The Messy Middle of a Pivot Change Unlocks New Growth with Hope Horner at LemonLight

CEOs are always looking for what unlocks new growth. My hope is that our interviews with successful leaders will give you new ideas. As companies feel pressure to overcome challenges, you have to open to new ideas. Today’s guest is Hope Horner, co-founder at Lemonlight. Inc Magazine ranked his company #2639 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Lemonlight is a leader in high-quality, affordable video production. Hope and I talk about the need to change and pivot. She shares her strategy that unlocks new growth. Learn from Hope’s ups and downs as her team has changed through new market dynamics.

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Hope Horner: The Transcript

About: Hope Horner is a three-time entrepreneur that has been featured in Inc.’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs to watch in 2017, Entrepreneur’s 11 Marketing Experts that Could Changes Your Business, and Pepperdine’s 40 Under 40. Horner is a regular contributor at Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc. and multiple other publications where she shares startup insights and scalable solutions. She is currently working on her third startup, Lemonlight, an LA-based business that produces and distributes branded video content at scale. Lemonlight has been honored in Inc. 500 and Entrepreneur 360 three years in a row.

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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.

Hope Horner: No, it’s really funny. I don’t, I don’t really know how or. Where I fall on that spectrum, but I don’t understand sometimes how leaders don’t have humility because it’s so hard, like running a business is not easy. And I feel like anyone who says it is is probably fibbing. And so I think it’s through those lessons, through those challenges, you know, getting knocked on your butt enough times is, is humbling. And there’s no way around it. At least in my experience.

Intro: 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: This last year has caused so many businesses to pivot in all of this work to grow. Our businesses got up, ended by something out of our control. Well, we have to look at what the opportunity brings us and the pivot is that opportunity. But the problem is the messy middle. All of the stuff in the middle of you moving forward in your business is difficult. Being the leader of that. It requires more of you than you probably even knew that you had well today’s conversation about the messy middle of a pivot change is with Hope Horner, she has a co-founder at LemonLight. And that company really did go through a difficult time through COVID. In fact, they lost 80 projects almost immediately, and they had to revamp the company. They had to look really hard at the numbers. They had to look at the people and they had to make some very difficult decisions. But out of that became an opportunity. The pivot change was something that you can learn from. And what really is beautiful about this story is how the people came to them. And Hope has created a very fantastic company. We look at some of the things that keep the company connected, even though all of these changes that are going on. But today we look at the messy middle with Hope Horner.

Hi Hope, how are you?

Hope Horner: Hi, I’m well, thanks so much. How are you?

Gene Hammett: Well, I am fantastic. Excited to have you here on the phone.

Hope Horner: Yeah, excited to be here.

Gene Hammett: We’re going to have an interesting conversation around people and about, you know, really coming together during difficult times. But I want to give you some context or give our audience some context on LemonLight.

Hope Horner: Yeah. So LemonLight is a performance video production company. So we make branded video content for companies of all sizes, whether it’s an event video or a Facebook ad, any type of video that you would need for your business, we can help you make.

Gene Hammett: Now, do you guys do all the footage yourself, or do you do editing or both?

Hope Horner: We do all of it. So we come out, we do all the pre-production to start where we’re planning your video, making sure that it’s aligned with your goals and how you plan to use the video. We come out, we shoot the content. In some cases, if you need talent, locations, permits, all that stuff, we take care of it. And then on the backside, we do all the post-production.

Gene Hammett: Fantastic. I, we do a lot of videos here. This video is obviously in, in a video, so I know how difficult it can be. And you know, a lot of companies don’t have those skill sets readily available.

Hope Horner: Yeah, it’s been really interesting when we started the company in 2014, the average cost of a video for a company was around like $300,000 or something crazy. And we had a hypothesis that it was probably going to continue to grow online. And so our mission was how do we make it more accessible and more affordable for everybody? And that’s what we’ve done. Now. We make, you know, 200, 300 videos a month now and keeps us busy.

Gene Hammett: Well, you Hope have come in here because our team did some research on your company. Not only have you grown fast, you guys were 2,639 on the Inc list, but you’ve had to make a big shift inside of this whole pandemic thing. So tell us a little bit about why you had to shift inside a pandemic.

Hope Horner: Yeah. So I know the pandemic definitely threw everyone for a loop, to say the least for us in particular, it was really challenging because, you know, overnight we had to cancel our productions inherently have, you know, basically, large amounts of people all gathered together in a fairly small area on set. And basically, overnight, we had to turn around and cancel, you know, over 80 productions we had scheduled for the next. , and that was a scary moment.

Gene Hammett: Well, we, we all went through this about a year ago, cause we’re recording this in April, , of 2021. And has the business completely bounced back or have you guys had to change from that?

Hope Horner: Great question. It has, we actually had a record of the last two quarters. We’ve broken, basically all of our previous records, which was great. I feel like quarter-four salvage kind of quarters two and three last year. And then we’ve had a strong start to 2021. So we’re excited.

Gene Hammett: Well, that makes this even more impressive because we’re going to go back and look at what happened in the messy middle of this.

Well, it was for many companies and I had a lot of clients that really did well through this, but I also talked to a lot of people that struggled having, you know, 80 jobs, if you will cancel and you got to decide what you’re going to do, cause I’m sure you weren’t prepared cashflow wise. And, and what are you going to do resource-wise? So what was one of the first steps you did in this big shift?

Hope Horner: Well, first I like pinched myself cause I was like, there’s no way. This is real. , and when it was, you know, immediately, I basically sat down with my two co-founders and our leadership team, and we basically had an open conversation about, you know, what does this look like? What could happen? You know, kind of ran through a couple of different scenarios and then backed into some numbers based on those scenarios. So exactly like you said, like from a cash flow standpoint, if you know, we weren’t prepared to just not do any business for the next year. So what does that look like? How much money do we need to save per month if we’re going to be out for two weeks, like they originally said versus a month versus six months, and started looking at a lot of those numbers? And then, then the hard part was okay, how are we going? Achieve that achieve those savings.

Gene Hammett: I know before we put on the recorder here, you did something really different than you didn’t. I don’t know if you knew it would work out or not, but you actually went to your employees and had a very candid, transparent conversation. What, what was the reason for going to them for answers?

Hope Horner: We trusted our team, you know, traditionally. We don’t like to pass like the burdens onto, onto our team when we can avoid it. Of course. And we don’t collaborate and solve problems together on a regular basis. Of course, we do. But you know, some of the bigger challenges we try to solve, you know, without having to, you know, to make them come up with those, some comes harder decisions and we thought we were going to approach it that way. And when we sat down to meet as a team to kind of figure out, okay, like here’s how we’re going to save money on expenses, but it’s inevitable. We need to say. X number of hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor. Okay. How do we, how are we going to do this? Who are we getting rid of? Who do we need? Who do we need now? Versus later it was, it was really messy and really, really hard. I’m not even sure how it came up, but at some point, we started having a conversation about like, what if, you know, in this department, you know, this person can take a little bit less money and you know, this person can, you know, if everyone took a little bit of less money, what does this look like? Essentially? And so eventually we decided that the best thing to do was, to be honest with our team. Just say, listen, this is how much money we need to save. We’re not, there’s no expectations from anybody. You know, we know different people, all have different experiences and families and scenarios in life what’s going on in life. And, you know, we just want to have, we literally had one-on-one conversations to have with them, , over that week to talk about, you know, what was possible for them, what would they be comfortable with? What they wouldn’t be comfortable with. And that’s, that’s kind of how it all started.

Gene Hammett: That must’ve been difficult because. They look to you typically to have answered during difficult times in crisis, but you shook up kind of a playbook of seeking to understand what’s really going on before you made decisions around this. Is that fair to say?

Hope Horner: Yeah, I definitely think so. And that was the scariest part because I didn’t want them to feel like. Like that they were expected to like solve these things that we couldn’t solve. And I was afraid that they were going to resent us for that or not understand our true motive, I guess. But what happened was really, really amazing, I would say.

Gene Hammett: And you probably got some PP blood money and that was able to probably help in some ways. Is that true?

Hope Horner: Yeah, that definitely came a couple of months later. And that was, that was very helpful for sure. I don’t want to discredit that, but early on, like, I don’t know what we would have done if the team hadn’t kind of rallied. Yeah. And work together. I would say.

Gene Hammett: That is the beautiful part of this story is because I, I don’t know if you have ever had to make layoffs and whatnot, we can talk about some of the things or furloughs or whatever word you put to it. Based on the bounce-back that you had for Q4, you have a great team that’s willing to navigate through difficult times with you. Tell me just a little bit more about, you know, how the team navigated through that messy middle to get to where you are today.

Hope Horner: Man. So we did for like, so basically what happened is we when we’re talking to the team, different people stepped up in different ways based on what they were able to do, which was amazing. We furloughed several folks at that point, temporarily and over the next couple of months, you know, we had laid out a plan. You know, a very data-driven plan based on kind of what we thought would happen. We were very communicative with our team, making sure that we were trying to keep them as up-to-date as possible. And also very importantly, trying to make sure that they had the resources they needed to say, take advantage of unemployment or, you know, family paid, leave all of the resources that, you know, sometimes we as business owners know about, or maybe they don’t know as much about, you know, as a company, you know, on the sales and marketing side, we pivoted a little bit, we came up with some products that didn’t require us to go on.

As much really started pushing those, you know, communicating with our customers too. That was really important as well. Like some people still needed to create a lot of video content and they didn’t have solutions. So we were working with them to try and help them figure out how to, and really, I think it all came down to communication. Being honest, not pretending like we have the answers. I think that was a big thing, you know? Cause we didn’t and being agile, I think, you know, it’s like we would try something and that wouldn’t work. It’s like, okay, well let’s try something. I would say it also gave us an opportunity to really look at the business as a whole and like clean up a lot of areas and really kind of revisit some structure and some processes and some, and some different things as well. So that was helpful.

Commentary: Hold on for a second. Hope just said don’t pretend that, you know, everything, a lot of leaders think that they must have the answer to what’s next and where they’re going. But many times, especially through this last year, the best leaders, the most courageous leaders were able to say, I don’t know. Because looking at your people in the eye and saying, I don’t know, does take a lot of courage, but it’s also the right thing to do. Because if you don’t have answers, you want to make sure that you step back to reflect. Maybe you need to align some people together and really tune in to what’s going on. Instead of pretending like you have all the answers, just because of some change it’s out there being a leader is very different. When you think about what does it take for you to be courageous and be intentional about your leadership and grow others? You want to make sure that you are able to say it. I don’t know. And in fact, it’s the best thing to say sometimes back to Hope.

Gene Hammett: Let’s look at that a little bit because I think a lot of businesses took a moment from the slowdown to say, you know, what are we really doing here? What is one of the areas that you decided to, shift and as improved? , because this, this ordeal?

Hope Horner: Honestly, probably most areas, but, you know, you mentioned earlier that PPP money and that wasn’t, that was a pretty pivotal moment for us because we, we wanted to be smart. You know, we want it to of course preserve what we could to make sure that the team was safe, like going to be supported, but also, you know, we wanted to use that opportunity to kind of, kind of lean into certain areas, like proactively lean into certain areas. And so we actually, you know, we’re building out a product right now. With our engineering team to help kind of streamline video production as a whole. And that was really the area where I feel like we leaned into and really kind of figured out, okay, what is it exactly that we want to make? What exactly do we need? Who are the people that we need to help us do that? We ended up hiring an engineering team. It’s been good. We’re actually getting, literally just bought our first customer on the platform today. So that was exciting. And we’re excited about kind of unrolling that.

Gene Hammett: I love to hear the stories of, you know, the struggle that we went through and the teams coming together, which is definitely something you have shared with us Hope, but also the stories of innovation around this required us to think differently and provide different solutions to, to even new problems that we’re having. When you think about your style of leadership, what are the, what are the strengths that you brought to this difficult time that you can point to?

Hope Horner: I dunno. I mean, tenacity, I feel like is the word that comes to mind, you know, it’s like, it was so easy during those months, you know, to just be like down and like discouraged and, you know, just being like, I don’t want to deal with it. I remember having that feeling like, if we tried this and that didn’t work, we tried this and that didn’t work this, you know, the restrictions are still high. And I think it was just, you know, it’s about like moving forward no matter what, and finding new ways and repaving old ways and staying connected with the team. I think that was important to you. Just being honest and transparent and, and humility, I think is a big key there too. Just not trying to let your ego get in the way with anything.

Commentary: Hold on, Hope just talked about tenacity. It really is a powerful force inside of her own words. The ability to have a firm grip of what’s right in front of us, and about where we’re going. You want to make sure that you are going forward with clarity and confidence and the tenacity to keep going. No matter what’s going on around you is something people would admire. Your followers will really be attracted to you. And it will be something that separates you from others. You want to be tenacious. Back to Hope.

Gene Hammett: Humility is an interesting kind of challenge for many leaders because they come up with these ideas that end up, you know, having a product-market fit, they ended up building a team around it. You’ve got to have a certain amount of confidence too, to be able to pull that off. But yet many of them forget to be humble. How did you keep yourself grounded with your humility?

Hope Horner: I don’t know. It’s really funny. I don’t, I don’t really know how or. Where I fall on that spectrum, but I don’t understand sometimes how leaders don’t have humility because it’s so hard, like running a business is not easy. And I feel like anyone who says it is, is probably fibbing. And so I think it’s through those lessons, through those challenges, you know, getting knocked on your butt enough times is, is humbling. There’s just no way around it. At least in my experience, I certainly haven’t solved all the problems. By myself. And in general,

Gene Hammett: I’m kind of curious, are you guys back in the office, or are you still pretty much remote?

Hope Horner: Mostly remote I’m in the office today. We are slowly starting to have a few people come into video production. We do the shoot. We have a studio here at our office, so we are shooting here now, which has been nice. And then like when we have large files that we’re transferring, the team will come in to help kind of facilitate that.

Gene Hammett: When, if we were able to peek into decide your company and the culture that’s going on. What is one of the rituals that you would see, or we would see to keep everyone connected and keep the communication flowing?

Hope Horner: There’s a lot. The first Friday of every month, we have an all-hands meeting every Friday back during the pre-pandemic. We also used to cut out half a day and go do some kind of activity, which was always a ton of fun. And then now in the pandemic, you know, we have a fun committee which hosts monthly contests and virtual events. And, you know, they’re continuing to come up with innovative ideas. And then, yeah, I think that the pandemic has forced us to have a lot more structure too. So like knowing when department meetings are so they can pop in and check-in with the different teams, having more consistent and structured one-on-ones with, for every single person, and their direct reports, things like that. I think it’s, it’s about staying connected more than ever. No,

Gene Hammett: I haven’t heard this fun committee. So I want you to tell me a little bit about this by the executive leadership team, or is it completely by others on the front lines of the business?

Hope Horner: Yeah, no, it’s, it’s a voluntary committee. , there’s two great women who have run it. We basically try to switch, like kind of the leadership of it every six to eight months, I would say. And it’s yes. Up of volunteers and we’ve done some incredible things. Some of my favorites. Like the easy ones are like Halloween horror nights. When you go there, we do something big every year for Halloween. we played Bumble balls. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that you get in a big plastic ball and you basically try and play soccer on the beach. I was incredible. We’ve been to like every, like all kinds of things. For some reason. I can’t think of any right now because you’ve asked me, bonfires of course, like tripling parks, things like that. sometimes it’s just like cutting out and going to. Get dinner with the whole team and having drinks at a bar just depends.

Gene Hammett: Now, this has shifted through the COVID experience. , so have they moved to online or?

Hope Horner: Yeah, most things are online. We found we, instead of doing one, we basically do two smaller activities a month, two virtual, two smaller virtual activities a month, but we still. We’re pretty committed.

Gene Hammett: Hope. I love this idea of, you know, you being the kind of leader that can bring people together, being transparent. It really is a factor that all fast-growth companies tend to share is the level of transparency they have with their team members. So I appreciate you giving us the insight into the messy middle that you had to go through to get to where you are today.

Hope Horner: Awesome. Yeah, thanks so much. It’s been, it’s been great sharing it and, and even reflecting on the experience as a whole. Appreciate it.

Gene Hammett: I want to wrap up here while hope is listening in, you know, when you think about your leadership, you’re going to have to go through difficult changes. You’re going to have to grow and expand as a leader. My hope is that you do that with intention, that you don’t just, you know, drift along and really hope that that things will come together, but you really step back and are able to reflect deeply on where you’ve been, where you’re going, but also to be intentional about your own leadership and the skills that you bring to the party, , your team deserves the best leader. You can be. If you’re thinking about how to grow as a leader, you want to join a community of fast-growth companies. Make sure you check out is something that we are really proud of. Reading community of people with content and coaching to help you grow to be the extraordinary leader you can be.

Just go When you think about growth. You think about leadership, think of Growth Think Tank as always live with courage. 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.




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