, you’ll either burn yourself out by trying to do too much, and that quality will suffer. Or, you’ll bring someone in and there’s going to be a lag, and there’s going to be a while that it takes to get them ramped and up to speed. One way or another, there is a cost. What we tend to do is, because each of us like to think that we’re really good at what we do, and we’re probably all a little bit control freaky, or whatever you want to call it. It’s very hard to let go of the reins.
Alex: But it becomes this thing where you get in your own way with this stuff because you can’t let go of the reins, because you’re scared it’s not going to work out as you expect to, or whatever else. The funny part about it is, as soon as you start to loosen the grip a little bit, then you have a little bit more scope to understand, “Okay, what do I need to do to step up and out of this role, put someone in this position but make them more successful than I ever could be.” It’s a different way to think about solving that problem.
Alex: Once you can take the ego out of it a little bit, and realize that everything you do in a business is really replaceable. You’ll be able to look around a little bit more. Poke the periscope up out of the water or whatever, in your submarine and actually have a look around. Rather than just kind of cruising under the surface.
Jake: Whenever you hand something over to somebody, a few things in the handing over. One, the expectation. It’s going to take them three times a long, like it’s just going to. You’re a superhero entrepreneur. I work at an insanely high capacity, speed and efficiency, and I have been learning everyday for years, I just move very fast. The average person, despite how talented and wonderful they are, is just not going to perform at the same speed you do.
Jake: I hand over onboarding to a guy, and like at first it would take me an hour and a half, to two hours to do an onboarding. It would take him six hours or almost a full day. Eventually he gets caught up, but like just that expectation and realizing yeah it’s going to take three times, anytime you hand something.
Jake: I think it’s just a good mentality to get into, because otherwise you just get disappointed if you think, “Oh, it took me two hours. Why is it taking him so long? Like what the hell?” Getting that mentality in place, I feel like it just helps me set proper expectations anytime I hand something to someone.
Tactics to help you ask your team for their input & act on it
Alex: There’s that, and then there’s also looking at kind of future pacing on it. And going, “Okay, like right now it’s taking them three times as long to do the same thing. But where I want to get them to is I want them to take half as long as it took me.” And setting them up with that goal in mind. Try to give them the scope, and the ownership to accelerate that. Because if they’re going to be doing it every day, they’re absolutely the best person to have the input on how to improve that process.
Alex: It’s something that I learned really early on with WP Curve. We’d get really good ideas and feedback from customers. But man, we got so much goodness out of asking the team and actually having them sit together every week and come up with problems that they’ve got, and ways to solve them. It seems so obvious, and almost a little bit silly, but getting folks together to actually riff and brainstorm on some of this stuff and create the accountabilities to make sure things get done, it becomes a sports multiplier. Consistent with getting people ramped is over time, you want to get them to have ownership of their domain. That’s fun stuff. You get a lot of lift out of that.
Jake: Yeah, that’s another thing that we’ve done pretty much from the start is we do the weekly workshops. You guys did something similar. Where it’s like an hour a week. We just have a Trello board of all of our problems, and we just brainstormed and figured out how to solve problems. It’s just crazy when you just empower everyone to put out their ideas. Just like the solutions and things you can come up with.
Jake: Or like especially when things start getting out of your realm. These workshops happen weeks I’m not there. Problems in new processes and systems are created without me being around because you just give your team the ability to help improve things. It’s just something so many companies don’t do and they feel like as the owner, they’ve got to push every improvement along.
Jake: But you just connect your team, give them a place to talk about their problems and come up with solutions, and suddenly the team is generating all these ideas, and all this stuff. It’s just a weight off of you. If you’ve got that culture, and people care, then all that just comes together and these workshops become this amazing output of productivity and improvement.
How Dee, my product manager, put me in my place (all. the. time.)
Alex: Dude, I’ve got a couple of really funny stories about this, but the moment that you reach I would say, the pinnacle of that … I used to do this all the time, and especially at GoDaddy, I would come in so hot with all of these great product ideas and all this really cool stuff that I was so amped on. I would take it to the product manager, and her name’s Deirdre. She’s great. She knew how to manage me for starters, which is a feat in and of itself.
Alex: So, I’d go to her and I’d say, “Hey, have you thought about this, this, this, this, this, this,” like just machine gun her with a bunch of different features and ideas for the product roadmap. She’d look at me for a moment, and she’d be like, “Yes, Alex. Not only have we thought about them, but we’ve already looked at scoping them. We’ve prioritized them. That’s going in this release. That’s going in this release.” And I would just sit there, and just like smile.
Alex: Not only am I being put in my place, but she is running the show. I am being managed by exception. I would have that with product, I would have that with operations. To me, that’s when you know that you can step away. Put your hands up, and go these people are running the show. That’s when I think you know you’ve got something that’s really robust and scalable. It’s funny, because it’s an ego check. You’ve got great ideas, and the team is just like, “Yeah, dude. We’ve got this. Thanks but you’re like two weeks like.” I was like, “Okay, cool. It’s good to know.”
Jake: I started laughing because when I bring … I have a lot of times where … I don’t know how many times I’ve put a card on our little Trello board, and we go to workshop, and my team would just shoot me down. They’re like, “No, Jake. No. It’s a horrible … No, we’re not doing that.”
Jake: So, I get put in place by my team all the time as well. Where they’re just like, “That would be a freaking disaster. We’re not … No.” It’s cool to just have that open environment and be able to get that feedback. A lot of times, I’m just sitting here like entrepreneur mindset, and then I bring it to them at operations and they’re like, “Are you serious? That would be like hell.” So, it’s just again having that open mind and just getting them empowered to make those decisions too, and respecting that is just super super useful.
Alex: Yeah, I had a lot of that. And I also think the other thing is when you start to bring a culture like that, especially in a bigger company like GoDaddy, it starts to catch on. So, we would see the kind of approach in the things that we would adopt, would start to go through other teams. Which is where you really start to feel good about what is being produced by your culture, and the kind of tone that you set.
Alex: The best idea in the room wins, and that’s hard in a bigger corporation because there’s status and titles and all this kind of stuff. I always sit in meetings with a bunch of different people, from a bunch of different departments. Dee, my product manager, who worked with me on WP Premium Support which was the new name. She would run rings around me, and I would be asking her for information and updates. I’m like, “That’s the way it should be,” because she’s empowered to do really good work. That sets a tone.
If you can kind of let go of the ego a little bit, and start doing that with your team, ah man, it’s so much fun. So much fun!”