Evolving as a Leader and Ego with Adam Hirsen At UpShow

Grow requires you to take your leadership to a new level. The process of evolving as a leader requires you to be courageous. My work with amazing leaders that are founders and CEOs proves that great leaders are always learning. Adam Hirsen, who is the CEO of UpShow is our special guest. His company was ranked #174 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. We talk about the challenges of evolving as a leader. You will get insight into how your ego often gets in the way. Discover the keys to taking your company to a new level by evolving as a leader.

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Adam Hirsen: The Transcript

Target Audience: Adam Hirsen is the Co-Founder, CEO at UPshow. UPshow transforms in-venue engagement to drive modern business outcomes. UPshow does this by connecting the most important screens inside a venue – the TV and mobile phone.

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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.

Adam Hirsen
We found that we can be really successful in driving the consumers’ behaviors, and helping our partners grow their businesses by transforming the TVs in hundreds or thousands of locations at Hooters Buffalo Wild Wings, Crunch Fitness, ATI physical therapy, etc.

Intro [0:17]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of 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 [0:35]
We’re going to talk about your evolution as a leader today. Specifically, we’re going to be talking about your ego. Now, before you tune out and really try to go find something that you feel like might better serve you. Your ego is your way you think about yourself the way you see yourself in this world. And there’s a lot of elements to the ego. But if it gets in the way of you leading and servicing your people, then you really aren’t leading to the highest capacity at your optimal level. So today we’re going to talk about it. We have a special guest on the show, we have Adam Hirsen. He’s the co-founder of Up Show. We’re gonna talk about what Up Show is, but specifically, we talked about ego and the evolution of leadership. One of the things I really liked about this is Adam is just really real about it takes different models or stages of leadership to be able to serve this, it’s hard in certain times, and his job is to make sure people are inspired to come together, he talks about some of the things that they’re doing specifically as a team, but also what he’s doing individually as a leader and how he’s evolved over time. So stay tuned for this interview with Adam.

Commercial [1:46]
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 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 with each individual episode. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward and many of them haven’t been published depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. Now here is Adam.

Gene Hammett [2:31]
Hi Adam, how are you?

Adam Hirsen [2:33]
Good. How are you?

Gene Hammett [2:34]
I am fantastic. We’re gonna be talking about a very interesting subject today. But I would love for you to tell our audience about up show. What what what is that business?

Adam Hirsen [2:45]
Well, thank you, Gene, for having me. We found it Up Show in 2015. We found that the best time to leverage a consumer’s mind shares while they’re inside the four walls of the hospitality and fitness and health. venues that they visit every day, and that’s when we can really engage the customer in the behaviors that drive loyalty and grow lifetime value. And thus, we’ve built a platform that transforms existing TV screens inside those venues. And harmonizes a program of both modern entertainment and the top marketing objectives of the brand. We found that we can be really successful in driving the consumers’ behaviors, and helping our partners grow their businesses by transforming the TVs in hundreds or thousands of locations at Hooters Buffalo Wild Wings crunch fitness, a to physical therapy, etc.

Gene Hammett [3:40]
Well, I think it’s an interesting model because you probably have competition, but I go into these things so rarely I don’t see much, many impacts, you’re growing pretty fast though.

Adam Hirsen [3:54]
Yeah, no doubt. I mean, the status quo is still paper marketing, whether you go for beer and wings. You’re at your doctor’s office or physical therapist, you’re going to see paper marketing and pamphlets and posters and table tents. And that’s static and expensive and ignored. Or you’re going to see broadcast television, which is interesting. There’s nothing wrong with Judge Judy. She’s great. But just not helping people grow their business, right, purely entertainment value. So that’s the status quo. And that’s what we’re trying to change.

Gene Hammett [4:25]
You know, we talked last week a little bit about what some of the things that you’ve been working on as a leader to ensure that you stay evolving, you’re ahead of the curve as a company continues to grow because I would imagine, you’re still planning to grow faster. There’s still a huge market there too, for you to penetrate. One of the things you mentioned was about ego. So tell us a little bit about what you define as ego.

Adam Hirsen [4:53]
Yeah, you’re right. It’s sort of a contrarian evolution, right? Because it sometimes becomes more about what you stopped doing. As a leader, you know, as you grow, and we’re certainly excited about the market opportunity we have, we have venture investors and God bless them. They’re, they’re awesome. And we see a huge market opportunity. So we’re in growth mode. And I think when it comes to ego, I just it’s pretty simple. I find that we do our best work. And frankly, I do my best work when the ego is absent. And I don’t know why that is. I mean, for starters, you know, there’s ego-driven outcomes where I force things through or take a brute force approach or ego and emotion is involved, but I just don’t feel as great about those outcomes as when I can empower certain members of our team to get things done, who are growing, who are maturing, who are taking feedback. It just feels better and so nothing feels better than a hard-fought team effort, where ego is absent or investors are involved, advisors are helping team members are growing. And that just, it feels good. Those are the best types of outcomes.

Gene Hammett [6:06]
Now, I know you’ve been working on this idea of suppressing the ego. But I want to take the flip side of it. Ego is part of what gave you the confidence and courage to create this new business to break out on your own and to start hiring people and raising money and all that stuff. So, you know, there’s a good side to the ego as well.

Adam Hirsen [6:27]
Yeah, no doubt. I like to carry the confidence within I like to sort of sum up the toolkit that has been my professional experiences to date and have the confidence that you know, I’m really good at this, or I’ve seen this movie before. Or, you know, I just have founders intuition here. And I use those tools all the time. I’m just, you know, sometimes I like to hold that within and have that confidence and not look for external validation. And that’s been helpful to me and then to know what I don’t know, which is to recognize when we end up in unchartered waters or unprecedented situations, and then I’ll bring anyone and everyone around me in to help me solve that situation. So it’s, you know, I sort of having to decide when to flex the confidence internally and go with intuition or when to just bring the smartest people in the room and our biggest supporters around to help solve problems.

Gene Hammett [7:29]
I know it’s hard for this, for people to really understand how it plays inside of our own leadership, but many people have refused to bring on people that are smarter than them and even certain experts, they wouldn’t say it probably, per se but they’ve been acting like, well, we want to we want an army of people out here that are doers, not necessarily thinkers, and that really get in the way. You have taken the other approach to that because you used this word. Empower. You want people to actually think for themselves. Tell us a little bit about why that’s important.

Adam Hirsen [8:05]
Yeah, well, I’m lucky. We talked a little bit about my beginnings at Price Waterhouse Coopers which was a great start to my career. And then I found my way into a mid-market private equity firm here in Chicago called Sterling partners. And it was, again, an incredible learning ground for me because I saw pretty early on that people mean everything to a business, really just the lifeblood of the business, they mean, everything and there’s no substitute, you know, great idea, great market opportunity, no substitute for having the right folks and passion and supporting a cause. And so maybe I’m just lucky because I was a student to that early on, but, you know, it’s my feeling that you want to hire the best people or to have around you to drive great outcomes. I want people around me that are better than me and all the functional areas of the business and I’m just a big fan of figuring out and being open about best use, not my best used to be trying to do a 2050 or 100 different things, I should focus on three or four major things over, you know, the period of a few years that I know I can get done for my company and, you know, just find the best people in every other area of the business to help me lead. And so, you know, sometimes that involves letting go a little bit, but it’s just this is the only way our company is going to grow is we need those people around the table that are aligned and who can help me to lead.

Commercial [9:36]
Adam just talked about people being everything to the business. Now you may believe that, but are you really living it? I have interviewed over 500 founders and CEOs of fast-growing companies, and they know the importance of their people. They don’t see them as interchangeable that we could just fire one today and find another person. They really want to invest in those people and they want to create a culture that has a competitive advantage. And when you really believe that people are everything to the business, then that allows you to create the kind of leadership that inspires them to take ownership. That’s the core of my work. I just wanted to remind you that because it’s a very interesting concept, and people actually do disagree with this on a regular basis, I believe that people are everything in the business and that we’re here to serve those people as leaders so that they can serve our clients. Putting people first really is a big part of being the leader that you want to be back to Adam.

Gene Hammett [10:33]
Well, you’re not alone, because a lot of the people I interview are in the mindset that we want them to feel that sense of empowerment. And in fact, the word that keeps coming up over and over is we want them to feel a sense of ownership. And that’s really the key behind a lot of the work I’ve been doing with my own clients. You know, Adam, we came here to talk about ego. So one of the things you’ve been working on is suppressing the ego. I don’t want to make assumptions about what is suppressing the ego?

Adam Hirsen [11:05]
You know, don’t get overconfident, right? I have a couple of close advisors and we’re obviously we’re often like recounting a couple of key lessons that have served us and we talked about this one, which always assumes you’re in the breakdown, you know, always assume something’s wrong, you’ve got it wrong, things are failing. You’re the underdog, that you need to come out of the corner fighting. And that helps. I mean, that’s really what it is. It’s being comfortable sort of assuming you’re in a breakdown. I mean, we’re building a company from a cocktail napkin to you know, what is the leading and venue, customer engagement platform, and I’m comfortable saying that at every level, right? We’re trying to get better. We’re trying to make the business not only thrive but survive at the same time and, you know, so I assume the worst And then enjoy the winds when they come.

Gene Hammett [12:05]
So suppressing the ego is it’s a matter of self-awareness, would you say?

Adam Hirsen [12:11]
Yeah, I think so. Absolutely.

Gene Hammett [12:13]
Really understanding where you are our best and where you should be making decisions, but also being able to be able to clearly say, this is not my area of expertise, that I’m not going to let my ego get in the way. I’m going to let my Chief Technology Officer make the decision and we’ll run with it.

Adam Hirsen [12:32]
Yeah, no doubt. Yeah. And be comfortable that like when building a business is hard, you know, it’s a hard-fought climb. And, you know, I’m very comfortable with that and embracing the problems as they come. Even though I think I have talents. I think you know, where I’m really good, but overall, I like to just acknowledge that it’s hard and it’s okay to make three mistakes for every one success. And that’s how this is gonna play out.

Gene Hammett [12:59]
What strategy Have you been able to adapt and move the needle on this? Letting go of the ego?

Adam Hirsen [13:06]
Yeah, I mean, you’re right engagement in the team around you is everything. And that means, you know that means embracing ideas, highlighting the impact that people are making across the business. You know, we do that. We have what’s called the moon person award, where we highlight, you know, the best accomplishments across the team every month. And ultimately, one esteemed member of the team walks away with the moon person award. We encourage creative thought and thinking outside of the box and walking through walls. And in doing all this, we’ve actually built a really cool document instead of core values, which I thought was a little fluffy at the beginning. But when we engage in the exercise, and we’ve lived with them now for 18 months, I mean, the core values really help align the team and the culture and it’s all about engagement. If our team feels empowered. They see that they can make an impact. And then they get to see the fruits of their labor in terms of great customer outcomes and wins for the company growth and team then, you know, that’s empowerment, right?

Gene Hammett [14:14]
Was there a part of you that like, just really focused on the strategy and like getting the MVP out there and didn’t really pay attention to the values in his early days?

Adam Hirsen [14:23]
Yeah, absolutely. It’s hard because when your company is immature, there are so many parallel paths that you have to mind which is you got a product, you know, if it’s a technical product, it’s got to work. Everything is sales, you got to get someone to buy it. Then you got to live in service to that customer so that they stay with you for years to come and you form a true partnership. But then you have people and you reach this inflection point quickly where it needs to be people carrying on that mission versus the blocking and tackling and I think the best leaders like to make that pivot really quickly, right? Like they, they have product-market fit, they have sales, it’s time for growth. And when it’s time for growth, you know, what I have learned and what I’m practicing to get better is to focus on team and culture and talent. And, you know, it’s my job to set the vision. And, frankly, to keep the business funded and surviving and thriving. So it’s an evolution.

Gene Hammett [15:31]
Well, I see that too, with a lot of leaders is, you know, there’s so many things that focus in the early days, but as soon as you get a chance, when you start adding people, and it starts really soon, sooner than you think, like the first three, four or five key hires, that starts your culture right there.

Adam Hirsen [15:50]
Yeah, without a doubt.

Gene Hammett [15:51]
The core values seem like they’re touchy-feely, like oh, that’s a fun thing to have, like, Oh, yeah, but What you found now looking back, you know, your core values probably determine who you hire, how you onboard them, how you lead, how your development? Is there anything specific within the core values that you feel like you’ve adopted that create rituals that allow you to kind of bind together as a team?

Adam Hirsen [16:20]
Yeah, I mean, we talk about living in service to the customer and doing whatever it takes, you know, walk through walls for the customer. And every month, we’re able to highlight these incredible examples where various team members were creative. They build stronger bonds with the customer, or they stepped out of the box and did amazing things that that just had great results. And so to be able to celebrate that creativity and you know, that poise from various members of the team has been great.

Gene Hammett [16:57]
Well, when you think about moving forward and how you’re going to continue to evolve as a leader? What are the things you’re focused on?

Adam Hirsen [17:06]
Yeah, as I said, it’s all people, I need to really have the best people around me. And so talent is the huge and incessant focus on getting the best talent. And it’s also hard to because with that, you have people that are very loyal to the business and, you know, who have been with you for a long time, and you got to, you got to kind of figure out how to either repurpose that talent and continue the growth trajectory or, you know, potentially move on. And so, you know, that makes the job really difficult at times, but it’s part of the necessary growth.

Commercial [17:49]
Hold on for a second, Adam just said, it’s all about the people. I know. This is just like I just talked about a few minutes ago, but I want to take a different perspective here. If it’s all about the people, your job is to lead and develop those people, as a leader, if you’re not giving them the confidence and courage to be able to do their job at a higher level, to be able to have their own opinions, to empower them to make those decisions, and to be able to let them fail and pick the pieces up. And you really are doing a disservice to the entire organization. Because if you have a breakdown to any of those elements of leading and developing your people, then you really aren’t creating the kind of organization where people are growing. They are waiting for you to save them. They’re waiting for you to make a decision. They’re waiting for you to pick up the pieces. And that just slows the organization down. You want an organization where people have that confidence and courage and your job as a leader is to instill it in them back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [18:50]
It’s a hard fact that we have to realize that some people are great at certain stages of the company, but we have to let go of them if they’re not ready for the next stage. I actually just got interviewed by another podcast and I came in it’s kind of a special guest. And I was kind of blindsided by this Adam, is the CEO of this large company had been let go. They’ve helped him through this one big phase of growth. And my job was to answer the question, you know, why does that happen? And very simply, is if you as an employee, and you were that he was the CEO failed to evolve, you’re probably not going to be asked to continue the journey. And this happens at all levels of the company. So what you’re describing is a very common thing that happens. And I think what we have to do as leaders, is really tune into how quickly Am I evolving? And you have to evolve faster than the pace of the organization and the culture and the team so that you stay up on it. Is there anything specifically you’ve learned to help you kind of tune in to your own evolution?

Adam Hirsen [20:02]
Well, yeah, I mean, certainly I take 360-degree feedback from the people around me in the team and you know what’s going well and where they need more help from me or what I can do to be a better leader in terms of communication and focus. At the same time, I try to think, three steps ahead. In every division of the company. I mean, I’m always trying to think three steps ahead and product, three steps ahead in sales and marketing and where we need to be. And it’s usually I’m usually at that point theorizing about controversial changes, right? People that need to go, people, that we need to recruit certain areas of focus and strategy. And, you know, I feel like I always have a handful of, you know, controversial crystal ball type moments. And I’m always thinking through those and what to prioritize And how it’s gonna help me evolve quickly so I can build value for investors?

Gene Hammett [21:07]
Well, I think what you’re describing there is you truly have moved into what I would call the visionary role, where you are focused most of your time on, how are we going to evolve that three steps ahead. So Adam, I really appreciate you being a guest here on the podcast. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and being a part of it.

Adam Hirsen [21:25]
Thanks for having me, Gene.

Gene Hammett [21:27]
I love having conversations with leaders that understand that they must continue to evolve. This is the core of my work because as a leader, you must be able to work on yourself, you must be able to take that feedback as in the 360-degree feedback that Adam was just talking about. You must be able to, to let go of certain things so that you can stay three steps ahead and all of the areas that are important for the business because your job is to make sure that people know where they’re going and empower them along that journey.

Gene Hammett [21:55]
So hopefully you are getting a lot out of these interviews. I love creating them for you. If you Have any challenges about your own leadership and about how to continue to grow? Make sure you reach out to me I’d love to get to know you [email protected] is my email. But what I really want to do is serve you as a leader, empower you to evolve and go beyond where you are today to play at your most optimal level. That’s what I love to do and that’s what we do as a company. First, anyway I can help you make sure you reach out to [email protected], as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

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 Adam Hirsen



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