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Kurt Uhlir

Culture Champion

Episode #94

The work “space,” building, and overall environment has a massive impact on a company’s culture. Jeff Pollock with Pollock Commercial shares with us some of his biggest projects that involved revamping the work space AND possible future trends in improving the employee experience.

Kurt Uhlir

Kurt Uhlir

Founder and CEO Ethereal Innovations Inc

Kurt is an entrepreneurial leader with 20+ years of experience/expertise specializing in growth strategies and commercial initiatives to activate and accelerate value creation for growth/new ventures and complex/underperforming businesses.

He helped to transform the spatial data industry with, creating more than $8 billion in value for investors. As an executive, he has a successful track record of effectively using a systematic approach to marketing and customer success to scale revenues, customer value, internal processes, content creation, technology creation, and operations. 

Kurt has a broad repertoire of strategies & techniques (e.g. agile marketing, content creation, data analysis, pattern recognition, Lean StartUp, deliberate innovation, etc.), and a mix of strategic, technical, and business operational skills. He is recognized for his proven ability to develop early-stage initiatives into thriving business enterprises and scale growing organizations through the power of B2B storytelling. He uses his expertise in organizational design, building and growing diverse & geo-dispersed functions & teams from the ground-up to accelerate growth. 

Fundamentally, Kurt just wants to help people and create environments where people can flourish as themselves. This continues outside of work too, as he stewards a portion of his evenings and weekends to mentor and coach individuals and groups.

His Company

His Company

Originally founded to consolidate several of my early-stage investments, public speaking opportunities, and board roles. Since then, we have grown into a digital marketing agency for high-growth companies.

We have a mission for telling authentic stories and build engaging communities. We know high-growth companies because our founding team has built those companies and helped multiple growth-stage companies scale their marketing and sales. Now, we’re helping others have an impact. 

➢ Lead client engagements to define go-to-market strategies, SEO/SEM roadmaps, integrated brand strategies, agile content marketing plans, and marketing analytics reports.
➢ Drive consulting projects to define and create a modern demand generation marketing programs to accelerate pipelines and reach financial milestones.
➢ Oversee the creation of digital marketing strategies for clients.
➢ Responsible for creation of processes to drive marketing vision from inception to execution.

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Full Transcript

Josh Sweeney: 00:01 Welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals, and company culture aficionados the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Introduction

Josh Sweeney: 00:15 Welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast. My name’s Josh Sweeney, and this is Season Four, where we interview business leaders and company culture experts to learn more about their experience with company culture. Today, we are joined by Kurt Uhlir of Ethereal Innovations, to learn about all of his successes, challenges, struggles, everything that goes into company culture in all the amazing businesses that he’s worked in. Can you introduce yourself, Kurt?

Kurt Uhlir: 00:44 Yeah. So Kurt Uhlir, kind of a seasoned business executive, much more of a marketer by trade, but I’ve been the operator. I’ve been in the big chair … kind of, decided I’m much better at being the king maker or queen maker, now.

Josh Sweeney: 00:57 So what does that involve … being the king maker or queen maker?

Being the King Maker

Kurt Uhlir: 01:01 I know, as you do, there’s a lot of responsibility when you’re in the big chair, when you’re the CEO or President. To a large degree, I’d much rather tell stories, showcase that person, and help them … take a little bit of the burden off of them, usually by marketing and storytelling and B2B brands.

Josh Sweeney: 01:19 Gotcha. Yeah. I think there’s a lot of ways people can tell their story. I know we’ve been trying to get out there and tell our story, and I think we actually talked about that when we ran into each other last time. You were like, “Hey, I’ve seen you around.”

Kurt Uhlir: 01:31 I saw you around and I, kind of, feel like you’re taking the Gary Vaynerchuk approach for just giving value, value, value, value to people.

Like Gary V

Josh Sweeney: 01:38 Yeah, and I love that. I was like, “Well, thank you for that complement,” because Gary V, in watching a lot of that was actually how this got started. To take massive action and get out there. I wanna talk with people and learn.” So, yeah, you couldn’t have mentioned a better name for me ’cause, hey, I hit it on the mark.

Kurt Uhlir: 01:55 Well, you’re definitely living what you trying to aim for at that point, then-

Introducing Ethereal Innovations

Josh Sweeney: 01:59 Yeah. I appreciate it. So, Ethereal Innovations … Let’s start with what you’re doing now. Then, we’ll work back through some experiences. So, tell us about how that works, kind of, the size of the organization, how you’re working on company culture within that.

Kurt Uhlir: 02:13 So, Ethereal Innovations is a boutique marketing agency. So, it’s my wife and I, primarily. We come in and we step in and fill the gap for senior leadership within the marketing organization. So when a B2B technology company’s lost that chief marketer, so they did not in a rush to find the next one, we’ll step in for three, six, nine months and, kind of, be the head of marketing, or the CMO for them.

The Sweet Spot

Kurt Uhlir: 02:37 We’ll also, at other times, step in to, sometimes, much larger organizations, where they have a good operational team and we’ll, kind of, revamp everything that’s going for marketing. A lot of times we’ve … We found the sweet spot where brands have a good story. They have a good operations team. They just don’t know how to assemble it in a way and put together a strategy to let those people do what they’re really good at.

My wife started, actually, the agency a couple years ago when I stepped out of my previous company. I took 12 months off and a few things happened that, kind of, pulled me back into the business world. I started consulting with that with her and through another organization that I work with as well.

Josh Sweeney: 03:14 Gotcha. So, you took 12 months off. Tell me about that, ’cause that sounds really amazing. I haven’t done that yet. What’d you do for 12 months?

Intentionally Resting

Kurt Uhlir: 03:21 Well, I wasted about 60 days trying to figure out how I was gonna be somewhat busy, just enough to keep interested. I realized I wasn’t really resting, and the whole point was to … one, intentionally rest and to let my wife get to know me a little bit, ’cause she’d only knows me as “Startup Guy,” and the company that I was building.

So I took the next 30 days, then, and just literally rested, hiked, spent a bunch of time at our mountain property, but ended up taking almost 18 months off, which was some small consulting projects on the side, but really just resting, a bunch of reading.

Josh Sweeney: 03:58 Yeah? So how was that rest period? Was it everything you thought it would be or did you get bored?

Kurt Uhlir: 04:03 I did not get bored, really.

Josh Sweeney: 04:05 Awesome.

Things I want to Do

Kurt Uhlir: 04:05 After I learned how to intentionally rest. I have one of my mentors in town, does not understand that concept. So he’d push back at me every time he’s see me. He was like, “How do you not do anything?” I’m like, “No, no. I’m doing things, but it’s things that I want to.” It’s almost more like a 18-month sabbath, in some ways. So, if I wanted to meet with friends, if I wanted to take on some projects, I did … but just not that I had to go into an office … and I spent a lot of time just trying to love on my wife and cherish her. That part of the vows, most people miss.

Kurt Uhlir: 04:42 Yeah, and something that I had not done very well, before, and still learning.

Josh Sweeney: 04:47 I always share. I’ve listened to 35 to 60 audiobooks a year, all non-fiction and, for the longest time, they were all business books. Then, once you get into a challenging situation, you realize … I realized, at least, “Wait. There are actually relationship books out there. I could’ve been reading. I could’ve been doing a much better job, but never took that step. So, now, I’m just a little more cognizant of that and there’s other materials that people who’ve been through those challenges and built those relationships.

Josh Sweeney: 04:37 Right, right. Apparently, that’s important to make sure that you do at some point during the startup world. Right?

Josh Sweeney: 05:22 With that, you took 18 months off. Other than hiking, what else did you do?

Passion Project

Kurt Uhlir: 05:31 Before then, I’d been the Chairman of the Made in America Movement. So I continued to work with them. It’s, kind of, a passion project of me and of mine and I spent a lot of time doing that. I had some investments in town, as well. So, when I came back from my cabin trip, I sent an email to a few of the companies and said, “So, here’s the deal. I will work for free on things that will move the needle if it has a discreet endpoint and it’s challenging. So make it fun and I’ll pick what I wanna work on.” So I did a lot of things like during that time period, as well.

Defining the Projects

Josh Sweeney: 06:01 Did you find enough people? So, kinda, talking about company culture a little bit, did you find enough people who had a discreet enough endpoint that knew their goals and knew their strategy? What was the over/under on people who did and didn’t have the clear goals that you have set out?

Kurt Uhlir: 06:18 One company, of probably the 10 that I emailed, had a clear, discreet thing at that time. I got back a variety of emails from people that were, “Hey, we have a bunch of things we’d like help with, but we don’t know exactly when it would end. What would that look like?” So I actually worked with a couple of them to help define what those bite-sized projects would’ve looked like.

Kurt Uhlir: 06:39 The first one is pretty easy. They were raising funds and they’d just received back a product from a Stanford design firm that was helping rebuild the product after they’d drawn it out of [Flashpoint 00:06:49]. So both, raising funds and helping with that product and putting the initial story behind it was [inaudible 00:06:54] a pretty discreet project.

Josh Sweeney: 06:55 Yeah, and all in line with your past experience.

Kurt Uhlir: 06:57 Yep.

Made in America Movement

Josh Sweeney: 06:58 Awesome. So the Made in America project … Tell me about that. Tell me about … Is there any aspects, culturally, that you ran into, like different challenges? What did that look like?

Kurt Uhlir: 07:10 Yeah. So the Made in America Movement, started by a woman who’s now friends with my wife, named Margarita Mendoza … She started about 10 years ago, and it was a passion project. When she first started it, it was one of eight or nine similar organizations and is growing to being the organization.

So they now represent 20,000 American-made businesses, but they’ve grown as a passion project, relief with huge growth and publicity out of it. You don’t necessarily work through the processes and systems that you need to, to fully scale. So they had, maybe, 320,000 consumers within their organization. That’s much different than getting three million.

The Culture Perspective

Kurt Uhlir: 07:53 So, from the cultural perspective, it was great from passion, but they didn’t have the systems in place, to watch metrics that matter. So we actually helped them a lot, go through and, to some degree, burn down the former organization to rebuild it back, now, with systems so that that passion can scale, now and actually tell, at a much larger volume, the stories from both the 20,000 businesses and the families that rely on those businesses.

Josh Sweeney: 08:19 Got it. Sounds like an amazing project. I need to look it up and learn more about it.

Kurt Uhlir: 08:23 It’s, kinda, fun.

Josh Sweeney: 08:24 Fantastic. So you’re currently with Ethereal. Then you worked on a project for a little bit of period of time for, I guess, 18 months … different projects in and out. Before that, and I think the time we spent the most together was you had [Sidekick 00:08:39]. So, with your current business being mainly you and your wife, how many people did you get up to at Sidekick? What kind of challenges did you have? What are some cultural lessons learned?

Culture Challenges and Lessons at Sidekick

Kurt Uhlir: 08:50 Yeah, so we had about a dozen full-time people. We’ve probably had, over the course of two and half years, maybe as many as 40 interns. We, kind of, were an intern organization, in some way. I really believed in internships as more of apprenticeships. From a cultural perspective, I’d done that at a previous organization, as well, and it’s really from a place where if somebody can go through as Gary V talks about it … Well, if somebody and mentor underneath him for two months, what would that look for that organization. So we set up things like that.

Interns

Kurt Uhlir: 09:25 So, I really believe, from a cultural perspective with bringing on people that would like an opportunity. If you’re gonna do grunt work for me, as an intern, I’ll pay you minimum wage. But if you really wanna dig in with me and learn much more, that’s a very different kind of relationship. Some days … We brought on one kid named Sy [Medole 00:09:47]. Sy was awesome. Then, couple days later, he popped up and he goes, “I have a friend. Can I bring him with, as well?”-

Josh Sweeney: 09:53 Oh nice.

Kurt Uhlir: 09:54 … and, like, “Oh, I don’t think we can take anybody else.” But culture, when you’re really giving back to people and, kinda, serving in that way tends to just proliferate, and people want to come onboard with it.

Josh Sweeney: 10:02 Yeah, I found, pretty much, the same thing in that we’ve had interns over the years and I enjoy having ’em in and, you know, you get different levels. You really captured it when you said you can be a paid intern and you can get minimum wage, and you could do the work, but if you really want all the value, then, you’re gonna have to apprentice, and that’s a different relationship. I would say the best people we’ve ever had chose the apprentice route,

Walter 

I know we had one guy, Walter, who was just the most amazing intern that we ever had, and it was that apprenticeship style where it’s like I wanted him to be at my side, kind of, the right-hand person for as long as we could keep him around. Yeah, so lots of exciting challenges there. What were the challenges in managing such a large [cohort 00:10:53] of interns?

Training

Kurt Uhlir: 10:55 Separating training, like actual formal training for them, giving them discreet tasks to work on so that, both, they could grow, but it also could help the organization and some cases, most of them … I liked most of them personally. So making sure that it could keep that relationship with them as, kind of, a mentor to them rather than just a friend. I always want my teams to feel like it’s a family. I wanna be friendly with them. We go for drinks after hours, by all means, we can talk about real personal stuff.

Relationship with the Right Role

Kurt Uhlir: 11:28 Personally, I found it’s really hard to have multiple relationships with the same person. So if I’m mentoring you now, then, that may mean that I’m not necessarily your closest friend at this time. That was, probably, the biggest thing … was just making sure what those roles were at what times.

So, can I speak to the same person that I might have been friend. Some of the people that worked with us, I was good friends with before they came around the team. So we could still have that a different time, but that’s different when somebody’s trying to hit sales numbers and you’re coaching them through that, that’s very different than asking how their wife and family is.

Josh Sweeney: 12:00 Right, definitely. So, before Sidekick, was it Vitrue?

Times in Vitrue

Kurt Uhlir: 12:04 It was Vitrue.

Josh Sweeney: 12:05 How big did Vitrue get to be?

Kurt Uhlir: 12:07 So Vitrue was about 120, maybe 125 people before we sold to Oracle. It was about that size and, to some degree, I actually taught a little bit more of the apprenticing there, as well, ’cause our founder, Reggie Bradford … in addition to my roles there, I actually went to all of the investor meetings that, not I set up but with our existing investors like Sequoia. So the one-on-ones that would normally just be the CEO and the partner, I’m at dinner with them, time and time out. So being able to really see the insides from Reggie that most people would never get the time to witness.

Josh Sweeney: 12:43 So would you say being an apprentice and apprenticeships are, kind of, built into Kurt’s culture, like who you are? Is that just ingrained in?

Kurt Uhlir: 12:53 I think so. It’s a way that I try to give back as much now. To some degree, I’ve have really good mentors in the past and one of them actually, kind of, corrected me when we first started the relationship because, apparently, I was not a very good mentee.

Being the Mentee

Josh Sweeney: 13:08 Okay. I’ve had that happen before.

Kurt Uhlir: 13:11 Yeah, and he was pretty harsh on me about it, but I needed that at that in my life and he really, kind of, shifted my entire business philosophy and how I lead teams. He was very direct. He was like, “You do not take my advice. You do not listen to my advice.” All sorts of very direct feedback. So I’ve really, kind of, taken more of the approach of I wanna be a good mentee.

In that case, I’m also looking for people that are, in some degree, wanting to lead themselves well. So I, often, will look for that person that they’ve got their own plan for, like … See, you have a character plan that you’re building out. You have a business plan abut who you wanna grow to be. Even if it’s informal in your head and, kind of, look for those people.

Good Mentor, Good Mentee

Josh Sweeney: 13:50 Gotcha. Yeah, I know I did some mentoring at Terry College of Business, and it was one of my first times doing that. It was a lot of lessons learned, for me, on how to present the information in a way that is collaborative and be a good mentor. Then, I also got an experience with different types of mentees where some people really took it in and you could tell that they were taking that knowledge in and using it, and other ones seemed like they wanted to argue with you about whether what you were sharing was right.

It’s like, “Well, it is what it is. I’ve spent the money going through it. Now you’re getting your business off the ground.” So some of these things are hard to hear, and it’s your baby, but you have to be a good mentee at that point, as well.

Being a Better Leader

Kurt Uhlir: 14:32 Yeah, and in both cases, that means … [inaudible 00:14:35] reasons, too, is just like I think I’m the better leader because I’m helping to mentor others often, ’cause it’s very hard for me to see flaws in my own leadership style, my own character, even. But I’ll see them in somebody else and, as I’m talking to them about that, I notice, “Oh. This applies the same to me,” or maybe sometimes 10 times to me.

Josh Sweeney: 14:54 Oh yeah, definitely. I have some of those where it’s like waiting to speak instead of listening. You wanna cut people off, sometimes, or I tend to try-

Kurt Uhlir: 15:05 I tend to do that, or have in the past. I’ve gotten better at not doing it, of course, and being a better listener. But yeah, those are those flaws and I see it in other people, sometimes like, “He keeps cuttin’ that person off,” and it’s like, “Wait. I think I do that sometimes.”

Worst Culture Share

Josh Sweeney: 15:17 Yeah. Awesome, so company culture-wise, worse company culture story you can share. You don’t have to name any names of the company, if you don’t want to, but what was the most toxic … what was the most disastrous, or the biggest lesson learned? What can you share?

Kurt Uhlir: 15:37 Yeah, I guess, without telling names to not incriminate people, I was at a end-of-the-year Holiday party at someone’s house. A lot of the leadership was there, and the gentleman who was hosting the party his, probably, five-year-old daughter came up and … I think, more to show a point, but in front of everybody in this close group, pointed to the mom and said, “Mommy, Mommy, who is that man?” That’s how little time he spent at home.

Josh Sweeney: 16:08 Ouch.

Family Turmoil

Kurt Uhlir: 16:08 From an organization perspective, they’d done really well over a very short time, but they did not do well over the years ’cause they actually had so much family turmoil, ’cause when the leader was leading that way and spending so many hours in the office, all of his team was doing the same. So, as the personal lives started to fall apart, so did the work at some point. I mean, when something happens, it’s hard to close a sales deal when everything’s changed at home.

Josh Sweeney: 16:35 Right. Yeah. There’s a certain level of burnout, I’m sure, for a lot of people, based on their traits and who they are. Then, all those things come home to roost at some point in time, I would say.

Burnout and Cursing

Kurt Uhlir: 16:46 Yeah. Yeah, and I mean, to some degree, that organization … when we both saw that and that the other times we’d been hiring a number of people form a large international consulting group that was known for shouting, cursing, and, in one of the interview processes, somebody pointed out, “And we’re not opposed to flipping over tables if it proves our point.”

Josh Sweeney: 17:07 Got it.

Kurt Uhlir: 17:08 That’s not exactly the … Well, they hit numbers. That wasn’t always the people that we should’ve been bringing in. So it took us a little while of, both, learning how that was affecting our culture … that we couldn’t know he’s changed some of those people and then, kind of, filtering some of them back out.

Finding the Balance

Josh Sweeney: 17:22 Yeah, so what’s the balance there? I hear horror stories about … a certain company grew hyper-fast to billions of dollars, had all this funding. Then, maybe, the CEO gets ousted for something, or whatever it might be. When I look at I say, “Well,” you know, “Yeah, that was …” When you look at it at the end of the process, some of the things that were happening there were fundamentally wrong. Also, the inverse is they wouldn’t have gotten there at a rate of speed if certain teams didn’t have a personality to go out and really compete. Right?

Josh Sweeney: 18:02 Barring there’s lots of bad ways to do things and there’s lots of good ways to do things … What do you find is, like, the balance? Right? When you talk about a sales team, a lot of times, you get polar opposites but, at some point, there is a certain personality that’s built in that makes them successful.

Short Term VS Long Term

Kurt Uhlir: 18:19 There is, but I think it does depend on whether you’re talking about success in the very short term or over the long term. A lot of times, on the sales side specifically, you’ll see that a-hole that comes [crosstalk 00:18:32]. They’ll kill it at numbers, but not only does a lot of their customers not necessarily like that, a lot of the internal product team, you’ll see higher churn because every time they interact, that engineer’s like, “I don’t wanna talk to him again,” or “her again,” and they’ll leave … go to another company.

So I, kind of, believe in the standpoint that, if you’re ruffling people’s feathers that bad, you don’t need to be part of my organization. Fundamentally, everything for me, at this point, is “Mission First, People Always.” So if you’re not respecting the other people on the team … In some cases, respect is saying things that are hard for other people to hear. It’s not always being soft and kind.

Josh Sweeney: 19:12 Right. Kind of five dysfunctions of a team creates some challenge in the environment for the best?

Scaling with Culture

Kurt Uhlir: 19:17 Yeah. There is a place where, if you’re growing fast, or you’re trying to turn the ship, there’s going to be difficult discussions that have to be had. Whether it’s in culture or the same thing with marketing. It’s like I wanna tell stories that are a long term and I wanna make sure that people … Ultimately that they feel like their life is better for coming to the office. Maybe we fail, but we’re going to fail together and, to some degree from a culture perspective, everything’s above the table.

Josh Sweeney: 19:48 So, looking back, your companies have progressively gotten smaller. Right? I’m guessing there’s some balance and other factors that come into play there. But, when Vitrue was growing and you were a part of that, what were the biggest challenges in maintaining the culture? What was it at the beginning? What got dropped off that you think, maybe, could’ve been kept or what needed to go? How did that look, from a scaling perspective?

Bullpen of Inside Sales

Kurt Uhlir: 20:16 I think, from a scaling perspective, I mean, when I came onboard, we were growing pretty quickly and we’d not started inside sales team yet. So it was starting to create that, kind of, bullpen of inside sales, and there was a hyper focus on that mid-market sales to start going and having an environment where they thought it was fun … Margarita machines in on Thursdays.

That was great for the team environment, but it also created a little bit of a clique within the larger organizations. So, I think what we did well is we created, yet, another team within the organization that grew really well and achieved their numbers and loved each other. A lot of those people work together, today, at other companies, now. But we did, kind of, create a clique within the larger organization, then. I wish we wouldn’t have necessarily done that, as well.

Balancing Culture

Josh Sweeney: 21:05 Yeah, I know we talk about it a good bit for larger organizations, ’cause I always get the question like, “Well, how do you balance culture?”, when the organization, as a whole, has a culture, but there’s what we call sub-cultures. Right? There’s a different vibe when you walk in a marketing department, versus a sales, versus operation and dev … and those need to be that way for a lot of different reasons, but you, kind of, have a over-arching theme on what you will and will not tolerate as an organization.

Family

Kurt Uhlir: 21:33 Yeah, and at Vitrue, we did do a good job of overall keeping, still like, a family. It felt like a family. It may be smaller families together, but still, it was a big extended family in a lotta ways. In a lotta ways, that was led by Reggie Radford. Where he would bring in one to two of his kids every Friday, into the office. That made other employees consistently feel like they could do the same. So people have a lot more headphones on, on Fridays, working, but you also knew you were working for something else.

Josh Sweeney: 22:03 What are some other things that you guys did at Vitrue that you felt were unique or that gave people the permission to be themselves, like bringing their kids in or anything else? What are other examples?

Mission First

Kurt Uhlir: 22:17 We were really focused on mission first. There were things that needed to be accomplished. At that time, we were one of the two only platforms in the market for big brands to do to manage everything they did on social media. If you think about [PRocter 00:22:30] & Gamble. Everything they did on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, in any language anywhere in the world, went through our platform. So it was really us and our competitors and a bunch of other, kind of, running at the same time companies.

When it’s just two companies and there’s a lot of money and fast growth, every feature that comes out is an important thing ’cause people will switch. We had a lotta hard goals, but they were always kept front and center. That’s what was focused on and a lot of other teams, too, like [Cappy Chandler 00:23:03], who’s not the CFO of [Terminis 00:23:05]. People that were very much mission-focused, making sure we were hitting numbers, but cared about people.

Core Values

Josh Sweeney: 23:10 Got it. So, in caring about people, you have some core values. I’m gonna name a few of your core values, and I wanna know a little bit about, maybe, where they come from and what they really mean to you. So let’s start with one near and dear to my heart, “Metrics Matter.” So we do a lot of metrics and measurement before we do a culture initiative and that’s one of our unique aspects of our businesses. We measure first, then we implement. So where does Metrics Matter come from? What does that mean to you?

Kurt Uhlir: 23:41 Yeah, for me, it does come, fundamentally, just from a numbers perspective. People play different when you keep score. Even if I have friends over to play poker, we’re play-

Josh Sweeney: 23:52 There’s no chips involved-

Kurt Uhlir: 23:52 If there’s no chips involved, it can be $50. That’s still something different. It was at a company called [Naptak 00:24:01] that’s now called, [Here 00:24:01]. We took the company from $85 million a year in revenue and, in ten years, took it to $1.22 billion with a public offer and then, later, getting bought for a much larger number.

Growing Fast

 

We grew so fast because the market was growing, but if I really am honest and I look back at where were at, we lost a huge bit of potential revenue. As long as the gross revenue number was growing … That’s all people, kinda, cared for. If we’d really been tracking and being really open and transparent, internally with all of our other numbers, our revenues might’ve grown another 20 to, even, 50 percent as much. We just weren’t tracking those numbers.

Kurt Uhlir: 24:40 So, hey, as long as things are increasing, we’re good. I loved that team, but how much lost opportunity we had there … We accomplished some huge things. What could it have been? So, since then, I’m pretty much cross the board. We’re tracking numbers across the board and everything. And they don’t al;ways have to be like just sales where we’re closing something right then. They can be leading indicators or sometimes almost a net promoter score for … “Do people want to come into the office,” because, “Did they like it?”

Thank God It’s Friday

Josh Sweeney: 25:09 Yeah, definitely. I was on a panel a few days ago, I guess it was or last week. I think it was Billy [Bouie 00:25:17] had mentioned. He’s like, “Yeah, if on Friday, all of your people are posting on social media, ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ and wanna get out of your office, maybe that’s a bad indication of what’s going on.” You want people to want to be there. So that goes back to your net promoter score, and some of the other surveys that we do around, like, “Do people wanna show up? Are they happy to be there? Are they happy to be there through Friday?” The weekend is fun. Everybody likes the weekend, but they’re not in a rush to get out of there.

Kurt Uhlir: 25:45 Right, and I look, too … There’s a big lagging indicator for me about culture is that what percentage of your hires are coming from internal referrals?

Josh Sweeney: 25:54 Gotcha. I like that.

Internal Referrals

Kurt Uhlir: 25:56 By all means … Some cases … Not everybody knows what positions you have out there, but if I enjoy my office and you’re my friend, I want you to come work with me. I wanna spend more time with you and, if I know this is a good environment, I’m going to intentionally look for ways to bring you into that environment, then.

Josh Sweeney: 26:10 Yeah. That’s a great indicator. I love that number. We’re gonna have to share that out on the social profiles.

Kurt Uhlir: 26:15 A lot of HR people, I found … It’s, kind of, funny. I ask them, though. I’m like, “Where do your best hires come from?” They go, “Well, usually from employee hires.” I say, “Do you pay referral bonuses?” “No, well we used to but a small amount,” but they have no problem paying an outside recruiter-

Josh Sweeney: 26:33 Large sums of money.

Kurt Uhlir: 26:34 … large sums of money.

Loving Employees

Josh Sweeney: 26:34 Yeah, well I think the most memorable one for me was … I think David Cummings had done it at Pardot. It was some astronomical amount. I think they would give a $10,000 employee referral because he’s like, “Well, if it’s a $100,000 employee and it comes in through a recruiter, it’s gonna cost us $20 grand. So, 10 thousand, I’m actually saving money and they’re really happy to get the referral bonus internally because it’s normally $250 at other companies. It’s very nominal. So, I think there’s a lot to that that people don’t really dig into.

Kurt Uhlir: 27:05 Yeah. I love that. That’s also a part of David’s approach for loving on his employees, as well. So …

Josh Sweeney: 27:11 Yeah, definitely, and they’ll send in all their friends, hopefully … people that you want to have on your team. All right, so we will do one more. Let’s do … Which one resonates, here? “Mission First, People Always.”

The Bob’s

Kurt Uhlir: 27:26 Yeah. I have a large number of friends that have worked in cut-throat businesses that are change agents. They’ll come into the burning ship of a company and turn it around. I have a cousin who took that role from the “Bob’s,” from “Office Space.” He interviews people for-

Josh Sweeney: 27:43 He’s the Bob’s?

Kurt Uhlir: 27:44 He’s the Bob’s. Do you wanna keep your job? He’s a great guy, personally, but that’s a really hard place to be. In some cases, that’s just numbers matter at anything. There are times where I have to hit a quarterly number but, in general, I’m personally joining organizations where we’re look for growth in that three to five-year time frame. So, to do that, you have to have healthy relationships at the office, at home.

I want people to take time off. Whether that’s a sabbatical for you, or whether that’s just taking Saturday or Sunday as a sabbath, but you need to be able to rest and it’s helping people find those patterns. So, fundamentally, I think if you keep either one of those two, of “Mission First, People Always,” … if you just keep one of ’em, the pendulum swings too much in the wrong direction. If you look inside Chick-fil-A, they very much care about numbers, but it’s always, “People First.”

People First

Josh Sweeney: 28:39 Yeah. You get that when you’re in their restaurant. Right? It’s the customer. It’s them. They’re giving scholarships to their people. That … What is their leadership style? Sorry, it’s alluding me now even though I’ve used this as an example, like, 20 times. So their leadership style, that is all abut people.

Kurt Uhlir: 29:00 That’s actually something I picked up from-

Josh Sweeney: 29:02 Oh, sorry.

Kurt Uhlir: 29:03 … servant leadership [crosstalk 00:29:04]. Yeah. Well, it’s a different approach, too. When it’s people … people always … If somebody’s really not delivering, there’s very few circumstances you’d ever have to raise your voice and yell at somebody. I’ve been guilty of that as well, but if you really go back to the old-style view of what a servant looked like.

Emotion Check

Kurt Uhlir: 29:21 You go back to Roman times, you see somebody who was a servant of a household, how would that person have responded to the master of the household? Whoa. That’s a very different approach than the way I used to take the way I used to lead. So, if I’m taking the time to sit back and think about where my emotions are before I respond to a really good or really bad situation, it’s a very different approach for how people feel.

Josh Sweeney: 29:42 Yeah, definitely. All right so, last thing I’ve gotta ask you before we wrap up … You recently got to go to the White House.

Kurt Uhlir: 29:50 I did.

Josh Sweeney: 29:51 Tell me about that.

The White House

Kurt Uhlir: 29:52 So, June of last year, we got a call from the White House to help organize a symposium around the Made in America Movement and American companies. So we were able to bring, I think like, 13 people to the White House for a initial first event in C-SPAN and sit with President Trump and Mike Pence, and a variety of others within the administration.

Josh Sweeney: 30:16 Very cool. I’m sure that’s a pretty amazing experience, to go to the White House and sit with the sitting president, vice-president, be on C-SPAN. I mean, that’s a lot of, I guess, educational experiences. I don’t know if you’ve done that before, but-

Kurt Uhlir: 30:32 I had not done that before. It was really cool to be behind the scenes where very few cameras ever get to go, but also to just to continue telling the stories that we had before … not just the Made in America Movement, itself as that organization, but literally of the 20,000 businesses they represent and the families behind them. So, being able to talk about what that looked like was actually really, kind of, cool and, kind of, brought all of our marketing and storytelling together.

Josh Sweeney: 31:00 Nice. So, before we finish, biggest takeaway from that experience. What do you feel like was the biggest lesson learned, biggest takeaway?

Being Humble

Kurt Uhlir: 31:09 Biggest takeaway … Being humble. With current administration, we all hear a lot of rhetoric. No matter who would’ve been the president, I’d have been happy to show up. But the behind-the-scenes time with [inaudible 00:31:26] from the President down to the lower administration, behind-the-scenes was very different than public. Me, personally, coming back from there, knowing something that, “Hey, I was able to go to the White House. That was pretty cool.” But, in the end of the day, I was no different the day afterwards … heck, the hour afterwards … than I was beforehand.

Kurt Uhlir: 31:43 I was actually only at the White House because I’ve been telling stories and, kind of, being a servant leader for years, and it ended up being something pretty cool and a great experience. We were able to make sure that Margarita, the woman who founded the Made in America Movement, and who runs it, was able to go and, kind of, showcase the baby that she’d put together.

Josh Sweeney: 32:03 Yeah. That’s awesome. Sounds like a fantastic experience. Well, thank you so much for coming in, sharing your story all the way from billion-dollar companies down to something that I’m sure gives you lot more time and comfort, these days, as well as your visit to the White House. Thanks you.

Kurt Uhlir: 32:23 Thanks.

Podcast Highlights and Resources

Quotables:

  • I saw you around and I, kind of, feel like you’re taking the Gary Vaynerchuk approach for just giving value, value, value, value to people.
  • I realized I wasn’t really resting, and the whole point was to … one, intentionally rest and to let my wife get to know me a little bit, ’cause she’d only knows me as “Startup Guy,” and the company that I was building.  
  • I really believe, from a cultural perspective with bringing on people that would like an opportunity. 
  • Culture, when you’re really giving back to people and, kinda, serving in that way tends to just proliferate, and people want to come onboard with it.
  • I always want my teams to feel like it’s a family. I wanna be friendly with them. We go for drinks after hours, by all means, we can talk about real personal stuff. 
  • I think I’m the better leader because I’m helping to mentor others often, ’cause it’s very hard for me to see flaws in my own leadership style, my own character, even. But I’ll see them in somebody else and, as I’m talking to them about that, I notice, “Oh. This applies the same to me,” or maybe sometimes 10 times to me. 
  •  If you’re growing fast, or you’re trying to turn the ship, there’s going to be difficult discussions that have to be had.

Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk is the chairman of VaynerX, a modern-day media and communications holding company, and the active CEO of VaynerMedia, a full-service advertising agency servicing Fortune 100 clients across the company’s 4 locations.

In the late 90s, after identifying “the internet” as a land-grab opportunity, Gary transitioned his father’s local liquor store into one of the first wine e-commerce platforms resulting in growing the family business from $3-60MM in sales during a 5-year period.

Billy Boughey with Elevate Experiences


“I believe in the future and the power of positivity. I also believe the best ideas are right in front of us and all it takes is asking a better question. I am an emcee, culture coach, author, friend and entrepreneur. I wanna pick my funeral with people I added value to and I am desperate for the world to understand why the last 8 minutes of 8 mile is the best cinematography in film history. Why = story is everything…

I am passionate about working alongside great organizations and helping their story come alive. As a host and speaker, my goal is to create remarkable experiences inspiring each attendee to live and lead at a higher level. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed partnering with Delta, Coca-Cola, Chick-fil-A, FIFA, Kroger, The John Maxwell Company and many other notable organizations.

I love leading the Elevate Experiences team. While we are an Atlanta-based company, we love traveling to connect with people from all over the country. “

Made in America Movement

The Made in America Movement (MAM) is the unified voice of American companies. MAM represents 20,000 American sourced companies and has 520,000 active consumer members. We are the leading objective, independent, non-partisan, organization dedicated to promoting American businesses and the families that rely on them

David Cummings

David is passionate about tech startups and entrepreneurship. He’s the co-founder of the Atlanta Tech Village (103,000 sq ft tech entrepreneurship center), Pardot (Inc. 500, sold to ExactTarget/Salesforce.com), Hannon Hill (Inc. 500), Rigor (Inc. 500), SalesLoft(raised over $75M in capital), Terminus (raised over $25M in capital), and several more. After selling Pardot, he was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year winner and one of the 100 Most Influential Atlantans by the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

David is a member of YPO Southern 7Atlanta Rotary, on the board of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and on the board of theBuckhead Coalition. A native of Tallahassee, Florida, David earned a bachelor of science degree in economics from Duke University and an honorary doctorate from Mercer University. David blogs regularly at DavidCummings.org and tweets at@davidcummings.

Entrepreneur Organization

Company Culture Entrepreneurs Organization

The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a Global business network of 13,000+ leading entrepreneurs in 185 chapters and 58 countries. Founded in 1987 by a group of young entrepreneurs, EO enables business owners to learn from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.

We educate, we transform, we inspire and we offer invaluable resources in the form of global events, leadership-development programs, an online entrepreneur forum and executive education opportunities, among other offerings designed for personal and professional growth.

At its core, EO is a collection of like-minded entrepreneurs focused on business growth, personal development and community engagement. In addition to our mission, vision and core values, our global makeup is comprised of nearly 13,000+ individual member stories.

Prototype Prime

Prototype Prime is a 501(c)3 non-profit incubator focused on early stage software and hardware technology startups. Our mission is to provide startup companies with the support they need to launch & scale.

Funded by the City of Peachtree Corners Prototype Prime is a regional affiliate of the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech, and is located just 30 minutes north of Atlanta.

Our suburban location within a 500-acre commercial office park, adjacent to a custom- built intelligent mobility test and demonstration track, is the ideal place to envision what smart cities of the future will look like.