16: Stopping The BS: How To Move Fast Even As You Scale
Speaker 1: Music is so hot. I can just feel it. It's not playing right. I just feel it.
Speaker 2: Our heads are nodding.
Speaker 1: Yeah. Our heads are nodding. All right. Today on Seeking Wisdom. We're going to talk about how to keep your team focused on customers, even as your team starts to get big, beyond a hundred people.
Speaker 2: I call this one, stopping the bullshit. Boom.
Speaker 1: So if you've been listening to Seeking Wisdom for a while now, or following what we're doing at Drift, or just following David over the years, you know that there's kind of one theme that we always talk about. And it kind of is the glue between a lot of stuff that we talk about here and it's being customer- driven. But maybe let's tell the people what customer- driven means before we kind of dive into this episode, or at least what it means to you.
Speaker 2: For me, it's pretty simple. It means putting the customer first. And if you think about a pyramid kind of hierarchy, we put the customer first and then we put individual contributors on the team next, and then managers, directors, blah, blah, blah. You just keep going on. And the higher your title, the further you are down at the bottom of that pyramid or that reverse pyramid and customers are right at the very top. And that means that we are here to focus and to build for customers first.
Speaker 1: Yeah. And it's not just a fluffy thing. It's the reason you're in business is to create and keep customers, right? And so if you don't know the core of that.
Speaker 2: That's the only reason for businesses.
Speaker 1: And by the way, if you haven't go all the way back to the first episode of Seeking Wisdom, not episode zero, but episode one, we talked about being customer- driven and how to build a customer- driven team. So that's a good one to go back and check that out if you're interested in hearing more about the topic. But anyway, I wanted to talk today about being customer- driven as you grow, because you have been asked to go to companies that have started to scale. And they always say like," Hey, we've kind of lost our mojo a little bit." It's easy to be customer- driven when you're small because there's fewer people, everything is easier. But once you start to scale, let's say past a hundred employees is what we're going to talk about today. So first of all, what do people want to hear from you? And you've been at big companies and it's happened. What happens after you get past, after you start to scale, why do you lose touch of customers?
Speaker 2: Well, first I think they want to talk to me. And it's usually the CEO, the board of that company that asked me to talk to the team and what they're feeling is pain. And the pain is usually that things have slowed down, especially from a product engineering standpoint. But across the team, it could be in sales or marketing, have really slowed down as they began to scale. And they're trying to understand, and they're frustrated to know why things have scaled and they've added a lot of people to the company. So that's the symptom that they feel. And then they asked me to come in and talk about how to scale a customer- driven organization.
Speaker 1: Yeah. And that kind of sucks, right? If you're building a company, well, it's also nerve wracking and crazy in the early days. But part of the fun is that the team is small and there's no bullshit and you just do what you want. But then you'd start to grow, and just more people adds more process, adds more crap.
Speaker 2: Yeah. And I think it's kind of easier to be customer- driven when you're small because the incentives are aligned. You existing and you not going out of business is highly aligned with listening to customers in those early days. But as you scale and get bigger, we begin to kind of value our own opinions too much, or kind of think like now we know we've hit this point of scaling the company. Now we know better than customers. And so all of a sudden we start to lean on our own experiences versus going back to the customer.
Speaker 1: Yeah. So I wrote a note, you and I were just kind of trading slack messages about possible topics. That's usually how this stuff comes up. And you said, you call this reversion to the mean, which means when every marketer, designer, PM, engineer, whatever, after a while, when they're left alone, they just revert back to their old ways.
Speaker 2: Yes. And so they revert either back to their own ways or they start to listen to conventional wisdom. Two words that we hate, conventional wisdom, because it's usually wrong. And so things like," Oh, this is how people, I don't know who people are, but people say, this is how companies should be run." Or they say that," Once you get over a hundred people, you need these additional kind of people in the company, or you need kind of middle managers or you need this kind of structure." And so they start to listen to they too much. And so we stay away from they and conventional wisdom.
Speaker 1: All right. So how do you actually fix this? If you're listening to this podcast and you're at a company that has more than, I'd say even more than 20 people, there bullshit, can kind of start to creep in. So maybe share, you don't have to share which company in how you share the story, but just maybe use them as an example. And so, like, they said," Hey, we've kind of lost our way a little bit." You stood up in front of this company, what advice did you give them, how do you fix this?
Speaker 2: Actually, I give this advice a lot. I just gave it this morning to two people who kind of run HR in a larger company. And so what I said to them was, there are lots of things that we have done in the past that lead you in the right direction. But some of them are too big of a change for these companies to take on. I think the simplest change is actually usually the most effective. And the one that I would push here, which is to push more and more, face- to- face communication on their team. And this is the one that usually teams kind of push back on the most as they begin to scale. Because again, they listen to conventional wisdom and they think like," Oh, one- on- ones and talking to people directly, whether it's customers or people within my team doesn't scale. We're getting big now. So we need to add some process. So we need to add some people and we need to put these buffers." And so the first thing I would say is push more one- on- one communication throughout the company. And a good way to know when that's not happening is to look at all these conversations and see how many of them are telephone, basically. How many of them are second, third, fourth or fifth hand feedback, and you want to have as much firsthand feedback as possible.
Speaker 1: So one thing I want to call out specifically that you said is you didn't say more meetings, right? You didn't say more people meeting. Specifically, you said one- on- one communication.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Because I think meetings of beyond a few people, are usually in my opinion, useless.
Speaker 1: How many times does this come up? Like, there's a thing that's happening and somebody is the leader of that group is like," All right, we need a meeting. We got to talk about this one o'clock Friday." And then you just get 12 people in a room.
Speaker 2: That happens every day. I think that's part of conventional wisdom. I think maybe they've seen that somewhere. Or watched that in a movie or something like that.
Speaker 1: You see a stacked photo of people in a meeting. This must be how-
Speaker 2: This is how companies do it. I don't know where that stems from, but that never works. Because it's hard to motivate and align people in that group setting. And a lot of that happens, one- on- one, even if you're on a sports team, a lot of coaching happens one- on- one or in small groups, not as the entire group together.
Speaker 1: Yeah. But also like the sports analogies, you can't have a one size fits all conversation with someone. You got to know that person. What's the way that I can talk to this person that's going to get that result?
Speaker 2: Yeah. And I think this is a bias that we all have, which is called projection bias, which is, we project our own image in the way that we want to be communicated to, onto other people. And that rarely works. Because there are very few people that you run into are exactly the same personality as you. And so you need to coach and kind of shift the way that you're talking to people depending on their own personality and context. And so that's why it's so important, not more meetings. I'm against meetings and I'm against, especially big meetings, more one- on- one time, pushing more people. And this is not just managers, this is everyone. Push more and more people to speak one- on- one to be able to solve problems. And this actually ends up scaling.
Speaker 1: Yeah. But it's funny, you're against meetings, but you'd have one- on- ones all day. I feel like," Hey, let's go for a walk, just you and me talk 20 minutes. Let's fix this shit." Because you know that, that 20- minute walk is going to save countless wiki posts and emails and slack messages that are taken out of context.
Speaker 2: Yeah. I think having those one- on- ones have always been the thing that I've really focused in on. And I think it saves weeks, months, maybe years of pain down the road if you spend that time one- on- one. And even having had that kind of always pushing that experience of that one- on- one I would still find things that are in one- on- ones. I'd ask why they were doing something or why they were off on this project. And then ultimately they would say," Oh, because this person and that person, this person, that person, then this person said that you wanted me to do that." And I was just like," I've never said that."
Speaker 1: Even in the telephone.
Speaker 2: Yeah. And that was even happening with kind of this focus on one- on- one. So I can't imagine how that happens and what happens in a big company where you have lots of hierarchy and processing between people.
Speaker 1: So that's one example. That's more about, that cause internal bullshit. But what we really wanted to do is talk about customers. And so I think the same example applies, is you start, so it's not just about internal bullshit. It's about, are you building things, and are you making things that are really resonating with customers? And then the example you just gave still applies. It's like," Oh, this person told this person, told this person, that we should build this thing."
Speaker 2: Totally. And I would hear that and when I gave a talk recently at a company meeting and I did hear that come up from people like," Oh, why are you building that?"" Oh, because these customers want it."" Which customers?"" Ah. I think this customer and I think that." And then another person would be like,"Nope, they don't want that. Which customer?" And so all of a sudden you're finding and unraveling this huge game of telephone and people are off building this stuff. And in bigger companies, people could be going for months, if not years in this same pattern. Actually the two people I was talking to today who were kind of come out of HR, we're talking about a company they were working with where things had been going on for years, that they didn't understand what was happening. It was kind of the same game of telephone.
Speaker 1: But if they had just-
Speaker 2: Had a conversation, they would have fixed it.
Speaker 1: Yeah. A lot of the stuff that we talk about and a lot of stuff that your mantra is simple, not easy.
Speaker 2: Yeah. This is so obvious.
Speaker 1: And all this stuff is so obvious.
Speaker 2: I'm telling you, no matter what size of the company, 20%, 100%, 10, 000, 50, 000 person company. All of these companies, if you spend time and you talk to them, you'd be shocked that none of them do the most obvious thing.
Speaker 1: Yeah. So solution number one is when you start to revert back to the mean, a little bit, talk to more people.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Catch yourself and say," Wait, do we really need a process for this? Or can I actually just solve this if I talk to Dave. Even though Dave's in Tokyo and it's inconvenient for me to talk him on the phone. Maybe it's better if I just talk to him, one- on- one and figure this out." And guess what, if you do that, then you're building relationship with Dave. Building trust, that's going to help you down the road. Versus you trying to do that through a process, through a person in between the two of you, you never get to build that trust with Dave or whoever the person is in Tokyo.
Speaker 1: So you use that example because that's what comes up all the time is, you say to somebody like," Why didn't you talk to Dave?"
Speaker 2: And they'd say," Oh, I'm busy." And I think people are good at this. They just start coming up with the most extreme examples.
Speaker 1: Like he's remote.
Speaker 2: He's remote." Where is he?"" He's in London."" So call him.""Oh, I can't, I'm busy."" Why can't you?"
Speaker 1: "London is six hours ahead."
Speaker 2: "Yeah. So wake up early and call him.""I can't do that. I'm too busy."" Okay. So send him an email then, if you don't want to call him.""Oh, I can't my emails."" Have you looked at my inbox? It's packed, man. There's too much email in their. Email overload."" I'm bankrupt on email. I can't send him an email."" Okay. So what do you want that to happen?"" I think someone else should do this." So how is someone else doing this, going to solve the problem that you can't communicate with someone who's five or six hours ahead of you? It's not. And how are you going to build a relationship with that person? You won't. And what will happen in the long run? You will add more and more process and they will get more and more out of control until someone gets frustrated or something bad happens within the company.
Speaker 1: The thing that sucks is that it would be so much better for the longterm, whatever of the business. If those two people just had a real relationship because you don't have to do with any of that. That person, we talk about drug deals all the time, that person is going to be more likely to do you a favor.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Drug deals are our term for favors. So I have a question for you. So we're talking about this in the context of inside a company, but the same excuse, I think comes up everywhere. And so Dave started to do something recently on all his posts that he's putting out there on medium and our blog, where he actually puts his email address, his real email address on the bottom of every post. And if I were listening to conventional wisdom, Dave, I would say," Wait a second, you can't do that. How are you going to do your job each day? Are you just going to get a bunch of emails? Are you going to be run over by spam?" What we can't possibly do that we need a system to do that. So how the hell are you doing it?
Speaker 1: Well, first, if you're listening that emails, dg @ drift, send me a note. I reply to everybody. But first I would say that is like, show me how often have you created something where enough volume of people have reacted to it, that it would blow up your day. And damn, if you could only be so lucky to create something that so many people love so much that they felt the need to reply. Or something that some people hated so much that they felt the need to reply. The goal of creating anything on our end is I would rather have a hundred people reply to me directly than a thousand people just read a post that we wrote for example. And so like I was saying this to you on our walk over here, it's like, now instead of just messing around on Twitter in the morning, the first thing that I do every day is I come in and I usually have, I don't know, between 3 and 30 people that have emailed, that have replied to something. And that's the best way you could start your day, is you're having real conversations with real people. Those are people who, if we have a good conversation, it could be an advocate for our business, could share something we're doing. Could just give us feedback. Maybe I had a typo. Maybe they have a better way to do something. If I only could work for seven hours and the eighth hour was doing that every day, like that's just insane to not spend the time doing that.
Speaker 2: Tremendous. And I think that same lesson that you've learned there is the same thing that we're talking about inside a company. When you rather start that one hour of your day, actually having conversations and communicating with people who can actually get shit done with you. Versus creating some process or something that shields you from having those conversations and then causes you to have years of problems down the road. It's the same exact thing.
Speaker 1: Yeah. That's a good way to bring it back. All right. Last thing. So the harder change here is, this is some of your big advocate of. And we talked about this in that first episode is, to really fight that at a bigger company, it's just have smaller teams. So just maybe let's wrap up, just go a couple of minutes on what you guys did at HubSpot and why small autonomous team was so important.
Speaker 2: Yeah. I think this has been the trend that a lot of companies kind of more modern companies. So we did kind of three person teams, engineering teams at HubSpot worked really well. Three was an arbitrary number, but three was powerful. And that those three people could actually sit together, which meant they were shoulder to shoulder, co- located in the same space. That meant that they didn't have to ever have any meetings. So we were trying to have no meeting kind of culture. And so, they didn't have to have meetings. They didn't have to have communication overhead. Yes, most of them were engineers, so they ended up talking in slack to each other, even though they were a foot apart. But there was no excuse, so we removed all the communication excuses. At Amazon, supposedly Bezos has the one pizza or two pizza or I forgot what it was, one or two pizzas. One pizza, basically the teams shouldn't be any bigger than being able to split one pizza. And then Facebook, they've had 3 to 5 person teams. Anyway, the point is to keep teams so small that you remove the overhead required in communication. And so the only secret between all those examples is that they were small enough that everyone could be in the same room, same place. And so you didn't have to have communication overhead. So if you're in a larger company, I would take a hundred people or a thousand people, and I would figure out how am I going to split them into the smallest units possible. So that they can move fast, have more autonomy and have as little communication overhead as possible.
Speaker 1: It's probably pretty tough to have bullshit if there's only two other people on your team. Right?
Speaker 2: Exactly. That's a great point, which I didn't bring up, which is something happens in kind of having these small teams, they become intimate and there's no one to hide behind.
Speaker 1: It just exposes a lot of this stuff. You just wrote a three- page wiki rant, like," I'm right here"
Speaker 2: Exactly. I'm right there. So you can't do that. But if you are in a hundred person team, it's easy to be the person in the wiki or rant. Or doing something that's passive, aggressive. Or not communicating with the people on your team. Very hard to do if you're in a five person team.
Speaker 1: Cool. All right, that's a good place to end it today. Don't forget. We have a website.
Speaker 2: Seekingwisdom. io.
Speaker 1: You can go catch up on all the episodes. I think this'll be the 16th one we've done. It's amazing to see how many people are chiming in and responding and helping us keep climbing the charts on iTunes for business pods.
Speaker 2: Hit us up with that five star review. Let us know we're doing okay. Give us some feedback and help us by spreading the word.
Speaker 1: Cool. We're out.
Speaker 3: Nice.