This article is one in a multi-part interview series with small business owners and experts to discuss their insights and recommendations on productivity, collaboration and business growth. The interviewer, Allen Gannett, is the author of the book The Creative Curve and is the Founder and former CEO of TrackMaven, a marketing analytics company.
What does it take to grow exponentially?
Sangram Vajre knows a thing or two about rapidly scaling a business. He is the co-founder and chief evangelist of Terminus, a hyper-growth technology company based in Atlanta. Last year, Inc. ranked them the 61st fastest growing company in the country. Oh, and he’s written two (really great) books.
I talked to him about dealing with the human-side of growth. Building systems and infrastructure are hard when you are growing from zero to two hundred employees in five years. Sangram and I explored how they facilitated these changes and how they used data to guide the process.
AG: What do you think about the rise of remote work? Do you feel it impedes productivity?
SV: I feel like it’s awesome to walk into an organization, or your building, and see everybody at the same time, and no walls. I’ve started to learn that it looks good, and it’s actually effective for a little bit, but not all of it. I see more people going to conference rooms, or pods to get work done, or start working remotely.
So, I think as much as I love everybody in the office, I think remote work has increased productivity in many ways. It allows them to have flexibility to work from home instead of being in traffic for two or three hours and spend time with kids. Why not create an environment where people can have a choice, be able to do what they need to do?
Man, that’s productivity because you’re happier to do it.
AG: How often do you look to update and re-innovate tools as your business grows?
SV: When we were like 10 people, we didn’t have any business tools or communication problems. But as we started to hit 50 employees, and then 100, and then 200, we had to invest in collaboration software and instant communication platforms so that people [could] talk to each other anywhere at any time.
The power in technology right now, as we have grown, has allowed us to be nimble and fast. The more people we have, the more technology we need to speed up the work in the organization. From chat, to screen-share, to handwritten notes, to video, to all-hands, we use all of these different methods so we can make sure that everybody gets where we’re going, and have the ability to ask questions in the right forum, in the right setting.
AG: With a dispersed team, you said you have multiple offices. How do your employees stay productive and connected?
SV: It has been the beauty of the cloud, everything we do is in the cloud. Every single deck that we have is [there]. People don’t have to save documents, they don’t have to keep emailing attachments. There are a lot of people on the same document, editing the messaging and commenting, giving feedback to each other, so we don’t have a ton of emails going on.
It has allowed us to make high-quality decisions at rapid speed. If you are a business owner, which essentially means that you are a leader of a team, your job is to make decisions, the information is really your currency. If you do not have access to your currency, you can’t get any withdrawal from the bank.
So I look at this as, “How do I get access to the information as quickly as possible, without going through a ton of hoops, and start making decisions to drive the business forward?” And [the] cloud has enable us to do that.
AG: Working smarter not harder is a notorious adage in business. How has technology factored into boosting productivity for you and your team?
SV: Clearly, onboarding for both employees and customers has become super important. Initially, I did this myself for the first 100 customers to sell, I’d hop on every onboarding call and we’d talk about the same things over and over.
We identified that there were areas of this onboarding that they just needed to watch a video. They don’t need a person telling them how to get into a particular system or CRM. So, we identified areas where they needed human interaction and areas where they needed business process automation.
We started creating videos and tutorials for our employees. Same thing with customers. We created Terminus Academy, which is an online learning system for our customers to certify themselves in becoming the superpower, superusers of Terminus. And we have seen people, and customers get certified on their own time as opposed to 2:00 pm in the afternoon when they are busy.
We’ll do a survey after every onboarding to get direct feedback, like “All right, this was important. But that was a colossal waste of time.” It’s not perfect science, but I think we have identified and scored the areas that need automation.
AG: How have you fostered a positive company culture?
SV: A thing that has helped us tremendously is doing a ton of anonymous surveys and employee polls that have led us to understand what matters to our team. And when you implement what the feedback is, people start noticing.
Feedback from [one] poll was, “We are all about us, and how amazing our people are [but] we are so us, us, us, that we have lost sight of who our customer is.” And that was gut-wrenching, but it was real, and it was authentic.
So, we launched a customer program a year and a half ago where every four to six weeks, we have a customer fly [in] [and] have them sit through a product team meeting where they give us direct feedback and share how our services are making them successful. All the remote employees dial in [so] they are watching [and] engaging with it.
That created meaning for everybody in the organization. It got people fired up about why they do what they do.
AG: What is your go-to productivity hack?
SV: Every week there’s at least one day that I work from home, and that helps me clarify where we’re going, which is what my five-year-old daughter always asks me as soon as she’s in the car. Having clarity on the picture of success, where we’re going as an organization, and as an individual, every single day, allows me to have extreme focus on the most important work of my life.
AG: What is one piece of technology you couldn’t do your job without?
SV: This might feel old-school, but still true, email is still the best way to communicate and engage. And I don’t think I can do direct business without that.
To me, what is most interesting about Sangram’s journey is how he stayed focused on his employees and his customers as they grew. It was not just grow at any cost. Instead, they were diligent about listening to their internal and external audiences.
This has allowed Terminus to build a business foundation that stretches but doesn’t break as they continue to grow. The result? Terminus has the ability to continue its upward climb.