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entrepreneurs - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

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 1

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Speaking, Videos 2 Comments

 

Part I of the series. Subscribe now for updates when the other videos are posted.

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: Hi everyone, this is John Assaraf, CEO of Praxis Now and with me is a very dear friend of mine Steven Cox and Steven is part of my mastermind group and I’m part of his mastermind group. He’s the CEO of TakeLessons.com which is a company that is serving tens of thousands of idividuals who want to take guitar lessons and really want to find the right teacher online. Prior to this venture, he worked with CollegeClub.com which was a 1990’s company, a very very early social network, before social networks even existed, so if you want to know where social networks may have started, College Club is one of the companys. Steven has got an amazing company that’s venture capital funded. He has got an amazing culture with the people that he has hired, with the people that he works with as far as vendors and the way that they do things. He’s an amazing entrepreneur that’s had some great successes and he’s masterful at creating cultures and teams that drive insane revenues and amazing, fanatical client experiences. What I’d like to do today is really get into Steven’s head on your behalf. It doesn’t matter if  you have an idea or if you have ten or twenty or fifty employees, what you’re about to learn is why it is imperative for you to understand the vital importance of creating a culture that starts with you and continues with every single employee you’ve got. I’m also going to ask Steven a whole bunch of questions about raising money and his entreprenuer skills, but we’re going to focus specifically on building a culture and then we’ll take it from there. We’ve got 90 minutes together. We’re also going to give you a chance about every 15 to 20 minutes to ask questions and Steven might even ask you questions as well, like, do you play a musical instrument? Do your kids play? Steven, thank you so much.

Cox: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Assaraf: So let’s get right into it. Is there anything I missed about your bio or the things that our friends all over the world need to know about that I may have missed?

Cox: No, I think you pretty much hit it dead on. I’ve just been an internet geek so that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since 1996. It’s all I know. A lot of people are good at many things; I’m good at one thing.

A: The other thing that I failed to mention is that Steven just did an amazing deal with Best Buy so now Best Buy is offering not only to sell people guitars, but when they do, they offer Steven’s company’s lessons to the person who buys a guitar. It’s a major, major, major deal. So Steven, let’s talk about, what is culture and let’s get into why it’s so important. What I ask each one of you to do by the way is don’t write all of this stuff down because you’re going to have access to these slides. Listen to Steven and write your own notes down and then come back to these slides later on if you want to have the actual slides themselves. That’s one of the benefits of being a client of mine. So what is culture?

C: A lot of folks when we first start talking about culture, it seems like this feel-good type thing that’s permeated over the last couple of years, and a lot of folks don’t understand what it is or how it engenders across the whole organization. So I liken it to a very simple concept. The culture of your company is really the personality traits of your company. It’s really based on the values that you have as an individual and as a collective group of people, the beliefs that they have and the behaviors that we do. All of those beliefs we have and behaviors we do end up driving the actions within the company and that really makes up the company, how decisions are made based on the beliefs that we form. All that comes back to the values that we have; that’s the key to this whole thing: setting up the values and making sure they permeate the whole organization.