OWEN: My guest today is Boris Mordkovich and he is the co-founder of EVELO Electric Bicycles. Boris, welcome to the show.
BORIS: Thank you. A pleasure to be here today.
OWEN: This show is all about getting entrepreneurs on here who have systematized their business and have it so that it runs without them successfully without them having to be involved in the day-to-day. And we want to always showcase exactly step-by-step how you did that. But before we get into that lets get the listeners excited about what’s going on in your business. What are some mind-blowing results that you now experience as a result of going through that process of systematizing and automating your business?
BORIS: Sure. I think one of the most impressive things and one of the things that we’re most proud of is we’ve been able to double our revenue. Essentially go from around 2 million to 4 million this year without really having to raise the headcount. We just added a couple of people. We’re just able to get a lot more out of every team member.
OWEN: That’s awesome. You also mentioned that you’re also getting some high marks regarding customer service. What’s that?
BORIS: Absolutely. There’s been a couple of things. On the business revenue side it’s been very positive. But also we’ve been able to fine tune a lot of the business operations. For example we constantly get incredible customer service comments from our users who are really very happy about the service that they get and how quickly they get it. But the interesting part about it is that a lot of the things that we do are actually automated. Again, it makes it easier for our customer service folks to be on top of things, and it makes our users happier.
OWEN: Okay, great. How has your company been transformed as a result of systematizing the business?
BORIS: It’s a great question. We started with just two people. When we started to evaluate it was just myself and my co-founder who’s actually my brother. And as you know, in the beginning of any startup it’s a little bit of a mess. We were still trying to figure everything out how to do every operation, how to sell the product. And really it’s just the two of us, so very tricky, very hard, and very, very time consuming where both of us are working pretty much 24 hours a day. As things started to progress we begin to look at automation as a way to essentially as a necessity to grow the company. Because the reality is that you can’t really do everything yourself. So we started to rely on a lot of tools and processes to kind of automate a lot of our tasks and allow us to expand our effectiveness. So automation not only allowed us to kind of get our own schedule on control but it also allowed us to grow the business at a really fast pace without having to grow the team as quickly.
OWEN: Awesome. How has your personal life been transformed as a result of systematizing and automating your business?
BORIS: It’s a great question. To be honest I love work so I don’t necessarily have a desire to kind of automate everything and then just relax in the beach. However…
OWEN: Why not?
BORIS: I’ll definitely get into that as you gone through the conversation. But I’ve always been a little bit of a workaholic and I derive a lot of pleasure from solving problems, working with people, and turning ideas into something tangible. But at the same time I’m also kind of a believer in work-life balance. So one of my personal passions has been language study. One of the things that I was able to do about a year and a half is because of all the automation that we had in place and because of how our team was already able to pretty much handle everything I was able to take off 3 months and go to China and basically spent 3 months there just studying Mandarin.
BORIS: That was really important to me and I have to credit the processes that we set up in the company.
OWEN: You also mentioned something about one of the things you guys do in your company with your team members is to constantly try to get rid of your own jobs and theirs too.
BORIS: Yeah. You have to be careful how you phrase it not to scare all the team members. But essentially that’s exactly right. Pretty much whenever somebody comes on board and once after a couple of months of them learning the operations we tell them that the long-term vision is essentially for them to replace themselves. They basically need to figure out a way how they can delegate and outsource their own tasks to the more junior people. Follow them in a way so that they can free up their own time to…
OWEN: Sort of move to the next level in their career. It’s not like as if they’re replacing themselves out of a job. It’s to advance to the next level.
BORIS: Exactly. Just as an example, in our business it’s very hard to find really talented product managers or product developers. One of the things philosophically that we like to do is we like to promote within the company. But when we were just getting started we didn’t really have enough budget to hire product managers, nor do we have enough work to justify a full-time position. But now we’ve essentially been able to groom a couple of our early employees to progress from their initial roles, let’s say sales people, to more of a product development role. And they were able to do it and they are able to do it because from day 1 we basically tell them that. They’ll look for ways to essentially replace us all.
OWEN: And you also mentioned something about how you guys work remotely. How does that play into a role of your personal life being transformed?
BORIS: Our company is a little bit unique. Not necessarily unique kind of e-commerce but unique in the sense that we deal with a physical good. We build and sell electric bicycles. So we have to manufacture them, store them in the warehouse, ship them, repair them, all these things. But at the same time our entire company is actually remotely based. So we have about 14 people at this time. And pretty much everybody works wherever they desire. And this also gives a lot of flexibility to, let’s say right now I’m happy living in New York and working out here. but let’s say that half a year later when the winter comes and I just want to go to Bail, Indonesia and spend 3 months there, no problem. We’re equipped to be able to handle that. And again, it takes a while to get to that point but it’s been working very well for us.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Since you have systems in place that allows it to run without you I’m assuming that the longest time you’ve actually been away from the business is that 3 months that you were in China.
BORIS: That was one example. That was something that I essentially did for myself. There’s another kind of story that we’d like to share sometimes. When we’re starting the company and just kind of getting our name out there it was challenging because we sell a fairly expensive product that starts from, let’s say $2,000 and we sell it online.
OWEN: For a bike? Wow, that’s impressive.
BORIS: Yeah. You have to get people to trust you. You have to earn their trust. You have to earn a certain degree of credibility. You have to do that. We came up with an idea of organizing a bike trip from New York City to San Francisco. The purpose of that was essentially prove that our bike can handle virtually any terrain. I learned a lot about our own customers, learned a lot about our own products, and make improvements as we went. And again, just imagine that you kind of take two and a half to three months to go on a bike trip across the country. Without having these processes, and systems, and the right team members in place your business would essentially grind to a halt. But with us it worked.
OWEN: I totally get that. Just to give the listeners a context as to what your business is all about, I’m sure they have some clues so far. But what exactly does your company do and what big pain or problem do you solve for your customers?
BORIS: Sure. We essentially design, build, and distribute electric bicycles to people who really thought that they would never really bike again, either because of age, or fitness concerns, or where they live. And we do all of that direct to consumer because it allows us to stay more competitive and provide more value to the customer. And it’s interesting, the way that we always like to look at it is our products give people an ability to get back into the bike. They’re able to have more fun, they’re able to get in shape and do things that they previously thought that they’d never be able to do on a conventional bike.
OWEN: Okay. Is the company profitable? What was last year’s annual revenue and what do you probably do this year?
BORIS: Sure. We did about 2 million in revenue last year. And this year we’re on track to do around 4 million.
OWEN: That’s awesome.
BORIS: Yes, we are profitable.
OWEN: We’ve shared the results you’ve gotten from systematizing and automating parts of your business but we are sure that it wasn’t always like this. Take us back to when the company was not systematized and automated like it is now. What was wrong with it?
BORIS: Sure. A number of things… I think that on a personal level and a professional level the problem was in the early days because everything was kind of ad hoc, a manual. Whether we were putting together a financial report or writing a response to a customer, everything just takes more time. It’s more messy, it’s more stressful, and it’s hard to grow from that because you just keep everything essentially in your own head and it’s difficult for any of the employee to come in and figure out what they need to do.
OWEN: So in the pre-interview you mentioned how everybody was stressed, but you also mentioned how employees were having to do a lot of multi-tasking. Talk about that.
BORIS: Sure. Before there is a specific system of how to do things and place what everybody essentially becomes is they become a servant to their email account in a sense. They just come in and we just deal with that, and we try to put out all the fires, and we deal with all of the pressing issues of that day. But, again, we don’t do it in an efficient way. We never actually have enough time to spend on strategic thinking about our business. And everybody kind of always feels overwhelmed. One second somebody can be dealing with an angry customer. Another second they can be handling a sales call. Even though some level of multi-tasking is good, but if there’s no rhyme or reason to it it’s just very stressful.
OWEN: So no defined roles and processes, hence, causing the multi-tasking. You also mentioned one of the lowest point back then was coming close to running out of cash. Talk about that.
BORIS: Sure. I think this is kind of the nightmare situation for a lot of business owners and young companies. For us in the very beginning we funded the company with our own funds, so myself and my brother. And during the first year or so, because again, we’re a very capital intensive business. We have to build a lot of products. We have to store it. There would be instances where you’re fairly close to running out of cash and you don’t necessarily know… If you don’t meet the sales targets you may have trouble meeting payroll for a couple of months. And I would definitely say this is one of the lowest points, one of the most stressful times in my own experience.
OWEN: I’m wondering how does lack of systems pay a role in that, running out of cash?
BORIS: I think that if we dig down to where are systems most important I would say is in finances. Because if a business does not have a good way of accounting for expenses, income, or just keeping track and be able to report on things. It’s so easy to run into trouble. Just to get in the beginning you do it all yourself. You kind of figure it out. Over time you need to bring in a professional, say a bookkeeper or an accountant. And you have to work together to actually put systems in place to make sure that you don’t have a surprise at the end of the month,
OWEN: Especially in your case because you’re e-commerce, so you inventory is actually the cash, the parts and all those. And that’s actually cash tied up as that inventory.
BORIS: Sure. At any given time we can have half a million or more just tied up in an inventory in our warehouse. So we have to be very, very careful about how we manage that.
OWEN: Do you remember a specific instance, like a breaking point where you something happened and you’re like, “No, I have to change stuff.” That actually prompted you to change and systematize and automate the business? Was there some specific instance or something that happened like that?
BORIS: For me I can’t really say there was a single point because I tend to feel that a lot of things in business are kind of a natural evolution to hear about these rags to riches story or an overnight millionaire success story. And what’s missing behind that is years of work. In most of my own experiences I find that things don’t necessarily just happen as kind of a single breaking moment where just have…
OWEN: It’s a bunch of them happening.
BORIS: Once we started to hire more people it was a very natural evolution because we knew that with more people you can’t really do things the same way anymore. Because in the beginning the founders just keeping everything… intuition. They kind of have this intuitive way of how they…
OWEN: …things should work.
BORIS: Exactly. But as people are coming on board they’re not mind readers. So if you want to be able to successfully delegate the work you have to find ways to write it down, pass it on, give people also some room to grow.
OWEN: What was the very first step that you took to systematize and automate the business?
BORIS: For us I would say that one of the… We started kind of pursuing the low hanging fruit first. One of the first steps that we did was automating a lot of our email communication and marketing. In most businesses that rely on email a lot, whether you have communication with customers or marketing we have to write and do a lot of things over and over and over again. And we found ourselves in the same situation where, let’s say we get dozens and dozens of inquiries and questions from customers a day. And every time we would be writing the same responses over and over again. It’s just a waste of time. So that was the first thing that we started to automate.
OWEN: So email is the first thing because you found that you’re writing the same emails over and over again. I’m wondering was this kind of like emails in regards to customer support emails or emails in the form of marketing emails? I just want to dive in a layer deep.
BORIS: It would be both. Let’s say for customer support, right now for 90% of the customer questions that come in we typically already have a canned response, like a pre-written support response that we can take, modify a few things and send it over. And so it will reduce let’s say the average response time from 7 minutes that we need to write out an email to maybe 2 to 3 minutes.
BORIS: And for marketing it’s the same thing. We’re able to follow-up customers more effectively and checking with them.
OWEN: What was the second step you took to systematize the business?
BORIS: We found a lot of success with part-time contractors for specific tasks in the beginning.
OWEN: Why part-time and not full-time? I’m just curious.
BORIS: In the beginning we had the classic problem of too many things to do and not enough time or money to hire full-time people to do it. One way to get around that is to really identify specific things that you need to do, and to find people that are interested in a part-time gig or in part-time, long-term responsibility and work with them. It works out well because a lot of our full-time employees now started off as part-timers 2 or 3 years ago.
OWEN: Okay. I guess that’s smart because then you step them up from part-time into more full-time in their role. And also at that point you also have a lot more work to justify them being full-time.
BORIS: Yeah. There’s this one particular website that I’ve come across years ago and I really liked is called hiremymom.com. What it does is it connects business owners with stay at home parents, mothers and fathers. And it’s fascinating because most of their people they’re professionals who decided to take off a few years from their work to take care of and raise their families. But they want to work. They have a ton of skills to offer. And all that they need is flexibility, flexibility in their scheduling, and when they work, or from they work. And for us it’s perfect because it allows us to tap into a really talented, smart, capable work force at a fraction of the price that we would pay for a full-time employee.
OWEN: And what other steps did you take back then to systematize the business?
BORIS: We deal with a lot of physical goods that we manufacture and we sell. It’s a very…
OWEN: Before you even answer the question, that intrigues me because I can see how when it’s a remote company and you’re doing work that is not involved in any kind of physical goods it makes a lot of sense. But when it’s a company where there are physical parts like a bicycle that needs to be put together and sent to somebody I’m looking forward to kind of seeing how that works from your standpoint as well. Go ahead with your answer for these questions.
BORIS: Absolutely. It is interesting because it takes two approaches that are typically thought up as being incompatible with each other then makes it work. Right now we work with two factories in Asia, one of them in Taiwan, one of them in South China. We have a warehouse in Seattle. From the early days of our company we essentially thought about what kind of a company do we want to become. What sort of things do we want to nurture as far as our capabilities, as far as our strengths. And we knew that we didn’t necessarily want to become really good at working at a warehouse. Picking and packing the products it needs to be done, but it can be done just as well when being outsources to somebody else. What we wanted to do was be really good at design, manufacturing, and marketing. Those are the things that we essentially took under our wing and we would typically have our core team focusing on that. And everything else we just started to outsource to others.
OWEN: Okay. So basically you focused on design, manufacturing, and the marketing, and assuming also the customer support. But the actual fulfillment of delivery, that’s sent to a warehouse or some other third party that that’s what they’re in the business for.
BORIS: Exactly. For example we have a warehouse that we work with in Seattle. We worked on it for about four and a half years already and about half a year ago we actually opened up a small office next to the warehouse. Now about two out of our 14 employees they’re actually based in the office, the other 12 are remote. And what that allows us to do is again it allows us to outsource the warehousing but at the same time be close where we can stop by every week and oversee the process, correct any problems, and be involved as well.
OWEN: That’s awesome. How did you even back then prioritize what order of steps to take? How did you decide what problems to create systems for first and what ones to create the system for next? I’m just trying to find out the reasoning or decision making factor that you have in place then?
BORIS: Sure. In the first couple of years I want to say that generally things have been driven what was on fire at any given time. And again, I think that a lot of business owners that are starting a business in the first 1 or 2 years it’s kind of like that because you don’t know what to expect necessarily. You don’t know what tomorrow or the next month will bring. But now we’re kind of maturing and this is our fifth year already. We like to think that we’re becoming a little bit more sophisticated and liberated about how we’re doing things. We tried to be very deliberate about thinking what are the key things that we need to do now in order to move the business forward. And then once we can define that it allows us to really focus just on that and everything else we know is a distraction.
OWEN: And using an analogy to kind of make this clear to the listeners. Think of it as a burning house with multiple levels. You’re on level 1 in the business. When you come in you’re looking at which part of the house… the first level is burning the most. Let me go ahead and quench it. When you’re done quenching the fire the fire in the living room maybe is burning the most. Then you know there’s another burning in the kitchen and you start clearing that up. And then eventually to move to the next level in the business you go up the stairs and now you’re seeing new fires to quench. But you have to first of all get to the ground floor first to get there.
BORIS: That’s exactly right.
OWEN: I’m wondering, when exactly back then did you document procedures and processes for the business? What tools did you even use then?
BORIS: At this particular time I would say that in addition to the traditional tools like Dropbox, Google Docs, we’re really big on using Trello. It’s a project management software. We really like to use Slack for communication within the team. But the two tools that we probably spend most of our time on are going to be, one of them is called Freshdesk and it’s a software that also connects our internal knowledge base of answers to various questions. And then the other one is a CRM software called OnePage CRM that we use to basically define for every contact that comes to us what is the next step? Do we need to follow-up with them? If so, when? If so, what do we need to say, that sort of thing.
OWEN: Okay. Freshdesk was like a model of the customer support and OnePage CRM was kind of the customer relationship management tool where you have all the data on that very customer and all the interactions all starting in there as well, right?
OWEN: Okay. And so did you have any kind of checklist in place, or you didn’t have a need for that?
BORIS: Right now I would say that we do use checklists and procedures in place when we start to train people. They give us a sort of framework for how do bring somebody up to speed. Then it gives them kind of a reference point that they can go back to. But I would say that our focus right now is to put a lot of emphasis into training people. But we always try to get them involved in the big picture.
OWEN: How so?
BORIS: I think that when we were hiring a lot of contractors and people for a specific role, for a specific duty, we would use a lot of checklist because they would need to know exactly what needs to be done, and they weren’t really invested in the business. So our expectation was small. We did that then on a regular basis. But with the in-house staff that we have now we want them to know how their responsibilities connect in the big picture. For example, we’re right now working to implement…
OWEN: Is that like kind of an open book finance management things?
BORIS: Yeah, sure. That’s exactly what we’re working to implement right now. Whereas with the open book finance you as an employee have access to all the revenues, all of the expenses, all of the numbers of the company, and you have control over setting what the goals are for the year. And then you also know how everything connects. You know how your responsibilities connect to the common goals. You know how the common goals connect to your year-end bonus and stock options. And our idea is that once a person is trained and once they get the core competencies down I want them to be able to work towards goals without us necessarily needing to give them a specific step-by-step process.
OWEN: Okay. So it’s kind of like if you know how your work ends up benefiting the company, and you also are rewarded based on the benefits of your work that you do contributes to the company. Then it kind also keeps you in line with making sure that you do the work so that you can reap the end benefit.
BORIS: Exactly. Let’s say that a customer service manager they have two of their goals for the year. One of them contribute to the profitability of the company, another one is make customers happy. And so if that’s the case, if you know that these are your two goals and you have an angry customer on the line you know that either, for example you can send them a gift basket, or overnight a part, or do whatever you need to do. And we don’t restrict you for what you do, but you know that your two goals are customer happiness and profitability. And every action that you make should go either towards one or towards the other.
OWEN: And so at the time when you were systematizing the business and automating parts of it I’m wondering what books or mentors had the most influence on you and why.
BORIS: Sure. There’s a couple of blogs that I really like. I read these blogs because I feel that they kind of demonstrate a real live picture of how another company’s struggling to their problems. So the two companies that I follow that write great blogs, one of them is called buffer, and the other one is called Groove HelpDesk, and they’re at groovehq.com. Both of them they write a lot about the challenges with startup and how they automate, and systematize a lot of their processes. It’s really, really useful.
OWEN: Okay. So those are the two biggest ones. And then I think you also mentioned something about The Great Game of Business.
BORIS: Exactly. One of the books that I’ve recently read that I really enjoyed is called The Great Game of Business. Essentially it’s a book that shows how other companies have tried to create an environment within their team where decision making can be made on every level of the company. Again, there’s lots of ways to approach it. You can approach it just from the point of checklist. You can approach it just from the point of, “Here’s your big goal for the year and this is what you need to do.” The reality probably lies somewhere in the middle where you want to take the best out of always in doing business and kind of adapt it to your own company.
OWEN: I think you mentioned some important point during the pre-interview. Automation isn’t just about using tools, it’s also about removing yourself from the small decisions. Basically the employees to make decisions without you, I think that’s what you mean by that. If we only talk about the successes you’ve been able to get as a result of implementing the changes you’ve been discussing so far and don’t talk about the challenges then we don’t give a full, well-rounded picture of what really happened. What will you say was the biggest challenge you experienced when you initially tried to systematize your business?
BORIS: I would say one of the biggest challenges is typically to get the employee buy it. Because the way that we try to do things is we want people to understand why we want to take a particular action or implement a new system, and have them be on board with it. We don’t want to force people because you can’t really force somebody to do something that they don’t really want to do in the whole anyway. For us, if we ever bring in a new system in place, in the beginning there can be a little bit of frustration because there is a learning curve. It’s different from the way that we’ve been doing things before. And sometimes it’s hard to see the long-term benefit with the short term pain. But once you get the employee buy-in…
OWEN: I guess getting the buy-in was the issue but how did you solve that problem of getting them to buy into it?
BORIS: We tell people a lot of the times that in order for you to be able to progress professionally and be able to handle more responsibility, involved in more strategic parts of the business this is a necessity. You kind of have to find ways to automate the simple tasks. And I think that once people understand that it’s in their own best interest they’re more…
OWEN: I guess make them understand and prove that it also is in their best interest is the second part of that. What was the second biggest challenge that you experienced when you initially tried to systematize the business?
BORIS: Well, we’re pretty big on data and tracking pretty much everything that we do. And when we do this we realize that sometimes things backfire. Let’s say as an example we have a sales team of three people and they all have their own approach to doing things. And they’ve been doing it for a couple of years. Let’s say that we come in and we want to systematize it and essentially tell them, “From now on this is how you follow up with every customer. This is the email that you write. This is what you should do.” And the problem is this sort of thinking can actually do more damage than good. Part of what makes people effective is being able to maintain their own voice and personality, and creativity. And I think that part of the mistake and the challenge is… The mistake is for the top management to think that they always know the best way to do things. In fact most of the time I think that they don’t. And the challenge is to know when is it appropriate to step in and to automate certain things and when is it better to actually give people the freedom to do their own thing.
OWEN: Okay. What other challenges did you even experience as you try to create systems initially for the business?
BORIS: In addition to the employee buy-in and knowing what to focus your energy on I would say is one of the key elements. Let’s put it this way, as we grow to about 14 people and continue to expand over the years I would say that one of our key challenges today is to find people who are comfortable within the working environment that we set-up, which means, again, working remotely, which means knowing when to follow instructions and when you’re expected to take initiative, being able to function without somebody looking over your shoulder to prod you to finish something. I’d say that this is what really kind of keeps me up at night now, how do we make sure that we hire the right people and train them in a way that they fit within the overall culture.
OWEN: And so given all the challenges that you mentioned earlier I’m wondering why did you even stay committed to the goal of systematizing the business?
BORIS: In part I would say it’s because we can. One of the best things about having an e-commerce business and doing business online is that it just makes it really easy and you kind of almost float towards the systematization because there are all these tools out there that can help you systematize things. There are all these ways in how you can track and increase your effectiveness. The way that we look at it is systematization and automation of a certain kind it’s one of the key ways for us to stay ahead of our competition. So if we’re able to do the same thing effectively and in less time, have us cost less money it’s going to give us a real advantage over our competition. On a personal level I’ve always thought that in a business what you sell and what your product is, let’s say 50%-60% of your business and your business success. The other 40%-50% is actually the internal workings on the company and how things are structured. Again, I think that systematizing the business is exactly that, like that’s responsible for 40%-50% of your business success.
OWEN: That’s great. I want to bring the listener to a more current time in the story. At what point in time will you say that you were able to systematize the entire business and actually have it run without you successfully?
BORIS: A lot of it happened after we raised our first round of financing last year. Before that, before we raised money from investors I would say that we were in a mindset of a small business. The way that we grew, the way that everything was centralized, it was just a small business mentality over all. And when we raised the amount of funding, which wasn’t necessarily huge, and it wasn’t really going to make or break us. But it forced us to think as a larger company. And one of the key elements in a large company is that anybody can be replaced. Of course we don’t want to fire anybody and that’s not really the intention, but coming back to the earlier point, whether you’re a senior executive or a supervisor we want everybody to essentially train people under them to be able to replace them later on. And I would say that now we have people in our team that within a another year or two, again, that is pretty much every aspect of our operations. And personally the reason that I would want to get to the point of being able to step away is not because I want to leave or go on a vacation but I think that for me it would allow me to focus on other parts of the business. And for our team it’s very important to be able to give them opportunities to progress in order to motivate them.
OWEN: Now that we’re talking about how the business currently works right now I’m also wondering if you were to kind of give us behind the scenes of the different parts of the business. Imagine you have a conveyor belt where on one hand there’s somebody who’s trying to get an electric bike from you guys. And on the other end of that conveyor belt is they bought the electric bike from you guys and they’re raving about you through everybody. I’m wondering what are the different parts in the business that makes that transformation happen? And feel free to start from how you get the attention of that potential buyer in the first place?
BORIS: It’s a difficult question in a way that… Let’s say that right now our business is evenly divided into sales, marketing, customer service, production, and research. So for us each one of these departments have to run smoothly in order for everything to work. It’s also interesting too because in a way we’re a seasonal business. So we’re very tied to the highs and lows of the biking season. For example timing is also important. It’s very important that everybody’s attuned and works on the same pace in order to get stuff done.
OWEN: Okay. I’m also trying to find out the different parts of the business and how they all integrate with each other to get that listener to buy at the end. Can you just give us a work through of how that happens?
BORIS: Sure. In the very beginning, let’s say we can spend half a year designing a bike. Once the product is put together we’ll essentially begin working with the engineers at our factory to bring it to life, and to start mass production. During that we’ll be fine tuning some of the issues. Once the bikes are in mass production, we again manufacture everything, bring it to the U.S., and bring it to our warehouse, make sure that everything’s fully tested. And at that point the sales and marketing team takes over to make sure that the product gets into the hands of the customers. The customer service essentially serves as the post… Once a customer gets a bike we want to be there for them for years to come. If they have questions, problems, just want to chat to somebody we have a customer service team that’s kind of attuned to that.
OWEN: Okay. You’ve mentioned some of this already but I’m wondering the ones you’ve not mentioned yet. What systems have you set-up in place to make sure that your employees know exactly what they need to do at all times?
BORIS: In the beginning the initial training of course plays a big role in this because I think that the first month of any new employee is really critical. After the initial training is done one of the things that we do frequently is we try to direct people buy objectives rather than buy particular directions for tasks. In a way that we want people to know what’s important and what they need to do, and give them flexibility to accomplish that.
OWEN: So you’re giving them a framework on which to act upon and how they act within that framework, as long as they’re acting within that framework that’s the important thing.
BORIS: Correct. And it doesn’t necessarily happen on day 1. Let’s say that today you’ve asked 4 years in the business. We already developed a certain way that we like to do things. It doesn’t mean that things can be different and that they should not be changed. In fact they should be. Let’s say the first few months of a new employee we do give them directions. We tell them, “This is why we do something. This is where we’ve learned it in the past.” And then after they adapt to that then we essentially tell them, anything that you see for improvement, anything that where you think you can make the processes better, let’s do it. Bring out the ideas we’ll discuss and then implement.
OWEN: Okay. I’m also wondering regarding the work that they’re actually doing for you how do you track and verify the results being delivered by the employees?
BORIS: In a couple of reasons… We have a monthly all hands meeting where we sit down and really review everything from every single department. We have essentially an accountant or a bookkeeper that we work with to work on the numbers. And then we also have another system where we have this chat with the CEO program. Every week I’ll typically connect with about four or five of our customers picked in random, and we’ll talk about their experience with the company, with their product. It’s a really good way to see how well things are going, because the customers will tell you right away if they’re not happy.
OWEN: Okay. I see how now you’re getting their own feedback in real-time as to what is being delivered. So not only are you tracking internally the results but you’re also getting the sentiment and the feeling of the customers regarding what is being delivered to them and how they feel from their end.
OWEN: Okay. Since we have more free time now in the business I’m wondering which areas you focus on now in the business and why.
BORIS: At this stage of the company I believe that the main responsibility of the CEO is to first of all make sure that we have a great team in place. And even more importantly make sure that they have opportunities to grow and prosper, that every team member basically sees a sort of path for themselves. The second thing I would say is to make sure that we have enough money in the bank at any given time, and dealing with investors. And finally since my own background is in sales. This is something that I’m very closely involved with, just making sure that our revenue and profit arguments are also being met.
OWEN: Okay. What is the next growth for the business? What do you plan to achieve next and why?
BORIS: A great question. Let’s put it this way. I think that a lot of what we do has to do with having challenges and being able to learn new skills. In a sense, last year or as a company we were constantly learning how to, let’s say make better bikes, how to design better, how to manufacture better. And all of us like to have challenges that we can approach and over time… I would say in this kind of quote that I read somewhere is that every business has problems, it’s just at a certain point of your business you have better problems. I want our company and our people to get better at what we do. And the other thing is it’s still a very young industry. And what that means is that there’s real potential to build this into a household brand within the industry. I believe that we have the necessary elements already in terms of product, in terms of team, in terms of our operations to really build a long-lasting, great bike company.
OWEN: And so as we come to the end of the interview if you were to leave the listener with the steps they should take, the very next step they should take to get their business to the point where it actually can run successfully without them what will you tell them?
BORIS: First and foremost I would say you got to be crystal clear in terms of what the business objectives are. Because in the beginning for a lot of business during the first few years is typically revenue and profitability. Because of you can’t get the revenue and profitability then a lot of the other things don’t matter. But the challenge that I think a lot of the listeners and myself face is that it’s very easy to get distracted. Distracted by email, distracted by responsibilities and don’t really matter that much in the long run. So you really just got to figure out what’s important, what’s going to drive the business forward over the next year or so, and really just focus on that. I know that a lot of the people that have listened to the podcast are interested in systematization and automation. And personally what I found success with is that before creating a system or automating a particular process it does help to have people do it manually first for some time, to learn the best way to do it. So in a way it’s absolutely great to systematize things. But you want to first learn the fundamentals, what is it exactly that needs to be done.
OWEN: And so as we come to the end of the interview I’m wondering, is there a question that you were wishing I would’ve asked you that I didn’t ask you so far. And so something that you think will help to well round out the interview that I didn’t get to ask you. So go ahead and ask the question and post the answer if there’s such a question.
BORIS: Sure. I think that one of the questions that always comes to my mind… Actually one of the questions that a lot of our colleagues from other companies oftentimes ask is… They’ll say, “All of this is good but one of the main struggles that we have is let’s say sales and marketing, and actually selling products. What can we do in order to get better with sales and marketing? What can we do in order to actually make revenue? From my perspective, I don’t think that there’s a magic bullet that all of a sudden it can work for everybody. I think that even if another business could copy all of the stuff that we’re doing on a marketing side and they have different results than we do. But I do think that marketing and sales is one of those areas where systematization is really important. In a sense that we for example got to a really good point marketing-wise by systematizing a lot of experiment and tests, in the sense that we will have a process in place for how we will run tests on landing pages, on their ad campaigns, and all of these things. And having that sort of structure allows us to constantly make incremental improvements that over a course, let’s say a year or so add up to a significantly, more effective marketing campaign.
OWEN: What’s the best way for the listener to connect with you and thank you for doing the interview?
BORIS: Sure, it’s my pleasure. The best way is to send me an email. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to hear from anybody.
OWEN: And so now I’m speaking to you the listener. If you’ve enjoyed this interview I want you to do us a favor and leave us hopefully a 5-star review on iTunes. And to get to our iTunes channel go to this website, sweetrprocess.com/iTunes. It will redirect you to our iTunes channel. And then you can leave a review on there. And if you’re at that stage in your business when you are tired of being the bottleneck you want to get everything out of your head so your employees know what you know. You can use your process to document procedures and processes for what you do. And also assign tasks to your employees, manage, and track the progress until they get the work done. Feel free to sign-up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Boris, thanks for doing the interview.
BORIS: Thank you so much Owen, it’s been a pleasure.
OWEN: And we’re done.