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Your culture is often the first to suffer as your company grows.
As teams become larger, leaders are faced with the growing pains of preserving values, hiring exceptional talent, and implementing the right tools to help them expand.
What can leaders do to embrace change, preserve culture, and be successful as they grow?
Jana Fuelberth is the Founder and CEO of Analytic.li, a company that focuses on labor productivity.
Having been acquired recently, Jana says that leaders of small companies at this stage have to think of themselves as a startup once again. “You might have years of history with the organization, but it’s their (new investors and owners) day one.”
CEOs need to strike a balance between celebrating everyone who has helped in the growth phase while attracting talent that helps propel it forward. Jana says her focus is on “pay homage to the past” and find “new ways to go to market.” And to aid her in this stage, she says she needs to forget parts of the past that aren’t relevant anymore to pave new ways of thinking. Analytic.li’s product roadmap, for instance, could easily be stress-tested in the early stages. With fewer customers, she could focus on their needs and be a little less disciplined with her product investments. But as the company grew, she needed a higher level of discipline and adopted a broader point of view of the industry.
The foundations of culture
Janan says that at the very core of every culture, is four fundamental concepts—goals, expectations, enablement, and reward. Leaders need to think about what their goals are, what are the expectations, how they are going to ensure their teams achieve goals, and what happens when they achieve our goals. This is a foundational agreement that employers and employees need to agree on to be successful.
A growing tech stack and meetings
Jana says that as a smaller team, it was alright to be disorganized about communication. There weren’t many rules on how employees communicated. But with the company growing in strength, people have to be more mindful about communicating through the right channels.
At Analytic.li, Jana says there are rules on how each tool is used in the organization. Some departments have autonomy on how these tools are used and all of the data that is captured by these tools is consolidated and discussed in a monthly check-in meeting.
Jana says, good meeting management is an important skill to master. “I don’t think that any company goes from no organization to perfect meeting management overnight. But I think our team has gotten really good at the art of the preread.” Her teams, she says, use a lot of their time discussing topics at the meeting having done the reading and groundwork beforehand.
8:38 – “The first thing that I think about culture, even before we start bringing people on, is shoring up some of the foundational pieces that are required in culture—What are our goals? What’s expected of me? What’s the company going to do to make sure that I can achieve my goals? And then what happens to me when we achieve our goals? So I think if you can answer those four questions that kind of sits at the foundation of culture.
14:08 – “I don’t think that any company goes from no organization to perfect meeting management overnight. But I think our team has gotten really good at the art of the pre-read. It’s kind of like the new way that colleges are approaching classes, do all the reading beforehand so we can discuss, and in some cases argue, later.”
Today, our guest is Jana Fuelberth. Sh[e’s the founder and CEO of analytic.li. Hi, Jen. How are you today?
Good, Neil. Thanks for letting me join today.
Of course. We’re excited to have you on. Before we get you talking about stuff, let’s do a little check in round here. So I’m going to ask you, what was your favorite meal as a child?
So it’s kind of a full circle moment because now I have a business that focuses on food manufacturing and food distribution. But my favorite meal was a tray of Bagel Bites. It was for breakfast. I would eat a tray of nine of those Bagel Bites for breakfast every single morning.
Bagel Bites. What were the pizza one, the pizza rolls that they used to have?
The pizza rolls? Oh, yeah. So if you’re the maker of Bagel Bites, I’m a flag waving fan. Kept them in business. What would that have been? 1993 and there on.
Yeah, those were good. I remember those. I mean, I don’t know if you were like this, but you’d come home, or you just kind of come in as a kid and make your own food. And that’s the kind of stuff we live off of.
Yeah, cheese puffs and Bagel Bites.
For me, it was my grandmother made this like white sauce that she put this kind of dried beef in that we put over toast that the rest of my family hated it. And even now, like if I went back to it, I probably wouldn’t like it. But there was something special about the way she made that that was fun for me.
Are you originally from the Midwest?
Of course. Yes.
Yeah, that totally sounds like a Midwest grandma thing. Either that or casserole or goulash or all that good stuff.
All that’s there. Jana, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your company and what you’re building and what you’re in the middle of right now?
Yeah. So analytic.li, we’re a company that focuses on labor productivity. And the way that we think about labor productivity is we help our customers deliver for their customers as efficiently as possible. So you go to the grocery store, when you walk into the grocery store, you expect food products to be on the shelf, and you expect food products like, whether it’s pickles, or tomatoes, or cans of whatever to be there, and all the different varieties to be ready for you. So at our very core, we help the manufacturers and processors and distributors of those products be more efficient and effective at what they do, and ultimately keep the United States fed.
Thank you for that part of the job because, even in the midst of this pandemic, that’s been the one highlight is we still get to snack on things and have fun with all that.
I think the pandemic is like really, really elevated and honed in on the fragility of the food supply chain. When you think about where we used to go and eat versus where we eat now, admittedly, I do a lot of eating at my desk regardless, but I think this year is more than ever before. But we’re all at home. So being able to get food to grocery stores from those processors and manufacturers is really important.
Yeah, I’m going to zero in on your team that you have. How old is the company?
We’ve been around since 2016. We were recently acquired in June of this year. I think about analytic.li kind of in two laps. So this is our second lap. And so the lens that I think about the business is really anytime that you have new investors, new owners come in, you kind of have to think, okay, this is almost a startup again. Because you might have these years of history with the organization, but it’s their day zero, it’s their day one. So this was really an exciting summer for us. It really gives us the opportunity to have a lot of focus in the space that we want to.
And right now you’re in the midst of hiring a lot of new people as well, right?
Yeah. So we will increase the team size by 50% next year. So we’re a team of about 20 right now, exit FY21 just over 30, 35 employees. Yeah. And so it’s this delicate balance of how do you pay homage to everyone who has helped sweatily build the company, and then how do you attract and then insert the right talent into the company to help us propel it forward.
Then you also have a different ownership structure that you’re having to deal with, too.
Right, new board. Yeah, new board, new owners, really, as much as analytic.li kind of feels like the kid that I’ve had forever, this really is a lot of new in the company, despite us being around for a couple of years.
Let’s talk about that because I think a lot of leaders, CEOs in your position, they can look back and see these significant growth changes. A lot of times when we talk about culture changes, growth changes, it’s almost like you said, it’s like having a kid. And kids grow up. And they go through different stages, and when they’re toddlers is different than when they’re a child versus a teenager. So what are your reflections now looking on knowing distinctly that you’re starting a new phase? What’s going on in your head right now?
I think I touched on it a little bit. But let me dive into it more. I mean, really there’s this piece of paying homage. And so, you think about the first customer that you had, the first employee that you had, the first time that you went to a conference together. And you didn’t have the marketing services to ship the conference materials to the booth, you’re like, literally schlepping it from the second bag that you get for free on Southwest. There’s so many of those intrinsic moments that you really can’t bottle up and try to impress or impose on somebody new. So whenever and wherever I can, like we just did an FY21 kickoff. And as opposed to having some sort of flashy first slide, I just put together pictures of the company from 2016 to today. And got on the meeting a little bit early, and people were looking at all the different collage. And I think that’s been a big focus of mine is how can we pay homage to the past, but then also strategically forget parts of the past to create new ways of thinking and new processes and new ways that we go to market?
What are the things you’re thinking about that you want to forget right now? What are those things that are like that was helpful back then, but right now, it’s not going to get us where we need to go?
I think a perfect example of that is when you’re a small startup company, and you’re just beginning, you rely so much on early customer feedback to help you stress test your product roadmap. And then at some point, and the risk to that is a SaaS company can start acting like a services company almost. So your customer wants something, you do that thing, you get some energy around it, they get excited. And then other customers get excited. So I think what I’ve seen is in your early stage, in the primordial being of analytic.li, you can kind of be less disciplined with the investments that you’re making into the product. And now as we continue to grow, there’s this higher level of discipline, but you can’t be overly disciplined either. So I think it’s applying the right level of discipline when we’re thinking about things like product roadmap, because it’s not just thinking about it from a one or two customers perspective, it’s thinking about it from more of a broader industry point of view.
What’s your plan for culture? You said you’re increasing your team by 50%. So that’s a lot of new people that are being added in that are going to bring in their own personalities, their own ideas about how teams should function, different things. So when it comes to building your culture, are you wanting to, again, start over on things? Are there things you’re forgetting? Are you wanting to just keep what was there before? What’s your plan for that?
So I think there’s two ways. And then there’s like, the layer of COVID that we all sit in. Because doing all this remotely is probably one of the things that I’ve obsessed with and obsessed on the most. And the first thing that I think about culture, even before we start bringing people on, is shoring up some of the foundational pieces that are required in culture. What are our goals? What’s expected of me? What’s the company going to do to make sure that I can achieve my goals? And then what happens to me when we achieve our goals? So I think if you can answer those four questions that kind of sits at the foundation of culture. It’s like, who are we? What’s expected? How are we going to get there? How do I fit in? And then what happens to me when we do achieve those goals? I think that’s the foundational agreement that has to happen between employer and employee. And then from there, it’s kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? There’s a Maslow’s hierarchy of culture. And so we’ve done a lot of work over the last this year, getting a lot of those foundational pieces in place. Also, as we bring on new people, I’m involved in most every interview, and I would say that we’re taking a little bit of a different approach to interviews. The first kind of phone screen, it’s kind of like I say, hi, how are you? Can I spend 15 to 20 minutes telling you all about analytic.li, all the war stories, where we’ve gone, where we’ve come from, and then where we’re at right now. So really the people that are interviewing for the company not only understand what’s the job that they’re applying for, but then really, where is analytic.li in our journey. Like I said, I look at this like a startup. So much of what we’re doing is focusing in on an industry as opposed to being broader like we used to. So I think it’s that from the jump expectation setting, that’s been helpful.
Do you anticipate when you look at the technology that you’re using just internally as a team, you’re the core of your digital workplace, do you anticipate any changes that you’re going to need to make to accommodate for all the new people joining in? Or do you feel like what you have now will just scale up to what you need it to be?
I feel pretty good about FY21 with the tools that we have. But I think back to that idea of discipline, when you’re a smaller team, and you’ve got, let’s say, Teams, and you’re using Teams or Microsoft Office Suite shop over here, people asked me to join their Slack channels, and I’m like, hey, team Teams. When I think about tools like that, when you’re a smaller group, you can be a little less organized. Now it’s like, hey, we’ve got to be disciplined and committed that all the company updates go in the company updates channel, which seems like such an obvious thing. But when you jump into your workday, just even thinking about that. So I think for us, it’s not so much adding tools, we’ve got a good technology stack. I think it’s optimizing them.
I think that’s true. A lot of times, like you said, when you are a smaller team, it’s harder to force yourself to follow those good hygiene practices of keeping things in the right place. Because it doesn’t really matter. Everyone knows where to find it. You can figure out where to go for it eventually. But as you grow, you are more reliant on those rules and following those in good practices.
Now, I think I could start a support group of SaaS companies of, does it go in Teams? Does it go in email? Does it go in Confluence? I mean, I think that’s a communication cycle that everyone’s got to figure out.
Do you have any kind of document that you use to help people make those decisions? Is that based on the individual team that they’re coming up with? Or how does your team work?
Yeah, so we have one person that’s in charge of, I’ll say, the employee technical stack, all of the different tools that they use. So anything that everyone touches, there’s kind of rules of the road for that. And so things like Teams, but then for Confluence and JIRA, that’s led mostly out of our product and engineering team. Our marketing team uses monday.com. I’m trying to think. Our sales and marketing team, we use Salesforce and HubSpot. And so they really have autonomy with how that fits together. And then I would say, this goes back to your culture question. One thing that we’re changing, too, is we’re having monthly company reviews. So all this data, all the work that’s happening and all these systems that represents the progress that we’re making towards our goals, gets encapsulated in this actual versus plan monthly meeting that we’re actually doing our first one tomorrow afternoon. So wish me luck.
Yeah. Good luck for that. That’s going to be fun.
Yeah, it’ll be good. I think people don’t get the like hallway drive by conversations any longer because we’re all remote. I think the more transparency, the better.
Let’s talk about meetings in general, because that’s an important thing, especially as you grow to a new stage. Do you feel like the meeting practices that you’re following right now, in terms of when you call a meeting, how many people are there, what gets documented, what gets action items, again, some of these are just hygiene items that maybe we should have been doing before, but are difficult to enforce on smaller teams. Do you have any different plans for as you’re growing how that’s going to change?
A mentor of mine drove the value of meeting management into my head, good meeting management. I see that we’re at this inflection point that most teams end up where you’ll see far more pre reads meetings, and action items post meetings. I don’t think that any company goes from no organization to perfect meeting management overnight. But I think our team has gotten really good at the art of the pre read. But everyone shows up and then we’re discussing, it’s kind of like the new way that colleges are approaching classes, do all the reading beforehand so we can discuss, and in some cases argue, later.
Let me put you in a situation. Let’s say it’s a year from now. And let’s say you have somebody who’s been with you since the beginning, comes to you and just says, Jana, it’s just not the same anymore. It doesn’t feel like the same company. There’s something that’s different here. We’ve grown too fast or something like that. As you hear that person express it, obviously the situation could be different depending on who’s coming to you with that, but how is that going to make you feel if it happens? What do you imagine as a CEO, as a leader who wants to build something bigger, how do you even avoid those discussions? Or how do you engage with them when they happen?
I have a mentor who I admire so much because he has figured out his personal identity at work, he’s figured out when he seeks out a team, or he seeks out a company to work for. He knows exactly the criteria. They’ve got to be at this inflection point, this employee count, their ownership or their board or their leadership team expects this growth. And this guy is the scale up high growth guy. So even when he gets into a gig and he’s successful. It’s kind of like, alright, this isn’t me anymore. So I anticipate as we grow, that people on our team, get the opportunity to learn their identity at work. So what type of company do I thrive the most in? Am I better suited to go the gambit? Do I love the idea of that everything’s changing? Or do I love the idea that we’re figuring this out. And once there’s more of a standard practice and protocol that just doesn’t fit me. As an employee, as a team member, change is the only consistent thing and we have to decide as team members, is it change by changing and growing into the next stage of the company? Meaning like, I go from an SDR, we’re on the SDR and I’m just trying to figure out, can we set an appointment? To, hey, you got to set X number of appointments per week. Or are you the person that loves going into small companies to say, I’m going to set the first one? It’s going to hurt. I’m going to hate it. But those are the types of conversations that leaders just have to be ready for.
As you add in new people, too, just talking about leadership. Obviously, your time will be split amongst even more people and different things. What’s your philosophy in terms of how you distribute authority, distribute decision making? Are you making any changes in how people are leading leadership development as it comes through? What’s your plan for that for the next year?
Right now I head up our sales and marketing as well as the typical CEO duties, whatever those typical CEO duties are. And so we’re adding a VP of sales and marketing as we enter into ’21. And so I really look forward to having a leader in that area. My leadership style is I want to be the agent for other people’s talents and success. So when I hire, I want to hire someone that scares me and intimidates me a little bit, someone that has skills that I don’t have, that has success that I don’t have, that has a point of view that I don’t have. And so I think that that’s the other change that’s happening, because when you’re a really small company, you’re trying to execute on a singular vision. And now it’s, what’s the vision for CX? And how is our CX leader carrying out the vision that she has for that group?
Yeah, that’s a very important thing to think about. As we move into those growth stages, how do we need to change our own rules? And what other people do we need to add in that can take on those new positions, too?
One of my favorite things to tell people is, like, the kindest thing that you can tell me is get lost. So like, the kindest thing that someone can tell me, like in a meeting, it’s like, we’ve got this, we don’t need you. And I think I always tell my team, keep me honest. So I think there’s just you need this radical candor back and forth, as you’re growing. And I hope I continue to create that environment.
Jana, what else would you want to tell people that are out there that are approaching a season like yours? What are some things that helped you to prepare for this? And maybe what’s one question you wish you had the answer to?
So I’d say two things. There’s never a perfect answer, but there’s typically a better answer. So, in every single decision that I’ve needed to make over the past six months, very infrequently, has there been the perfect answer, and very frequently, there’s a better answer. And so honestly, the six-month experience that I’ve gone through has created a lot of empathy for me for other leaders in thinking, wow, it’s not as clear cut as everyone would want it to be. And I think the thing that’s prepared me the most of it, and I talked about this the most is I, for my entire career, have sought out high stress, low risk situations. And I preach this to all of our interns and all of our new hires, go find an area where if you screw up, it was really stressful, but it really didn’t matter. Like, hey, I’m going to do a demo in front of the team. This is really nerve wracking, and I did so so, but does it really matter? No, but you put yourself in that stressful situation, and you know what it feels like. So then when you go and you do those demos in front of prospects, and it really matters, your stress goes down. So I think that mentality of like building a stress muscle has helped me a lot. I think an answer to a question that I really would have wanted to know is, and this is something I struggle with all the time is what is it that the team doesn’t know that they need to know? Because I think one of the things with being a founder and being with the company for so long and having people come in it’s like, I forget what don’t you know and what do you need to know?
Yeah, you have all the contacts, you have everything that’s there.
All the dead bodies, but of course, there’s no dead bodies in analytic.li. But yeah, all the history.
Jana, there’s so much we can learn from you. But I feel like we’re going to learn even more as we stay in touch and hear about what’s next for you in analytic.li and where you guys are going. But it sounds like it’s been a fantastic year. We’re celebrating with you and are excited to keep trucking along.
Yeah. Thanks, Neil. And thanks so much for the work that you’re doing. I think the conversation about how we’re using technology to enable a better work experience is a powerful one.
That’s what we need to do. I mean, we have all these tools with us, but we forgot that everything else needs to be upgraded, too. It’s not just the technology that’s important. But now we have all these, how can we make sure that the rest of our systems are also upgraded, too. Well, thanks a lot for being on the show and we’ll talk to you later.
All right. Thanks, Neil. Take care.
Jana Fuelberth is the CEO of Analytic.li. She has an insatiable curiosity for business and an unwavering belief that great business outcomes and a wonderful work experience can go hand-in-hand.