Jordan Kretchmer is founder and CEO of Livefyre, a Social Content Management System that allows brands to integrate real-time social content.
Transparency is the most important quality a leader of a growing startup can have. Transparency breeds trust which is vital for employee retention and for motivating new employees to be as productive as people who have been at the company since the beginning. It’s a broad topic, and I do everything I can to deliver transparency to the organization on a daily basis. I expect the same in return from my executive team and every employee at the company. The ability to admit when you yourself could have done better, and to be able to do that very publicly, is a key indicator of how honest you are with your employees. Today in our International all-hands meeting I admitted to the entire team that I’ve messed up by not communicating our product objectives clearly enough, and that as a result I caused undo confusion that hurt not just the company as a whole, but individuals.
I decided that as a company, we were ready to start making strategic acquisitions in order to accelerate product innovation and hiring. We acquired Storify about 6 weeks ago, and will be making other strategic acquisitions in the coming months.
Unlike most young startups these days, Livefyre is a tried-and-true (read *old-school*) Enterprise Sales business that just happens to build insanely innovative products. That means that good old fashioned lead gen marketing is the fuel that grows our business. The single most effective marketing tactic I’ve employed to date was hiring one of the best lead-gen marketers I’ve ever met to run marketing and ramp our pipeline, and hiring the most aggressive and pro-active sales leader I’ve ever met to build a killer team to turn those leads into revenue.
I hired an architect to build out our current office. We were arguing about the color of the chairs we should buy. I wanted red-orange (the color of our logo), he wanted dark grey. He said to me “Don’t buy chairs that overshadow the people, the people bring the color, you just set the stage.” He won the argument because I realized that what he said applies to how I built Livefyre’s culture from the very beginning. I don’t tell people what the culture is and I never will. Each individual we hire impacts our culture in a distinctly noticeable way, even at 100 people. That’s how you attract the best talent, by empowering people to impact culture. That can’t happen if you plaster your culture in a mandatory employee handbook as though it’s a pre-determined fact.
No tricks here. Just hire people who are passionate about what the company does. If you have to incentivize productivity you’re doing something wrong on a much deeper level.
Our first paying customer was actually in the UK, News International, now News UK. This was through a meeting in San Francisco and a digital director there who was willing to take a risk on a small startup and co-innovate. A large percentage of our early customer base came through referrals as we’ve focused on growing a really smart sales and customer strategy group like I mentioned above. The big lesson here? Find a champion with influence as early as possible. The people within an organization are more important than the organization itself. One person can make it happen for you.
Hiring senior execs ahead of when you actually need them is extremely important. I waited way too long to hire some key execs who I could trust to take over and run vital pieces of the business. In the early days you must “re-mature” your leadership. What I mean by that is that the kinds of people who can manage a small team are different than people who can manage a 25 person team, and are different than people who can run a 200 person team. Always be extremely honest with yourself about when it’s time to hire up.