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Micah Rowland isn’t your everyday builder. He doesn’t build homes, cabinets, or even software. As COO of Fountain, Micah builds people, teams, and processes. He offers a wealth of advice on building and scaling teams, and the importance of documentation. But what we talk about isn’t just applicable to building teams – it’s applicable to anyone building a business that will eventually scale.
Joe Casabona: Micah Rowland isn’t your everyday builder. He doesn’t build homes, cabinets, or even software. As CEO of Fountain, Micah builds people, teams, and processes. He offers a wealth of advice on building and scaling teams and the importance of documentation, but what we talk about here isn’t just applicable to building teams. It’s applicable to anybody, like you, building a business that will eventually scale up. This conversation is great, and I thought it was fantastic. Micah offers a lot of really good advice that I personally haven’t experienced yet, because I haven’t scaled up to a team, or I’m just starting to scale a team now. This is a really good one if you plan on hiring contractors or you plan on hiring employees, but if you plan on scaling up in any way, Micah’s advice here is fantastic. We’ll get into that in just a minute, but first a word from our sponsors.
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Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Micah Rowland, and he is the CEO of Fountain, which is some pretty interesting hiring software as we were talking about before we started recording. Today we’re going to be talking about scaling to 300 employees and the lessons learned in doing that. I know that a lot of you listening out there are solo or small businesses, but you’d like to scale, so hopefully, Micah can give us lots of great advice for that. Micah, thanks for joining me today.
Micah Rowland: Sure. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Joe: Absolutely. So, let’s start at the beginning with a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Micah: Absolutely. At Fountain, I lead what we call broadly “Operations,” that includes things like finance, HR, recruiting, legal, and in our company, it also includes customer success which is helping our customers to use the software and learn to deliver value for their businesses. So, that’s what I do here. I’ve been with the company just shy of a year, and in my prior professional situations, I started my career as a software engineer, then went back to graduate school for an MBA and spent time in management consulting at the firm McKinsey and Company. Then I spent a little bit of time in consumer goods at Starbucks, and then about eight years ago– Almost eight years ago I came back to the Bay Area and back to technology, where I’ve been in software as a service companies or SaaS companies since then in a variety of leadership roles on the operations, customer success, and revenue generation side of the business. That is to say, not the technical side of the business.
Joe: That’s great. So you moved from software engineering to a more business operations standpoint, which I think is cool. As software engineers and software developers start their businesses, they might not think down that line. I know I didn’t for a while, but as I am trying to work less in my business and more on my business, I know I need to put that hat on a little more often.
Micah: Yeah, absolutely.
Joe: Cool. You have been at Fountain for just shy of a year, and you said Fountain is hiring software, but maybe you can tell the audience a little bit more about what exactly it does and who you target with this software?
Micah: Sure. We target a wide array of different types of companies, but I would say the unifying factor in our customers is that most of them are hiring people in the hourly wage economy. They’re maybe hiring contractors, they may be full-time employees, but they’re non-exempt, so they’re paid hourly. Their hiring processes are typically going to be somewhat different than you might find in a Silicon Valley company, which is hiring software engineers or lawyers or marketers. In the case of most of our clients they’re hiring very large numbers of people, oftentimes it’s across many different locations, and they want to do this with a smaller number of recruiters and recruiting staff than you might have to have if you were going to have everybody go through a very involved hiring process. Our product offers a variety of features and tools that allow a high level of automation in the communication for these hiring processes. Secondly, they leverage mobile devices, and they communicate using SMS messaging, which makes it more effective in reaching out to candidates. Then thirdly, they provide a variety of tools that are integrated in with the service. Everything from video interview recording to background check, to the things that you might want to do with these folks after you hire them to get them onboarded and up and running, including some paperwork that you file with the government for things like the work opportunity tax credit. All of that is integrated in so that you can, using a very small recruiting staff, process hundreds and in some cases, even several thousand applicants a month with a single recruiter. In that sense, we’re built for high volume and highly efficient hiring processes.
Joe: That sounds like generally interesting technology because it’s almost like you have an HR representative in this software handling communications, paperwork, interviews, all sorts of stuff. That’s cool, and it lays the groundwork for your qualifications in talking about scaling to 300 employees. Let’s start at the beginning. Let’s say I have a team of 10 or 25 people, and I want to scale, what’s the first thing I need to think about as far as “OK. I need to scale my team.” What should be on my mind?
Micah: I think the first thing you need to think about is where you’re going to get the money to hire all those people. In our case, as is the case with many companies in our industry or our space, a lot of that funding comes from venture capital. That leads you to the second question, which is, “How do I get people to give me this money before I have enough revenue to pay the salaries?” That topic is one that is obviously widely discussed and is at the core of building a startup, but it really comes down to “Do you have a business model that is going to allow you to bring people into the company, and then to produce and keep revenue with those people that’s going to pay for them over time so that you can hopefully be profitable? Or, if you’re not profitable today, become profitable?”
Joe: That’s a great distinction because if I’m growing slowly or if I am bootstrapped, I’m likely not going to scale from 10 to 300 people in one shot. I’m going to scale from 10 to 12 people, and then from 12 to 15, maybe. It’s going to be a much slower build, but what we’re talking about here is I have something that I think can grow quickly, and I have the right business model. I think that you hit the nail on the head there, of course, you need to have a good business model if people are going to give you money, and then you need to look for the funding to be able to pay those people. I know we’re not talking about venture capital here, but it’s something that always interests me. Maybe you can give us one or two pitfalls for people who go for venture capital and are not successful. Like, is there something that you’ve seen as common or something that people often forget to include in their business plan when they’re pitching venture capitalists?
Micah: Sure. This is a big topic, so I’ll focus my answer in on the industry or the types of businesses that I know best, which are software as a service businesses, and in what in what we call “SaaS businesses” there are a couple of factors that these CEOs are going to look for that are really important in terms of how they influence your ability to grow. At a high level, what you’re trying to do is to balance the cost of acquiring customers with the revenue or the long term benefit that those customers are going to bring to your company. In a traditional software business, what would happen is the company would develop software, and they would put it on CDs or DVDs, they would put it into an environment where you could buy it and then you would come and write them a giant check. Once you write the check, everybody parts ways until the next time you need to buy some software, and in that environment, the company who is writing the software got all of the revenue that they needed in order to cover their costs in one fell swoop, right up front. In the SaaS businesses that I’ve worked in, it’s a little bit different. In the SaaS businesses, what you’re doing is you’re creating a subscription. In order to justify the revenue for that subscription you have to balance that revenue that’s going to come in over time against the costs to acquire the customer, so SaaS businesses traditionally are spending a lot of money upfront on marketing and sales to get that customer to make a decision to sign a contract, in order to pay the monthly subscription fee, or quarterly, or annually. However, you structure it. What VCs want to know is, “Are you able to quickly make back the cost of acquiring new customers, and then to keep those customers on your subscription long enough that you can bring in a lot of a lot of profit?” That balance is a really important part. We think of it as “CAC” or customer acquisition costs, and then on the other side of the balancing equation is “LTV,” or customer lifetime value. If you’re spending $20,000 dollars to acquire a customer and you’re getting a $40,000 dollar annual subscription, that would be two times your acquisition cost recouped in the first year after you acquire the customer. But of course, the timing for this cash is really important. Because if I spend $20,000 dollars and I haven’t collected any cash yet, I’d better have enough money to continue paying everybody in my company while I wait for the subscription fees to come in. So timing of receipts and how long I keep the customer on board is really important, VCs are generally going to want to see that you can recoup the cost of acquiring customers within one year after you have that customer make a decision and that you have a multiple of your lifetime value compared to your acquisition costs of at least three, hopefully, more like five or even more. That influences your ability to grow. If I have money in the bank and I spend it all today on customer acquisition, how long do I have to wait until I recollect enough money to continue acquiring customers? That equation is really what’s going to dictate not only your growth but how appealing your business is to venture capitalists.
Joe: That was a great explanation. Thank you for that. I think maybe a relatable analogy here is if we look at affiliate programs for hosting companies. I’m part of an affiliate program where I get $200 bucks if I refer a customer to this hosting company when they charge something like $39 dollars per month. If we look at the annual, where we’re looking at more than $200 bucks, but it’s still a big chunk of that change, and that’s because they know the lifetime value of that customer is going to be at least three years. On average, people stay with their hosting company for a minimum of three years, if not longer. The $200 bucks they’re paying me upfront to refer that customer knows that they’re going to make quite a bit more, and probably five or six times that over the course of the lifetime of the customer.
Micah: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And they also know that they are not going to lose money on the deal because my guess is they have somebody come again and sign an annual contract. So even if it takes them $40 bucks a month, even if it takes them five months to recoup the costs they paid you, $200 dollars, they know that very few of those folks are going to go away before they hit that five-month period. That indicates the value of having a contract to lock people in so that they continue paying, and furthermore, that company, if they’re signing annual contracts, they know they’re going to get about $480 dollars over the course of twelve months. When they hit that twelve-month mark, they’re going to have $280 dollars worth of profit compared to the acquisition costs that they paid you. Obviously, they may have other acquisition costs, but that simple math indicates why that’s a good idea for that company. After five months, they’ve recouped enough money that they can then pay you perhaps another $200 dollars to go acquire another customer, whereas let’s say they were only charging $10 a month, they would have to wait 20 months in order to have recouped the upfront cost. You can see how that balance is directly related to the speed with which you could grow the business.
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Joe: Let’s say we have our good business plan, we’ve talked to a few venture capitalists and they’ve agreed to give us some money. What do we do next? Like, what do we do next when we’re ready to scale? Do we say, “All right. I’m hiring 300 engineers,” or I assume there’s probably a better process in place that we should consider?
Micah: Sure. I think different companies will, of course, want to hire a variety of people for different roles. But high level, I usually put staff– That is to say, “Employees that you might hire,” whether they’re W2 employees or contract employees. I bucket them into one of three categories, and those are R&D– In a technology business, that’s important, but R&D is not generally going to be bringing in new revenue directly. Secondly is people who you might think of as being directly related to or responsible for the generation or the sustenance of revenue, and then thirdly is what you might call broadly G&A, or overhead. People who are necessary to run the business. But that number of people is not going to change how much revenue you bring in or how easy it is to retain that revenue, so if you’ve got a bunch of money in the bank that you’ve just raised, whether from venture capital or from debt or from some other source, the first question is “How am I going to spend that money on headcount and other things?” Now, for most businesses, hiring and retaining staff is going to be the single biggest line item in their income statement. That isn’t true always, but people are generally going to be the highest expense line item in a software business for instance, so if you’re building a software business and you’re thinking about how to grow and how to scale, it’s about distributing the dollars that you have across those three high-level categories. I might want to spend to hire more marketing and sales staff, which is going to grow my business over time, and that’s always something that’s important. I might want to spend to hire more customer success and support staff, which is going to be necessary to ensure that I keep the customers that I’ve got. This is particularly important in a subscription business like the ones that I work in, although one might argue that it was less important in traditional software businesses. Because to revisit our earlier example, if you came into the mall, and you paid me $500 dollars for a box with CDs in it and I’ve already got your money, even if the software turns out to be bad I don’t have to go collecting subscriptions, but I do have to think about selling you more CDs two or three years down the road when you’re in the market again. Then on the overhead side, you’ve got to have people to do things like pay your payroll, handle facilities and do all of the other things that make a business tick. As well as, again, R&D to move the business forward. So it’s really about understanding what balance of those three things is necessary in order to grow the business short term, and that’s generally going to be sales, marketing, customer success. Secondly, make sure that you’re not mortgaging your business for the long term by continuing to invest in R&D, which is something that’s always important for tech companies. And thirdly, make sure that you can keep the lights on with G&A or overhead.
Joe: Do you find that people generally over-hire one type of employee or under-hire? I feel like at least in the WordPress space, until recently, there hasn’t been a big focus on customer success. It’s been “We want to get as much as many dollars in the door, so I’m going to hire the developer, and I’m going to hire the salesperson. Customer success can come later when we’re making money.”
Micah: Right. I think it’s very challenging to understand in a business before you have a lot of history before you have a lot of repetitions of the customer lifecycle it’s very difficult to understand “What is the service model that it’s going to allow us to keep these customers on at a certain rate?” If I say “Joe, that guy you referred to your hosting company, and they paid you $200 bucks, how long is he going to be paying the subscription fees?” If you just started the hosting company, it’s very difficult to have an answer that you’re confident about. If I further ask you, “Joe, how many support staff do you need in order to ensure that guy is going to stay on your platform and pay your hosting fees for at least three years?” An even more difficult question to answer, so I think the difficulty of answering that question is one that can certainly be resolved over time. You don’t always want to wait until you have the answers, so companies tend to try and invest into staff to solve problems that they see coming up and infer from customer decisions that happen at every stage what future customers are likely to do. I think customer success and support is one area where it can often be difficult, and I think the tendencies of companies is that they may under-hire there. Because those functions are often seen as more of a cost center than they are a direct revenue driver, and because the default for a customer is we’re going to keep billing them so it can be the default for the business to assume that you don’t need customer success to keep them on. I think that perspective has been shifting over the last few years as customer success, as a discipline, has become more mature and more well-understood. Their regular understanding is around metrics that you need to drive and measure, but it is still a challenge, largely because the value for money equation that every company is looking to balance properly. Which is to say, “You’re paying me money every month. What I expect in exchange for that is value.” That’s a very intangible thing, and because value is different for every customer, it can be difficult for companies to balance it correctly. I used to always when I was talking through and explaining this balance, and how we thought about it in a previous role where we were onboarding lots of employees, I would say that “Value for money equation can be explained around some simple examples that we might all understand.” If I ask you, “Joe, what kind of car do you drive?”
Joe: I drive a Ford Fusion.
Micah: OK, Ford Fusion. I said, “OK, Joe. You’re paying me a monthly fee for your Ford Fusion. Let’s say it’s $300 bucks a month,” and if I ask, “Joe, I want you to pay $350 dollars a month instead.” The first thing you’re going to ask me is, “What else am I going to get?” And I might say, “I will give you roof racks for your bike, and I’ll give you a sunroof, and I’ll give you four-wheel drive.” And you might say, “That sounds like a great deal. Sign me up.” We make those modifications and then you’d be going about your day, but if I said those things and you said “I don’t ski and I don’t care about a sunroof, and I don’t live in a snowy place, so I don’t need four-wheel drive.” Then maybe those features wouldn’t be worth an extra $50 bucks a month for you, so in the software business, what we have to do if we’re selling subscriptions is to balance this complex value for money equation. That’s a real challenge. It’s different for every business, and it’s much more complex than getting somebody to make the decision to sign up for the subscription in the first place. Customer success is one challenging area where businesses often don’t get it immediately and have to work towards an answer. The other that I think is challenging is in the product and engineering side of the house, because there you’re always looking to optimize for something that is pretty far in the future. At least in the world of startups, which is “What do we need to build and how do we need to maintain it over the future to enable continued growth? Not just the growth that we’re going to get right now with the feature set and the software that we’ve got today.” That involves a different prediction around understanding what the market that you have today might value in the future, and what the customers that you haven’t yet acquired but are hoping to acquire in the future will need in order for you to get them to pay you subscription services. I’d say that in some regards that’s an even more challenging exercise to go through, and so in most cases companies are taking a leap of faith in order to decide how many engineers or how many product managers or how many other staff on that side of the R&D portion of the business they’re going to hire.
Joe: There’s a lot of information to unpack there, and I feel like you’re talking to me now directly because I just launched my own subscription service in the form of memberships for my online courses. I know the content I have now is enough to get people in the door, but a year from now– I bill annually, so a year from now have I added enough extra content for them to be like, “This is worth it for another year.” Or, what content do I need to add to get new people in the door? Like you said, it’s a smaller operation for me, at least right now. But it’s certainly something that’s been top of my mind since launching memberships. So, let’s go with a more concrete example. Since you’ve learned these lessons scaling to 300 employees and you’ve done this yourself, can you talk about a specific instance of when you had to do this and the things that you did? Maybe the things that you feel like you could have done better? You don’t have to name the company if you can’t, of course, but just speaking from your own personal experience.
Micah: Sure. I will say that most of the companies that I’ve worked at in the last eight years in the startup scene have been smaller than 300. One of the companies that I was at, which I’m happy to name, Fivestars, basically did go from about probably 125 when I joined to over 300 at its largest while I was there. The other companies that I’ve been at have been on various stages of that journey. Fountain, for instance, is closer to the beginning of the journey, and we’re about 60 people right now. We’ve grown substantially since I joined, and we’ll continue to do so, but what I will say is I’ve noticed a few distinctive, and I think challenging points for companies that are growing. The one that I think is the most difficult is when you get to around 150 employees, and there’s a number that I believe is called “Dunbar’s number” that scientists have determined links to the number of relationships that humans can hold in their brains and process. I don’t know if it links to Dunbar’s number, but what I’ve seen at a couple companies that I’ve been at that have gone to something approaching that size of 150, is that it becomes much more difficult to get anything done. I think the reason for that is by that point you have a lot of different jobs that need to be done, and in the early days of a startup when there are very few people around, basically, the way that you get anything done is you’d have somebody go get it done. They’d roll up their sleeves, and they do whatever needs to be done. They do a little bit of marketing, and they do a little bit of selling, maybe they do a little bit of coding. That mindset can propel you forward as a company for an awfully long time, but by the time you get to 100, 150, 200 people, you have to have people who are very good at doing a very specific job or a narrow slice of those tasks. You have to have people focused on those tasks, because if they don’t focus they’re not going to do things well, and if you’re going to do something like change the pricing at a company you actually can’t just get that done by rolling up your sleeves and handling everything that needs to be changed. Because if you’re going to change your pricing in a software company, you have to change the way that you sell it and you have to change the way that you market. You have to change the way that you bill your customers, and you have to change the way that you service those customers. You have to change the way that you account for everything in the back end in finance. So that process is very inherently cross-functionally one at that time, and it also becomes a process that needs to be built in to projects and project management. That’s a key challenge for companies that are scaling, what got you to this stage successfully, is not going to get you any further. And furthermore, the people who have built the company through their blood, sweat, and tears to that point, they oftentimes don’t like the things that are going to help you be successful in the next stage. They don’t like lots of meetings, and they don’t like going in a room and asking these six colleagues to take these very specific steps to get to the next meeting when we get together next week or tomorrow, because that feels to many startup employees like mindless and needless bureaucracy. So they tend to not want to engage with those types of working and ways of working. I think that’s a key point., some companies hit it sooner than others but really it’s about “When do you shift from a way of working where individual contributors in your company can handle most of the stuff that needs to be done, or small teams can handle most of the stuff that needs to be done?” Because I say to my marketing team, “Figure out how to reach these new customers,” or I say to my engineering team, “Figure out how to build this new feature.” You shift to a way of working that involves coordinating the activities of multiple teams and departments across very mutually interdependent processes that are going to take time, so I’d say that is probably one of the biggest challenging places that startups run into trouble. Because people don’t like working that way, they don’t like shifting to that new way of thinking, and they’d much rather stay in their lane and get things done and not have to wait for that annoying co-worker who always seems to be more slow in delivering for you than you need to. That’s because he has a specific job to do that doesn’t necessarily involve getting your inter-functional or cross-functional task complete.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I love what you said about how “Many founders don’t like that, generally.” I’m sure probably a lot of people leave their big corporate jobs to start startups because they like to move fast, and they don’t necessarily like the bureaucracy. When I was at one of the larger organizations I worked for, I felt like I was always in meetings, and then when my boss was like, “How come this isn’t done?” I would say, “I’ve been in meetings. I’ve been in meetings all day, and I have no time to get things done.” I think that’s a great point, but as you scale, you want to make sure people aren’t doing the jobs that other people are doing, too. If I have multiple people trying to do the same thing, I want to make sure that they’re talking to each other and coordinating, and they’re not redoing each other’s work and stuff like that.
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Joe: As we approach the end here, there’s another question I want to ask you as far as obtaining new employees or acquiring new employees, and that’s with onboarding. If it’s me and I hire one person to do something that I was doing, I can sit down with them or I can record a video and say “This is the thing I was doing, and this is how I was doing it, and now this is how I want you to do it.” But when you’re scaling upwards of 100 employees, how do you come up with a good process for onboarding and making sure your employees are on the same page? That they know what they need to do, and then they know who to go to when it’s something that they can’t necessarily do?
Micah: I think this is something that’s very easy to overlook in a startup, and the reason it’s easy to overlook is the first few people who are doing a job have generally had a long time to learn how to do it well. They’ve been figuring things out, and that process of learning for oneself is probably the best way to learn in-depth all the ins and outs of the job. But that’s not what you want somebody who is the eighth person to do that job to go through, and you want to help them to move through that process much more quickly because it’s more efficient for the business. It’s less frustrating for them, but by the time you get to that eighth person, it isn’t always the case that the business has built a very robust set of training materials and training processes. It isn’t necessarily the case that the person who is responsible for leading that little operation, whatever it is, is naturally good at training and onboarding. Because teaching and coaching for a specific job skill is something that some managers are naturally quite good at, and others, it isn’t their strengths. They’re better at other parts of the management equation. So I think the right way for businesses to be cognizant of this is to make sure that they’re able to help their employees, especially those employees who are in a managerial role, invest time in documentation and invest time in building assets that those employees can refer to as they’re going through the learning process and a structure for the things that they need to learn. The parts of the business that generally get this right the most effectively and the earliest are sales especially, and marketing specifically with respect to what we often call “Sales development,” because those employees need to learn a very specific set of content in order to be effective putting that content to work in their job, which is to bring in new revenue. Those processes are also generally very well understood. Every sales cycle is not the same, but if you can sell to enterprises, you understand all the skills. All you need to do is you need to be able to understand the value proposition for that product, but you’ll never find a sales organization that asks somebody to join the company and does so successfully without a really robust, well-developed set of documents and a process and a timeline for them to acquire the knowledge that they need to sell. I don’t see why other organizations within a company would ask the same thing of employees without giving them the same assets. It’s arguable that the assets need to be even better developed in other organizations because customer success is a discipline that is newer than sales. It’s arguable that there’s more that is bespoke or unique about a given business than there is in sales, so I think making sure that you give your individual contributors and the managers who are charged with overseeing them and incorporating them into the business, ample time and assets in order to execute on that training program is really important. I’ve always found that the best way to build a training program is to have people who are doing that role build the program, and you’ve got to give them time to do that. If they have enough work that it accounts for a 40 hour work week, you’ve got to find some way to take some of that work off of their plates so that they can take time to document things and to think through what an effective training program will be. For myself, in a role that is a couple levels or layers removed from that frontline work doing, I’m not going to be the guy who is going to tell you what a structured process to onboard a new customer success agent or a new engineer or a new product manager might look like. The people who are on the front lines doing that work are generally going to be those that have the best sense for what might be effective, so the manager has to be able to put those folks to work in a way that is going to get that information out of their brains and into a structured set of documents and a process that could be used to bring new people into the business effectively.
Joe: That’s fantastic advice. Even though, as a software developer, we might not like to hear the word “Documentation,” that’s the least fun part of the job. But you want to future-proof your project and your business against– You don’t want to be the only person that knows how to do a particular job. Whether you’re the founder, if you want to start working on your business, you need to document the things that you’re doing for your next employee. If you are the manager, then the value proposition for the manager is if Joe leaves one day and he’s not documenting what he’s doing, now whoever replaces Joe has to start at square one or somewhere close to square one because Joe didn’t do a good job of documenting what he was doing, and nobody made him.
Micah: Yeah, I think a big pitfall of building these processes is the thought fallacy that I could get people in a room and tell them what to do and that they’ll remember all of that. Retention on verbal communication is relatively low, so what is more important is that I share with people broad outlines for what their first month or however long the onboarding period is going to be like. Then I can give them documents that will show them the structure of the way the timeline is going to be broken down, and the different content modules that they’re going to have to be able to absorb, and the work context they’re going to need to be able to put those pieces of knowledge to use in. Then give them enough reference material that as they’re starting to do the job in the introductory phases, they have something to draw on and someplace to go to in order to get questions answered that they may not be able to answer themselves. So it’s very easy for me as a work manager to think, “I’m going to onboard them, I’m going to go talk to them a bunch.” But that is not a good way of onboarding somebody. Companies have to invest the time and resources to build processes, documentation, and also to build structured relationships with co-workers so that they know who the right person to go to, in order to get answers if they’re in that process and the reference material they have doesn’t have what they’re looking for.
Joe: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think it’s something like “Verbal communication has about a 10%, or maybe it’s a 20% retention rate. Doing something is a 95% retention rate.” I know these numbers because I used to give a talk a bunch about this. But on top of that, like you said, you do need to tell your employees, “These are the people you should talk to,” and encourage them to. In my first job, I was afraid to ask any of my co-workers questions because I didn’t want to make it seem like I didn’t know what I was doing. By the time I got to my most recent job I had before I left and became self-employed, I would spin my wheels for an hour at best before asking a co-worker, “How do I do this?” Because time was literally money in that company, I worked for an agency, so encouraging your employees to say, “You should be able to go to your co-workers and ask questions, and they can help you learn the job better.” I think that’s important as well.
Micah: Yeah, absolutely.
Joe: Awesome. We are at– We are just about at the end here, so I need to ask you my favorite question. Which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Micah: Trade secrets? I think my main trade secret is “Always rely on people who are closest to the work that’s getting done.” If you want to understand how to do it well, and how to do it better, how to improve it or how to change it. It’s very easy for me, because like most people out there, I think of myself as a hard worker, and I probably think of myself as a reasonably smart guy, to think that I know the answer to a problem that might arise. But usually that’s not the case, usually, I need to be relying upon people in the teams that I’m charged with leading in order to get a deeper understanding of the problem and propose a potential solution, and help work through that solution and implement it. It’s very easy to fall into this fallacy and believe that I know what needs to be done and I can tell somebody what needs to be done, but actually that is usually a recipe for disaster because the longer I’ve been in leadership roles, the less I’ve been asked to do some of this work myself. Therefore the more I need to rely on people who know what they’re doing, so that’s my number one trade secret. “Don’t fall into the thought fallacy as a leader or a manager that you know how to get something done. Rely on your team, and they will– If you put them in an environment where they can be successful, and you let them know your expectations, they will be people who can bring you forward to the best outcome.”
Joe: I love that. That’s fantastic advice. I’ve always said, of managers, “If your employees look good, you look good.” I think that’s something that is hard for people to learn, but if you’re helping your employees and you’re relying on them, I think that’s cool. I’m going to share one story I learned about the Walt Disney Company, one of my favorite companies to tap the well on, specifically at Walt Disney World. They have a very efficient process for their laundry, and they have three sets of laundry for every room on property. The ones that are on the bed, the clean ones that are in route to be put on the bed, and the ones that are dirty. Your process can’t break down because there’s no wiggle room. To improve their process, they talked to the people on the factory floor, moving the sheets around and things like that, and one of the things they learned was that one of the hooks that they were using to grab the clean sheets was too sharp and it was ripping sheets. They learned that from people who were on the floor, and they were able to reduce costs by something like 15-20% just by listening to their employees and replacing the hook to one that wouldn’t rip the sheets. So that is a point that hopefully drives home what you were saying, “Always rely on the people who are closest to the work that’s getting done.”.
Micah: Absolutely. I love it.
Joe: Awesome. Micah, thank you so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?
Micah: Sure. The easiest place to find me is probably on LinkedIn. You can find Fountain on LinkedIn, and you can find my profile there. If you happen to look me up, and want to connect, feel free to do so. Please make sure in your connection requests that you’ve mentioned this podcast because I get a lot of invites that come from folks that I haven’t met, and I try not to accept all of them unless I have some context.
Joe: Fantastic. I will link to both Micah and Fountain in the show notes for this episode, which can be found over at HowIBuilt.it. I’ll include a lot more reasonable stuff in the show notes as well, so Micah, thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Micah: Cheers. Thanks, Joe. Great to be with you.
Joe: Thanks so much to Micah for joining me today. His advice about maintaining relationships– He talks about Dunbar’s number and how to measure customer success and support, how we should invest time in documentation and assets that employees can reference. That’s such a big one. I know from my previous experience working at other companies, that was a lot of time that seemed wasted, that I was taking man-hours from another employee for them to train me on something even though later I would have to bother them again. Investing time in documentation, and I absolutely loved his trade secret. “Always rely on the people who are closest to the work that’s getting done.” We see that an extremely successful companies, Walt Disney World, for example, talks to their employees on the frontlines on how they can improve their processes. So just fantastic advice all around from Micah, definitely be sure to check him out. Check him out as well as our sponsors, so thank you to our sponsors, Ahoy! Pantheon and Gusto. You can learn more about them and everything we’ve talked about over at the show notes for this episode, over at HowIBuilt.it/142. Now I’ve been doing podcasting for a long time, and if you want to start a podcast, we’re getting towards the end of the year, and January is a great time to start new projects. New year, new you, new projects, stuff like that. I am currently working on a course called Podcast Liftoff, where I take you through the whole process of determining a topic and a format, determining the right equipment and the process for recording, and then how to record and launch your show. If you are interested in that course, there’s a little preview over at HowIBuilt.it/Liftoff where you can download a workbook to help you answer some of those initial questions. The course is coming soon, but if you sign up for the workbook, you’ll get a little bit of a preview and some more information via email. Head over to HowIBuilt.it/Liftoff if you are interested in starting a podcast of your own. Thank you so much for listening, I appreciate it. I know that there’s a lot of things that are pulling for your time, and the fact that you are willing to spend 30-40 minutes with me every week is something that I deeply appreciate. So, thank you again. Until next time, get out there and build something.