John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, to discuss what it means to create and maintain a thriving corporate culture. In this interview, Cox defines corporate culture, outlines steps entrepreneurs can take to define their company’s culture and shows how a strong culture can translate into other great gains for any organization.
Part 8 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.
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Cox: We hire customer support reps and they are normally in college. It’s kind of a part time job, sometimes a full time job right out of school, and we say the same thing to them. Guys, this is your company as well. Your job here is not to do your job. Your job here is to please the customer but also to make sure your job gets better, to come and take it to the next level. Why? That’s what owners do. We have a whole bunch of examples of what this looks like. I’m not going to read all of them, but you can get an idea of the detail that we go into to describe what an ownership mentality looks like.
Assaraf: So that’s why you say there’s the words “Ownership Mentality” but then you’ve really taken the time to define what that means and then you find people, vendors, suppliers, who really resonate with that Ownership Mentality, whether they’re providing you with a service or whether you’re providing your customer with a service, whether you’re a guitar teacher or a piano teacher, regardless of who you’re dealing with, you look for those qualities to do business together because of the nucleus that creates.
C: Right. That’s a great segue into our second core value, which is Respect, for yourself and others. That basically means we expect people to value themselves as well as to value others highly, meaning the customer, the supplier, the service provider, everybody. It came down to an interesting story and you’ll find these in your own company as well. We were a team of five people and this was before we had done our first round of venture financing and I was funding the business and we weren’t making any money.
A: He was the bank! Many of you are the bank right now!
C: I was the bank. Believe me, I feel your pain a lot. We went five years before we took our first round. We scraped by, we bootstrapped. There was a time in our business when we were selling leads to an instructor, and this is the model we did. Very similar to Google AdWords, we’d sell on a lead acquisition type model.
A: So you were generating leads online and selling those leads to people who were guitar instructors and you’d make your money by selling those leads, so that was your initial business model that you morphed and changed, which a business will do, morph and change over time. I just want to give them some of the underlying lessons; I don’t want them to think they’ve got to be where they want to be at.
C: Right. Along those lines, a little off topic, in essence there’s something in the tech world that’s called pivoting. What that means is, you can normally expect your business, if it’s a tech business, to pivot three or four times before you get your model right. It’s very simply that you have to keep going. This is the third start up I’ve done and it still took us three pivots to figure out what the customer really really wanted out of us. So this was the second pivot we were in. First we had done a subscription model and that didn’t really work so then we did lead generation and that was this model.
There was this one particular group buying leads from us, I won’t name names, but they made up about 30% of our business and they were just buying a tank-load of leads from us. We had one single customer service rep at the time and her name was Lori. Lori was on the phone with this person, we’ll call her “Jill”, her name wasn’t “Jill”, but she was on the phone with “Jill” and what happened was “Jill” couldn’t get her computer working right. Lori was trying to help her but she just had a browser from the 1800’s and Lori said, “I think if you update your browser everything would be taken care of” and this person said, “Oh, it’s my fault? I’ll have you know that your site sucks and you probably don’t even know what you’re talking about because you’re just a customer support rep and I went to Brown. Do you know what Brown is? Brown is an Ivy League school. Do you know what that is?” and starts berating Lori right there in front of the team.
We were a team of five; she made up 30% of our sales. It was at that moment in time, all of us kind of looked at each other and the lady demanded to talk to me. So I got on the phone and I said, “Hey, I just want to let you know that you are now making me choose between my team and you and you are going to lose that battle every time.”
A: Even though she was providing you with 30% of your revenue?
C: We fired her on the spot.
A: The client?
C: We fired the client on the spot.
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