Why Transparency Matters and How to Leverage it with John Laramie at ProjectX

Discover why transparency matters in modern culture. One big reason is that transparency breeds trust. When you are open to transparency in your business, you signal to your people that they are part of the process. My guest today is John Laramie, CEO of ProjectX. His company was ranked #65 in the 2018 Inc 5000 list. John shares why transparency matters. He gives you ways to be transparent so that it drives growth. We talk about how to leverage transparency to make your people feel and act like owners within the company. When you value transparency, your people will often be more truthful with you, which allows you to see the real truth.

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John Laramie: The Transcript

Target Audience: John Laramie is the Founder and CEO of Project X (fka ADstruc), the fastest-growing OOH specialist in the United States. Previously, John worked at The Beanstalk Group, the world’s leading brand licensing agency. In his 4 years with the company, he carried out strategic licensing programs that generated over $400 million a year in retail sales on behalf of Ford Motor Company, NBC Universal, Harley-Davidson and Nestle Purina, among others.

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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.

[00:00:00].270] – John Laramie
All of those things from a numbers and operation perspective are super important but the biggest thing is making sure that you’re really clear with the team about what’s the type of company we are. Where do we want to be. Where are we trying to go. What do we need to do to get there and how everyone plays a role. And so that just means making sure that we as an organization are as accessible as possible.

[00:00:25].620] – Gene Hammett
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?

[00:00:43].770] – Gene Hammett
Transparency. Transparency is a very common word and you might even say it’s a buzzword in today’s world of leadership and culture. But how transparent Are you as a leader. Are you willing to share the real business strategy with your team members and not just your leadership team but everyone in the company. Are you willing to be transparent enough to say that you don’t know the answer to something. Are you willing to to really have a sense of transparency that builds trust with the people in the organization and build a culture based on this type of transparency.

[00:01:18].330] – Gene Hammett
Will I believe this is one of the core elements of creating a place where people love to come to work they feel connected to the mission and into that actually doing the work and they really enjoy the leadership too. Now that may be a big bold statement there but transparency is something that’s very important. And today we’re gonna dive deep into it. I went out there and found someone that I feel like has a very good handle on this aspect of transparency and is doing a really great job within the company. I’m talking to John Laramie.

[00:01:49].680] – Gene Hammett
He’s the CEO of Project X. They started years ago but in the last few years they’ve just exploded. They were on the INC list. They were number 65 in 2018. Their growth rate just phenomenal. But what is more important about this is they really value transparency is a core foundation or principle to that growth. John talks about you know the reason why you want to hire entrepreneurial minded people because they really do solve problems and they don’t. They take a lot of pressure off of the leadership from solving the problem they’re solving it at the the director level they’re solving it at the technical level they’re solving it at all levels within the company. And this level of transparency is necessary to activate someone that has an entrepreneur mindset because they want the full understanding of how the company is growing and how they’re growing as individuals.

[00:02:44].910] – Gene Hammett
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 we get that it’s got a GeneHammett.com/worksheet. You can get the 12 Principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episode where you subscribe 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. So tune in to this episode here at Growth Think Tank. I’m really happy to share this with you. Here’s my interview with John.

[00:03:34].950] – Gene Hammett
Hi John how are you?

[00:03:36].690] – John Laramie
I’m great Gene. How are you doing?

[00:03:38].280] – Gene Hammett
I’m fantastic. Glad to have you here at the Grove think tank. I want to let our audience know a little bit about you and the company but I’d love for them to hear it in your own words so tell us about kind of the reason why this company exists.

[00:03:51].090] – John Laramie
Yeah. First off thank you for having me on and letting me be able to tell the story of our company. So I started the company a decade ago and the outdoor advertising space you guys I saw an opportunity to create massive efficiencies in the way media is planned and bought and sold.

[00:04:09].180] – John Laramie
And so back in about 2008-2009 we started to build software for the media side of the community that the media owners to make it easier for them to package and to sell their inventory to the buy side. And in doing that we rolled up all the outdoor companies in the US across you know all different formats from bus shelters to billboards to you know cinema elevators to Subway to airport you name it across all of the companies from the clear channel the OUTFRONT Lamar J.C. taco intersection and Mike 14 other companies in the US.

[00:04:44].190] – John Laramie
And once we did that we saw this opportunity as we sat on top of all this inventory to take our software and develop it a step further and build a sort of front end to that enabling medium and a specialist to plan and buy across all of that network. And then story in a more efficient manner and start to automate a lot of the tasks that go behind. How do you buy out. And that really more stresses an organization to really recognizing that you know no matter the technology that we built. We just we saw an opportunity frankly to do it ourselves and recognizing that the agencies that we are license licensing the software to we’re not moving at the speed that we wanted them to move out or adopting the changed to their day to day through technology like we think they should.

[00:05:34].380] – John Laramie
And so we launched Project X in our agency services division in 2014 and that is scaled massively in the last couple of years and helped us get to number sixty five on its fastest growing companies in the US and something we’re incredibly proud of. So I’m glad to be able to be here today and talk a little bit about the story behind our success and the challenges and the way we think about running our company.

[00:05:58].050] – Gene Hammett
Well that’s let’s just dive in here because we were talking last week about the importance of transparency as you’ve grown so why is transparency important to a fast growing company.

[00:06:12].270] – John Laramie
Yeah. You know I think when you look at the type of people that you want to hire and that you want to bring into an organization at its early stages you’re looking for entrepreneurial minded people that are fighters are hungry and want to be in an environment that’s changing and growing. And you know that also means there’s a lot of challenges. Right there’s less of a structure there’s there’s less resources there’s more demand on time and speed and all of these things right. But what it means is you know I think at the end of the day our job is as an entrepreneur.

[00:06:54].120] – John Laramie
As you know as a CEO is to make sure that you give people the autonomy to do what they do best and to help support them as much as they can. And part of that support is making sure that they understand how the business operates. And so we sort of like to say we don’t understand how people work at a company without understanding how the company works. And when you really think about that the more you empower people to understand the way the business runs the way the numbers flow like where you make money where you spend money the more you’re actually helping them understand where they should be spending their time and really helping them think about the company as a whole and not just their responsibility. You want them to think about their responsibility and how it works with the next person’s responsibility and the next team’s responsibility and so transparency to us is really the greatest tool to making sure that we’re all focused on on the right things and that we’re aware of how those things are tracking. And I think that’s really important to us.

[00:07:58].290] – Gene Hammett
So this sounds like to me that concept that was really popular years ago what’s called open book management is that is it different than that or…

[00:08:10].300] – John Laramie
I didn’t pay attention to add to that. Unfortunately you guys should have been but those are just sort of subconsciously. You know, I think it’s one of the reasons why you know when we look at the way we run our company we have monthly team meetings where everyone is getting together and understanding what each team is working on. Where are the numbers how are we performing.

[00:08:35].670] – John Laramie
It’s why we have an annual Town Hall where we run through you know a deeper look into the numbers and we talk more about profitability and we talk more about clients and revenue and you know I think all of those things from from a numbers and operational perspective are super important but the biggest thing is making sure that you’re really clear with the team about what’s the type of company we are what. Where do we want to be. Where are we trying to go what do we need to do to get there and how everyone plays a role in that.

[00:09:05].820] – John Laramie
And so that just means making sure that we as an organization are as accessible as possible. It’s a big reason why I do as many one on ones as I do is to make sure that I’m staying connected with everyone in the organization and making sure that they’re aware of how things are going that they’re getting the right support that they have under each of their own teams and their directors and making sure that that message is as consistent as it can be across the organization.

[00:09:34].170] – Gene Hammett
Is there anything else within the strategies that you have intentionally put in place to create this transparency?

[00:09:40].280] – John Laramie
I think recently in the last year we put together a leadership team and and we did that I think simply out of necessity because we were growing so fast. Things are changing every day right. Like I don’t I don’t know how many decisions I make today. There’s a lot of. But I’ve got to make sure that I’m not making those decisions in a silo and that I’m working with the heads of each of the teams to make sure that all we’re aware of these things that I’m getting input on what they are that they’re moving sort of slowly with with me and with the other teams. And so that’s a you know a weekly meeting we have to make sure that we’re all focused on the bigger picture. And then I’m starting a day to day or week to week execution strategy that we’re aware of how each team is moving. That’s really important.

[00:10:31].230] – Commentary
John just talked about no silos. Now many organizations have a team that builds up and they want to protect those areas and they want to make sure that the marketing team is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And they don’t want to have too much sharing of information into other areas. Now cells may have made the same in operations and customer service and you may have many more teams in this but if and big companies we see these silos happen and they sometimes the death of the company. Smaller companies don’t have the problem but the reason they don’t have the problem is because they’re intentional about there being no silos there being no political agenda inside these individual teams inside the bigger team of the company. And so you want to make sure that you’re creating a culture where there’s no silos and you want to have the right rhythm and cadence of communication that allows you to really break down those barriers and really allow people to align together. And that’s the key. Now back to the interview.

[00:11:34].440] – Gene Hammett
What mistakes have you made in this journey as a fast growth leader?

[00:11:37].620] – John Laramie
Probably failing to communicate well enough about where we’re going. And you know the ultimate vision and I think you know that’s something that we’ve changed in the last two years. Listen we’ve had core values as a company since we started. But what we didn’t do is really whine that together as sort of a fabric for the organization like why does that matter. Right. Well it really matters when you think about the way we want to be working together as a team and treating each other the way we want to be working with clients. The type of work we want to be outputting and how all of that direct says to like where we want to be as an organization and what period of time and so I think that’s that’s where we failed. You know in the past this was not being clear about where do we want to be and why.

[00:12:32].920] – John Laramie
And I think that’s you know, that’s OK because I think you’re you’re often figuring those things out. But I think what you have to be doing is telling people that we’re trying to figure those things out versus them being like how do they know where they’re going. If they don’t. That’s OK. But like tell us we’re trying to figure things out and I think those are you know communication is just is critical and that’s something that. I know I don’t think just comes from the top. I think communication comes from across the entire company because you’ve got to be listening to everybody and understanding sort of the ideas that everyone is having and making sure that that influences the strategy in the direction of what you’re trying to do as an organization.

[00:13:16].700] – Gene Hammett
You know listening to everybody sounds like what every leader should be doing. Yeah I think there’s something that plays in their mind like either they’re too busy or well I know better. What do you think. For not NSA preview but what you think gets in the way of leaders that don’t listen enough to their people.

[00:13:37].590] – John Laramie
I think ego is a big part of it. I think time certainly is one component. There’s no question about that. I think probably the biggest piece is as you get bigger it gets harder for you to go deeper into problems because you’re just you’re not able to get into the weeds on all these things and some minutes. So then what you’re relying on and this goes back to sort of training is making sure that your team is able to properly sort of ramp up like here are the issues. Here’s my ideas for solving them like here’s what we’ve got to go do.

[00:14:19].320] – John Laramie
What do you think. And what you can do is you can go sit in a thousand meetings all day where like people aren’t doing that and you’re like it’s mental whiplash you have no idea where to go because you can’t go deep enough into each one of those things. And you want to because you want to solve problems but you’ve got to rely on your people and their training and their experience to be able to have the foresight of here’s where I’ve identified as an issue. Here’s my idea on how to approach it.

[00:14:49].820] – John Laramie
What do you think of that. That’s way easier to have a dynamic and I want I want to be I know that makes sense. Cool go do that or shift this a little bit and think about distraction and then you come back to me. I think that’s that’s the hardest challenge to listening in a big organization.

[00:15:09].530] – Gene Hammett
Well I have seen that too within my clients and in my organization. I’m always improving the communication skills. You know I’ve got this theory out there. I kind of want to debate it with you a little bit. Yes. As your company is growing you as a leader have to grow. True or not true.

[00:15:27].710] – John Laramie
No question.

[00:15:29].370] – Gene Hammett
So what is what do you do to continuously evolve as a leader inside the company so that you can be there to direct the company but also activate those emerging leaders coming on board?

[00:15:42].360] – John Laramie
I think so much of that comes down to putting some structure around growth and and sort of an evaluation process of how people are doing. And so like KPIs is in OKRs or you know I don’t know I got a lot of people are talking about them right now. Right. But I actually think you’re starting to see more traction in the marketplace about really recognizing the health status of the business and of the people operating in the business.

[00:16:17].750] – John Laramie
And so if I can turn my time more towards our leaders and making sure that they have the right infrastructure that they’re growing at the pace they need to be growing on and they’re changing the things that they need to be changing then that will help them mold the next layer and the next layer in the next layer. But if it’s me trying to just pinball myself around the organization I’m not going to be able to go to the depth that I need to. And so I think it’s really looking at sort of this horizontal stack in the organization of where you recognize as the key people and making sure that they are thinking about management in the right way.

[00:16:57].710] – John Laramie
And you know to me at the end of the day that’s my number one job is to make sure that our people are set up to be successful. And so much of that is making sure that we’re managing their expectations our expectations their team’s expectations and they’re going in the right direction and we’re doing that to grow.

[00:17:18].350] – Commentary
John just talked about OKRs and KPI is know really as a topic today that you want to make sure you understand if you have okay hours which are objectives and key results and if everyone knows what that is and a common language around it you really have something that you can build upon and a KPIs or the key performance indicators of where things are going. What are the leading and lagging indicators of the trajectory of the sales or marketing or customer service and those things really aren’t that hard to get and manage but what is really hard for leaders is which ones to measure. Which ones are important to us. Because every business is different because you’re in different places different markets but you want to make sure that you tune into exactly what you’re measuring and what you are aligning around because that’s the key to growth. I helped teams with this all the time through so my leadership training. If you have any questions about this make sure you reach out to me [email protected] so back to the interview with John.

[00:18:17].780] – Gene Hammett
I want to step back for a second and give you a chance to talk about your evolution as a leader. What’s one defining moment that you encountered and you had to change the way you thought or saw something that previously you thought a different way. It’s a big question.

[00:18:40].810] – John Laramie
I think it is. And it’s hard to think about one defining moment largely because there’s just so many moments. Right now we’re just good and bad right. I think as an organization you know we were really clear about what we wanted to do and we started the company which was to build software and to make you know to sit at the center of the auditorium industry and to make the process easier to buy and sell for the entire organization said the top seller of the entire industry.

[00:19:16].720] – John Laramie
It’s the right idea for the industry. The recognition I think for us as a company and for me as a leader was that like… There’s too many things and too many challenges and too many mountains they like aren’t going to move for you to be able to be successful in doing that. And so I think for all see is really this recognition of if we try and be the problem solver for the entire industry there’s a lot of attractions. There’s a lot of resources and time and capital will take to get there and really the greatest opportunity is to take our technology and for us to go do it ourselves and prove the power of what we’re building rather than saying let’s give it to everyone else and make everyone else better. And that was a that was a really interesting moment for us and in the industry to basically be like Hey listen guys for the last five years we’ve been trying to make all of you guys better by media.

[00:20:15].640] – John Laramie
We actually think we’re going to really do it ourselves. And so that’s a big change and in the focus of the organization in the relationships that you build in the space and really the the the need to go prove that you can go do that. And so like you know we’ve been behind the scenes for years proving out and building that and that’s why life magazine was this great opportunity for us to come out and say we did it. We proved that as an organization. The technology that we built the thesis that we rolled into this space that you can actually go do that. And so that was pretty cool for us.

[00:20:56].100] – Gene Hammett
Are you running like any kind of like engine behind this. That’s like an artificial intelligence kind of piece or is it just…

[00:21:05].850] – John Laramie
I think there’s there’s a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and the ad tech world. There’s a there’s probably more smoke than even talk. But there’s a lot of software that we built. I mean our team engineers have our teams media planners and buyers. There’s a lot of tech behind what we do that creates automation and behind our media plans and buys. And that’s tremendously impactful to efficiency.

[00:21:36].650] – John Laramie
Like we are handling way more in Billings on a per person basis than any specialists that exists in this space that matters to us. That’s what matters is like create efficiencies so that you can spend time on the right things as an organization which at the end of the day means you’re delivering more value to your clients. So you know I look at companies that aren’t using tech in this space and the problems they must be dealing with coupled with just the regular problems of running a company that would just battle around you like you can’t do that. So yeah there’s a bunch of stuff that makes our jobs easier which in turn delivers more value to the clients.

[00:22:16].790] – Gene Hammett
Well I want to go back to this other issue of transparency because we talked about the kind of open books and showing people how the business really works and I think it’s very important as transparency playing in other areas like the vulnerability that it takes to be a leader and engage other people. Are you thinking about that level of transparency in the company any amount of vulnerability. You know a lot of leaders think that they either have to have all the answers they have to be perfect. They have to know how to move forward. I think evolve leaders modern leaders today are vulnerable enough to go look I don’t know the answer to what we’re going to do next but I know that we are going to figure this out together whatever it may be. You know you are you guys embracing as a team this open transparency in that respect?

[00:23:14].280] – John Laramie
Yeah. Because it goes back to that first point about the type of people you hire and entrepreneurs and that they want to be involved in solving problems as well. And you know I think if if you were running an organization you know well well you weren’t hiring a bunch of entrepreneurs and these motivated people that want to be in at the start of this organization then yeah it’s probably easier to be like I got to be the guy that answers everyone.

[00:23:41].140] – John Laramie
But you’re actually going to lose sort of you’re you’re going to take away the motivation and the inspiration of your people. If you’re just dictating where everything needs to go. And like we don’t we don’t know all of the answers. We’re learning all these things together right. And so I think the best way is to make sure that you are vulnerable and that you are in uncomfortable positions and in decision making because that’s where you’re going to learn the most about yourself.

[00:24:08].380] – John Laramie
Where are you going to learn the most about how you can be more comfortable the next time you face that decision. And so like I actually love sitting in a meeting and say guys I’ve no clue what to do here. Mike please go dig into these areas and maybe where I’m most helpful is saying look guys here’s where I think the things are that you should be looking at in addition to what you guys are suggesting. Like put all that together and then let’s come back and have a conversation when you guys are ready. That’s that’s what’s fun for me.

[00:24:39].040] – Gene Hammett
Well I feel like this is this is part of the whole element of modern leadership. I talk about it a lot on the interviews in the show. I help people through it and when we talk about it it is really the core of what I do so I appreciate you being here John to share with us your story your journey of fast growth and ProjectX is exciting. Last question What would you say to those leaders that haven’t embraced the fact that they should hire people with a little bit more entrepreneur thinking and they want people just to kind of just do the work.

[00:25:11].820] – John Laramie
You’re going to be way more successful and you’re going to hear a less stressful life at all. You know that’s that’s the beauty of it all. You know I’d much rather manage a person that is incredibly motivated and energetic and continues to point out things and say here’s the way I think we can be doing things better than to have somebody that just says yes to everything but that doesn’t improve me as a leader and it doesn’t help our company grow. And so I think that’s that’s the most exciting thing about hiring entrepreneurial minded folks because they’re gonna make you as a leader better and they’re gonna make your company better. Plain and simple.

[00:25:54].100] – Gene Hammett
Fantastic. John thanks for being here at Growth Think Tank.

[00:25:57].350] – John Laramie
My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:26:00].460] – Gene Hammett
Wow that is amazing. I so much packed in there about you know really how to move forward as a fast growth company how to how to lead others into fast growth and you know it takes a level of transparency that is probably uncomfortable to most of you. I have these kind of interviews with the owners and CEOs of these companies because I really want you to tune into the shifts that are necessary for you to evolve as a leader. I truly believe that as leaders we need to evolve faster than our companies and faster than the people that work for us because if we don’t evolve we won’t be able to handle the level of decisions that they’re happening at that trajectory or that pace of growth. And so you have to work on yourself more than you work on your business.

[00:26:48].860] – Gene Hammett
It’s really hard to say that and probably for you to take it. But really is true. I’ve been working on myself. My clients been working on themselves. John’s been working on himself. What are you doing to really work on you as a leader. Well you have any questions about this picture. If you want to keep following the podcast which you subscribe to GeneHammett.com subscribe there as always lead with courage.

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.


GTT Featuring John Laramie



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