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Core Values - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

Creating Corporate Culture: Interview with John Assaraf Part 9 and 10

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com, Videos No Comments

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 9 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

Part 10 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 8

Cox: Because of the belief system that we have, we do not treat people that way. Nor will we be treated that way. It’s just the value system that we had that was correct for us and it was the best thing that we’ve ever done for the culture of the company. It wasn’t planned. These sorts of serendipitous things will happen in your own organization as you grow and you find out that when push comes to shove, you’re not going to deviate from this.

Assaraf: This is what I stand for.

C: This is what I stand for. People still tell that story today in the company about how we do things. The third value we have is Build Stuff You’re Proud Of. And the story on this is, being a tech company, we had been involved, not as owners, but as workers at other tech companies where what they tried to do throughout the nineties is do just enough to make it look like they had a product to get some sucker to buy them and sell their company to another company. We decided early on that we didn’t want to be one of those sorts of companies. We wanted to do something that we could look back on and we wanted to build a site that we’re very, very proud of. That has resonated with us and kept us very, very true to what we do.

If given the choice between building things right and building things quick, we choose building it right. In the tech world, that means we move a little bit slower than others. We’ve been round and round with investors about that but at the same time, we want to build things the right way. That has expanded out from technology into every area of the company. So if you’re in Customer Support, have calls you’re proud of. If you’re in Marketing or Sales, sell things that you’re proud of, cut deals that you’re proud of. Write code that you’re proud of. All this means is contributing in such a way that it makes a positive, lasting difference in millions of people. See how now it ties in with our core purpose.

A: It ties in with your purpose. You get that?

C: So the values systems stack up and start resonating together.

A: I love this stuff.

C: This next one, this is my own personal litmus test. The way I describe it is, I want to build stuff I’m proud of. What am I proud of? This is my grandfather, he’s 92 and I want to build things that my grandfather would use and be proud of using. For me, he’s the best guy I know, the most honest guy and he’s my personal litmus test. If you can find this sort of thing for you, then you know. You’re always faced in business with so much opportunity. The big key is being able to decide what to say no to. You’ll have lots and lots of opportunities to say yes, lots of people pulling you in different directions. If you can learn to say no based on a value system, it makes the world a lot easier.

A: Make your default “no” and then move to “yes” is what I always tell people because we’re all so wanting to help everyone else. We have this opportunity and this opportunity and we need to start saying no to everything and moving towards yes and having reasons for moving towards yes, then that gives you a much easier framework to deal with. Love that.

C: Absolutely.

A: CANI!

C: CANI! You’re very familiar with that. This one is borrowed from Anthony Robbins…

A: Who borrowed it from the Japanese Kai Zen.

C: Right, it’s all borrowed and that’s okay. You don’t have to come up with these yourself but what’s important is that it’s true. And this is one of my own personal beliefs and it ties in with the innovation of the company. As a company, growth isn’t serendipitous, growth isn’t okay; it’s required. It’s a big difference. You can feel the difference even as I say that. We are expected when we’re hiring someone in they know today is great, tomorrow’s got to be better. Tomorrow after that has to be better. Not only as a company but we actually want you as a person to grow. Because we believe if we can get you to grow and to learn these life lessons and set goals, we teach people to set goals within the company, accomplish those goals, you can apply that to your personal life, apply that to your business life. In general, that makes you a happier person. Happier people are just cooler to work with.

Part 10 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

Assaraf: Let me ask you a question. When you say, today is okay, tomorrow’s gonna be better, the next day is gonna be even better than that, I want to make sure people get this distinction. It’s not that you’re not or we’re not good enough today, right? What I hear and what I know of you is, we’re capable of growing individually, professionally, personally and as a business if we have this focus on just getting better. Not from a scarcity or negative perspective; it’s from a human growth and fulfill our potential perspective. That’s the message that you share with your employees.

Cox: Exactly. If you go back to the prior value of Respect for yourself, I have no problem telling my team and them telling me and everyone in the company going, wow, we are really awesome. In fact, I expect that. We want awesome people. We want them to be able to look and say, I absolutely rock. And, that’s good enough for today. Tomorrow I am going to rock even harder. That’s just what we do as a company. We are totally accepting that we are awesome as we are, and I say that actually in a very humble way, it’s not in a bragging way. No matter how awesome we are today, what we do know is the world keeps moving. Things keep going on and part of the joy is keeping up and getting ahead.

A: And by the way, what I want to make sure that you’re all in agreement and accordance with is that these are Steven’s and his team’s values, alright? They’re not yours. If they happen to be yours, that’s great, but this isn’t about taking Steven’s and his company’s values and making them yours. This is really about identifying your own and living that truth, that purpose, that value system, so that you’re living your life for your purpose and what you stand for and what you stand against as well. Some people might say, oh my God, that’s too much pressure, I don’t want that kind of pressure. Well, he thrives in it and so do I. Other people say, oh my God, if tomorrow’s got to be better than yesterday and the day before, I’m in chaos, I don’t like that, that’s cool. But you find people in your team that that’s cool with as well so that you make your growth and your day to day life easier to handle and manage.

C: Right. Someone’s value system could be, I don’t live to work, I work to live, or something, which means I am going to limit my time to 30 hours a week. That could be someone’s value system and that’s just as relevant for them as our value systems are for us. So again, back to Lady Gaga, there is no right or wrong culture. It’s finding what’s true for you.

A: That’s the key.

C: Our final value is Perseverance. We’ve defined that as certainty in the face of obstacles. This really came from a story and I’m sure this will resonate with you guys as well. We were trying out different models and again, we were self-funded, and we were basically down to a couple paychecks left. We weren’t making a lot of money to start with. All the guys were taking a discount on what they should be earning. It was basically down to the wire and I said, guys, we either have to do something this month and make this happen or we’re not going to be around next month. So, what do you want to do? It was quiet in the room and they were all kind of sitting there and they said, well, we better work hard then. We better get back to work. It was the perseverance of not even accepting the idea that we would quit. Quitting is not an option. It’s easy to say, it’s harder to do when you’re down to the last dime, knowing that, hey, if we don’t make something happen it’s going to be a difficult situation here in just a couple weeks. And it was those sorts of things that we’ve applied in different areas of the company as well. It’s perseverance when we’ve kicked off several versions of the website and we thought it was awesome and we did testing and it completely bombed. What we did is we simply back-tracked and we tried it again. So now we have a culture of innovation where trying things is cool and the expectation of failure is okay. In other words, the idea of not trying something because it might fail, is just completely not within our value system at all.

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 8

 

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview Part 8

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com, Videos No Comments

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.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7

 

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.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7

 

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview Part 7

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com, Videos No Comments

Part 7 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

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.

Assaraf: So before you get into that, Kristen, does anyone have any questions so far? I want this to be about learning and part of learning is also understanding. So, does anyone have any questions? If you do, let’s take one or two questions right now. If you don’t, then we’ll let Steven keep going. Kristen?

Kristen: Yes, we have a question from Evan. He says, who defines the culture, the directors or the directors along with the employees?

Cox: That’s a great, great question Evan. How many employees does Evan have, do we know?

Assaraf: It’s hard to get a feel for that.

Cox: It’s interesting because we’ve just asked this question again now that we’re at several hundred employees. I personally believe that there is a core group of people that starts by defining what those value systems are and they’re the ones who kind of set the pace for everybody else. They’re the leaders in the company. Then what happens is, folks coming in later have to believe that value system right from the beginning. We don’t teach people Ownership Mentality; they either have it or they don’t. We don’t teach people that you need to constantly improve. The people that come into our company, they want to come in because what they tell us is, these are things that I already believe anyway.

A: If you want to know about the Law of Attraction, for all you “Attractionaires” out there, that’s the Law of Attraction at it’s very finest. You define your nucleus and find people who that resonates with; that’s already what they’re doing and thinking and behave like and that’s the core of resonance right there.

C: Right. Now Evan, the second part of this is there’s a value system and then there’s a set of behaviors that help shape those value systems. And what we believe as a company and what’s right for us is we’ve established a value system that will not change and that we won’t deviate from. Within those value systems, there are behaviors and there’s changes in the marketplace. With every new person coming in, what happens is they adhere to the value system but then they’re free to create their individuality within that. So what we look for are people who naturally believe the value system. Then out of that, we get a tremendous level of creativity within this value system. So we’ve provided the guard rails, and the amount of beautiful activity that happens within the guard rails is exceptional. We do things that I never thought of. Our best ideas, how we embrace that culture and how we enforce that culture does not even come from me now. It comes from some of the employees that are working closest with the customer. Everyone gets their say in what that is without the movement of the structure. Does that make sense?

A: Totally. Hopefully that answers your question. Do we have another one?

Kristen: Yeah, we have another one from Richard. What if I want to keep my company’s personnel size small. I do not want to create a large corporate job for myself.

C: The rules still stay, if it’s a five, ten person company.

A: Even three or four.

C: Yes, three or four. Find three or four people that absolutely resonate with your reason for being, with your own value system. And again, the number doesn’t matter; it gets tougher to do with more people. But the idea is that you’re true to your nucleus. You’re true to your core. And all three, four, four hundred people, the number doesn’t matter, are all moving in the same direction based on a value system that you can all get behind.

A: Awesome. Thank you so much Richard. Let’s let you continue some of your core values, how you designed this and what’s happening with the company.

C: Sure. So our first core value is Ownership Mentality, and what that basically means is we look for people who treat the company as if it were their own. We reinforce that with the idea that you are responsible for your own actions and you are responsible for making sure that the company is growing in the manner that it should. The way we reinforce that is that at any given point in the company, if someone sees something that’s out of line or out of whack with our value system, they have the right as well as the obligation to speak up and say something. So it’s not a hierarchical system where people can’t come to me and say that I’m full of crap. Because they can if they really believe that. Ultimately, you are responsible for the results of the company. That means if you see a piece of trash laying on the ground, you pick it up. Why? Because that’s what owners do. You do not punch a clock. Why? Because owners don’t punch the clock. And we look for people who share those same values, that are looking for that entrepreneurial spirit. This whole idea was formed because we wouldn’t have been in business early if we didn’t find people who had that natural ownership ability. So that’s why it was very key to us and it’s just been resonating throughout the company.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview Part 6

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com, Videos No Comments

Part 6 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

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.

Assaraf: And your BHAG is?

Cox: We want to be a billion dollar company within six years.

A: With a “B”. Six years, a billion dollar company, and I’d bet my money on him achieving it, trust me.

C: And the second part of that, we want to be a billion dollar company but we also want to be one of America’s top one hundred companies to work for. So for our value system, both of these things have to produce well; the ecosystem of the way we’re making money and the way we develop people. So let’s talk a little bit about our core values and how they came about. So, we had been in business for a couple years, and core values aren’t the kind of thing that you sit down one day and say, “Steven said we need core values so let me write some things down because I think they’ll help me make money.” These are things that you actually just discover as you start working with people, again even if you’re a one man or woman operation, you’ll know these about yourself. Over time, we came up with five core values and I’ll show you how we got to those core values here in a minute. So we have five core values that we developed over time as well as a core purpose and a reason for being. We exist to make a positive lasting impact on millions of people. We specifically picked every single word of that reason for being. We exist not to make a lasting impact, but it has to be positive. We exist not just to make an impact, but it has to be lasting. So we want to be involved in business that is good, holistic by nature, that has the ability to make something that people remember long term, that has the long term impact. It’s not enough for us to make an impact on hundreds of people. That’s a good start but it doesn’t excite me. Knowing my value system, I need huge impact, millions of people.

A: So let me ask you a question. When you started six years ago, did you start off with here are my five core values and here is my core purpose and reason for being?

C: No.

A: I want everyone to understand that. This is an evolution. You’re seeing six years experience that could help you get there a lot faster, these great ideas.

C: Yes. Again, this is something that’s discovered over time and it’s things that you look at and say, how do I know that that’s my core value? It’s things you look at and say, if other people or the marketplace were to turn on me because I had these values, I would still have them. And that’s the true litmus test.

A: So if the marketplace or others would turn on you, you’d still keep those values.

C: That’s right. Even if it’s detrimental to the company; to us and our ability to make money, would we still do this?

A: That’s your core essence. That’s your nucleus, what we’re talking about. You are your nucleus no matter how many divisions there are or what happens. You are the nucleus.

C: And if you can find that, what you have is a True North. You have the ability to understand why you’re in business, as Simon Sinek says, the power of understanding why you want to do things instead of just how or when. There’s an interesting thing that happened throughout the company that I’ll share with you. The core people, we had a core group of about five or six people that were there when we started and those people again are all still with us, and these core values really resonated with us. But as we started hiring people and we started bringing them on and we started training them in core values, we would say, these are our core values and they would kind of shake their head. We found out that when we started describing them, they had different views of what they meant than we did. It really helped us understand that when you build a culture it’s not enough to say, here are my values. We have to get descriptive of what that value means. So I’d like to walk through a couple of our values and explain. My value may be different from yours. And as a company, this allows us to look at someone and say does this person coming in resonate with the value system as we have described it?

Part 6 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5