Operationalize Your Values to Grow Fast with Zach Smith at Funded Today

I remember exactly where I was when I heard the term “operationalize your values.” A speaker asked the audience of more than a thousand if they had done the work beyond creating values. The process of operationalize your values will take the company values from a project to a way of living the values. Today I am talking to Zach Smith, CEO of Funded Today about the steps to operationalize your values. We will talk about why it matters and what you can do to avoid mistakes in your journey to operationalize your values.

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Zach Smith: The Transcript

Target Audience: Zach is the CEO and CoFounder of Funded Today, LLC. He was a successful serial entrepreneur and CEO and co-founder of the world’s largest premier crowdfunding and creative agency, the 3rd fastest-growing, privately held company in Advertising and Marketing on the 2018 Inc. 500, Funded Today, LLC. Raised over $241,000,000 USD and counting for over 2,500 Clients.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Zach Smith:
We try to teach the people correct principles and then we let them govern themselves. And I think when you try to micromanage as a leader, you make people feel like they aren’t valued. And so we have these core values not to restrict but to empower and they understand the principles. These are the principles that we need to live by now. Govern yourselves and Zach will be there to mediate as needed.

Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs. The fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: [00:43]
We’re going to be talking today about values. Values are critical to your company’s success. You probably know this, but you probably want to think about them a little bit differently than what you’re currently doing. Now. If you’re growing a fast-growing company, you know that values really do drive the decision making and the way you lead a company. So when you have those values, you want to make sure that you’re not just putting them on the wall, that you’re actually living by them, but have a special guest today. His name is Zach Smith.

Gene Hammett: [01:12]
Zach is a cofounder of Funded Today. They’ve made some evolutions through the process. They’ve reached almost 12 million last year in revenue. They grew at almost 9000% putting them at number 27 on the inc 500 lists. That really is impressive, but I talked to Zach specifically about this and what I like about the interview. We’ve talked about how they really operate and how they lead by really staying true to those values. We talked to some specific stories about what they do to operationalize the values, what that even is, but really wanted to man today if you want to grow your company fast if you want to understand values.

Gene Hammett: [01:51]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run. I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to GeneHammett.com/Worksheet so you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episodes. When you subscribed to grow think tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can, you can tune in to the date that means the most to you.

Gene Hammett: [2:34]
Hi Zach, how are you?

Zach Smith: [02:35]
Good, how’s it going Gene?

Gene Hammett: [02:36]
I am fantastic. I am excited to have you on here today. Funded Today is one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. You guys were astronomical and last years inc list. Do you remember your exact number?

Zach Smith: [02:51]
Yeah, we were number 27 overall. Number three in the advertising and marketing category. And I think we were number two in our home state of Utah. So it was pretty exciting.

Gene Hammett: [03:01]
Well, I wanted to have you on here because you know, Zach, your company, is doing something pretty unique. You’re just not like most companies out there. So tell us of what funded today does and who they serve.

Zach Smith: [03:15]
Basically funded today, started out as a crowdfunding agency and we focus primarily on rewards-based crowdfunding on Kickstarter and Indiegogo today. That vision has expanded where we are a full-service agency consulting with fortune 500 companies all the way until your mom and pop shop who has this new idea and mentioned and has no capital and wants to use Kickstarter to bring it to life. So or a mix of an eclectic mix of all of that and it’s been pretty exciting.

Gene Hammett: [03:41]
Well, when you think about your company growing as fast as it has, how many employees do you have?

Zach Smith: [03:46]
I think we are just over 60 now.

Gene Hammett: [03:50]
When you think about getting those people aligned together and doing the work and wanting to do the work and really growing as fast as you’ve grown, what do you think are the drivers behind that?

Zach Smith: [04:01]
Well, the old, the old maxim hire slow fire fast has been pretty good for us. We spend a lot of due diligence, a lot of time trying to figure out if they’re going to match our culture, if they’re going to match what we are trying to do. And then we haven’t really had to fire anybody in the history of our company, which I think is pretty exciting, which shows that we have a pretty good job. Our setups, a little different than a lot of companies in that everybody’s spread out throughout the country. Even some of the world. I mean we’ve got one in Germany, a couple in other different countries. So, that’s been pretty exciting. The biggest thing that I would say has helped us the most though is just realizing that we need to hire that we need to let go that Thomas and I can’t do everything that we did when we first started this company. And by doing that we’ve created a lot of positions and helped a lot of people to become a lot smarter at their particular roles than even Thomas and myself ever were when we used to do them.

Commentary: [04:55]
Break-in here for a second. Zach just talked about problem and solution as a part of the natural process that employees come to them when they want to talk about making changes in the organization. Well, when you are just willing to listen to the problem and give the answers, you are really not going to create employees that think for themselves. You may know that, but it really is something that you think that you’re doing the right thing because you’re giving them answers from your insight. But what you want to do instead is encourage them to look at the problem, identify the core problem, not just the symptoms but really how do we identify the core problem, what’s going on and then come up with a couple of solutions and you actually want to take it a step further is to ask them what would they do if they were making decisions for themselves because you want to train them to make those decisions and think through the pros and cons, thinks through how to actually mitigate risk and all of those things are necessary as they are making decisions so that the company can grow without you having to be scary but is a fast-growth leader. You cannot put yourself as a bottleneck to all of the decisions that are being made. You’re going to be making some at the very top. You want your employees to think.

Gene Hammett: [06:07]
And you talked about culture fit there and a lot of people have approached hiring more from a can they do the work?

Zach Smith: [06:17]
Does the skill fit?

Gene Hammett: [06:20]
Where do you come in on the skill fit versus culture fit?

Zach Smith: [06:23]
It’s all about a trial period for us. So obviously we interview, we look at resumes, we go, we do the typical process, but then we say, let’s put them in there. Let’s try them for a couple of weeks and see what happens and see how they fit and how they mesh with everybody and if they match our core values and if they impressed and if they lived up to everything they put on their paper, then that’s usually how we determine if they’re a good fit for our company.

Gene Hammett: [06:44]
What does that trial period look like? It is literally doing the work that the job would intel with the person who was either doing the job before or helping or a manager, helping them guide them and what that job is going to look like and just giving them daily feedback, communicating and literally doing the job. As simple as that sounds without any commitment on our part or their part because we want to make sure they like it too. There are some times where we’ve done this. In fact, I think two or three times in our history where the trial period, we actually thought it was going good on our side, but they didn’t. They were like, this is intense. This is crazy. This is a little too fast-paced for me and it didn’t work out for them.

Gene Hammett: [07:21]
So how long have you used it? How long did you make those trial periods?

Zach Smith: [07:26]
Just a couple of weeks. Unless we decide to expedite and we’re like, this person’s perfect, let’s go. If we can sometimes figure it out within a week, but we give the full two weeks if they want it just like a two weeks notice. We have a two week trial period.

Gene Hammett: [07:36]
Do you get pushed back on someone like, I don’t know if they’re leaving jobs and whatnot, but do you have someone that goes, look, can’t you just make a commitment to me because I’ve never been through this trial period thing?

Zach Smith: [07:46]
Some will say that, but I’ll say, this is a career. This isn’t going to be a job that we want you to jump. Like, as I said, we’ve had people in our company five, six years and that’s pretty much our entire existence, never left start to finish. And that’s really rare, especially for a company that grows like us. Usually, all your original people are gone by this point because they’ve either moved on and wanted to start their own ventures or when you have growth, you just don’t have the same people that you started with because you need to put different people in places. But with our company, it hasn’t been that way. And I think I credit that to the idea that you’ve got to see if you’re a good fit for us and if we’re a good fit for you because we are all about the lifetime value, both of our clients and the people that work for us as much as we possibly can.

Gene Hammett: [08:25]
You know, when we were talking before last week, Zach, we’re talking about the importance of values inside your company. So, how many values do you have and then how’d you come up with them?

Zach Smith: [08:36]
Nine and we didn’t institute them until 2017 so it’s been a couple of years. It looks like at January 2017 I’m just checking to make sure when we instituted them and they were basically a little bit about what Thomas and myself had already believed and cause we had started businesses and done different things in the past before funded today. But they were also a culmination of things that we’d experienced as we grew funded today and these nine core values. I mean I’d probably hit on two or three just in our first few minutes of this interview about what we believe in and why we believe in them and how they help guide us in our decision making without making us myopic.

Gene Hammett: [09:10]
When you think about the development or narrowing down the values, how did you go through that process?

Zach Smith: [09:19]
Well, for us it was about figuring out what we needed to do, what we saw was necessary to maintain the growth of our company while also making sure we had some sort of ethical and moral standards by which we could go by. Because when you have a company that grows as fast as ours and you are making money hand over fist, literally, I mean some days it was just nuts. We had to say, okay, where do we stand on? Where do we stand on this? How can we be moral and ethical and how can we serve our clients best? And so we created some, some of our core values, for example, considered the client’s lifetime value, core value number seven. That one’s all about, okay, we have this amazing growth, we’re making millions of dollars. How do we make sure that we are doing that while we benefit our clients without just enriching ourselves? So we have some stuff, we have some stop losses in place as well. I guess you could say.

Gene Hammett: [10:11]
What was the process as far as, how many weeks or months did it take for you guys to put that together?

Zach Smith: [10:18]
Well, if you look back in our history, you could say it took a decade to come up with what we just determined in terms of us putting it together. I’d say it was probably the better half of 2016 and then in 2017 January to kick off the year, we’ve released our core values.

Gene Hammett: [10:33]
Now did you work with someone outside or was it completely done in internally?

Zach Smith: [10:37]
We looked at some companies that we loved and respected and we saw what they had and I remember infusion soft Clayton Mask, who I consider him a mentor to me. I had dinner with his wife a long while ago and their company was a pretty successful company out of Arizona, still is pretty successful and I remember him preaching core values when I was not really running much of a business. It was a business, but it wasn’t like the way funded today is and I kind of thought core values culture fufu come on, right. For some reason it stuck. It stuck with me and then I realized, Oh Clayton, what he was talking about all along. And so maybe if you had to pinpoint any one person, it would have been Clayton from infusion soft to help me realize how important these were.

Gene Hammett: [11:19]
When you’re narrowing it down to the nine that you have, nine is quite a bit. So why did you pick nine? Could you just not narrow it down further?

Zach Smith: [11:27]
Yeah, I think, I think maybe that was it. We and I looked at a lot of companies too and they had between seven to 12 you know, depending on the company. So we felt like nine is not too many and it’s enough that we can cycle through them. So they’re fresh. Every, every quarter we pick a core value and for those three months, we use that core value in everything that we talk about with fund it today. And it’s a focus. And so I think to have nine, if you just had three or four, you might, it might become trite and we don’t want these to become trite and overused and so on. In some ways, the freshness of having nine allows us to kind of get excited about each one when that period, that quarter happens for that particular core value.

Gene Hammett: [12:04]
So walk me through some of the things that you guys do over the course that quarter to make sure that you’re taking that value deep inside the organization.

Zach Smith: [12:12]
Because we don’t have the traditional office set up. Everything we use is on the is like Skype and zoom and that’s how we communicate with our company. And so Skype has a pretty good way similar to slack of being able to track anything that you ever right. And so if somebody uses core value number one under-promise over-deliver, we have a Hashtag for that particular core value, just FTTPOD for example. So hashtag FTTPOD would be under-promise over-deliver. And anytime we see an example of that, that’s getting hashtagged and tagged with everybody in the company. And then we make an archive of all of the particular instances of where we have gone and exhibited under promise over deliver core value. And that helps people see, oh, that’s how he did it. Oh, that’s how he did it. So we’re emulating the behavior we want to see we’re leading from the top. And then other people. I love it when I see somebody else grab one of those core values and talk about it themselves because it’s like, oh look at that. They’re teaching the next generation how to exhibit these core values and continue the culture that we started at funded today. And we do this with all every core value.

Gene Hammett: [13:09]
This is a, an example of what not to do when you, what most companies do is really because they put the words on the wall, right? And then that’s the last time the companies talk about it. So you’re actually exhibiting what to do, which is taking it deep inside the organization, getting people to actually live by those values. How have you seen that translate into how the employees think for themselves and make decisions because they have the values to guide them?

Zach Smith: [13:39]
A funny example that I like to share sometimes when I talk about this is when they want to change within your organization, they won’t come to me complaining. They’ll say, Zack, we are lacking on the little guys. Keep us in business core value number five. And we’re not valuing these clients that might only make us a couple of thousand dollars anymore. We need to change that and they come to meet with that type of an approach. And so immediately I’ve got to defend my core value and I’m more likely to listen to them and have changed. Do you know? And I appreciate that too. You could say it’s manipulative I guess, but in a way, I appreciate it because it shows that they understand our core values and they say, look, we got to fix this core value here. This one isn’t quite right and here are a couple of ideas I have for how to fix it.

Zach Smith: [14:21]
So I think it empowers them. I think it makes them become the leader that I want them to be, so that I can say, yeah, that’s a great idea. Let’s go ahead and make that change. Rather than Zach, there’s a problem with this and this and this and this. What are we going to do about it? Right. Which is what you typically see in a lot of organizations I funded today. It’s not the case. People come to me, the two to three solutions every time. And they usually say, look, the reason I’m coming to you with this problem and these proposed solutions is that this is not how we live up to one of our core values at funded today.

Gene Hammett: [14:48]
That’s another example of something that I’ve seen work really well is encouraging people not to just come with problems but come with solutions. And do you encourage them to do that with every problem that comes through?

Zach Smith: [15:02]
Every time. And if they mess up, I just remember a couple of days ago, I was talking to one of our managers and I won’t call them out, but they didn’t come to me with the right way of doing things. And I said, look, don’t take offense. Here’s what you should have done to me in this case. And I gave him exactly Zach, here’s the problem. And then I just randomly tried to come up with a couple of solutions. And then the other thing is, here’s what I think I should do. What do you think I should do? And I liked that too. Like I’ll do that too. I won’t necessarily act like I have the perfect answer every time. I’ll say, here’s a couple of ideas I have, but what do you think I should do?

Zach Smith: [15:37]
Or sometimes I’ll just say, well, what would you do if you were me? If you were in my shoes and you had to run this company, what would you do before I even propose any solutions so that I don’t bias their answer? So if they mess up, I teach them by example. And if they do it right, it makes the decision process much easier for me. And sometimes I just reject all the ideas and say, those are great solutions, but here’s why these don’t work. And then we have to follow the core value. Assume the positive. You cannot feel shut down or rejected. When I say these don’t work, oh, Zach said no, it all his access. He’s the smartest guy in the room. I’ve got to reject all of his answers. Don’t think that way. It’s hard to do. You’re going to feel shut down if I tell you, nope.

Zach Smith: [16:12]
None of those ideas are good. And I’ll try to tell you why those ideas aren’t good because I’ve probably thought of them and discuss them and you might, you probably weren’t, you didn’t have enough transparency, so that’s my problem. Hey Curtis, I’m sorry we didn’t have the transparency here. Let me explain to you why those don’t work. So the next time you understand why they don’t work and then he on his end has to assume the positive that I’m not mad at him or critiquing him or shutting him down. I’m simply helping him understand the bigger picture and giving him more transparency on the problem.

Commentary: [16:37]
Let’s stop right there for a second. Zach talked about entrepreneur-thinking and the importance of that inside the organization. I’ve done some other interviews around that and you can find them on the podcast, but I want to just talk about the importance of getting people to think like entrepreneurs now, the values of entrepreneurs around curiosity, around value creation, around resourcefulness, and we could go on and on and on. Really do serve to grow your company. If you have people who don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit, you may think, oh great, they’re going to stay with me for life, which is not realistic, but when you don’t have people that are willing to think for themselves and make those decisions and be resourceful, create value, then you’re going to miss out on the opportunity to grow fast and group, grow that person fast. I think you should be hiring people that have more of an entrepreneurial spirit so that they actually become leaders in this fast-changing world. They can be agile and they’re okay with failure and they can pivot fast. We can talk about that a little bit more in the interview, but I wanted to make sure I jump in here with you and make sure you know that entrepreneur-thinking inside your organization is a great thing, not something to be avoided. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett: [17:47]
The big idea behind is… It’s not that we should have values, right? They’re not, they’re not food through or touchy-feely, but the fact that we should live by the values. And as a leader, you and your partner, Thomas, you guys are exhibiting this through the day in and day out, but also encouraging and empowering your employees to do it. How, what mistakes have you made in that journey?

Zach Smith: [18:14]
Well, I think I have a quote that I heard when I was younger and it’s kind of stuck with me my whole life. We try to teach the people correct principles and then we let them govern themselves. And I think when you try to micromanage as a leader, you make people feel like they aren’t valued. And so we have these core values not to restrict, but to empower and they understand the principles. These are the principles that we need to live by now, govern yourselves, and Zach will be there to mediate as needed. Ideally, that’s how I like it to see. So any problem that we have is because that rule was not followed, teaching correct principles and then letting our people govern themselves.

Gene Hammett: [18:57]
When you think about the growth of your company, would you be where you are right now with the percentage of growth that you have if they weren’t thinking for themselves?

Zach Smith: [19:06]
Oh No, no way. I mean there’s been a lot of ideas and things that they’ve come up with and pivots and different changes. Even our new podcast was not our idea. It was actually our video director’s idea and not only was it his idea, but we also empowered him to pretty much do everything necessary so that Thomas and I just need to show up and record the interviews. So it was a really nice switch and as I said, our video guy came up with it because he said, look, if we do a podcast that will lead to more people wanting our video and page design services and you guys will come across more personal and you’ll relate and nobody else in crowdfunding is really doing this to this level and you guys already have this brand name. You have this success story to tell. It’ll just be beautiful. And of course, it has been. We’re 31-32 episodes deep now. We release every Wednesday and I think it’s been a great thing and we would have never done it, but it was somebody in our organization who came up with the idea and took the lead and made everything happen.

Gene Hammett: [19:55]
Well, it’s obvious. I love podcasts because being here today, um, I’ve been doing this for five years and this new version of this, um, is something I’m really proud of. The Growth Think Tank and that you’ve been sharing with us today. I want to give you a chance. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that really drives the company forward that you could share with us?

Zach Smith: [20:16]
Yeah, it’s a thought I’ve been thinking about probably for the last couple of years and it’s part of our purpose statement. Our purpose statement goes before our core values and I’ll just read it. We are entrepreneurs ourselves. We value self-learning. We believe in failing fast and pivoting quickly. We envision our entire workforce as successful, thriving entrepreneurs with flourishing success within Funded Today. And I think the failing fast and pivoting quickly part is the most important thing ever. If you look at a company like General Electric, they started with Edison, the incandescent light bulb perhaps, but they’re not incandescent light bulbs anymore and we don’t even really think of them that way. I want Funded Today to be the same way you might think of us as crowdfunding, but perhaps in five years from now Funded Today is something entirely different. Amazon’s a good example. We think of Amazon still as a place where you can get two-day free shipping or even faster on millions of products worldwide, but Amazon’s main success in terms of profitability, which is what I care about as a small business owner is AWS.

Zach Smith: [21:17]
That’s really the only thing that makes them tons of money there. Their web hosting and everything and they didn’t have that. I don’t know if investors would even get excited about all the other crazy random stuff they’re doing and it’s because they are failing quickly, pivoting fast and going to all different things that AWS even came to be. I envisioned that to be the same way with funded today. If we think about failing fast and pivoting quickly, even when we are at the top of our game, which essentially funded today is at the pinnacle of crowd funding in the fact that we’re the most successful, raise the most money, all those kinds of exciting facts and stats within crowdfunding, but that’s not the end all be all of what I envision us doing. I envisioned funds today as something more. What’s the next big thing? How do we get there and how do we get there quick? And you need to do that when you’re on top. If you do that, when you are going down, it’s almost too late. And if you’re pivoting at the last second when everything’s lost, you’ve lost your whole people. Right now we have an exciting, engaged entrepreneurial workforce and we can put them to work as entrepreneurs within our organization to come up with that next big thing.

Gene Hammett: [22:12]
Well, we’ve had a lot of interviews here lately with companies that encourage that entrepreneurial spirit. So I want to give you just one last question. Why do you want your employees to think like entrepreneurs?

Zach Smith: [22:23]
Henry Ford said it best whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right if they think like entrepreneurs and entrepreneur thinks they can change the world and entrepreneur thinks they can invent things that don’t exist yet and entrepreneur doesn’t think of the obstacle he thinks of the obstacle as the way through whatever the problem is. And so if we can get everybody to think like entrepreneurs, the biggest difficulty of starting and succeeding in a new business is removed.

Gene Hammett: [22:46]
Well, it’s a central theme with all of these interviews with fast growth leaders like you. So Zach, thank you for being here today. Thank you for sharing. Some of the principles at Funded Today has learned in their growth and I really appreciate it.

Zach Smith: [23:00]
Thanks for having me, Gene and I appreciate it. I love what you’re doing.

Gene Hammett: [23:02]
Wow, what a great interview. I love this conversation around values because it gives you a kind of a, an anchor point to have conversations that you want to make sure that you align people together and you have the right values. You really are creating something that you can hire into that you can leave by and that you can actually grow your company through learning to really operate from those values and really move to remove all of the other stuff. I get excited about these kinds of conversations because I know how important they are to growing companies. I love working with companies that are growing and so if you have any questions about your values, make sure you reach out to me. [email protected] And if you would have wanted to share this episode or give us a rating review on iTunes or favorite platform, we really appreciate that. Give us a chance to reach out. We’re not looking for a big audience. We’re looking for the people that really want to grow. They’re committed to growing in themselves and our company.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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