Intelligent.ly Insights: Greg Raiz

Intelligent.ly Insights

Greg RaizThis week’s insights are brought to you by Greg Raiz, CEO of Raizlabs, an app company that’s been leading leading in mobile software development since before the launch of the iTunes App Store in 2008.

You may not have met Greg, but we bet you’ve met some of the essential apps he and his team have created, apps like HubSpot, Bloomingdale’s, Rue La La, and RunKeeper, to name a few. Greg approaches app development like he does his team: methodically. Raizlabs is known for their exceptional product management, creative design services, and impeccable execution. But that’s not the only thing that’s driving Raizlabs’ unprecedented growth—it’s their commitment to their people. Building the right team, capitalizing on each person’s skills, and promoting innovation from within…it’s all about the people.

As your team grows, how do you ensure that you all remain aligned around a central vision?

We’ve spent a fair bit of time this year thinking about the culture of the company and how we can align the entire company around a vision and mission. Everyone wants to make a difference and feel that their work is important. We started by creating a high-level vision that we could rally around. It was important that the vision would stand the test of time and allow the organization some flexibility. Our vision statement of “shaping the world through great software” has led us to explore the values that our company felt were necessary for us to execute that vision. These values now guide most of the decisions we make from hiring, to the projects that we take, to the regular feedback we give to one another. Keeping the vision and values central to our process serves as a natural reminder for us. 

What’s one strategy or tactic that you consistently use to support the growth of your team.

Trust, but verify. I think it’s great to give your team a lot of trust and autonomy to grow, experiment and occasionally fail. The key is putting in your own checks to make sure they aren’t failing too much. Keeping track and closing the loop gives you the opportunity to give the person a pat on the back if they did a good job or a nudge in the right direction without micro-managing.

In your opinion, what is the primary role of a manager?

My primary role as a manager is setting up situations where people can be successful. This cuts across a number of things including hiring, company culture, tools and procedures. If I’m doing my job then the team can execute and do great work and it feels effortless. A mentor of mine explained it best; your team is a train, they are rolling along. It’s your job to make sure they have plenty of track and no hazards in the way.

How do you ensure that you stay in lock step communication with your team?

This has been an increasing challenge as the team has grown. It’s easy to stay in lock step with five people but hard to stay in lock step with 50. We have a company Town Hall meeting each week so everyone can get up to speed on the entire business with minimal overhead. Beyond this, I try to have regular conversations with both leads and individual contributors. This helps keep me stay grounded with what’s really going on at the company.

How do you continue to evolve as a leader?

As a leader, your job is constantly changing. One day you’re thinking about hiring, the next you’re dealing with technology questions. The key for me to evolve as a leader is to constantly question if the things I’ve done before continue to make sense as the company grows and changes. The way our company did projects stopped making sense at a certain size and scale. We had to unlearn certain habits and learn new ones. Growth as a leader is being open to change and adapting how I do things as the organization grows.

Greg Raiz founded Raizlabs in 2001, after getting his start at Microsoft. Since then, he’s been working toward his vision of building incredible software, and has helped over 100 companies improve the way they connect with their markets. Raizlabs was named one of Inc.’s 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in 2014.

Want to learn leadership skills from more startup vets? Enroll in Intelligent.ly Exchange!

 

 

Intelligent.ly Insights: Ben Carcio

Intelligent.ly Insights

Ben Carcio

This week’s insights are brought to you by Ben Carcio, CEO of Promoboxx, a company that connects brand manufacturers with independent retailers to help retailers become better marketers. Since 2010, Ben and his team have expanded Promoboxx’s capabilities to help industry-leading Fortune 500 companies like, Chevrolet, Pepsi, and Timberland.  Ben lead by example to create alignment among his team, sharing his own experiences to support the continued development of each individual in the company.

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you as a new manager?

Never mess with someone’s paycheck. Its sounds silly, but as leaders we sometimes forget that we’re providing our employees with a livelihood. When things are stable nobody thinks about it, but when there’s any hint of instability all other leadership tactics fly right out the window. For example, when I was running a 25 person painting company in college, I was a day late on making payroll and 6 of my best guys quit to join another “more stable” company. This lesson sticks with me every day.

As your team grows, how do you ensure that you remain aligned around a central vision?

Communicate the vision. Communicate the vision again. Then communicate the vision some more.

In your opinion, what’s a manager’s primary role?Promoboxx Team

Below average managers assign subtasks and authorize vacation time.  Amazing managers are leaders, and leaders empower their employees to do more by setting a clear vision, providing the right resources, and building a great support team around them.

What’s the biggest leadership challenge you’ve had to overcome? How did you do it?

Lack of experience. One of the best ways to lead is through the sharing of personal experience with employees. But with Promoboxx I’m hitting some new challenges that I’ve never experienced before. So, I’ve found the best way to overcome this is to borrow from the experience of others. You can do this by reading the hundreds of amazing leadership blogs out there, or even better, by reaching out to real live mentors for some 1:1 help over a coffee or beer.

Ben Carcio is a startup veteran with over 12 years of online brand marketing experience. He founded Promoboxx in 2010 and has been working hard ever since to provide retailers, like GE, Chevrolet, Pepsi, and Nestle, with the digital marketing tools they need to transform their brand. Ben has been known to share his insights with the startup community at the annual Boston Tech Co-Party, on the Promoboxx Blog, through Intelligent.ly, and beyond.

Want to learn leadership skills from more startup vets? Enroll in Intelligent.ly Exchange!

Rachel WaldmannRachel Waldmann
Content & Community Specialist
@rachelwaldmann

Top 10 Leadership Posts of 2014

Effective leadership isn’t about who you know, or what your job title is. It’s about inspiring greatness by creating a clear vision and aligning your team to achieve results. Great leaders, by definition, take matters into their own hands to drive their success, and this means actively continuing to invest in self-improvement and personal growth.

We know you’re busy, and don’t have time to scour the Internet for the best leadership articles, so we did it for you. We searched high and low for great leadership reads and carved them down to our top 10, and wrapped them up with a big bow! This compilation of the ultimate leadership articles of 2014 is our gift to Boston’s incredible community of achievers, creators, and builders. Happy New Year, and we’ll see you in 2015!

1. The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2014: Fast Company

This one’s thrown into the mix to inspire you. As you wrap up 2014, think about who you want to become as you move on to 2015. This list of creative people in business includes founders, Fortune 500 presidents, Hollywood actresses, and everyone in between with motivating stories of success to learn from.

2. How Great Leaders Inspire Action: TED, Simon Sinek

In this TED Talk, author Simon Sinek communicates his model for inspirational leadership, all stemming from the question, “Why?” He uses real-world examples to help his audience become motivating, action-oriented leaders. At Intelligent.ly, we believe in the power of giving people a compelling reason to back up their actions,  and Simon generously shares this perspective in his electrifying talk.

3. 7 Things Great Leaders Always Do (But Mere Managers Always Fear): Inc.,    Bill Murphy, Jr.

This article reinforces the fact that managers and great leaders have different skillsets, both of which can be taught. Leaders value honesty and transparency, as well as building relationships with team members, seeing them as people rather than job titles. They understand that team dynamic is just as important as driving results.

4. Leading Your Team into the Unknown: Harvard Business Review, Nathan Furr & Jeffrey H. Dyer

As companies transform in size, location, and scope of services, it’s up to team leaders to provide a sense of stability. As a leader, you are the Indiana Jones of this operation, leading your team into the dark unknown and maintaining focus to come out the other side. Clarify a vision, set challenging yet attainable goals, and take risks.

5. This Unusual Startup Strategy Led to a $200 Million Acquisition by Microsoft in 18 Months: Inc., Larry Kim

MicrosoftIn this Inc. article, Wordstream founder and CTO Larry Kim interviews Acompli’s co-founders about their startup strategy that resulted in a crazy lucrative acquisition in record time. For them, it was as simple as defining the vision and focusing all of their priorities on achieving (and maintaining) that vision.

6. The Boring Trait Google Looks for in its Leaders: iDoneThis, Walter Chen

Nobody does leadership like Google. In recent years, Google has been focusing on developing Project Oxygen, their own analysis of what makes their managers successful. The verdict is in, and according to Google’s findings, predictability is among the traits most heavily associated with fantastic leaders. We never would’ve predicted that!

7. Proven Ways to Earn Your Employees’ Trust: Harvard Business Review, Carolyn O’Hara

When managing individuals, establishing trust should be one of your top priorities. In this Harvard Business Review article, Carolyn O’Hara maps out the do’s and don’ts of building relationships with the team. Spoiler alert: you don’t need to do trust falls in the breakroom to facilitate great working relationships.**

8. I Sold My Google-Backed Startup for $75 Million Yesterday– and I’m Scared to Death: Inc., Dave Balter

IDave Baltern this Inc. article, serial entrepreneur (and Intelligent.ly founder!) Dave Balter provides a candid look into the challenges that come with a rapidly expanding business and gives advice to leaders managing teams during these tumultuous times. For Dave, it was all about clarifying the vision and then driving it home. We think he’s an all-star genius…but we may be biased!

9. Being a Good Manager: Overcoming 5 Common Myths: Huffington Post,     Sara Hershfeld

According to Certified Behavior Analyst Sara Gershfeld, becoming a great leader is about catching yourself in the act of unproductive behaviors and correcting them. She provides guidance on how to handle leadership challenges in a way that promotes team success with just a few simple behavior modifications.

10. 10 Fastest Growing Companies in Boston: Inc., Anna Hensel

Boston is one of the most talented and rapidly expanding startup communities in the country and we’re honored to be a part of it. Growing by 3,860%? This list of 10 fastest growing companies is equally impressive as it bewildering.

** Intelligent.ly does not promote, facilitate, or otherwise endorse any office horseplay, including, but not limited to, trust falls.

Leadership Lessons: Ralph Folz

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folz__ralphLast week at Intelligent.ly Exchange, we had the good fortune to be joined by Ralph Folz, CEO of WordStream. Ralph got his bearings as a nerdy engineer, before getting bit by the entrepreneurship bug at age 26. As a leader, Ralph is genuine, honest, and deliberate about his strengths and limitations. He has a deep understanding of his communication style, and his sense of self-awareness and thoughtfulness make him an incredibly approachable executive. Wordstream was established just seven years ago, and has rapidly become one of the most respected high-growth search marketing software companies around. His secret? Embracing diversity, laser sharp focus, and goal simplification.

Hone Your Strengths

In Ralph’s words, “There are different flavors of people.” Leaders can maximize team success by targeting each team member’s specific “flavor” or strength. You can’t make employees into something they’re not; all you can do is hone in on what each person can bring to the table, celebrating the diversity of skill sets among your team. For all you Red Sox fans, Ralph described it like this: if you had nine Manny Ramirez’s in the field, you’d hit a million home runs, but you probably wouldn’t win.Ralph Folz Key Takeaways

Focus

No matter how large your company is or how quickly you’re scaling, maintaining a focus on your core values is critical. Ralph noted that clarity about your core values not only creates direction, but can also help frame difficult conversations. He humbly admitted that in fact, he isn’t perfect; owning that helps him create the right team. For so many startups, growth is hectic and not easily planned. Strongly aligned values keep teams rowing in the same direction, as the environment around them rapidly changes. Transparency and conviction in upholding the culture that makes your team unique are key to developing a thriving business.

It’s all about 1’s and 0’s

In a successful team like Ralph’s, all members have the same core values, so when problems arise, everyone is able to keep their eye on the common goals. At Wordstream, the executive team shares four core goals, which allows the team to approach conflict more objectively. Alignment of goals helps the team to embrace healthy conflict with rich debate before choosing the best course of action. Ralph is an engineer at heart, which means everything can be measured. He quantifies goals as simple 1’s and 0’s. I know what you’re thinking–really? We’re bringing math into this? Fret not! Ralph assured us that success can be determined objectively, with each person focusing on three simple, measurable goals. At the end of each quarter, goals can be defined as a 1 or 0–either they were achieved or they weren’t. If there are 0’s present, the goal needs to be defined more clearly. Clear goals and values drive decisions toward success and keep the team hungry for that sense of achievement.

His last snippet of advice: Have a mentor and a network. Overcommunicate.

Thank you, Ralph!

Rachel WaldmannRachel Waldmann
Content & Community Specialist
@rachelwaldmann

Be like Mike!

Mike Troiano“All the pain in your life will be caused by distance from the truth,” said Mike Troiano, CMO and self-proclaimed “Communicator-in-Chief” at Actifio. Think that’s profound? Now think about how a company that’s only 5 years old is already worth $1.4 billion dollars. With Troiano and a group of seriously intentional leaders at the helm, it’s no surprise that the copy data management company is rapidly growing into one of Boston’s biggest success stories.

On Monday night, Mike joined Intelligent.ly’s Abbie Waite for a fireside chat about leadership with 200 members of startup community. Perhaps most impressive about Mike is how he commands a room, like that funny uncle who you deeply respect and are also a little afraid of disappointing. In spite of huge success, he maintains his humility and charisma- admirable characteristics of a seasoned leader.

During the evening, Mike relayed sound words of advice. As a new professional getting my career off the ground, I’m making them words to live by. The resounding theme was that people are perhaps the greatest (and sometimes most difficult) part of being in business, and as a leader you have to establish enduring trust and open lines of communication right from the start.

Mike broke effective leadership into three actionable buckets:

Be Human
“Understand people, what matters to them, who they love, and what they’re afraid of,” Mike advised. Starting with the human side of management helps leaders motivate their teams, foster healthy conflict, and drive results.

Mike entertained the crowd with an anecdote about the epic difference between Italian sauce and gravy; sauce takes 20 minutes to whip up, while gravy is an all day affair, that requires slaving over a stove, and putting blood, sweat, and tears into the final product, but is worth every ounce of effort. The effort Mike puts into his gravy is paralleled only by the thought he puts into building relationships with his team. Ultimately, good business is good people, and exceptional leaders understand what motivates and challenges each individual member of a team.

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Mike Troiano
Mike asserted that managers need to ask themselves, “What are the three most important things right I can do to grow our business right now?” Focus solely on doing those (and only those) three things. Take for instance, when Mike joined the executive team at Actifio. His first move was to identify key stakeholders, focus on understanding their needs and challenges, and create lists of each team member’s goals. Within the first week, he realized where the communication gaps were, and set a clear vision for moving forward. He asked himself, “What am I good at?” and set an actionable strategy for using his skills to fill in the gaps and add value to the team.

As a leader, you’ll have boundless opportunities, but Mike urged us to proceed with caution to avoid falling victim to the overwhelming choices that come with growing a company and a team. Choose a few areas where you can add value to your team, and give them all you’ve got. Prioritize.

Keep it Simple
Mike drove this home over and over: it’s a manager’s responsibility to set clear expectations for each team member right from the start. Communication should be clear, direct, and honest. This is the best (and if we’re being honest, only) way to retain employees for the long haul.

When a team member lacks success, leaders need to take a good hard look at the mirror and think about why this person’s results are not measuring up to the expectation. And then you have to think about what you can do to support each individual on your team. Do you need to clarify your expectations? Provide your team member with a tool or resource to improve their performance? Is there tension within the team? Whatever it is, it’s up to the leader to provide clarity. It’s as simple as that.

Preach, Mike. Preach.

Rachel WaldmannRachel Waldmann
Content & Community Specialist
@rachelwaldmann