I co-hosted my very first podcast back in 2005. Really, it was just internal IBM e-newsletters with mp3 download links. We recorded the podcast using a corded phone (how far we’ve come).
But I learned something about the power of the spoken word to educate and inspire. Our audience was a globally distributed sales force. With a podcast, we were able to provide sales enablement that didn’t require an active time investment – they could listen at the gym, on a plane, in the car (many burned the mp3 to a CD).
In addition to information, they got connection by hearing another human voice.
I think back to those days as MarketingSherpa launches its latest attempt to bring you information and inspiration to succeed as a marketer or entrepreneur – the How I Made it in Marketing podcast.
In every episode, we’ll bring you engaging stories to spark your next great idea. Stories based on two essential elements of a career in marketing – the things we build and the people we build them with.
Here is our debut episode. Listen in to learn from Whitney Hill, Co-Founder and Head of Business Operations & Development, Snap ADU – a general contractor that has forged a quickly growing brand by niching down.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
In the debut episode of the How I Made it in Marketing podcast, I talk to Whitney Hill, Co-Founder and Head of Business Operations & Development, Snap ADU. Listen below or in your favorite podcast player.
Whitney shares key lessons from what she’s made – ranging from Excel data tools to a transparent website to a memorable brand name – in a career that has spanned Yale, an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, Seamless.com, Bain & Company, and more. We discussed:
She also shares lessons she gained from influential mentors and managers in here career:
Sales Funnel: 3 case studies with tips on how to say “no” to customers and improve marketing results – Quick Case Study #1 in this article shows how Whitney helped improve proposal close rate by 55 percent
14 Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Marketing Professionals
How to Win Friends and Influence People – book by Dale Carnegie
Hospitals Hide Prices on Web, Undermining Disclosure Rule.
Is Your Company Embracing ‘Fear-Based’ or ‘Fear-Less’ Marketing in 2012 and Beyond? – Marcus Sheridan shares how transparent pricing information on River Pools & Spas website helped generate 124,000 page views over two years
This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher free digital marketing course.
Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.
Daniel Burstein: Focusing on the ideal customer. We all know we should do it as marketers, as business owners, but it is so difficult, right? Because why? Because it means that we need to say no. We need to say no to someone, no we don’t want your business, no we can’t serve you. And I don’t know, I guess that’s just a human feeling or just a feeling of not wanting to turn away dollars, and it's hard.
But our guest today is going to walk us through exactly how she did it. Along with a lot more lessons from her career in marketing and business. Winning on execution, promoting transparency to gain trust, being memorable and pithy. It's going to be a fun discussion. Joining me right now is Whitney Hill, the head of business development and operations at Snap ADU. Thanks for joining us, Whitney.
Whitney Hill: Thanks for having me, Daniel
Daniel: So, Whitney, I am just going through the LinkedIn really quick, and I’ll fire a bunch of things out to the audience, there’s that BA in Psychology from Yale. We’ve got an MBA in Management of Technology and Operations, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation from the NYU Stern School of Business. Then on to Sales Internship at Seamless.com, a Senior Practice Area Consultant for Performance Improvement at Baine & Company, there’s a bunch of other roles I didn’t even mention. But that brings us to today as a co-founder at Snap ADU Whitney tell us a bit about your current role.
Whitney: Sure, I should explain what ADU means. It stands for Accessory Dwelling Unit. Which is another residence on a property that already has a primary unit. And that is a huge area in California that they are exploring to help address the housing shortage.
People are moving to intergenerational living setups. Truly having a granny flat in their back yard to house family members. Or others are looking to rent out another unit on their property for income and to get other people into the neighborhood. So, our company Snap ADU focuses exclusively on designing and building accessory dwelling units in San Diego.
Daniel: We are going to get to talking about that company and how Whitney and her co-founder made it. But first, we are going to start earlier in her career. Something that Whitney made that is going to sound probably unexciting to the marketers listening to the creative. I know I am a creative, so it sounds unexciting, but these are the unexciting things that power our business and make them possible.
So, the first thing I want to talk about, what you made Whitney, were homegrown Excel tools. Now as a creative that is not something that excites me. But what does excite me is what enables a company to do, how it enables a creative vision. So take us back Whitney, to I think you were working on mainframes working with paper tickets? What was going on, why did you build these homegrown Excel tools. What can we learn from it?
Whitney: Sure, my first role out of college was at a warehouse at an industrial supply distributor. And we were at the time shipping as many packages as anyone in that area, QVC at the time was the closest competitor, this was pre-Amazon. So were shipping near 10K a day, and so to do that required an exacting level on productivity and quality reporting. The mainframe had a wealth of information that I realized very quickly if I could understand, I could improve how we were doing.
So, extracting that data, and then making sense of it in Excel was something that I started doing early on. One of my more interesting roles was an overnight shift when we were actually moving a warehouse. We had to inventory all the material before it went over to the new location. So, working overnight we had a bunch of paper pick tickets, which means that folks were having their assignment printed out on paper. Where they would then go to that location and count the material, write it down manually, and then these would get entered into the mainframe by hand keying those in.
So, at the time, we didn’t have any understanding of what their speed was, what their quality was, who should be assigned where, and so I extracted the data so that we could put together some simple pivot tables that readout into reports of what were the speeds of the various areas. Because different kinds of material could be counted more quickly. So, I learned early on that if you could master the data, you will have the richest story in the room, you will have the information at your fingertips to answer the “why’s” behind the “so what’s” that are getting asked in the room.
Daniel: Yes, so give us an example of that. First of all the one thing I liked about this story when Whitney was telling me about it, I am like you were the Amazon warehouse before the Amazon warehouse. This is why we hear about the Amazon warehouse all the time. Why are they so darn efficient and logistical? They’ve got the tools, they’ve got the date, they know the productivity. So, what a genius thing to do back in the day. But what did that data help enable you to do at the time? Like what were you able to, you talk about winning on execution, which is great. You know sometimes we overlook that; we just look at the big idea. How did it help you win on execution?
Whitney: Well, it helped us get through our work faster. So, we were actually able to go down by two full-time equivalents, from 10 to 8 in that department, because we were simply able to get to the work that much faster. It was more efficient to have folks go to areas where they could quickly count the same kind of material, or it could be based on their experience with that kind of material so that they knew how to count it faster. So, by having the visibility of what was actually going out to them, we were just blindly assigning work indiscriminately, it was more tailored to their own skills which allowed us to do it faster.
In other parts of that warehouse, we were also able to report in nearly real-time, on quality and productivity. So not having that information until the end of the month is not something that motivates an employee like it could if it were more real-time almost gamified feedback. So very early on, even before we have digital scanners, we were producing daily reports that showed what their productivity was. Because then someone is intrinsically motivated to get out there and beat their last day. I don’t even have to mention it, they already want to do that. So by giving the better data on their own performance, we were also able to unleash some folks motivation.
Daniel: Yeah, one, when you say that I think of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. He talks about I think it’s a steel factory, where he goes with just a piece of chalk and he rights down what the previous shift made, how much they made, and then the next shift goes in and sees that and go we can beat that. What a great way to gamify and motivate people. But the other thing I think of is, in the time we are in today, I just actually have an article, I don’t know when this podcast is going to come out, but I have an article coming out tomorrow in MarketingSherpa, about how to attract and retain marketing talent. Because what a tight labor market we are in. So, it’s the things we need to work on with all of our more tools we have available to us than you did back then but making sure we are operating at optimal efficiency. Because you were able to go, you were able to reduce headcount by 20%. At least the people focused on that, just by having a better system and processes in place.
Whitney: So yes, and I think having a case study in one part of your department or even your company can lead to a bigger change. So, the tools I was building in my one little department of one of the five branches, ultimately over the coming years became something that was built out in a more robust fashion so it would be rolled out to the rest of the company. And that has happened a few times, where if you can make the youth case, you know throwing together a quick prototype, you can get to actionable results that you can then iterate on. It doesn’t have to be a perfect tool the first time around, but just getting to some of that information that can unlock that efficiency.
Daniel: Yes, that idea off minimal, viable product. That’s true internally as well. Were you able to use that later in your career? Like in your current role? Some of the early lessons you had about processes and systemization.
Whitney: Yes, it's kind of like the ongoing joke. You know I am 15 years into my career now and I keep wondering when I will not be going back to Excel to build something. And I don’t know if I am going to hit that day because you know the data is something that can be a differentiator. Whether it be in a marketing perspective or a process like we were talking about for your operations. So, I think I am always using those lessons. I am in Excel constantly just building new tools. So knowing what to look for and kind of seeing those patterns, when you are in the next role you already kind of know what you had to do to get there the last time. So, it just becomes quicker and quicker to build it to the point where we were building Snap ADU we’ve been able to scale up to a 15million company in 18months. Because we already knew what that path needed to look like.
Daniel: And that is what we are trying to shortcut for our audience, bring in smart people like Whitney so that you can learn from them. And then build your company quicker. So, let's move on to the next lesson as you talk about Snap ADU, and I originally learned about it, we wrote a MarketingSherpa case study about you a few months ago. But like I said in the beginning, one thing I love about this brand is you are doing the thing that is so difficult. You are finding your ideal customer, and that means you are saying no to business. And so, what you are doing on your website, you called it promoting transparency to gain trust. Talk about how you are using that website to promote transparency, and also to tell some customers, hey we don’t want your business, you are not right for us.
Whitney: Totally, we see ourselves as an information source for accessory dwelling units. Whether or not someone is going to work with us. So, we do our best to put out as much of the information we know internally onto our website. One, to educate the public. But two, to keep our own selves on the same page about this quickly evolving industry. There was a lot of debate in the beginning about how much should we reveal, I mean we have worked so hard to understand this, do we really want to put it out there in the public. But like you just said, it gained so much trust to share that information. And you are also starting to set the standard for the industry. Like the cost information that we put out there on our website is now something that if you search ADU build San Diego it's going to be the first hit, and it's going to tell you exactly how much ADU’s cost from our own website.
So, folks are able to get that information without having to go through hoops. I know it's so frustrating when I am on a website, looking for just general pricing information, I have to call them or something to get that. We didn’t want that experience for our clients or our potential clients. We wanted folks to be able to have that information readily at hand so they could reach out if they wanted to go further than that. So, we wanted to make sure that folks knew what ballpark they would be in before they even wasted their time picking up the phone to talk to us.
Daniel: So, I want to ask you about that a bit. Because you’re putting the price on the website, so many companies and so many industries you are trying to find out you know, a service company like that, a complex sale company a B2B company, you are trying to find out just what does this cost? Why put it on the website? Did you get any pushback from your partners, did you get any pushback from anywhere to be so transparent in that? I mean your competitors can steal from you, right? They can know exactly what you are charging.
Whitney: Absolutely, and not only do we put it on the website, but we also broke it down into every category we could so it could truly be apples to apples for someone else who was price shopping. We wanted them to see how much of that cost falls into design vs. permitting vs. the site work to get to the place that you could build the ADU. The cost to build the ADU itself, the finish materials, so just really pulling back that curtain was a decision we made early on. Partly because my partner and I value transparency just in our personal ethics you could say, we felt that was something that was important to how we were building our brand based on transparency and trust.
So, did we get pushback? I think it was a decision we had to make and then when we put it out there in the market you could say, it started to allow different discussions. So now it's not about hiding your pricing from other contractors, it's all out there, you can kind of see where we are at. Then it's about how do we win on execution. Back to what we already talked about. So, it’s something where we almost wanted to take that away as a factor of secrecy in the market. Why does it need to be that? We wanted people to be educated on it from day one.
Daniel: It’s funny why we talk about this, trending in the news right now is hospitals legally have to transparently put their prices out there. And a lot of them are struggling with it. And what many have done too, and we marketers know this, but there is an article in the Wall Street Journal they put on no tracking links on their websites where they put up the pricing so that Google wouldn’t index it. So legally they complied with having the price up there, but no one can actually find the prices. Cause they are not indexed. That’s how scared they are about putting the prices out there.
Let me ask you, we did a case study many years ago with Marcus Sheridan who is now known as a sales lion, he’s a big speaker about inbound marketing and sales, he talked about his company River Pools and Spas and how he put out the pricing for pools, and he also put out a lot of content, and their end result was that he used to send out a sales rep, and he’d win maybe about a third of the business. Because most people if they are going to get a pool, they are going to pick three different companies, they shop to like 90% because you put out the pricing information, all the information about the pools, lots of helpful content so by the time the people were contacting him they were already pretty much sold themselves. They weren’t having to get sold. I don’t know your sales process, I assume you have to send out a sales rep or consultant in some way to the actual home and location, has that transparency helped in your conversion rate when you send someone out?
Whitney: It’s so funny, we actually don’t send someone out. We were founded during COVID, in fact, I met my partner the day before the shutdown in California. And so, it was a unique time where folks were more open to doing remote, they didn’t necessarily want us on site even. And with advancements in satellite imagery and mapping and access to public databases with information on parcels and zoning, we’ve been able to have a much better view of the property by never leaving our desks than we would have walking onto the property 18 months ago. So, we do actually all of our proposals remotely.
The first time anyone from our company sets foot on the property is when we are doing the pre-construction meeting to mobilize. So we do send out other companies to do things like mapping out the utilities but as much as we can we try to stay off the road because that means we are able to stay at our desk and be more productive.
So as far as making that shift, we have just been very clear about that from the beginning too. Don’t expect someone to come out there for a site visit, it is just not part of the process because we get a better picture from doing it digitally.
Daniel: And these are, just so we are clear with the audience, these are $200K and up we are talking?
Whitney: Absolutely, it’s between 500 and 1200SF residence, that’s a small house. So it’s a big project.
Daniel: That blows my mind that you’re closing that deal without ever having even met the people in person. You are closing it entirely online or virtually.
Whitney: That’s exactly it. And you know you asked earlier Daniel, what was it like turning away that business. That was part of the learning process too. The first 6-12 months we were looking at all different kinds of accessory dwelling units. You can have a detached house like I mentioned. You can also convert your garage. You can add onto your existing home, there are different ways of doing it.
In the beginning, we were quoting absolutely everything that walked in the door. And our sales rep was going out to take a look at the property, walk through and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And we finally decided you know, let's start stripping away the stuff that is time-consuming to bid, that we can’t consistently quote for the client, that we can't give a reliable cost out of the gate on, so over time we hold our focus on solely building detached accessory dwelling units.
Why? They are new construction which means it’s much more predictable, so then we are just really having to pen down the site variables for the client. And like I mentioned with the utility mapping we are able to do, the other remote assessments of topography, and the grading lines, we are able to nail that part with a reasonable degree of accuracy as well. So, by honing our focus on this very narrow set of accessory dwelling units, we are able to serve that user much better. And so, we are able to be very competitive for those kinds of units.
Daniel: That’s pretty impressive because I would imagine in building an accessory dwelling unit like you said, it's basically a house, your company has the same skills as a general contractor and can bid all types of businesses. So that is a great lesson on how you helped even narrow it down to ADU’s. But in the early days, how did you make sure there was going to be enough demand for having such a focused product, and also just in one market, right, you are only operating in San Diego?
Whitney: Correct, we are in greater San Diego. And we did start in North County San Diego and have now spread geographically a bit. But how did we make sure we had enough volume? That’s been a constant dance. It’s deciding how many people do we need to have on staff vs. as contractors, and what do we need to do to ensure we have enough leads coming in the door to fill up that pipeline. So there have been times where there has been mismatch, especially back in the beginning when the numbers were very small, and it’s much harder to kind of match the supply and demand on that.
Now we are consistently getting between 6 and 10 leads a day. So are at such a rate that we can have our two salespeople and a support person manning that every single day. We can have a staff of 15 that are doing everything from design to regulatory and permitting, project management, even some field workers. So now we are to a sufficient size where it's actually easier to manage that. So pushing through from call it like 5 or 6 employees to where we are now with 15 that was much harder than it is now doing a much bigger volume, because now we have enough people staffed that people are able to backfill for each other. We can kind of smooth out when there are lulls in work, it's not such a huge swing, it's maybe a 20% instead of a 50%. So, it's now at a point where we are big enough that the ebbs and flows are less difficult to work through.
Daniel: Ok, you talk about 6-10 leads a day. 75% of that is coming in through organic search, so what is pulling them in. Is it the pricing and the floor plans? Or do you have something else that is pulling them in?
Whitney: Our top page performance-wise is the plans page. So, folks search for an accessory dwelling unit, floor plans, and we are one of the top hits. We also have specialized pages for all the jurisdictions that we serve. So that we show that not only as our service area but if someone is searching for ADU regulations, we will come up in the top three results. Usually just right after the government entity themselves.
Daniel: That is a great example of finding that niche within a larger market, and really trying to serve it. Doing everything you can, even putting the pricing out there to serve it, I love that. But now this gets into me as a creative, what I get really excited about right. So, you have this idea, you are gonna have this very focused niche-targeted company, what the heck do you call the darn thing? So, take us back, you said there was like a specific night I think when you were thinking about, OK what are we going to call this? And it just kind of struck you?
Whitney: Sort of? So, we were running as Moore Construction, that’s my partner's general contracting firm. And like you said it was more remodels, new construction, a whole gambit of things. So when we started focusing on ADU’s we knew we needed to get our nuts and bolts together of our business. We weren’t really hung up on the branding, but as we started to specialize more, we realized that Moore Construction didn’t cenote anything about what we were actually doing.
So, one night when I was feeling creative, started putting together a list of different names and at the top of that list was Snap ADU. Reason being it cenote something about what we wanted to be doing, making it snap to build a granny flat, making it easy. It also gives reference to how some of the plans we put out there are sort of snapping different elements into place. You can add a module onto the plan, and its simpler to do that vs. starting from scratch.
So, we wanted something that was memorable, but as I look back on that list and email I sent my partner that night, there were some terrible examples I am glad we didn’t go with. You know, made-up names that you wouldn’t even be able to pronounce that were too creative and were just too niche I guess you could say. So looking at that list now, Snap clearly was the best option on there. I think the second-best was Boom ADU? Sometimes I am horrified to think what if we had said Boom ADU instead! It just wouldn’t have gone the same way.
Daniel: And I think your biggest advice is to be memorable and pithy, right so you just kind of tied it together one memorable really just short, easy to remember name is what you were going for.
Whitney: Yes, exactly. And search results too or having that category in our name is hugely helpful as well. When we incorporated, we actually had it as all one word, SnapADU. But we realized in order to hit on those searches with our name, we needed to add the space. Little nuances like that are so important in the search game as well and that has also helped our ranking since we do have ADU in our name.
Daniel: Here’s my idea if you end up spinning off, have another company, a demolition company, Boom ADU! Cause in a hundred years people are going to be knocking these ADU’s down, Boom ADU, there you go!
Alright, so we talked about what Whitney has made in marketing, right. As marketers, that’s the exciting thing, we make things as businesspeople, we make things, we make like Excel spreadsheets, we may call companies, but we make things. So that’s exciting things to discuss.
But the other thing that I love about this career, this industry is, we make things with people. So, lets’ talk about who Whitney has collaborated with and what we can learn from that. And starting off, I love this example because I had kind of a similar example early in my career. Wiley Cerilli, who is currently I think the CEO and Co-Founder of Good Uncle, when you were a sales intern at Seamless, he helped you learn, or maybe you were forced to learn how to hone an elevator pitch. So how did that work out?
Whitney: Sure, so the context there, back in the time, was called Seamless Web. And it was the very beginning of the food delivery industry. And so, it was a new concept that we had to explain and as a sales intern, I was trying to sign up new restaurants to go onto the network so that they could receive orders from companies and their employees for lunch. And so, this was a pretty new concept, it's hard to even remember that time when this wasn’t second nature to us. So having to explain in maybe 30 seconds when I walked in the door at one of these restaurants in the upper west side.
“There’s a new technology that allows your restaurant to be seen and allows employees to order directly from you, receive orders directly in your restaurant, you can access the network just by having your fax machine ready”. We had to be able to pivot that depending on who we were talking to, whether it was your more upscale restaurant, whether it was perhaps more of a chain, a small chain locally. I guess I was only probably 20 at the time doing this. And so, it was trial by fire, figuring out what approach worked as you kind of canvas these neighborhoods.
Daniel: And did that help you learn how to create a value proposition, and ultimately an elevator pitch, and talk to potential customers and investors down the road?
Whitney: Oh completely, and it’s a concept at Bain and Company too, answer first. Meaning put out your best information at the beginning. Tell them what your answer is, then support it. And so that was the approach that summer as well. Give them the reason to sign up and then explain the details of what was going on.
Daniel: It’s funny, I had a similar experience when I was in college, I think it was after my freshman year. I came home from the summer and the best paying job in town, I grew up in Daytona, just happened to be selling timeshares on the phone, so I was a telemarketer. And really it wasn’t selling a timeshare, it was selling them to show up to a certain place at a certain time, right, where they can get the timeshare pitch. I didn’t realize it at the time but it really taught me what it takes, conversion optimization, give someone a value proposition to reduce friction, to reduce anxiety, to get people somewhere because when I started, you had to read the script exactly and the script was like, first you survey them, then you come back and you are like oh congratulations you were selected for something. It wasn’t that they won, it was kind of that feeling like you were selected, and you get to come down to Florida for this trip and all these things.
So, I would do that, and then I’d get people to sign up for an appointment, but the thing is you didn’t get compensated if you got people to sign up, you go compensated if people actually showed up. So I started realize that I could sell them really well on the phone but then if I did it in a way that it caused anxiety and they didn’t show up later it didn’t help anything.
Then I got thinking, what if I was just really transparent with them, getting back to your transparency example, what if I was just straight. So I would just call and tell them, hey I work for a timeshare company, and basically, if you show up for this presentation for 90 minutes, they are going to give you a free 5-day trip down to Daytona Beach in Florida, and that works for a lot of people, some people really love that, and some people it's not a fit for, is that something you would be interested in?
And that was great, the people it wasn’t a fit for I wasn’t wasting 15 minutes talking them into something that they’d later talk themselves out of. And the people that were a fit, you know it was a true value exchange, I actually learned how to create a value exchange there of like OK, here is what you get, here is what you have to give, we are not trying to trick anyone, we are not marketing tricksters.
So, anyone listening, so if you are early in your career, or if you are in college or whatever, I really encourage you, try and get some sort of sales position, even if it’s uncomfortable for you. If you want to be an Account Executive in marketing, a Marketing Director, an Art Director, or whatever, get that experience.
Like Whitney, actually pounding the pavement and talking to people in person. Or getting on the phone with people, because you really learn how to craft a marketing presentation, you really learn how to create a value exchange. I love that example.
So, let's talk about, now here’s another great one, Andrew Benoit, Founder and CEO of ZoneJump, and if I mispronounce any of these names Whitney please correct me. But, I love this, when you were at McMaster-Carr we talked about earlier, he asked you what you wanted to be remembered for after you left. And that is such an interesting question to me because usually Managers are focused on when you’re right there at the moment, so how did that play out and what did that strike in you at the time?
Whitney: Yes, Andrew very early set the horizon, call it more of a five-year time frame than a five-month time frame, but like you said they are usually focused on the here and now. But in putting my focus out, the rest of it kind of fell into place, because in order to think like that I had to be doing a good job at the time.
So, what it unlocked for me? I think that it made me think bigger, and some of the tools that we talked about earlier where I wanted to leave the operation better than I found it. I wanted to not just punch the clock and run the operation how it was already, I wanted to think about how I could improve it for my employees, I wanted to make it a better experience for them, for my future replacement who was going to take over supervising the department, I wanted it to be a more seamless experience for them. So, by putting me into that frame of mind it gave me permission to take on more than maybe you would think you could in the beginning. So putting me almost into a Manager mentality, where he took off the limits of what would have been my responsibility. To giving me permission to take on a bigger scope and to think bigger.
Daniel: That’s awesome. And I think not only is that a great question as Managers to ask our teams, as leaders to ask our teams. But also, to ask ourselves if we are selling a product to a customer, you know as marketers we get so focused on kind of that front end part, that ok let’s close let's get the deal, but what do we want that legacy to be with our brand. Five years after they purchase a Snap ADU, what do we want that experience to be? Do we want someone to come in, look at this thing and say this is amazing where did you get it? And boom, there's our word of mouth, there's our brand loyalty. Or do you just want to focus on getting each conversion and moving on and forgetting about your customer? So again, great example of focusing on a bigger legacy than the here and now, which is so hard to get past sometimes when everything is coming at us pretty quick.
Whitney: Yes, and I think now that I’m running Snap ADU and have my own team of all these folks, I think having some kind of a shared vision of that is also very important in an entrepreneurial environment. Because now, as we are all talking about what do we want Snap ADU to be known for, you are putting something out there that is far loftier than what you can achieve today. But before you know it you look back two years, and we are like wow we are the market leader in San Diego. Just like we were saying we would be when we knew very little about it. So having the shared story, drinking the kool-aid together also helps you all kind of move toward that same line at the horizon, and contributing in your own way than to making that a reality.
Daniel: Setting up your moon shot. Setting up your own personal moon shot of what you are going for. Next let's talk about Paul Cichocki, EDP and Chief Commercial Officer at BJ’s Wholesale Club, and he really showed you how to manage a team that is focused on data. But what did he teach you? Because a lot of times we are managing these teams that have a very specific specialty with data, tech, creativity, and we need to get some buy-in with that team that we know what the heck we are talking about, right. Because they very quickly sniff out someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. How did he do that with your team, I think it was when you were at Baine.
Whitney: That’s right, and Paul had worked at Baine for the majority of his career. Which meant he had started out doing the more analytical tasks. And like I said earlier, that never left for him either. He would still hop onto Excel with us and poke around in our models to really understand what was going on, and he earned such credibility by being able to self-speak that language that we knew that we had to have everything buttoned up for Paul. Beyond that, he would also encourage us to take the reins and did not try to micromanage. So, while he did know all that data and could have done any of it himself, he never got in the way of us creating our own product. He would ask the right questions to lead us to create it ourselves. Which meant that he then had a much more autonomous team that wasn’t afraid to fail, that wasn’t afraid to make their own model. Because he had given us again that bandwidth and that leeway to do that.
Daniel: And I also assume that trust. Like once he knew that you knew what you were doing, then he gave you that trust to actually run with it.
Whitney: That’s exactly right, and he was someone who didn’t care a lot about hierarchy, he might have been a pretty green consultant by tenure wise but if he knew you knew your stuff, he was happy to put you in a meeting with partners or a senior client because he trusted your work product. And that goes back to him knowing the information so that he could feel that way about it. It allowed him to perhaps make some counter-intuitive moves based on your traditional measures, like tenure and that sort of thing because he could trust it. Because he did the pressure testing that he needed to feel good about your work product.
Daniel: That reminds me, the opposite of that reminds me of the cartoon Dilbert. Where the tech leads are always working with their boss, and they always say he has no idea what he is talking about.
Whitney: And that is the worst feeling!
Daniel: Right, you have no faith, you don’t want to do any good work because you are like omigosh who is this guy! Alright, so lastly, Mike Moore, the Co-Founder and Head of Production at Snap ADU, your current partner. You were talking about, and I love this too, understanding when something is going on with an employee or partner or maybe even a customer, that’s not necessarily a personality flaw, you really have to dig underneath to see what is going on with that behavior. Can you give us an example of how this has helped you?
Whitney: Sure, so Mike and I as Co-Founders have very different backgrounds. I came from Corporate America, Mike came from the Construction Industry, he was basically born and raised in it. So, we have very different skill sets that we bring to the table, and they do dovetail very nicely. But it does mean that we approach some situations in a way that leads to some constructive tension. Where he and I will just simply have different opinions on how we should handle something.
So, in any business partnership, you have to learn how to manage those kinds of interactions. Almost like you would with an interpersonal relationship just in your personal life. You are going to have conflicts come up that you can decide how to handle. You can either ignore them and hope they go away. Or you can address them head-on.
So, Mike is a master at calling out that tension when there is a disconnect and we need to dig in a bit further to see why. An example of that would be, that we’ve made a ton of shifts to the digital age in how we have set up our construction company. We have thrown out a lot of norms. A lot of the way Mike ran his business for a decade was kind of thrown to the wind because we wanted to do it in a different way. And to do that Mike had to put a lot of trust in the systems that we were building and stuff that wasn’t as familiar to have. He hadn’t come from the same environment that I did.
So, we have had some conflict over how should we conceptualize this in this new world. What kind of information is needed to manage in that environment, and how can we both feel comfortable coming from these different perspectives? How can we both feel that we have the information we need to make sound business decisions. So, we found ourselves, maybe after a week or two in these positions where there might be some tension because one of us feels uncomfortable, whether we don’t have the information we need to run our part of the business. Whether we feel like we feel like we haven’t been looped in on certain parts of it. So, Mike is great at asking what can we do to address this?
What’s causing that disconnect. I think he is more willing to put himself out there and ask those questions than a lot of people are. You will see sometimes people just sit and fester, and then a situation that could have been addressed head-on will just become something that then is unmanageable. Maybe you have a boss that is a micromanager like we were just talking about. And you don’t have the wear with all to approach them with that problem. Then you finally get bitter and now you are leaving the company.
So, by sort of cutting those things off at the pass and recognizing hey, I feel like there is a disconnect here, or what are you needing in your role so that you can feel better about this and it’s not going to be something that creates tension. Just asking that question directly has been very successful in us navigating this growth story over the last two years.
Daniel: That’s fantastic, because like you said these are all just relationships. We’ve got relationships with our co-workers, with our partners, with our vendors, with our customers. And I love that idea too, and I have had that situation so many times in my career, and sometimes I have been fortunate to be the person to do it. Is when there is an elephant in the room, it’s hanging heavy in the air, and when someone can just come out and say it and address it directly. It changes the tenor of the conversation, it changes the entire team, it’s such a great feeling.
So, I encourage everyone listening today, if you only get one lesson from this podcast, you turn it off, you walk back into your office, when there is that moment of tension, when you can feel it with someone, just address it, address it directly.
Anyway, Whitney, thank you so much, we have gone through your entire career, we’ve gone through the people you've worked with, I hope it was really, really helpful to the audience. Are there any parting words? Any words of motivation, inspirations, thank you’s, whatever you want to give to the audience of marketers and entrepreneurs that are listening?
Whitney: I think I will go with a quote that I enjoy “you know what to do”, I think so often we sit and wonder like what’s the perfect path. What’s the way that we can get there the best, fastest, all that sort of things. You know what to do. You have to make a decision and go one direction and go all-in on it. Because at the end of the day it isn’t about execution, there is no perfect idea, so getting started and just going for it on one path, you know what to do, you know what that path is, go for it.
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