Question Everything: An Interview with David Hassell
This interview is part of our Entrepreneur Interview series.
A startup has to originate from somewhere, right? In this case, David Hassell's 15Five started from the simple notion that communication could be improved within organizations by asking each employee to take 15 minutes a week to provide written feedback to his or her supervisor. We recently had the chance to sit down with David to discuss his employee feedback tool and why be believes that all companies should give it a chance.
Want to help your company streamline internal communication and feedback? Give them a try at 15Five.com.
Take Your Team to an Off-site
1. You’re a huge proponent for understanding your WHY. Whether this be as an individual or an organization. Why is this important to understand and how can companies uncover their purpose and grow as a result?
We are all hard-wired to seek meaning. So discovering and codifying your WHY is the reason that people will demand your product or service over that of a competitor. Consumers are growing ever more sophisticated in their product choices, and constantly align with a message. They want to be part of something they believe in, and will show their allegiance by purchasing your offering.
Workers in today’s knowledge-based industries (software developers, designers, marketers, business development professionals) are also driven by the desire to find meaning. Beyond just making money or having benefits, living one’s purpose satisfies the highest level of human needs. To recruit, hire, and retain brilliant and innovative people, you will have to respond to that need. Your WHY is also what will inspire your employees’ diligence and creativity during the smooth and challenging times.
Uncovering your purpose before you launch is ideal, but not completely necessary. Many companies repeatedly change brand strategies and taglines until they find one that sticks, and creating a WHY is no different.
Take your leadership team to an off-site where they can focus on just this strategy for a day or two. Don’t focus on what will provide the most revenue or what you think your customers want to hear. Instead, ask questions that will elicit your core values and determine what each of you holds sacred as a person. Then find the one thing that really drives you. What is your one mission in the world? How do you want to be an agent of change and help people? That is your WHY.
Present your values and mission to the company and enroll people in them. Put these messages on the wall, post them on your website. Make it part of the daily conversation, and regularly ask your employees how they have lived one value or the other. You will slowly build a culture around those ideas, and from there a more powerful and profitable company than ever before.
15Five is About Reaching Your Potential
2. Was there a certain experience (good or bad) that led you to begin your company 15Five?
It wasn’t just one experience, a desire developed over time to help people to reach their highest potential -- what Maslow referred to as ‘self-actualization’ at the pinnacle of his hierarchy of needs. Even from my earliest days as an entrepreneur, I had this innate desire to share my thoughts and my philosophies, suggesting things to study or programs to take, to facilitate connections between remarkable people.
I was introduced to the concept of a 15/5 report by Brad Oberwager. He’d learned about the concept from his father who’d been a multiple Inc 500 winner, and implemented it inside of his company, Sundia. His father had read about the practice which was developed by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard wanted to stay in the loop with his company while he was adventuring away from the office for weeks or months at a time. He asked all of his employees to spend 15 minutes each week writing about their successes and challenges, and reviewed the responses in about five minutes.
15Five was my opportunity to scale connections between people, rather than helping individuals one at a time. I wanted to help organizations and everyone in them reach their potential individually and collectively and become ‘organizationally-actualized’.
Even a Great Idea is Only an Idea Until You Make it Real
3. Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Who or what inspired you to become who you are today?
I’ve known that I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was in 2nd grade, when I started my first “enterprise” with a fellow classmate. It took us until 8th grade to come out with our first line of products, specialty chocolates we made at home and sold at school. Unfortunately we had a falling out over how to use the proceeds of the business!
I remember my Mom giving me a clipping from the NY Times, which I hung on my mirror during that period of my life. It said “Even a great idea is only an idea until you make it real.” I remember that really having a profound impact on me -- one, that I could actually take ideas and make them real, and two, that ideas are cheap and execution is everything. I also saw my parents work so hard and such long hours to make our lives and educations possible, for which I’m eternally grateful. However I decided I wanted to chart my own course, to have more freedom to pursue my ideas and make the real, so entrepreneurship was an obvious choice.
Always Share Customer Success Stories
4. You explain in a recent Forbes interview that customer service is everyone’s responsibility. How can a large organization embrace this belief for all its employees?
I know this is going to sound strange coming from someone who developed a communication tool, but it’s about communication. It’s easy for employees to work with blinders on, work diligently at their tiny part of the whole, and forget about the end-user of the product.
Have an ongoing conversation about why you are providing your product or service to others. Share customer success stories across the entire company, so that the team stays customer-focused. For example, an employee recently discovered another unsolicited media-mention from one of our favorite customers and advocates. The entire company had an email discussion about what brand of scotch to send him as a thank you. This is an extreme example not repeatable at large companies, but it demonstrates how communication facilitates genuine customer appreciation throughout an organization.
Larger organizations can really benefit from having company values around customer service. Ours is “commit to customer success and delight." Every team member stays focused on providing value to our customers, even those who never communicate directly with them. Once the value is established and becomes part of your organization’s DNA, it gives employees the autonomy to express it in whatever way feels natural. Some will use humor, others have a deeply nurturing spirit. The customer will feel that someone at the company had a genuine appreciation for their experience every time they use the product.
PR and Content Marketing Will Continue to Grow
5. Having worked with Onboardly for awhile now, how has PR and content marketing contributed to the growth of your company? Where do you see the future of these marketing channels going?
PR and content marketing have been a huge part of our growth. We have many customers who have benefitted tremendously from using 15Five and they love to tell their colleagues about us. Other than that, we have relied exclusively on PR and content marketing -- our own blog posts, contributions to other high-traffic blogs, and coverage by large media outlets like Entrepreneur, Forbes, and TechCrunch.
Our product is inextricably bound up with our business philosophies. Topics like employee engagement, supportive leadership and management strategies, improved communication, and company culture really speak to people who would benefit from the employee feedback application we offer. Readers click a link, land on our website, and often take advantage of our free 30-day trial. I think that almost any SaaS company can benefit from this model, an extremely low-cost method to nurture leads.
PR and content marketing will continue to grow as more and more people trade-in print media sources to get their information online. And as long as advertising dollars keep flowing and ad-targeting continues to improve, there will be no shortage of outlets for great blog posts and articles.
6. Any pro tips, tricks, or things you have never shared before (that you will for us) that have helped you launch or grow your company?
Question everything. Just because everyone else runs out to raise money right off the bat, doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action or that you should follow suit. We went a long way on sweat equity which I believe helped us lay a very solid foundation of product and culture. For each round of financing we raised, from our Friends and Family to a larger seed, I always operated as if that was the last money we’d ever raise, but structured things so that it would be easy from a legal and structural standpoint to do a next round if we decided to. This is a bit counter to the traditional approach in Silicon Valley today, where so much focus is placed on just raising the next round of financing that I think often leads to not giving full attention to what matters most in the end -- building a great business.
David Hassell is a serial entrepreneur and presently Founder & CEO of 15Five, a SaaS company that enables organizations to streamline communication and feedback. Hailed by Fast Company as the "15 Most Important Minutes of Your Work Week" 15Five creates an internal communication process that allows the most important information to ﬂow seamlessly throughout an organization, to surface issues before they become problems, to celebrate wins, discover great ideas and stay tuned in to the morale of the team. David formerly served as President of the San Francisco chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization and was named "The Most Connected Man You Don't Know in Silicon Valley" by Forbes. Follow him on Twitter @dhassell.