The first time Al Rey, Chief Revenue Officer at Leanplum – or as he would like to say a “humble servant leader” – and I spoke was at an event in Sofia where he and his colleague Shawn Azman came to talk about Leanplum’s growth strategy. The company was growing rapidly, having just opened their 6th office, and were raising series D funding. It’s no surprise that many founders, entrepreneurs, and marketers filled the room wanting to learn about how they did it. That day, we all learned an important lesson. A strong company culture can be a growth strategy. I instantly wanted to know more.
A few weeks after the event, Al and I spoke about Leanplum’s culture in more detail. As their first hire, he had a great story to tell.
Practice karma, lead humbly, skip politics, push innovation, be a doer, and show gratitude
When we started our call, Al was eager to share advice including practicing karma, doing good things for nothing in return, and paying it forward. This philosophy encourages individuals to focus on teamwork, collaboration, and giving credit to others for their successes. He said it led to positivity and, as a result, higher productivity. The conversation started rolling from there.
Al was born and raised in San Francisco, the symbolic home of tech startups. That’s why I wanted to hear about his first job and what he learned from it. Surprisingly, it was in sales, an industry for which he’s never lost his passion. As a 15-year old selling San Francisco city tours where he was compensated 100 percent in commissions, he learned lessons that he still looks upon today. He’s implemented them into Leanplum’s sales culture too. He described a few learnings as follows:
“Listening is fundamental to business. Business is about people and relationships. People value good listeners. By listening, you will uncover all the needs, the need behind the need and, ultimately, all the pain points that you will need to alleviate to close a sale.”
He believes that “a meritocracy, a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement, is critical to success. It also helps to avoid politics, which can demotivate people.”
He strongly believes gratitude is key to business. “A thank you is free and goes a long way. You can’t put a price on the words: thank you.”
“Your culture needs to be your foundation, your rock.”
Al made it clear that the secret to their success revolves around just one thing: a strong company culture. And because Enhancv just opened a new office in Dublin, I was particularly interested in how they scale their culture to new offices around the world; especially after Hotjar’s VP of operations told me that “to create a successful remote company, kill your Sofia office and make everyone remote.”
But, Al’s advice was different. He had three core strategies for scaling company culture which have so far worked exceptionally for Leanplum.
Take culture very seriously in hiring
When hiring, “don’t just interview for aptitude. Focus on the cultural fit and aspect of the interview.”
Al advises to “ask the right questions at the interview and listen carefully to how the candidate answers.” Here are some examples of questions he asks during an interview:
- What type of culture are you looking for?
- What does empowering people mean to you?
- In challenging times, how do you collaborate?
- What does empathy mean to you?
These questions help to recognize whether the person fits into their culture and has similar values to theirs.
Bonding and relationships
“Bringing new employees from around the globe to the main HQ for the first 2 weeks of official work makes a tremendous difference. It lets everyone get to know each other and helps new team members acclimate to the culture.”
“After that, we encourage all our remote offices and employees to visit HQ. By spending that time, employees can get a real feel for the culture, and replicate it back in their remote offices. It’s an investment rather than an expense.”
Empower new employees from day 1
The third key to making company culture a successful growth strategy is empowerment. “We hire people that want to proactively contribute to optimize and scale our business. Every new employee that starts at Leanplum is the CEO of their own business. That’s how we empower them. We give them a voice. Empowerment leads to happiness, and happiness leads to higher productivity.”
The humble servant leaders
In the startups I had a chance to talk to, I realized that employees often don’t use job titles. It’s the same at Leanplum. Even though they’re a successful company, they use titles only for official documents. Internally, they call themselves the humble servant leaders.
Al explains: “What other companies call managers, directors, VPs and C-levels, we call humble servant leaders. Our leaders are serving others, which leads to higher productivity, retention, collaboration, and overall well being.”
“Where there’s peace, there’s prosperity.”
Every business wants to solve a problem and make a meaningful difference. But many times, the “what” overweighs the “why”, and we forget about the character of our business – how employees feel at work, how they interact, and how all that translates into what customers feel when they collaborate with us. There’s no secret that most successful companies have exceptional culture, and after talking to Al, I understood that Leanplum is definitely one of them. They built a culture that’s “humble, that’s not political, that’s about collaboration, that expresses gratitude”.
“All the aforementioned improves accountability and productivity. It establishes peace. And where there is peace, there is prosperity.”
Is building and protecting your culture a part of your company’s growth strategy?