It's great to have you, and you are someone who has successfully exited a business. So before we dive in to the meat and potatoes of our discussion today, can you share with us just to set the table for the audience a quick summary of what your company did, when you purchased it, how long you ran it for, and when you exited that business?
Yeah, we purchased E-compliance, which is a health and safety elearning company in 2012. We effectively sold the company that two years later, and used the funds to create a software company under the same name. And ran that company for eight years until the end of 2020. And sold it to a larger, UK based company called Cold Alcumus After running North American operations there for about a year. So it's about a eight year run.
So as somebody who has run a small and medium sized business for eight years, and certainly having the perspective of somebody who has exited, as you kind of zoom out on that entire journey, as difficult as a task I know that is. Can you share with us some of the seemingly small changes that you made as the leader of that company that had an outsized impact? Be it financial, operational, or otherwise?
It's a great question because it's seldom asked. And it did take some reflection, at least on my part, and perhaps some distance and time from running the company. But there was definitely three things that came to mind. The first was collapsing our sales and marketing teams into one team. The second was really getting a great CFO faster. And the third was really treating my leadership team like mini CEOs rather than functional leaders. So all three of those things were more, I guess, organizational in nature. But they all had a huge impact in the long run, and ultimately, I think allowed us to be more successful than not. So I'm happy to deep dive into each of them.
Yeah, let's do a deep dive in any order that you choose.
So the first one collapsing the sales and marketing team. I mean, we had a sales team had a marketing team, and everything was pretty straightforward. But once those teams got over, I don't know, maybe 25, 30, 35 people on a combined basis, I just saw, there's a lot of complexity. There's a lot of meetings, there's different sets of KPIs. And I just felt that the bang for our buck with all the people and resources and talent we had on the team just wasn't as much as I thought it could be. And so, we tried a number of things. And then we realized, as we continue to grow and scale this team, and we had a budget getting up to like 50 or 60 people across those two teams, we realized the current model just wasn't going to work. And so what we did was maybe a little unconventional, I'm not sure. But we created one leader for the entire team. We call it sales and marketing, nothing creative there. Some people will call it a growth team. But we had one common set of of metrics, and one set of meetings.
So decisions weren't made in a silo. And I think the other thing that spurred this decision was we looked at our buyers journey. So how our customers invested in our software, we realized they didn't care about sales or marketing. And they didn't necessarily follow a production line path of inbound and outbound and it goes from marketing, it goes to sales. It wasn't as simple as that. And so I think when we reflected on that, we need to unleash more of the creativity we had across the team and make decisions together rather than separate meetings and memos and all these types of things. In cross functionally working together just wasn't going to cut it. So once once we put those teams together, we had common meetings, planning campaigns, planning priorities, planning goals, being creative, talking about what was working, not working. As a group a lot more in sales and marketing. We had a lot more success. We made decisions faster. We got to the truth a lot faster, and we started having much better results.
Now I'm curious on that one, what was the profile of the leader that ultimately assumed both sales and marketing, because as interrelated as they are, at the end of the day, they are fundamentally different disciplines. And so was it a, quote, salesperson leading the combined entity? Was it a, quote marketing person? Was it more of like a CRO type of profile? What's the profile of the leader?
Yeah, in our case, it was the head of sales it but I don't think it's necessarily one or the other. I think what we realize is that you can have a great leader, who runs that organization who wasn't a marketing expert, but would defer to the great talented marketing people we had on the team when it came to those skill sets. And so that was something that we had to put some trust in, it was a little bit of a leap of faith. But we also realized that it wasn't possible, well, it was possible. But it's not always easy to find someone who's really run and built both functions from the early days, and so we succeeded with having a sales leader in our case, run it, we had a very collaborative team. And it made a big, really outsized difference when we look back on it.
Was there anything specific about your business or your industry or your buyers journey that made this a good idea for the company? I guess, said another way, is this a generalizable lesson that you would apply to, you know, theoretically, the next 10 companies that you would run? Or was there something specific about the context that such that this made the most sense?
I think the context was probably more suited to like a B2B context where you know, the customers don't necessarily buy or purchase in a complete straight line, like in some consumer businesses, not all, it might have more of a straightforward flow of how someone's educated about your product, what that requires, and so on. But later on, I think the buyers became more educated, the sale became more complex, and more fluid, and it didn't follow a straight line, it forced us to develop our content and our processes around our buyers a little differently. And so it wasn't as simple and so we had to make decisions a little differently, we had to produce content a little bit differently and go to market a little bit differently. In all that experimentation, we found that making those decisions together and having maybe a simpler way of looking at the funnel together was probably the only way we were going to do that effectively in our case.
So I don't know if that's applicable to all businesses. But I think one other lesson here might be to not take the function, or what what the title of a function is for what it, don't take it for granted. But don't take it as gospel. The lines between functions in your business is something you define, it's not necessarily something that's defined for you. And you can play with those lines for whatever happens to work. And in our case, collapsing those two teams together worked. And by the way, we are still able to scale those teams to a pretty big size under one leadership. And yes, there's other hierarchies and so on, and processes underneath. But one common goal, one leader, it really worked for us, it really gelled.
Great. The second change you mentioned was hiring a great CFO, so I'd love to dig into that next.
Yeah, I think this was one where I used to think of a great CFO, as someone who, they knew the finance and the accounting stuff inside and out. And later on, it wasn't until we got a great CFO, and I was working with them more closely that I realized there's a lot more that is a great CFO does. And I think at that point, I realized, Oh, I wish I had this person a lot sooner. And reflecting on it, you know, as a CEO, you want to spend your time on the most important things, but also the things that are indispensable to the company that only you can do. And usually those are not the things a great CFO can do and handle. And so what I mean by that is not just the finance and the accounting and all that stuff, of course, but it's it's operational matters. Like, for example, I used to have like our CTO or head of sales, or someone come to me with like a business plan or proposal on, hey, I want to do this, and it cost this much money. And this is the return, this is why we should do it, and so on.
And as someone who loves problem solving and these types of things, I would gravitate to the words that and provide feedback. But a great CFO, I found, you know, if they're the first point of contact for some of that stuff, whether it's formally or informally, they help refine just a better business case with that functional leader, so that when it does come to you as CEO, you actually have something better in front of you to react to. And it also helps train other leaders in your company, but how to communicate decisions or ideas or opportunities. And so it's stuff like that, that I didn't realize till later, is really important. And it builds a lot of strength within the leadership team in the company. And also, you know, that kind of a black hat, head towards the CEO, challenge the CEO, finding someone who's strong enough to challenge you as CEO and your ideas. And your way of thinking, only strengthens you as a CEO when you're communicating with your board or your investors or so on. And so those are some of the things that I wish I had a little earlier on in the journey.
So a couple of comments, and then a follow up question on this. The first comment for whatever it's worth is that I had the exact same experience, if I were to answer the same question that I posed to you, this would probably also be in my top three answers. So I'll put that out there for whatever it's worth. In terms of how any CEO spends their time, I really liked what you said about doing the things that you are uniquely good at. In talking to CEOs about this, I often say hire or delegate until you get to your unique ability. What are you uniquely good at? That's what you should be spending your time on. Everything else, delegate or hire. But here's where the question comes in. And I kind of faced this question myself before I decided to pull the trigger on this hire.
Some CEOs of small businesses will say, look, intellectually, I know I would benefit from a good CFO, but I only have so much free cash flow to play with as a small business. And I'm not sure if I can afford to pay a good one. On the other hand, an external observer might say, well, not only should a good CEO create value to ultimately pay for herself, but she'll create enough value to pay for the next person. So there's a bit of circular logic there saying I can't afford it. But maybe we can't grow until we pay up for someone of this caliber and skill set. How did you guys think about that circular logic, if you dealt with it at all?
Yeah, I mean, in our case, there was a huge gap in, anyways, and so we knew we were going to hire for this role. And so we kind of went into it a little bit more naively, truthfully. And then as things got going, we realized, Wow, there's so much more that this role can do. And it really made me rethink, like, what should I be doing as CEO? Rather than just doing the things that kind of pop up, and you play a game of Whack a Mole, you keep busy, and you feel like you've made progress, but that's not necessarily progress. How I would look at it today, with with your juxtaposition would be, if you're CEO of a small company, you're not sure, then I would say that shouldn't stop you from looking for that person. Because it might take you time to find that person. But once you meet them, and once you find someone who could really add value and be your right hand in the company, because that's what a great CFO is, it's not just finance, accounting or delegation of tasks. He or she could be your right hand in many ways. And that has a lot of benefits, just personally too, but search for that person. Start to meet them, define what what great looks like. And if you meet them, you can make that decision at that time. And if you don't find someone who's that special, then then don't hire.
Yep, yep. That's great. The third seemingly small change that you mentioned, essentially had to do with empowering your leadership team at the risk of putting words in your mouth. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Yeah, we had the VPs of sales, customer success, technology and all that stuff. It looks simple on an org chart, and it makes sense, it's easy to understand. But there was a point, an inflection point in our company that I realized a lot of stuff, a lot of decisions still came in front of me. And a lot of founders, CEOs, they don't mind that, they're used to that it's your inclination to lean in and weigh in on those things. But I asked this question myself, and I think it was one of my mentors, who must have asked me this, he's like, well, if you're going to speed up and grow twice as fast, like, what would that take? And not so much like, oh, we'll grow sales twice as fast but like, what would it physically take in terms of how the company works to do that? And I reflected on that, and I realized, I needed to not only give up control of certain decisions, or areas of responsibility, I needed to help our functional leaders to act more like presidents or CEOs across the company.
And so it really changed my mindset from saying, Hey, we've got a great VP of Customer Success to be like, no, I'm hiring a president, and then their swim lane happens to be customer success. I'm hiring a president or CEO, with someone who has those capabilities, or close to them, or mindset, or leadership potential, but they're swimming is sales, for example. But in in doing this, I needed to also give enough free space and give some room for these leaders to succeed or fail, to work with each other, to lead the organization almost as if I wasn't gonna be there one day, which eventually was going to be the case. And so it part of it was empowering them, part of it was me, only or letting go. But then there was a third part of it, that was really coaching, getting them the professional resources, they need to be a president or CEO one day, even if not all of them wanted to be that, but it was really getting them the resources, they needed to be the best leaders.
And, you know, I'm proud that one of them is a CEO now, and another one is probably, one step pretty close to the way there. So I think that mindset and giving them that free space, and showing them that that is possible when they looked at their careers, whether they liked it or wanted it or not, you know, really allowed them to rise up to their leadership, potential, and then some, and it also helped me, you know, just with this question of like, well, is my head of sales or head of whatever going to be the person I have when our organization is two or 3X the size? And really, you can't answer that question unless you give people some runway to prove it for themselves. So it also helped me answer that question with with those leaders as well. And that that created a big cultural shift, I would say, within our leadership team, and allowed myself as a CEO to really elevate myself as CEO, what I was doing and how I was doing it.
So in when you speak of thinking of members of your leadership team, as many CEOs, I'm curious, tactically, how did you go about implementing this? Like, was this formalized in any way? I don't know, off the top of my head, you know, was there $1 amount under which you said, Hey, you make the decision above the certain dollar amount? I'll make the decision. I mean, tacticly, how did you implement this?
And it's great question there was, there was a couple of things. We created our leadership team and why we created this rise of the dot, dot dot, and you know, we had each leaders name in it. And in this one pager or two pager, we said, well, what will be different as a senior leadership team going forward? What will you as VP of whatever, do differently going forward for all VPs in the company? So we almost set this bar, and if you read it, it was basically the responsibilities of effectively a president or CEO, and we agreed to that as an SLT is like, that's what you as a VP of whatever would be responsible for. And then my responsibility as CEO was really to help them get there. And so writing it down, agreeing to it, bringing it back to two examples. Because inevitably, people's behaviors gravitate back towards what they're used to. So, our head of technology or CTO, would come to me and say, hey, I've got this. And I would say, well, let's go back to this rise of the CTO document.
What do you need to make this decision, because I'm not going to make it for you, it's your decision, right, and really push it back on many of them, but also encourage them and help them get outside resources, or introduce that CTO to other CTOs. You know, rather than look to me, for a final technical decision when I'm not a technical founder, so those little things helped us practice them, but it was definitely hard behavior to shake. And some leaders rose to the occasion more than others, and we're more excited about it. Others were a little, you know, of course, a little anxious about a higher bar. But ultimately, I think it created a lot of self reflection for each of them, because a lot of strengths and weaknesses became apparent in the process for all of us. And we talked about it openly as a group. And that also helped people bond as a team and not not feel like they're being singled out or performance managed, so to speak.
Final question for you. Before we let you go, Adrian, I'm curious. How difficult was that for you personally? And the reason why I asked that is because I think at an intellectual level, almost every CEO that I know, is interested in spending more of their time on the business and less of their time in the business. And so in a way, they kind of all want to let go of the vine so to speak. But in actual practice, this is one of the hardest things for small business CEOs to actually do, despite their preferences to do it. Which is to say that it's really hard. And that's why most people don't do it. I'm curious how difficult was, you know, quote, letting go for you personally?
It was very difficult. Yeah, no, no question. But I was helped by practicing this weekly behavior of when I would show up to Monday meetings or Friday meetings, I would tell, you know, whether I was joining a meeting of a certain team, or whether it was a leadership meeting. I would just repeat what my priorities are, or how I was spending time that week. And so sometimes I would say, well, I'm really interested in helping the sales team with this one problem this week, I want to help, that's going to be you know, my mission for the week, in addition to one other thing. And so it's not that I would completely lean out of all decisions, I would just be very targeted and very transparent with the one or two things I would focus on at whatever level it was.
And I think that helped people understand I wasn't becoming distant from the business or the team or the people, I was actually able to spend more time going deeper, but in a smaller number of things. And I think that also satisfied my own desire to just, you know, continue to, you know, understand and be part of the business and be part of the nervous system of the business, and be responsive to it, but without being all places at all times. And so that's how we kind of got the best of both worlds. But it took me being accountable and kind of me practicing what I was preaching with that on a weekly basis.
Yep, makes sense. Adrian, congratulations on all of your success. I've been admiring it from afar for many years now. And thank you very much for being generous with your time and joining us today.