Collaborative Cultures Drive Growth with Johnathan Ruggiero at Manly Bands

Your culture can take many shapes that define who you are. When companies share openly and actively engage in conversations aimed at growth, you have collaborative cultures at work. Today’s guest is Johnathan Ruggiero, Founder & CEO at Manly Bands Inc Magazine ranked his company #388 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Manly Bands offers hundreds of unique and affordable wedding bands for men. Johnathan shares his views on creating collaborative cultures. We talk about the power of sharing data and being cooperative. Their company has grown extremely fast, and one factor to that growth is their collaborative culture.

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Johnathan Ruggiero: The Transcript

About: Johnathan Ruggiero is a founder and co-CEO of Manly Bands, one of the fastest-growing DTC brands in men’s wedding retail. John and his wife Michelle started the company using their combined marketing and business development experience following their own wedding ring fiasco.

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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.

Johnathan Ruggiero: [00:00:00] And I think it really, what really changed for us was when that stress kind of hit a new level. When, when we started to realize, you know, what this business is going to fall apart, if we don’t start collaborating with other people and getting help. And, , and I think giving up that control and realizing we don’t have to do everything was really what kind of led us down that path. And not only did it alleviate a lot of that stress, but as we started bringing on help from people much smarter than ourselves. Oh, we, , we really began to, to see the business grow in scale in a way we hadn’t thought possible.

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: Today we’re going to look at how your teams work together, how they feel included and what that really means to driving growth. Specifically, we’re going to talk about collaborative culture. When you have a collaborative culture, you have something kind of special because no [00:01:00] longer is everyone counting on you to make the decisions. They’re able to figure things out for themselves. They’re able to work through challenges, work. And so that you can actually be the leader that your team deserves when you have a collaborative culture, things just seem to align together through kind of a network of people, not just individuals working in showing up doing work. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. In this episode, we have a co-founder of Manly Bands. We have Johnathan Ruggiero and Johnathan is going to help us understand what collaborative culture really means inside of fast-growth companies. We’re going to look at some of the details which he does to create this. there’s not a lot of, , structure and strategies around this, but we also look at the big mistake that he made in this journey of fast growth. So when you think about your own leadership, are you curious about what’s next? Are you curious about how you could be the best leader you need to be? Well, I can help you figure out what’s getting in your way.

I do this all the time. I do it for my clients. I want to do it for you. If you’re listening to this and you want to be an extraordinary leader and I want to help you figure out the plan forward, you know, help you. Re-engineer this, [00:02:00] this whole concept to, to be a leader that your team deserve. And all you have to do is reach out to me. I’d love to talk to you about your business. Your leadership is going to and schedule your call. When you think about your own leadership, you want to make sure that this is not left to chance. It doesn’t just happen kind of naturally. You want to make sure you’re intentionally and create it. I want to help you do that and speed up the. Accelerate your leadership. Just go to and schedule your call. Now here’s the interview with Johnathan.

Johnathan, How are you?

Johnathan Ruggiero: I’m great, Gene how are you doing?

Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on Growth Think Tank.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Oh, well, thanks so much for having me. I’m super excited. Big fan of the show.

Gene Hammett: We are going to have a great conversation, but I’d love to get to, to talk a little bit about the company you’ve created here with your co-founder. Tell us about Manly Bands.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Of course. Yeah. So my, , my co-founder co CEO is my lovely and talented wife, Michelle Lucchese, and we started Manly Bands back in 2016 to solve our own problem. My problem specifically is that I have large fingers and I had a really tough time finding a wedding band for myself. , my wife had no problems. She went to a [00:03:00] jewelry store, thousands of options. She fell in love with so many of them, but, , but for myself, I had not only did I not know my size because I’m a guy and never wore jewelry before, but I found that it was very. Expensive compared to what I thought it was going to cost. And they only had four or five styles in the back, in the little dark corner of the jewelry store to choose from. Anyway. So, , I ended up going online, , after the jewelers suggested I just buy something from a catalog. I said, you know what, it’s going to go on and find something it’s it’s 2016, there’s got to be websites that sell this stuff. And, , I did, I came across a website that had super inexpensive rings, which of course made me question the quality of them. And. Something I’m going to where the rest of my life. And, , and I, I picked one out and bought it. I didn’t know my size. So I got like four of them. , they were that inexpensive.

And when they arrived, they fell out of the bag. There was no ring box. There was no receipt. There was no customer service. And thankfully, cause my wedding is in two weeks, , I, one of them fit and so it worked out, but in, in retrospect, , after we had gotten married, we were looking for [00:04:00] work and we said, you know, we’re entrepreneurs, let’s see if we can figure this out. What problem can we solve? , that we experienced. And we started talking about that ring experience and we said, you know what, let’s put our heads together and try to solve that. And so that’s where we did.

Gene Hammett: Love how, , many entrepreneurial brands actually scratch their own itch.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Exactly. I mean, it made a lot of sense. So we knew what we would want in an experience , you know, that was a good experience for ring buying for men. And so we just put our heads together. My wife’s super creative, so she did a lot of the naming of the rings and the personality. And she designed them with some manufacturers we were working with and I did the technical stuff, the marketing, , and we just figured out and we’ve, we’ve slowly grown in sense.

Gene Hammett: Well, not too slowly because you made the Inc list and it’s been an incredible honor, I think, to be what, your 388, this past year,

Johnathan Ruggiero: we were 3 88. It was a huge honor. It was, , honestly I’ve been reading Inc since I was a kid. So it was very much a bit of a childhood dream. To dorky about it, but that was really excited.

Gene Hammett: Well, we’re going to dive into what got you there. My team does a lot of research on leadership, [00:05:00] specifically companies that are on the Inc list. And we ask you some questions. We’re going to come here to talk about what we found out, but you found that collaboration was an important piece of your company success. Why is it so important to your growth?

Johnathan Ruggiero: That’s a great question. And, you know, I can, I can probably best answer it by, by telling you about when we weren’t doing a lot of collaboration. And when we had started to really plateau and we weren’t really able to grow, you know, about, about a year in Michelle and I were still running the business side of our garage. We wanted full control over the business and, and that’s what we had. And you know, when you’re only two people, maybe three, we were about Michelle’s family and to help us out three or four, oh, well, we, we found, you know, this is super stressful. How are we going to scale this? To a level that doesn’t make us want to pull our hair out every day, which, which I’ve done quite a bit of. , and so I, yeah, I mean, we talked and we said, look, this isn’t going to be scalable. We’re going to be killing ourselves in the garage every day, the neighbors were starting to wonder what these huge bags, where we were bringing in and out of the house every afternoon. , it was just super awkward, but we were like, no, we can save money if we just do it [00:06:00] ourselves, it’ll be great. And I think it really. What really changed for us was when that stress kind of hit a new level. When, when we started to realize, you know, what this business is going to fall apart, if we don’t start collaborating with other people and getting help. And, , and I think giving up that control and realizing we don’t have to do everything was really what kind of led us down that path.

And not only did it alleviate a lot of that stress, but as we started bringing on help from people much smarter than ourselves. Oh, we, , we really began to see the business grow in scale in a way we haven’t thought possible.

Gene Hammett: Love that story. Johnathan, when you look at a company your size, cause you’re not that big, right? How many employees you have right now?

Johnathan Ruggiero: 53.

Gene Hammett: And what you were talking about this story back then. And out of the garage and a lot of great companies that start at a garage, I’m sure you know, that the apple journey and you know, many, many more, but when you think about culture, cause you think about it really early, before you were hiring, you know, before you got to 50 employees.

Johnathan Ruggiero: We were not and, and the reason was. [00:07:00] Probably isn’t a good reason, but the reason was, is our entire staff was remote. So the, you know, these were pre COVID days. We were COVID ready, I guess, , about, , I’d say the first 10 to 15 team members were remote. , they were all around the country. They were, they were friends and family members and people we grew up with and went to high school and college with, , people we trusted, which, , you know, we were told many times don’t hire family. Don’t hire your friends. , I can say gratefully that all of those folks are still with us today and they’re huge assets of our team. , so we really lucked out there, but, , it really wasn’t until we started bringing people into our office. , we relocated from Florida to Utah in late 2019. And, , we love it here. The people are amazing. The entrepreneurial spirit is incredible here in Utah. And because of that, we were really able to bring on some more. Top-notch talent. , from our warehouse team fulfillment team, so much of our executive team and our creative team. And, , it wasn’t until everybody was kind of in house. We said, you know, Michelle and I have a vision for this company. We have a vision for what [00:08:00] we, we would want the culture to be. And then we had to kind of figure out, okay, how can we make sure the employees understand that and can become an active partner.

Gene Hammett: Had a lot of people podcasts before. One of them, , was one of the co-founders of Netflix. And they talked about the importance of culture early, but you figured out as your company was going to grow, I think you had to have a culture that was defined. You know, you talked about transparency when we were, before we cut on the recorder. , what role is transparency play in your company’s growth?

Johnathan Ruggiero: Transparency is a really big deal. I, you know, we, , as we started, most of the levels that we hired were, were pretty high up management. , Levels to help us with, with all of that aspect of the business. And we were always transparent, , with things like, like numbers and budgets and, and all that super important stuff. And, you know, I think what we’ve, what we’ve learned is that transparency is needed to have a successful team, especially on the management side, you know, on the, on the, the. Fulfillment side or the CS side, you know, we don’t share all the numbers, but it’s important that they understand our vision, where we want to [00:09:00] go, how they can be a better active person in our culture. And, and just to, to communicate and having those lines of communication, I think not only create an atmosphere of, of inclusion, but also of, , you know, more responsibility. And more commitment to the brand. So they, you know, they feel like they’re part of it, as opposed to just working for a company. They, they feel like they are the company, which, which is super important to us.

Commentary: Johnathan just talked about inclusion. Inclusion is a big concept for companies. You want to make sure people feel like they’re included inside decisions inside of strategy discussions and pivots. You’re making maybe it’s marketing decisions or sales stuff. If they feel excluded, they have no sense of ownership of the company. They have no sense of ownership of their projects, but if you include them in to these decisions, they have more buy-in. So if you want people to take ownership of the problems and the projects and the client experience, you want to include them in this doesn’t mean you’ll always include them in your doesn’t mean you’re trying to find consensus, but you’re, you’re giving them a voice. Because if they have a voice. It feels like a sense of owner around the work that they [00:10:00] do. You want to do that every place you can, because it really does help people buy in to what you’re doing. Now, back to Johnathan.

Gene Hammett: A lot of the things we’re talking about today, can we trace back to the company core value? Do you guys have a very clear understanding of what the values are and are they communicated on a regular basis across the team.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Probably not communicated as much as we would like? to be honest, and it’s something that we are always working on, but the core values of transparency trust. Responsibility. So those are probably the key ones. , and I think that we kind of live those values. So while, , while we probably should talk about them more in our management calls, , we do try to lead by example and, you know, we were always trying to be fair and transparent and making sure that people have, , an input not only into the company, but into their roles and their positions and responsibilities.

Gene Hammett: Do you have a favorite strategy or a way to include them in this living the values.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Favorite strategy? That’s a good question. I know we don’t have a strategy, I guess. I think it’s almost just something that we kind of reiterate. Like I said, not, [00:11:00] not formerly, although we should more often. , but just in, in how we work together. So, you know, in terms of giving responsibility or transparency between departments, we were always asking, Hey, make sure you work with, so-and-so make sure you talk through everything like comments. It seems like common sense. But it’s important that people don’t feel like they’re competing with each other, like from a department standpoint or, , you know, things like that for our culture. We want everybody to feel like they’re on the same baseball team and if they’re not able to play together, that’s when we start to see problems.

Gene Hammett: I wanna give you a chance to talk about some of the other aspects that have kept your company growing through tough periods as COVID is, is if we’re still battling it right now. , what else besides collaboration is, is really important to you.

Johnathan Ruggiero: You know, this might sound cliche, but, , a family atmosphere is actually really important to me. I don’t know if, , and again, I’m, I’m not an MBA. I’m just like, I, I tell people I’m a scrappy entrepreneur just trying to change the world and do good things. and currently. We’re having a great time growing manly bands, [00:12:00] but, but for me, our teams, the most important thing, and, and that is very, very apparent to our entire team all the way from the executives, , all across the board. , and I think we make that very apparent by just how we treat each other, you know, we’ve, , we’ve gone out of our way, especially with COVID to just make sure our team is taken care of. And I don’t just mean that from a hand sanitizer standpoint, but, you know, providing mental health resources, , making sure that folks know how to get, , , counseling or, or any like mental health therapy, , which we recommend regularly, , you know, if possible or if they’re interested from meditation, which we, we provided meditation services.

It’s a subscription to the calm app for all of our employees. , we, we really do try to take care of them. Burnout is something we talk about frequently. , what we find. And of course, I’m not surprised because we have an incredible team, but we have to beg people to take time off. And it’s not because they have crazy deadlines or they just genuine love working together with us, which is awesome. And we’re so appreciative, but unfortunately we can also see them burning themselves out. So, so oftentimes we have to have conversations about that. [00:13:00] We try to take care of our team and the way that we feel, they take care of us. And that’s always been a huge, huge point that we’ve, we’ve tried to maintain here in our culture and not the business.

Gene Hammett: I say that what you just said, what our team is, the most important thing, how, what will we see inside your organization? Let us know that that’s really the most important thing.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Well, I think, I think on the, on the surface, it might be hard to tell, cause everyone’s working so hard, but I think if you ask anybody here on our team, they would say that, , you know, we, as a management team go through great lengths to make sure everybody’s taken care of. And, , I don’t mean in some weird way, you know, giving them three weeks off because they’re tired or whatever, you know, obviously we have a great time off and a benefits package, but it’s, it’s more about making sure they are good. Like I was saying with the mental health, you know, with COVID I, you know, a big thing for us was just making sure everybody was safe when, , when COVID. It was getting really bad and it’s still really bad. But in the beginning we came together as a team. We had a big meeting and we said, you know, what, what can we do to make sure we’re all going to be safe? , this [00:14:00] is pre vaccinations and all that. This was like April after it started in 2020. And what the team w we all decided together, , was that we were going to try, because we didn’t know how bad it was going to get. We were going to try to move. Fulfillment to people’s houses. And just so they didn’t have to come together in the warehouse, which seemed like a huge lift, but we were all for it. We said, you know, this is great. And we don’t have to worry about people in the warehouse together. And so we, , we found a way to do it.

And our teams amazingly all came together. We loaded up a bunch. I went to a few folks houses and they set up filament centers in their basement and they had ups come and pick up. And, , we kept people safe that went on for two or three months, I think. And then everybody was going a little stir crazy, but we try real hard to make sure that even our warehouse team was able to work from home for awhile, , during COVID and now, thankfully they’re, you know, they’re awesome about social distancing. We still were. Everybody’s vaccinated. So we’re still keeping everybody safe, but it was that coming together of the team coming up with that idea, , which wasn’t our idea. It was, it was a team effort literally. And, , [00:15:00] we were just so proud of everybody just caring so much about everybody else.

Gene Hammett: Johnathan I want to turn the tables on it. Focus on you for a second. You had mentioned that you don’t have much of a background in leadership, no formal training MBAs or anything like that. To me, what’s one mistake that you could share with us that you have overcome. And you’re not afraid to, to let people know that this was something you’ve struggled with in your leadership capacity.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Oh, for sure. I don’t know if I’ve overcome all of them. , but I, I would say, , humbly in my beginning it was, it was letting go. It was trusting other people to do as good of a job as I would hope that I would do. And I think it was coming to that realization that, you know, I’m not an expert. There are people out there who specialize and enjoy you know, working on, on marketing and working on customer service and working on fulfillment and creative stuff a lot more than I do. And they, they, there’s so much more talented than I am. And I tell you, in the beginning, you know, I was taking the photos like, like a lot of entrepreneurs when they’re starting out, I was taking the photos, doing the Facebook ads. My wife was doing all the [00:16:00] customer service and logistics. We both were shipping and we felt like we had a good thing going. And so we started experiencing burnout and, , it was really the hiring that first part of the team, those four or five people to come on and kind of take some of that off our plate. That was difficult. And, , I don’t know if that exactly has to do with leadership per se, but that was definitely one of our, one of our short comings. Was being willing to delegate and, and, you know, we’ve seen that play out over and over again, as we’ve continued to grow and, , you know, an hour up to 53 people. And it’s, , now with the exec team, it’s the same thing. Like we were letting go of, of different processes that we’ve been doing for the last five or six years. And, , it’s not easy, it’s not easy. And, and sometimes it’s scary, but definitely better for the team for us mentally. , it’s a good thing. And so we’re working on it.

Gene Hammett: My guess is As we started this conversation, talking about collaboration, when the teams started collaborating more, it’s easier to let go. Is that theory, right?

Johnathan Ruggiero: It is. Yeah. And I feel like that’s part of our culture. You get this, this really great culture of trust and transparency. And I, I feel like the more you have that, the easier it is to like, and then your stress comes down [00:17:00] and, , It’s been a real eye-opener since we hired our president Marshall, who is an MBA and it is just a fantastic human being. and, , he has helped change this business from that scrappy entrepreneur style that we had where, you know, we were kind of hanging on a wing and a prayer for awhile and then, , you know, making it more stable and bringing a lot of business acumen. That Michelle and I just hadn’t had a ton of experience with, so it’s trusting him and being willing to delegate a lot of the growth and the, , just business skills and talents that he had, or was just fantastic for us,

Gene Hammett: Johnathan, I really appreciate you being here on the show and sharing this wisdom.

Johnathan Ruggiero: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Gene Hammett: I want to wrap up this episode by giving you a little bit of reflection of what I got from this from Johnathan, Johnathan, listening in so he can know that he’s adding value, not just to you guys listening in, but to me as well. I talked to a lot of founders about collaboration, but when he talks about the details and what they really expect of their people, how they do this over and over and how it’s added to the ability of him letting go. I really love the [00:18:00] fact that collaboration is not just a brainstorming sessions. It’s a way for us to work together and lean on each other you know, As necessary that really makes the team effect and that takes great leadership to make that happen.

So if you’re curious about what your next step of leadership is, I would love to invite you to come to a conversation with me. That conversation will give you an idea of where you’re going, the vision for. If you want to be extraordinary leader, I want to help you figure out exactly what that looks like, the impact it’s going to make. I think a lot of. So focused on the work at, in front of them, but they don’t really take time to figure out what’s next for them, but I want to help you do that. So if you want to schedule that call, just go to him, that com and schedule a call today. You’ll love it, absolutely free. And I want to help you be that extraordinary leader and you’re the one your team deserves when you think of growth and you think of leadership. Think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. Will 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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