When you think of innovation hotbeds, you might think of places like Austin or LA. Ten years ago, maybe it was San Francisco or Brooklyn. I’m guessing the words “Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada” don’t immediately come to mind. Well, not yet, anyway. Especially if this week’s Awesome Office guest Daniel Matishak has anything to say about it. Daniel is the co-founder and CEO of Mindable, a marketing optimization company that specializes in activating niche communities in the personal development space. The company has been able to grow into a massive, 8-figure marketing juggernaut based out of - you guessed it - Sherwood Park, Alberta. How have they pulled this off? One strategy that has paid off is a mostly remote workforce, that enables the company to attract top talent not just from their own backyard, but from across the globe.
In our digitally connected, multi-screen world, where people hide their true selves behind layers of snark and our deepest emotions are expressed via emoji, conversation seems to be a lost art. But as this week’s guest attests, conversation is one of the most important skills we possess, both in business and in life. Michael Rothman is a digital entrepreneur, master conversationalist and storyteller, and all around fascinating guy. A founding employee at Thrillist, his latest venture is Fatherly.com, a lifestyle site for men entering parenthood - and a conversation in its own right (albeit of the digital variety).
When faced with adversity, some people crumble. Andres Izquieta is not one of those people. Andres is a fashion designer, serial entrepreneur, and the CEO and co-founder of Five Four Club, an online men’s clothing subscription service. In 2008, Five Four (then a retail and wholesale outfit) was on the brink of failure. The worldwide credit crisis that gave birth to the Great Recession was decimating the retail industry, and it looked like Five Four might not survive. But Andres and his business partner had other ideas. They brought the company back into the black by pivoting to a men’s fashion subscription service. The strategic shift paid off. Today Five Four Club has more than 70k active monthly subscribers, and is about to launch several new verticals before the end of the year, including a formalwear accessory line, an athletic wear label, and a shoe brand.
Vulnerability is a big theme on this show. Time and again, we’ve learned that leaders who are willing to be vulnerable are able to communicate more authentically and forge truer connections with their teams. No one embodies this idea quite like this week’s guest, ShipOffers partner Tony Grebmeier. As you’ll see in this week’s episode, Tony G is an open book. A recovering addict, he’s unafraid to talk candidly about his darkest moment, when he was moments away from taking his own life. But Tony has come a long way from rock bottom. Today, he focuses on being 100% fully aware and present in everything he does. And he does a lot. Tony hosts the Entrepreneur Unplugged podcast, and his company, ShipOffers, is a trusted source for elite marketers of health and beauty products, acting as strategic partners for direct response marketers in 43 countries around the globe.
When people in the food industry meet Robyn O’Brien for the first time, they often remark, “Funny, you don’t look like one of them.” “One of them,” presumably being the stereotypical food or environmental activists. And to be honest, they're right. (To wit, Robyn does not wear Birkenstocks or tie-dye, nor does she have dreadlocks.) In fact, Robyn is a self-described “conservative Texas mom” raised in a military family, and admittedly, the last person you’d expect to be leading a crusade to reform the food industry. Yet she is at the forefront of a movement to fundamentally rethink what goes into our nation’s food supply. As a financial analyst in the food industry, Robyn began to undercover undeniable links in the chemical pesticides, GMOs, and antibiotics in our food and troubling health trends like the explosion of childhood food allergies.
From day one, Riot Games has been about one becoming thing - the most gamer-focused studio in the world. Co-founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck are both hardcore gamers, and from the outset, they’ve consciously built a culture that emphasizes player experience above all else - even revenue. To preserve this ethos, the company only hires gamers, a practice they’ve continued even as they’ve scaled. Today, the company has more than 2,000 employees (or “Rioters” as they’re known internally), all of whom have firsthand knowledge of gaming and gaming culture. The end result is an organization that is always in touch with its audience. And while Riot’s core consumer is sophisticated and at times demanding, Marc says these high customer expectations motivate Rioters to deliver superior gameplay. By all accounts, this approach has paid off. If you’ve never heard of Riot Games, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of their marquee title, League of Legends - aka, the most popular online game… ever.
Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t perfect. But life is good. That’s the motto that has propelled Life is Good - the lifestyle clothing brand that celebrates optimism - from a $200 initial investment in 1989 to a $100M company today. This week, our Awesome Office guest is none other than Life is Good co-founder and Chief Executive Optimist Bert Jacobs. In the interview, Bert shares how he and his co-founder/brother John conceived of the company, and why placing optimism at the core of the brand has helped it reach millions of people. As Bert tells it, before it was ever a company or a t-shirt, “Life is Good” was a spirit personified by Bert and John's mother, Joan, an eternal optimist who taught her children to turn the music up, enjoy the moment, and always remember to focus on the good things in life.
One of the coolest offices you'll ever see in your life... is a contact center in the Philippines. If you're skeptical, so were we. But then we talked to today's Awesome Office guest Jaspar Weir, and it started to make sense. Jaspar is the President and Co-Founder of TaskUs, a company that provides outsourced customer care and back office support for some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Expensify, Groupon, and Tinder. We knew going in to the interview that TaskUs had a great culture, but we had no idea that culture is actually central to their business.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: You’re a brand new employee at a company that values teamwork and collaboration. Eager to prove yourself, you come out of the gate swinging. You do good work early on, and garner a reputation as a high contributor and team player. This reputation results in more people from across the org asking for your assistance on all sorts of projects. You, of course, say yes (you are a team player, after all). Before long, you feel yourself spread thin. You make a millimeter of progress on a thousand different fronts, but no significant progress on any. Your “priority” list is thirty items long. In an ironic twist, your early success has now undermined your ability to contribute at a high level. The quality of your work goes down, while your stress level skyrockets. It’s a surefire recipe for burnout. Luckily for us, today’s Awesome Office guest has developed a solution - Essentialism.
Our biggest embarrassments. Our darkest fears. Our greatest failures. They are the things that lurk in the back of our minds, loom heavy in our consciousness, and haunt our dreams. They cause us pain, anguish, and shame. It’s tempting to think: If only I had a time machine, a chance to go back and do things right. But as today’s Awesome Office guest Rob Bell illuminates, to do so would be to deny one of our greatest assets. With a little time and perspective, these moments have the potential to be our greatest sources of personal strength. In fact, these trying, troubling, or just plain cringe-worthy times are actually the force that shapes us into who we are today.
Discovering your purpose almost always involves making some hard choices. First and foremost, there’s the opportunity cost – saying yes to your purpose necessarily involves saying no to something else. So what happens when the opportunity cost is a college education, and what if following your gut instinct means that your parents might disown you? This is exactly the choice that our Awesome Office guest Mike Zhang had to make early in his entrepreneurial career.
There’s a reason why films like Office Space and cartoons like “Dilbert” strike a chord with so many people: The modern employee is plagued by a dystopian vision of what work (and therefore life) has to be. This vision depicts a world that is soulless and monotonous, that deprives of us of our energy, creativity, and joy, and in which our job feels more like a transaction than a calling. But as today’s guest Shawn Murphy uncovers for us, this dystopian vision is a choice, one made everyday by both leaders and employees alike. The upside? Shawn reminds us that there’s another choice – the choice to say, “I want something more for my team, and more for my own life.”
So you think you have your culture nailed. You have your mission, core values, a space that wows, and a team of stellar contributors who are ready go out and crush the competition. You’re good to go, right? Not quite. As our Awesome Office guest Vinnie Fisher points out, your culture is still missing a key ingredient, without which it will never be complete. You need to discover the heartbeat of your business. According to Vinnie, every business has a heartbeat – a unifying feeling or spirit that permeates the organization and comes directly from the leader.
You might think that Ancient Rome would be the last place to look in order to gain insight into the modern workplace. Considering today’s lightning-fast pace, constant technological disruption, and hordes of smartphone-toting Millennials, what can the ancients possibly teach us about leading our organizations? But as we learn in this latest installment of the Awesome Office Show, quite a bit actually. In Episode 29, we decided to flip the script and put our fearless leader and AO host Sean Kelly on the hot seat to share some of his learnings from a recent Harvard Business School course he took on the leadership secrets of Ancient Rome.
Too often, companies are focused on how they can extract value from an opportunity or market, and not on the value they can provide. Not so for Ryan Cummins and Omaze, the Los Angeles-based company that raises money and awareness for caused-based charities by creating the chance to win once in a lifetime experiences. Ryan, along with co-CEO Matt Pohlson, lead a team of 58 rockstars in a shared workspace with mobile gaming studio Scopely - a fact that comes with some serendipitous cross cultural benefits. As Ryan tells us in the episode, giving is a powerful force in delighting Omaze’s audience, and the power of giving isn’t limited to philanthropy-based organizations. In fact, he argues that businesses in every industry can harness the transformative power of giving.
What can a Master’s degree in education and a background in nightlife teach you about becoming an entrepreneur and effective leader? Judging from Amanda Slavin’s track record, quite a bit. Amanda Slavin is a Millennial and Generation Z expert, and the CEO and founder of CatalystCreativ, an experience studio that’s focused on helping cities, brands and institutions flourish by developing educational and inspirational on- and offline campaigns. But before she was Amanda Slavin, Catalyst CEO, she was Ms. Slavin, a first grade teacher with a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education.
Awesome Officers… get pumped. Yes pumped, because this week we’ve got a phenomenal interview with Jim Cavale, the president of Iron Tribe Fitness. Jim is a passionate, purpose-driven entrepreneur and leader who believes that culture and values are the key to building strong organizations and lasting relationships with customers. In this episode, Jim walks us through the journey that brought him to that realization - from the baseball fields of upstate New York where he was a standout high school athlete, to the University of Montevallo in Birmingham, Alabama, where he founded the school’s broadcasting program while playing on the baseball team, to Iron Tribe, where, before he was president of the company, Jim was actually one of Iron Tribe’s very first clients.
"Worker smarter, not harder." It's a familiar maxim for anyone who cares about productivity. But it's also something you'll never hear Kevin Dorsey tell his team. Why? Because no company, team, or organization ever achieved greatness by sacrificing hard work for efficiency. From Dorsey's point of view, why not work both smart and hard? This is just one of the many pieces of advice that Kevin gives in his presentation, 8 Surefire Productivity Hacks for the Workplace.
It used to be that the relationship with your customers ended at the transaction. You might engage them as they entered your sales funnel, and once you closed the deal, that was the end of it - on to the next. Today’s guest turns that notion completely on its head. Robbie Kellman Baxter is a consultant, keynote speaker, and the author of The Membership Economy, a fantastic new book that explains why access and community are more valuable than ownership and transactional relationships. Robbie makes a powerful case that all companies - not just subscription based companies - are better served when they move away from the idea that the relationship ends at the transaction, and realize that they need what she describes as an “ongoing, open, multi-directional conversation” with their customers.
Our last episode was all about looking ahead — Towards the New Year, the future, the things we want to achieve and the path that will take us there. Now we take a moment to look back and reflect on the year that was. Because as important as planning, preparation, and goal setting are, it’s the process - the journey - that matters most. And there are always lessons to be learned. So in today’s Awesome Office Show, we take a look back and share the top 8 leadership learnings from 2015. Here's a quick summary of the topics we explore in-depth in the episode.