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Joseph Fung is the CEO of Uvaro, a tech sales career accelerator. A graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Computer Engineering program, Joseph’s a five-time technology Founder & CEO, and with multiple successful exits, and speaks frequently on the topics of sales leadership, diversity, and corporate social responsibility.
We discuss so many important topics around enabling people, empowering individuals and teams, using systems to map our experiences and get to progress faster. Joseph has an incredible story and I highly recommend you have a look at what he and the team at Uvaro are doing.
One of the amazing things that I love about this podcast is that I meet incredible people who genuinely have an impact on how I think and do things. You’re going to get the advantage of doing that today with Joseph Fung. Joseph Fung is both a serial entrepreneur as well as the founder of Movado. So he’s really, really neat Canadian as well. Which kind of a bonus. But before we get into there, let me just jump in and give a shout out and a thanks to the amazing folks that sponsor and make this podcast happen.
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And that is Devil’s Breath, one of the best shirts. Plus also proceeds go to support independent artists. That’s the way we roll. We want to support new creators. And one more thing before we get to the good stuff. Make sure if you want to get better connected with your customers, clients, peers, anybody in the tech industry, if you technical sales, product marketing, just about anything. I’ve created a guide called the Four Step Guide delivering extraordinary software demos.
Super cool. I’m very proud of it. I’ve had great feedback. So thank you to all the folks who have already downloaded. There’s much more to the program. So go to VelocityClosing.com You can actually check it out right there and there’s more coming anyways. Let’s get to the Good Stuff. This is Joseph Fung. Joseph Fung is somebody who I really, really enjoy spending time with. You are going to as well. He’s the CEO of Uvaro.
He he’s cool. We talk about selling. We talk about connecting. We talk about startup entrepreneurship, running teams, culture. Amazing. Enjoy.
This is Joseph Fung with Uvaro, and you’re listening to the DiscoPosse podcast.
thank you very much, Joseph, for joining. This is really neat because I love when I get to meet folks, when I look at what you’re doing and it immediately makes sense on a problem that I face on a daily basis, both in and out of my day to day work. And so it was really, really cool when I saw you come up and you Varro was the was the first name first. I did a look for you, Joseph Fung, and you’ve got a really great storied background.
You’ve got a couple of different things for you to talk about. So for folks that are new to you, Joseph, if you want to introduce yourself, tell us quickly about Loverro and then we’re going to talk about a lot of stuff in how people can get better at enabling people through the use of technology and proven historical work. That’s what led to this A.I. only.
Thanks so much for having me here. I’m I’m really looking forward to this conversation. We’re going to cover a lot of territory, and this stuff is always near and dear to the heart for Uvaro. By way of introduction, we’re on a mission to help the world’s professionals lead more fulfilling careers from their first job to their last. And we got there. I’ve been a five time tech founder and CEO, and every time building the people side of the business was always toughest, especially in the sales organization.
And we’re tackling that problem head on Jivaro and we get to see life changed every single day. And wow, is it fulfilling work? It is such a blast.
Now, the thing that I always enjoy is when you can see success come in, that people realize that there’s a repeatable thing that I’m doing and I can now leverage the fantastic capabilities of software to be able to make that process easier going forward for other folks. And I’ve done it with with mentoring. That was one thing. I was like, I keep having the same questions, get asked over and over again and effectively then built a playbook and then through developing this playbook.
Then I said, OK, now can I build a system that uses this playbook and, you know, doesn’t remove the human experience, but enhances the speed at which you can get to the human experience. And this is why I was I was really, really digging in on what you and the team are doing here, because you’re taking, like you said, multi time founders. So you’ve this is not, you know, straight out of school going, I’m going to create an idea and then create a thing and then I’m going to sell that thing.
You’re literally taking practices that you’ve developed over the course of time and now mapping them into a system. So if you don’t mind, just let’s go into the Wayback Machine and what what gave you the need, you know, in that first time you founded and as you went through this to understand that this was a real, you know, repeated problem that we see all the time.
You’re talking about the founding of Uvaro, or that way back. Yeah, each time. Yeah, even the pre Uvaro. I mean, it’s the fun that now folks that now they get to wait. They could listen because they want you want the real story, trust me. But I the lead up to it will actually will influence the reason why you are so important to.
I’ve gone through this a few times and the people who look at my my LinkedIn profile, they feel like, what the heck is this is like marketing hack and H.R. Tech. And there is a there’s a steel cable that links everything through. And if that idea of building, you know, really rewarding places where you can do your best work. And I think the real trigger was I went to the University of Waterloo, did co-op and one of my co-ops at Raytheon and a great space co-op leader, but is a multinational and they do military contracts and we did aircraft, airport surveillance radar and things like that.
They had a brand new president coming to visit. And it for me is a co-op because it’s super exciting. The guy runs a company that’s worth billions of dollars. I’m going to learn something new and, you know, maybe accelerate my career. But everybody was terrified because he planned to kill a factory. What does this mean? Why’s he visiting? And it struck me that that fear was the wrong way to build a company. I look back at it now and I’m like, Oh.
Co-op Joseph thought he could build a better company than Raytheon. That’s a very nice thought, but at the time, that’s that’s exactly what triggered me to do it. It’s like, you know what? I can build a place where people feel more aligned, more fulfilled, like they belong. And every step isn’t filled with that fear. And that’s what got me into building my first company. That was more than just a, you know, kind of a lifestyle business, soap opera style engagement.
And every step of the way, every time since it’s been that same ethos, how do I build a place where people can come and do their best work ever and now we get a chance to do that for our customers, too. And so feels in many ways like coming full circle.
The thing that you highlighted there is this thing of being able to have a different sense of experience through the same exact momentous experience as other people, and it’s funny, it’s very rare to identify that it’s different because most people don’t have the empathy to get there. Like whatever, you know, you’re that’s a you problem. What most people think, like, it’s really tough in like everybody is kind of stuck in just trying to figure their own stuff out.
And for you to be able to say, like, I’m experiencing this differently than other people, it’s notably different. And not only that, but then saying, I wonder if there’s a way that I could. If then my positive experience, and this is why I really enjoyed this story of the importance of being able to say I can gather a different, more positive outcome out of this thing, and I know it’s got to be in there in there somewhere for everybody.
How do we unlock that? And I think that’s that’s a huge thing, right? I mean, it’s changing the world in some small way every day. But then most importantly, figuring out as you do this over and over again, through different experiences, through different people. What are the commonalities that we can ultimately systematize and in doing so then? Bring it to sort of productize of people experience, which is which is kind of neat now. You’ve also definitely was interesting in that you’re you’re out, you’re directly trying to get to people and help them through this experience if you want.
Let’s talk about the heart of you, Varro, and what your mission is other than, you know, sort of the basic core that you’re aiming for.
Yeah, I mean, the crux of it comes from this, really. It’s funny, it’s one of those things you look at it and you realize, hey, you know, the world’s kind of flawed, but if you think about that career journey that anyone goes on and I mean, the stats are horrific, you know, average time in is like, what, two point eight years now? That’s like 16 different jobs a career. But what, 15 percent of people are engaged, 60 percent.
The stats are terrible. No matter where you look and the tools, the systems people have to access, whether it’s something like a LinkedIn or a job search site like indeed. Or the various platforms where you’re consuming content. The challenge is that all of these platforms, the job seeker, the individual, the professional is the product that they’re being sold to companies and to advertisers and things like that. There’s no one who’s actually aligned to the career journey of the individual.
And that’s really what’s at the core of what we’re doing. So, you know, we start right now. We’re focused on sales because every startup, every company has to start somewhere. And we really help people by providing that that full experience. We deliver training, internships, introductions, how people learn those new roles and then the coaching on an ongoing basis. And as a result, people are seeing amazing, amazing outcomes, more engaging careers. They’re talking about like opportunities of a lifetime.
You’ve changed my life. You saved my life. More income, more job satisfaction. The engagement level of our grads is so high and and change where matters like buying houses when they never could have previously looked at it, moving out like one of our own. Our students used to rent one room in a two bedroom apartment while he was saving for his son’s college education. And he goes through our program, lands a role immediately and immediately goes in to find a new apartment so that his son can visit, have a place to sleep instead of just like on the floor besides bed.
And that type of change to someone’s life is so profound. And it’s so much easier when you say, hey, I’m focused on your success, not focused on you clicking buttons so my advertisers can shift the product. And that feels really good because it’s an alignment of values that seems to be lost in so many businesses right now. So it feels really rewarding.
I enjoy that the more companies are least becoming aware to that now, this becomes the sort of salability of the benefits of the platform, that there’s an immediate people, like a direct, you know, your clients, your people that use it as me. It’s you. It’s our friends. It’s our peers. Yeah. But then as an organization, I can then look and say, if I’m using you, Varro, to empower my team, then they effectively are happier, more engaged, more likely to stay.
And what was the old, you know, oft misquoted, which I’m about to misquoted again, you know, statement of jobs or whatever, saying like, what happens if we train people and they leave and says, what’s worse, if you don’t and they stay right now and the sense that if you if you empower them to leave. So I worked four years ago. People can search my LinkedIn. And I worked for a company called Raymond James Raymond James and really enjoyed the company to work for.
I worked in the tech side, but the way they run their financial services arm is that it’s a rarity in the industry that they allow you to own your book. So you bring your customers with you, you know, or you develop your come your customer, you know, clientele. And you if you choose to leave, take it all with you. They give you the data, they give you the accounts, they help you with the migration.
If anybody who runs a financial service firm would be disturbed by the idea of doing this because the whole purpose is they’re developing your clients, Raymond James says no, no, you’re developing your clients and we’re helping you to do that. As a result, one of the lowest attrition rates in the industry because nobody feels the need to run away because they don’t feel locked in. It’s a fantastic thing. And more companies now, I think, especially in tech, are realizing that there’s so much opportunity out there.
Best thing you can do is to vastly empower your people.
It’s it’s funny because you talked about it earlier, that idea of finding a problem or solution and then trying to systematize and scale it. And for me, it’s like the engineering side of my brain. It’s really, you know, how do we optimize the systemize ties, those things? And if we think about a sales or support work, you’ve got, you know, people using your software, interacting with your customers, using your CRM. And we spend so much time optimizing, you know, the CRM, the buttons, the workflows, spent so little time trying to optimize the people.
We just kind of say, you know, we’re going to change crap around you and figure it out and see when you give people a stronger sense of autonomy, of of confidence, of a sense of investing when they perform better. And I love the example of Raymond James because that’s that’s a great example. But it happens at a smaller scale, too. Like we work with a lot of startups, a lot of scale ups. You know, a lot of our grads will go on to a 50 person company, a 20 person company, one hundred person company to see the same thing.
Our grads ramp like they get to Cuota in a third, the time at their peers, and they’re twice as likely to exceed quota. So, yeah, that’s great. That’s not about the software. That’s not about the buttons in the widgets. That’s about investing in the people. And you really can you can engineer, you can systematize your people, your culture. And that’s that’s not about making your company robotic. It’s about treating people equitably and deliberately without wasting cycles.
And it’s a very compelling thing to do.
Now, this is one that you hit a word that’s important and that’s deliberate. Hmm. We especially in startups and I say we I mean, a startup which is no longer a startup, we just got purchased by IBM where. No, you know, I’m a huge part of a huge company. But in watching the growth of this startup and many others like it. Most stuff is not deliberate, it is purely accidental, like they try to take practices that we see at big organizations.
But then the hilarious thing is your Erik Reece quotes this in his great book, Lean Startup, and he says, you get all these people that come from big companies and they create a startup. And the first thing they do is they try and create all this process they like. That’s the reason you left the big company. So we kind of look to these big sales training organizations and and these like big dollar coaching and empowerment. But if you’re not in the right phase of your company.
It’s it’s wasted money and ultimately it is repeating something that just doesn’t match, and that’s why I said it’s not their deliberate in their outcome, not the outcome of the reps. The outcome of the backoffice team, the outcome of everybody in the customer experience is the reason we call them customer success now instead of just, you know, help disguise the the word deliberate is very important because you have to say, like, what is the outcome I’m looking to do for everyone involved and what can I do to reach that?
An example of that, because I hear from founders all the time, like the idea, like, no, we’ve got we’ve got our values, we’ve got our culture. Our people are really important and. At one of the things that I found is that a lot of founders struggle to put it into practice. What does it mean? With my previous company tribe at the time that we founded it, so when we just got started, there was a if you go back and you Google the history and stuff, you’ll see there was a bunch of companies in the Toronto the Waterloo area.
And this is like all the early, early 20s, mid 20s, there’s a bunch that were purchased by US buyers and the teams moved as like Microsoft buys a team and moved them to Seattle. Google buys a team, moves them to California. And that was this big fear, like the brain drain was US companies acquiring Canadian talent and shipping them south of the border. And when we founded Tribe, one of the commitments we made to the team was we want to build a company where we can scale it for us, for our families.
We’re going to never we’re never going to ask you to move south of the border. We’re never going to do that. That’s that was one of the first commitments we made. We founded it seven of us at the time when we said it explicitly in the first meeting and. Kind of go fast forward many years we’re selling the company and we’re evaluating two things this a series, a term sheet that was beautiful, way better than we deserved. Now, I looked at our metrics.
I looked at that and I was like, wow, that was really, really sweet. Or this acquisition offer. And we hemmed and hawed and angst over the decision left, right, center. And what ended up making it a really easy decision was the idea of rewinding all the way back to those core ideas. Why did we do this? What did we commit to at the beginning? And I realized if we raised the series as we envisioned part of the next phase of the business, I got H.R. Tech.
So knowing your local stuff matters, we’d have to build a go to market team in the U.S. And even if we didn’t move everybody, the center of control would end up moving south and all of our investment would be into that US office versus the acquisition. You know, the idea was let’s use this as the kernel of building a large dev presence here in the kitchen or whatever area. And as soon as we looked at it like, wow, you know, in the first option, we’ve effectively moved the company.
S even if even if we’re still incorporated in Canada, even if I’m still living here effectively within itself. But this other example, we get a chance to build something better here for us, our friends, our families, the community. And it’s something made this like it was like this black and white, the very easy decision. And I think by making it such a principled statement at the beginning, it made later decisions dramatically easier. I did the numbers.
I was like, I will make this if we do this, this. If we do that, our shareholders will do it as I analyze it to the tenth degree, like every engineer will. But bringing it back to those core values just made it simple, crystal clear and a very easy conversation to bring to the team after.
It’s a I almost wish there was like a 50 50 or some like a marked reference that we always talk about the fiduciary responsibility of the directors of of an organization. Right. Then you have your required in order to deliver value back to the shareholders, which in most cases in a private firm, of course, is the investors. We know it’s a tough responsibility. We know as employees we hate to see stuff happen that seems counter to the people that work there.
But we also know that I know because I’m a bit deeper into it. Decisions are made for financial reasons, which cannot and which would counter what we believe is the right thing to do, so to speak. But you’ve you weighed both sides and said that I’ve been given a financial opportunity, which. While it seems like it could have a long term potential value to the shareholders, it also means that it could mean I’ve evacuated my entire employee base.
And a dissatisfied employee base, which means that has a negative impact on the value of the company. It is very hard to weigh the human impact to the long term financials and then look at what’s the what’s the thing you do. So it’s I again, huge respect that you said. You know, what do we do? You know, I could probably get this money and I could turn it into X and then scale it from there, especially as a startup in, you know, what do they actually call the I forget I said I’m from Toronto originally, so I know the area well.
And so if you mean it used to be back in the day, if you’re from Kitchener or Waterloo, you either worked for RIM or you worked for the university. Yeah. All right. So the fact that startups were popping up and getting funding and being able to stay and continue to employ people is huge. Right, that this is most people, like you said, I. I never thought I’d work for a company in tech. Because I there were no tech companies, they were U.S. companies that had a Canadian presence, so I ended up in the financial services sector for 20 years doing system architecture and stuff.
But then, you know, very different outcomes and goal. So now it’s a fast forward, much more opportunity in the startup ecosystem. And so you now have the ability to say, look, I can make these people’s lives better. So they can make their kids lives better and their peers feel good about things and ultimately hopefully draw more people to these type of ecosystems.
It’s a it’s a. The only way to put it is it’s like a privilege to have that opportunity, because now I take a look and we sold the company to NetSuite who was then sold to Oracle. And I see now there’s a tower in downtown Kitchener where under my stewardship we snagged two floors book. The third hadn’t filled it out. I think there are four or five floors now, several hundred people. And just I mean, people doing some really amazing work.
And I’ve got former colleagues there. I’ve got friends who then went to work there and we’re on some really brilliant stuff. And so that expertize is now floating around the local ecosystem. And that’s exciting. That’s really cool.
Because it’s always interesting when you look, it’s like when you drive by an old, you know, job place or even an old school and you’re like, oh, wow, you think at the time you spent there in the phase of your life and their life and the world at that time, it must be incredible to look at. Post acquisition successes that have been imparted on the people that went with it, which is such a beautiful thing to be able to see happen totally like when our first employee for Tribe.
What a fun journey, the first job that we posted was for clubs of Because You Never Want to Lose or DELAMATER, all that worst freaking job posting ever, I think is what I hear you getting the job. If I remember right, I think it was something like, do you thrive with independent work? You might be the only employee. Do you like high risk? High reward? We’re not sure if you’ll get paid. I mean, Handschu.
So Ryan, who took it, shows off to his first interview at at a coffee shop sporting the angriest mullet I’ve ever seen. And it turns out he’s a man who is a hockey team and they’re in the playoffs. They were you just letting it grow? Because I was a part of the team, the co-founders. It was like, you know, what, if he’s brave enough to wear that to an interview, was brave enough to work for us.
Let’s go. Let’s do it. I mean, like all startups, you’re hacking it together. So, I mean, our first office was like one room in the back of a car dealership because that’s where we could get some free desk space. And Ryan just did a great job through all the curveballs that we threw out and he ran with it. He did a great job through the exit and the acquisition, so made a change to him and his wife’s life.
Still still there, like within the security organization, amazing building, amazing stuff. And she can see that the individuals and the fun stories, but he also gets now act as that threat of continuity as the organization is growing around him. And that’s super cool.
I was thinking of was like Full Metal Jacket, you know, or like they start off and you see the guys getting their heads shaved in like they’re the new recruits. And then the second half of the movie is them being the seasoned people, bringing in the next class. And it’s like it’s it is cool to see that folks can thrive through those changes, because another thing I’ve discovered is there’s often not staging type of training and coaching. If you in the startup ecosystem, you find there’s a lot of players at a space, a level of growth.
So you get these sort of teams that just come in and they’re like SWAT teams, it’s come in. They’re like, yeah, I’m I’m from like half a million to 10 million in revenue. That’s it. The moment they hit like 50 million revenue, they start to get weirded out and they leave. But a lot of folks survive those sort of SWAT team infusions and there’s nothing for them through those progressions. That’s what I’m curious. Where do you see different types of training and coaching and mentoring that can be done for folks to say, hey, if you want to be a if you want to be the five to 10 million kid, go for it, but will enable you for that.
But if you want to thrive from one million to one hundred million, then we’ve got something that we can help you through all the way.
I love the idea that stage appropriate training and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. That’s specific training offerings like, hey, go, go take this course to learn what it’s like to go from, like, you know, one two million series A to 10 million doing your series B. I think where the onus really lies, though, is ultimately on leadership in many ways. I suppose there’s actually two answers to that for us on the overall side.
One of the big things we do is we do we spend a lot of time talking about what it’s like selling it to the different groups. And the reason we do it is not because we think people need to know the different mechanisms, but what we found is when people fit and they go into an organization that fits what they want to do, they’re more successful. What’s better than knowing the different stages is knowing where you thrive. And so in sales at things like the companies early and figuring it out, you’re going to do the full cycle by selling your whole thing.
And that comes with all the stress and all the dynamism and all of that. But if you like being an expert in your domain, a more established company will have more defined roles. Still a lot of room to carve out new territories to build new features. But you’re going to have some better guidelines and better mentorship. We’re doing that in the sale side of things, and so that’s why I think we have such a good hit rate, but I’ve never seen anything like that across a company.
And all the things I try to do as a founder is spend time with my teams just talking about what you should expect to see in the coming year. And sometimes it’s really simple things like we’re really early, so, hey, sales team or engineering team, you’re all reporting to me that’s going to stop. And it’s not because they don’t like you and it’s not because you’re not. But as we scale that happens and. We talked about that SWAT team, if you had people who have gone through this before, their heads are not in danger.
That makes sense. I got this. No, let’s go. But the people have never been through before. That’s terrifying. It’s really terrifying. And I think it’s founders. We spend so much time just being scared about everything we’re doing. We forget how disruptive that is for most people. You know, they’re trying to crank out a marketing campaign, crank out a bit of code, crank out some support lines, and all of a sudden it feels like the world was turned upside down because of an order change like.
We will do a lot more influence in people’s lives than we really internalize sometimes.
And it raises the importance of this idea of creating coaching and mentoring programs to to make sure that people can know they’ve got some baseline, they’ve got something they can lean into, because quite often that’s like culture is a class thing. One of my favorite, you know, I’ve read far too many books and I’ve got far too many unread ones and myself as well. But the culture code is one that I still reread often, you know, Legacy by James Care as well.
Also a fantastic one talking about the New Zealand All Blacks and this idea that a culture is the way they behave when you’re not looking. And as much as the masthead behind the receptionist’s desk says, you know, we are a people company, when the people on Slack are saying yes, not a people company like it’s that begins to happen and that can ultimately infuse that sort of inner fear and that misunderstanding of what’s next. So it becomes pervasive in the culture and there’s as a founder, you can’t be like pouring over the entire organization constantly to look for that.
You’ve got to create a system. You can let them sort of self discover, hopefully, and ultimately staved off.
I want to come back to that system thing, but I want to ask in a local ecosystem, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I find. Every three, five or six years, it’s like the same blog post article pops back up and it’s like a CEO whose company got to typically somewhere between 50 and older people. And the blog post usually goes something like this culture can’t be created, it’s the thing that emerges and you need to let it grow and then document and capture what happened.
And it drives me nuts, because what that tells me is it’s a founder, CEO that ignored their culture until it got to a point where they said, crap, I got to get my arms around it. And now that I get my arms around it, I’m going to, you know, expound upon why this is a normal thing. And I personally find it very frustrating because I’m a very firm believer that you can be very deliberate in your culture.
And if you do it at day zero, if you start at zero, it’s so much easier. Like forevermore. It’s I if you want a good analogy, it’s like SEO or it’s like code quality or anything. Like if you start paying attention to it early on, it’s way easier to maintain.
Why do we not have culture debt like we have technical debt, we have financial debt, we have all these things, but yet somehow they know they don’t attack this idea that that is a effectively a cultural debt. We create that. We’ll get to this later. Well, we’ll we’ll write it down once we discover it. Like, no, that’s the thing you discover won’t be the thing you wanted because you didn’t hire into culture you hired and culture came out of it.
You don’t want your culture to be a side effect. Right. We tend to think about it is like internally for us. We think about it as a separate thing. It’s like the product is, hey, this process we’re changing, how is it going impact the culture or, hey, you know, it’s time for us to clean up some of the edges or hey, let’s upgrade it or touch investigative culture 2.0 is ready. Let’s say let’s get it put into place.
Yeah, it’s funny. Like it raises all these silly metaphors, but it is like if you think about something that takes on this life of its own and how do you make something that will last beyond the founders, the CEO, the founding team, the customers, the product, the market, because all those things will change. How do you create something that has more longevity and actually a good review? You talked about scaling. You know what people say behind the scenes.
I’ll share. So we’ve honed this over a couple of companies and I love you raise that question earlier on the things that you get better at every time. This is something I think we do really well. The idea of conversations like manager, employee, one on ones. Yes. Do those. That’s regular. I’m sure everybody who’s listening does this already. If not pretend you are because you should be asking what a big old if you haven’t, I need you to stop and write that in your to do list and put it on your bloody calendar because it needs to happen like a minimum biweekly, make it happen whatever.
But we see one on ones as one of three redundant layers for culture communications. So is kind of like security, you know, defense in depth. So we do our one on ones separately. We have a system of executive buddies. So we have our upper layer of management, our executive team, and we will pair every employee with an executive that is not in their direct line of report. And it’s not intended to be structured one on ones, it’s not intended to be backdoor conversations, but it’s a chance to get an executive who is mentoring you, coaching you through your conversations, giving you another perspective, letting you try on email, language for size, conversation, language or size, challenging assumptions.
You don’t say, hey, I was in that one or one and I don’t know what my boss thought of that’s. So you got an exact body. So that’s our second tier. And that’s that builds the mentorship scale in our executives, too. And it’s a great reminder that all of their direct reports are having conversations. And then our third layer, we run these regular meetings, we call them Hello Friends, and we have an employee. She’s part of our people culture team.
But she’s not responsible for like H.R. processes. She’s not responsible for recruiting. This is her primary responsibility. And she does regular dropping coffees with people. And it’s confidential. It’s like kind of cone of silence. Check in. How are you doing? How’s the team doing and how are you feeling? What are you worried about? And her job is to look for trends and highlight worrying signs and nothing identifiable. Her job is to anonymize her job and say, these are the things your people are worried about.
You know, watch for it. Yeah, because we’re not going to catch everything and thinking about your systems or people’s systems in the same way you think about like your security or your processes, like the holes become very glaring very quickly becomes a matter of you can’t create a system if it doesn’t ultimately have a feedback loop. And we think of like the classic outta loop. Right. So you observe this is the you know, see what’s going on Orient based on the what’s happening in the signals, then decide, OK, I can either deal with this X or Y way or whatever it’s going to be.
What what do we do about this particular signal? Do we integrate it as core? Do we deal with it as anomalous, whatever, and then act, then what do you put in place? And ultimately that then feeds back to changing the way that you observe and orient because you then have to take that into account. The next thing like these signals are very non, sometimes even nonverbal, but they’re not what people will feel it. In the anonymous employee survey that went to your corporate email that has your email in the URL when you click it, the like, you know, are my favorite thing.
I work for a marketing team at the time we were when we were still a small organization relative to our chunk of the world. So it sounds like, you know, this is completely anonymous. What team do you here for? Work, for marketing? Well, that’s down to thirty people. OK, what where do you live? I am at the time I was in Toronto like so I said I’m immediately not anonymous. I’m the only marketing person in Toronto.
This is not anonymous at all. And there’s no option of I don’t feel this out like. So you’re going to fill out the survey based on what you believe they want the survey to say for the most part, which is unfortunate versus like you said, getting out there and saying, look, I know I work for this company, but I don’t affect your pay. I affect the way that we help you get better. People are more likely to be open and in their discussions, it’s you have to separate human resources.
It’s such a strange thing. And, you know, now we call them chief people, officer or whatever the whatever the title of, you know, the trendy title is going to be. It’s the fact that you have to separate the people experienced from. Legal and payroll, which is fundamentally what a lot of human resources teams are, they call it culture, but in the end, you you have a you’re there to protect the company from liability, protect the employee from liability.
It’s hard to split that line and really make culture a part of the human and people organization.
I think it’s also a lot of companies and I tend to see this in kind of first time, earlier stage founders a little bit more where they believe ownership of that culture sits inside an organization. So they try to hire someone and say, hey, you can fix this, right? Oh, yeah. Also in compliance and payroll and recruiting and company events do all that and fix culture while you’re at it. And I there’s only a few things that can sit on that CEO’s plate, you know, unequivocally, like don’t run out of money.
Yeah. Don’t screw up the culture. Yeah, I kind of put those up there. So I think it’s it’s really easy to believe that you’ve hired someone and that solves the problem. But I think founders need to make sure that they don’t forget that they’re ultimately responsible for it.
Yeah, it’s tough, like you said, those two core responsibility is what’s the you’re you’re responsible for growing the company and reducing risk. And of course, one of the biggest ones is keeping the company alive. You know, ultimately, there’s two reasons that companies fail. They either run out of money or the founders leave. You know, they choose to exit the situation. It’s generally finances will be the biggest thing that take that company out. But, you know, this is so it’s good.
I mean, I love the idea. Now, here’s the interesting thing. Speaking of, Lou, how much of the work that you have through you, Varro then ultimately feeds back to the next time you do things. And as you bring back, OK, based on the last six months, we’ve noticed some different signals coming from people. Maybe we should integrate. How does that continue to evolve as you build the practice?
Constantly. I mean. So much of what we architected was around optimizing the feedback loops, and I think a really good comparison would be things like look at post-secondary education, they generally do an annual intake cycle, and if they’re launching a new program or a new course, they’ll run it once, get the class through, take a term or semester to kind of think about the feedback maybe offered the next year. She’ll look at this annual cycle and. If you’re on your long sprints, you’re just not exactly going to go well.
Yeah, when we founded you, it. So our program is a three month program, and it scares the crap out of our team. You know, we’re going to launch a group every month. Day one is like a group every month. So by the time we get to the second group, we’ve got two months worth of feedback. By the time we get to the third group, we’ve got two first months and one second month with the feedback and so are our processes.
May cut in as we go. Everything from like regular feedback surveys, check ins, follow up with our alumni and our grads. We’ve just moved to launching multiple cohorts a month and by the end of the year to be doing weekly. And you can’t you can’t do that if you don’t have feedback, you know, baked right in. And the part that’s been really cool is we’ve got we have our training programs, but we also have the right software platform that’s used by the tenders out tens of thousands of sales reps across North America.
So we get to see what are the types of content or features or items like are people talking about objection handling? Are they talking about security? Are they talking about customer stories? And so we get both that kind of usage data to influence our curriculum and our programing. But we also see that really, really tight feedback cycle with our classes because we’re launching them every few weeks. And you’re right, without that loop, you’re just doing the same thing again and again.
You’re not improving.
This is the the beautiful merger where you can have many systems ultimately feed each other because you’re you’re doing things. Let’s talk about Kate, actually, because we talked to the very start. I wanted to make sure that I gave it. Do you know advertisement here this afternoon? Sounds awful, but like it deserves recognition. I actually I use the platform, so I I’m very deep in this idea because we’re all in sales. Bad news, kids. You’re all in sales.
You may not be directly in sales, but you’re supporting sales and work and technical marketing. So I have to understand objections and competitive plays and stuff. And so I looked at it and it was immediately obvious how fantastic it was going to be because it just made sense. Again, like you said it, then from there, it can help to influence the purely human enablement side. So this is a an amazing thing. How how lucky is it and how hard did you work to get that lucky of.
Taking the approach of having a systematize productize thing and then having it ultimately feed another another business, yeah, it’s it’s funny because where we are right now, we look at it like, wow, so much good fortune there. And the journey when you break it into the steps makes a lot more sense. And and it was very deliberate. I mean, the platform is it’s used primarily by tech companies, scale ups and fantastic attacks. The companies we’ve got great, great teams using it.
The part that was really cool was our go to market strategy was working with sales trainers. So if you’re company and you bring somebody in to build your sales process, they might leave behind a bunch of kids or they might leave behind Caite Playbook’s. And so we have these fantastic firms that we’re doing sales training and training programs. And as we started to dig into the usage data, they literally fantastic IRAP project. So, I mean, you want to toss in all the elements of a story, a government funded research to figure out what the heck to do.
All this data we uncovered these really interesting insights, like silly little things, like we look at our highest performing customers, the ones who are growing fastest, adding team members, crushing sales goals. And by and large, they had way more information about their personas and their target customers, but surprisingly, way less about objection handling. And that really had a scratching their heads because, I mean, sales traders always spent time on objection handling like how do you handle those?
And what we uncovered was that there was an inverse correlation. So across the board, the companies that did a really good job of doubling down on their personas, their buyers, their details didn’t have the same need for objection handling. So as a result in our curriculum, they’re not treated as two separate subject is treated at the same thing. How do your personas, your ICP, influence your objection handling? So how do you emphasize the one, decrease the other, drive up your total growth?
And so on an ongoing basis, we get to pull out these insights, these methodologies and push the of our curriculum and even to when we launched the first version of our it all came from our customers on the software side. We talk to them, we say, hey, how do we get you to use more software? And they’d also their biggest trouble is hiring, hiring great sales reps because we hire people, but no one knows how to sell software.
And so we bring in these trainers. They cost an arm and leg and they do great work. But because they cost so much, we can only bring them in annually, maybe every six months. And so you hire someone, they have to wait six months for the next sales cycle. No wonder it takes him eight months to ramp. And so when they said, hey, if there was a way to hire more people who had some software training experience, and that’s not simply just go recruit from LinkedIn or Salesforce, there’s a there’s a supply demand imbalance.
There’s, what, 50, 60 thousand B2B software sales reps out there in North America. We need another three hundred sixty thousand over the next decade. We can’t all just hire from LinkedIn. The need became really apparent, according to my next job is now. Good golly.
It’s it’s like it’s an absolute supply demand. This is terrifying. The difference that we’re about to face in the next.
Well, when I was going into university, all the conversation was like, the world’s going to need more, you know, computer scientists and engineers except for the ninety nine Hiko, like just as we’re all getting into it and we’re all like, oh crap, none of us can have jobs. I’m glad we were wrong. But if I, if I got two kids, if they were graduating right now and I was trying to say, hey, if you want a really good job security for the next 10 years, that’s what I’d be pointing at them, because that that imbalance in supply and demand is so.
And that’s just in tech like Greg Gardner studies like the way all business products are being sold are going to look like the way we sell Souse. And yeah, that’s not more robots and less humans. That’s just automate the crap. So the human element carries more weight. That’s exciting.
Yeah, this is the the thing that I try to tell people of, like we use these products to improve processes, CSR, I’m a Canadian so I can say this without making when I say processed the. But we do this, it always has to be to empower the people to do better and create measurability, which is a really this is the tough line and you’re close to this. So I’m curious at what point when people detect their KPIs, are attached to their performance, start to change the way they behave is the Eli Gold rat thing from the goal.
He says, show me how you measure me and I’ll show you how to behave. And it’s a dangerous thing where when you realize you’re being trained towards a KPI, that all you’re eyeing is the KPI, not the behavior that ultimately drives the outcome, which is a measurable thing via a KPI. So. How do we how are you finding people successful at. We’re not looking at the fact that they’re being watched or that metric.
It’s funny because we never try to encourage people to imagine they’re not being watched because it. Eh, they’re going to be up for a rude awakening. Is that going to be a boss who has a conversation or a colleague like over beers, like, by the way, you know, that this like. Oh, my. Yeah. Really, what we try to do is we try to make sure that if it’s not really up to the individual to manage that situation, it really is up to leaders in management.
I really like I think this is an area honestly where marketing and sales in most areas of the organization can learn from engineering, like in engineering organization. At the end of the day, you’ll have some high level outputs like overall development velocity or maybe it’s product quality and uptime, like whatever your North Star is for your organization. And that’ll vary. But you’ve instrumented your development process all the time, like code coverage. Operate on your Sprint’s velocity or variants on it, delivery versus commit and.
You know, having a really strong sense of like here’s this North Star, but the process is bigger than any one of us. So if we sense there’s something off in the process, how do we choose to focus on a Capi KPI for a while to make sure that that’s not the hang up? And once that’s good, we bring that lens over and focus on and depending on the engineer, you say this is like the lens or the magnifying glass or the eye or Sauron.
You know, we’re going to focus on a different area of the process. And most engineering teams that I’ve worked with are fairly comfortable with that. It’s like, hey, maybe for the next sprint or the next quarter we’re going to pay attention to test reliability or uptime or coverage or whatever it is. What I’ve seen in sales and marketing is there’s not that same sense of the sales and marketing process is external to the individuals. It’s this thing or trying to improve.
And so people take a KPIs in the ownership of them very personally. You know, they think about their open rate on their emails or their clickthrough or their engagement on the content, and they think about it, is them succeeding or failing, not about the system or working or not. And ultimately, I think that’s when that happens. That’s a failure of leadership, not helping the team separate themselves from the sales process because I’ve seen more sales reps lose it, lose their jobs, or leave an organization because the process was wrong, not because of their individual failing.
And that that’s a it’s a hard thing to separate, but it’s super important to try.
Funny that, you know, and I mentioned Ghodrat, which is apropos to this idea of like with engineering. Of course, this is what Jean came in and the team developed and they talked about the the the Phenix project. And and since then, they’ve they’ve done the developes handbook’s. These are methodologies that, you know, and it works like you set this marker of quality or whatever it is, you set the measurement, you move the constraint, you know, and ultimately we’re always attacking the constraint.
And as a result, it affects the goal. And the goal is velocity and quality. Whatever in sales is different because in engineering, no one says, hey, you squashed 400 bugs this quarter. So next quarter I’m setting it to five hundred like it’s very different because in sales, it’s always like you’re going to give 110 percent kid. Like there’s an unfortunate sort of screaming coach from the sidelines mentality that that is the I’ll say the lifestyle of a sales organization is they they think and act differently.
They set big, hairy, audacious goals. Engineering cannot do that. Because it means that they will set themselves up for failure, so they learn to like tighten the measurement to tighten the success rates. So this is. I wonder if there’s a way that we could get better at, like empowering sales without taking the go get them kid, you know, kind of of capability in it.
But I think there’s also, to some extent, you know, confounding kind of a few statements in there. I see a lot of engineering teams who said some really audacious goals like, hey, you know what? We’re going to ship this feature for Q1. And you know what? Maybe all the bells, all the whistles, all the stories won’t make it in, but you’re going to kill it. We’re going to do a hackathon to make it happen.
And, you know, we’re going to kind of pull out all the stops and really make sure this delivers. And it’s really exciting. So I see teams do that and sales teams have their Nalgae with quarter goals or upgrades or things like that. And I think every team needs their version of that. And the sales version is very much like that. What gets Convolve, though, is there are some bad management practices that happen. You gave an example there of like as soon as you had success with the goal post.
You know, James is you made your quota. Bad news is your quota just went up by 30 percent for next year, which is why you see a lot of sales teams ultimately do a stint. They’ll do two years, they’ll do a strong relationship sale, and then they go to another company and take the relationships with them kind of idea.
And I mean, there’s there’s definitely management practices that that exacerbate it. But I think that’s a really good example as well of if the organization doesn’t separate out the process from the people, that feels terrible right now. If we zoom out for a lovely, great as a company, we get better. Our marketing team starts doing their job better. So now we have better quality leads. Our sales automation is better. So we’re, you know, filtering out bad quality leads at a better rate.
Our product is better. So now customers like it more. We have more customers who have better testimonials. Yes, the sales motion as a result is likely easier. So, yes, it makes sense that quotas and territories may shift. Likewise, as we scale a sales team, we’ve got more people we’ll have to draw new territory boundaries and. It’s really important, I think, as a company that you talk about those systems as the process and that those things happen because the companies are succeeding, not because a failure of the individual.
And likewise, your managers need to be really committed, invested to the success of the individuals so that the things you do when you succeed are feeling like you’re penalizing the people who got you there, because you’re right. Otherwise it feels like great, you hit your quotas, were raising the quota, create your top performing sales reps who are splitting your territory.
We’re throwing you in Wisconsin. You know, I shouldn’t joke about that. Wisconsin has a massive market. I’ve always I sort of joke about some poor dairy producers in Wisconsin. Millions upon millions of dollars in revenue come out of out of Wisconsin because there’s a ton of industry there. But it’s this whole thing like, yeah, you do great in the Northeast and they’re like, OK, we’re sending it to Nebraska, kid. You know, we to get that territory off the ground, like, oh, I can’t get my coat out there.
You hit the nail on the head, Doug. Imagine a rap where like, hey, you used to be in California. You know, you got like, you know, 30, 40 million people as your patch. And now you’re Wisconsin. You’ve got less than six. Yeah. It’s really hard to just say those stats and not leave somebody feeling like you just punch them in the stomach. And you got to separate that she was like, hey, great, as a company, we’re at the next stage so we can rejigger these things.
This is what we need. We’re asking you to do it because you have the most confidence in you. It’s a scary thing. What can we do to help you succeed and make this a win for you? Very different conversation and like, great, we’re downsizing your territory by five, six.
Yeah, we’re taking you off of two named accounts that you built up from the ground up because it’s like you’ve you’ve done an amazing thing. We’re handing it to this rep that needs to cut his teeth a bit more. You know, we’ve got a new lady and she’s really great. So we’re going to let her take over this big account. And you’re like, no, no, no, no. I mean. Who knows, right? But if and the sale goes beyond the initial sale, this the other thing, too, is that people often forget is that renewals are this is what we get measured on, is are not just are recurring revenue is the what will bury a company selling a bunch of stuff once is not a successful sales organization.
It’s it’s changing the culture of sales. And ultimately the playbook goes along with it because you don’t just have to defend it once. You’ve got to continuously make sure the product represents the outcomes the customer needs and that you can continue to represent the value relative to the price that you’re charging. Seems fundamental and simple, but it’s hard to do because also you’re fighting for organizations that, hey, look, we just went through covid. Revenues for those companies went down, so they we have to get way better as a vendor to present value, and it may mean sacrifices in a lot of different directions, and it may mean we lose accounts for no reason other than the fact that they just need to tighten down.
It’s really hard, and one of the things that I see is that a lot of a lot of teams haven’t. They haven’t fully instrumented their business and people often miss that that idea of churn. That’s an upper limit of how big you’re going to grow. Your growth hits and asymptote and its position is governed by your churn rate. And the difference between like a two percent churn, a five, a 10 I seen that is 30. That brings your upper growth limit down.
And a lot of teams fail to realize that if you’ve got a growth curve and you try to make it steeper, you try to hire more sales reps, you invest more marketing, you want to grow steeper. The side effect is it can often bring down that churn. And you really don’t want what looked like this nice, smooth growth curve to suddenly be a square wave. Because if you do that, you’re capping the value of your business and it can look really great.
You can raise money, but then you hit that cap really hard and it feels like just crashing into a ceiling and that sets you up for four down rounds if your fundraising turnover on your people bad customer experiences. So it’s tough. Sometimes you have to forego that speedy, speedy, speedy growth just for that long term opportunity with the company.
Well, this raises an interesting thing of, you know, we talking you’ve you’ve had, you know, multiple companies you founded. You’re very successful in the two that you’re working with now. You’ve empowered a lot of people, which is amazing. The trouble I have often when we talk to a lot of founders, especially serial founders, is we talk to same when we talk to poker players and no one talks about the hundred hands they lost. That never that they got dumped out, they were like they weren’t even like in the top 100 in a tournament, they make it to the World Series of Poker, but then they lose tournament after tournament after Sherman again.
But they have the drive to learn feedback, come at it like and go at it again. So I’m curious, Joseph, look, I don’t spend dark thoughts on it, but what have been some challenges that you’ve had to go through in your own personal history to it?
I mean, there’s all the every startup has various forms of like founder drama, investor drama, acquisition, drama. And if you talk to anybody, you’re going to get the same stories. So I’m always happy to riff on those. But and we have limited time.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re almost done here to two things that stuck out to me, though. It’s funny because, yeah, we could train them as challenges. I’ve always felt them is like really good learning opportunities. One of my earliest companies, we were selling a white labeled web content management system like WordPress. But before WordPress existed and we had a unique solution where we sold through advertising agencies, marketers, and it was totally white labels because at the time everybody was worried about everyone had a, quote, Web guy who was very gendered.
It was the language they were using it for what it was worried about that person stealing their clients. White label solution. Really great. We had an upfront fee subscription offering, but this was before kind of SACE as a as a delivery mechanism. And one of the things we recognized was the entire way we thought about the app, we thought about mobility. You know, people needed to upload it, hosted themselves. They you know, if if we went down, they could keep the website forever.
We had to make a lot of things into it to serve the market at the time. But we recognized that the our market was a very specific buyer and we would have to have a fundamentally different business to get to the broader pool of website owners. And we recognized that it wasn’t that wasn’t challenged. We’re going to readily overcome. And so we split the company into and sold it because we recognized the opportunity wasn’t there. And that was a tough a tough pill to swallow to say, hey, you know what?
We picked a direction. We had some success, good growth, but we are not in the right position to see the kind of outcome that we really want is a good outcome. Made money back for our friends and family investors. We’re not in the belts or the company, but the. It, my friends, that it the right way, like it’s like, you know, you got that kid and you something, you look at it with honest eyes and go, Oh, I got an ugly baby crap twins.
And it just it wasn’t going to have the opportunity. That was a tough one. And we tried our most recent. This is a classic look, we’re a Canadian company selling it to North America, the US, and we never fully internalized how miserably painful benefits, enrollment and payroll are in the states. And that read the blog post, talk to the customers we never felt did because we’d never run payroll and benefits internally. And until we really got there with U.S. employees and we recognized how exquisitely painful it was and we realized we had underemphasized that area of our product so badly.
We were now a good year and a half, two years behind with that space wanted to be. And so as we were looking at the next step, it was like, hey, here’s a massive investment for us to stay ahead and in many ways catch up and exceed the competition versus selling the company. And that influenced our decision a lot. And the interesting thing is one of our our our premium investors, like best investors on our board, great.
Ended up after our sale investing and doubling down in another tech company. So there’s definitely a lot of like, oh, you know, could that have been us great. But the reality is everything we saw happen in the space. We realized, you know, we made the right decision. We made the right call. We. It honestly evaluated the decisions we made and now with everything that we knew, we were making, again, a good decision.
So, yes, it’s hard to reflect honestly on the work that you do and then not beat yourself up over it.
Well, and I appreciate like you said, you framed it beautifully, Joseph, and it’s been a real pleasure to spend time, you know, the idea of of lessons in that lessons and signals that feedback to choices and in the way that we build and continue to learn. So I’ll make sure I have links, of course, to Uvaro, and to Kiite for folks that want to get in, get in on this. I’m a fan of Kiite.
This is like this is so bloody easy. I can’t I can’t believe how easy it was. So I do appreciate it. And it’s been a real pleasure. And if folks if they want to reach out to you directly, Joseph, what’s the best way that they can do that?
Oh, they can hit me up on LinkedIn. Instagram I’m on most social is at Joseph. Always welcome the outreach, especially with other founders. So that’s very cool. Joseph, thank you very much. It’s been a real great conversation and I look forward to catching up again. And we can talk about the next phase of growth and and whatever is next as well.
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Liza Huber is an entrepreneur, award-winning cookbook author, wife, mom of 4 and the CEO & Founder of Sage Spoonfuls;one of the most trusted brands in mealtime products for babies and kids available at major retailers both nationwide and internationally. In this return to the podcast, Liza shares how she adjusted her business and relationship with time as she talks about finding the inspiration to push through a difficult year with a positive outlook.
We also talk about the challenges of leading a public life with kids and how to prepare them for the world of social media. You can learn more about Sage Spoonfuls by visiting www.sagespoonfuls.com and be sure to check out @sagespoonfuls and @lizahuber on Instagram