People Make the Company with Ganesh Shankar at RFPIO

Your company idea is essential, and timing certainly matters. However, people make the company in the long term. Leaders seek to align people to the goals. Culture shapes how you communicate and engage. If you want to grow beyond where you are now, you have to know people make the company. Today’s guest is Ganesh Shankar, CEO and Co-Founder at RFPIO. Inc Magazine ranked his company # 281 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. RFPIO is the market leader in response management software. Ganesh shares with us why people make the company. He gives you his perspective on company growth.

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Ganesh Shankar: The Transcript

About: Ganesh Shankar is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and one of the founders of RFPIO, the industry’s leading software for response management. Using cloud-based automation technology, RFPIO fills a critical, and often missing, part of the sales process and helps organizations increase their sales win rates across the board. Ganesh has a strong background in product management, and today leverages that experience to drive excellence for the employees and customers of RFPIO. Recognized as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (PNW) Winner (2020), voted Top CEOs to Work For in Portland, Top CEO’s for Women, & Top CEO’s for Diversity by Comparably and included in Portland Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.

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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.

Ganesh Shankar: [00:00:00] We had always listened to people who are making the decisions that are made around us to help us as an employee, you know, and we had certain expectations. Now my manager has to do this one. My boss has to do this one. The company has to take care of this. So when we started RFPIO, that was our primary goal. What are we as an employer? No, we don’t expect anything less from our employers today because we are on this side of the table. Doesn’t make us superhuman and it doesn’t make us okay. We are extraordinary human beings, you know, just, you know, talking to the business suddenly. No, we were employed almost more than a couple of decades put together almost about, we have 50 plus years of man experience working for a corporation. So when we started, that was our key, key decision point. Even today, the decisions that we make at the company for the team members is basically. We as an employer would have expected this to be done.

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 [00:01:00] 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 look at your people. In fact, we look at how people make the company. When you think about all of the work that has to get done, it’s not just about, you know, getting the paperwork done and getting the sales and getting the marketing, right? It’s about how people aligned together. You want to make sure that your people are considered and valued across the organization. And if you lose sight of that, you’ll have trouble getting it back. You will have trouble inside of all of the future challenges that your company has. We want to make sure your people are really understood that they are the valued resource. Inside this company, our special guest today is the CEO of RFPIO. They were number 281 on the Inc list in 2021. And we have Ganesh Shankar and Ganesh really talks about the importance of people and when it started for them and how they align around the values of the company, what they really do inside the [00:02:00] organization, we look at many aspects of this. Inside today’s interview. If you really want to figure out how to make your people feel valued, then you want to make sure you keep listening to today’s episode when you are leading your company to that next level.

And you’re kind of not sure about what is it going to take from you as the leader. You have a challenge that keeps you up at night. Well, we can help you figure out how to move forward. And I say, we it’s me and you together. If you ever have someone, you need a sounding board to talk through something that you wouldn’t talk to your board about when you talk to your executive team about, or even your significant other. I’d love to be that sounding board for you, because this is what I’ve done in the last 10 years, dedicated my life to helping a founder CEO and their teams understand what’s getting in the way of their own leadership, how they need to move forward. And usually, it’s something that is very fixable, very much attainable. If you’re coachable, if you have curiosity around what that is, make sure you reach out to me. Gene Hammett. , I love to schedule a call with you. To walk you through some of the tools I use and the questions that help you unlock this blind spot that you’re living with. When you think about your own leadership, make sure [00:03:00] you know that you’re going to be the leader that your team deserves. Just go to and schedule a call. I’d love to talk to you today. Now here’s the interview with Ganesh.

Ganesh, how are you?

Ganesh Shankar: Pretty good, gene. How are you?

Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on the podcast.

Ganesh Shankar: Likewise, I was pretty excited to be on the podcast. Thank you so much for the invitation.

Gene Hammett: Well, I’m gonna let you tell us a little bit about the company so that we can get started and then we’ll dive into the core theme of today’s interview.

Ganesh Shankar: Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks. So RFPIO is you know a purpose, but software that helps companies to respond to RFPs without reason acquisition. Now we are also on the other side of the spectrum, we help companies issue RFP. Also on the other side of the sales team can respond to those RFP that they received. So it’s a platform that helps companies to put together proposals to win bids and businesses.

Gene Hammett: You created this company, you know, based around technology. But we also know that. No technology alone is going to scale your company out, but it takes people to do that work. When you think about the hundreds of people, you said three, 10 earlier, what do you think is, you know, where does that come from? More [00:04:00] people make the company?

Ganesh Shankar: Yeah so, And we truly believe people make the company because end of the day, if you look at it, right, if you have the right team members, every, every customer knows every investor knows. Every company knows that products can be built and pivoted, depending on the market need, as long as you have the right team behind it. I know that’s when we started, you know, even if you look at RFPIO you know, it, it started out of people who had mine mindset. You know, the frequency was the same in same wavelength way. Everybody who started the company, you know, three of us started this company plus the initial core team members. So in that we have never lost one them. I can say about, the first 15 or 16 core team members are still with the company. And that is what makes the difference and the knowledge we have built the product is still within the company.

Gene Hammett: Now, when you think about becoming the leader where people are, are truly the most important asset of a company, what have you learned in this journey?

Ganesh Shankar: We started the business about five and a half, [00:05:00] approximately about six years before I, you know, six years before I was sitting on the other side, my co-founders were sitting on the other side as an employee is we had always listened to people who are talking the decisions that are made around us to help us as an employees, you know, and we had certain an expectation. Now my manager has to build this one. My boss has to do this one. The company has to take care of this. So when we started RFPIO, that was our primary goals. What are we as an employer expected? No, we don’t expect nothing less from our employees today because we are on this side of the table. Doesn’t make us superhuman. It doesn’t make us okay. We are extraordinary human beings, you know, just, you know, talking to the business suddenly. No, we were employed with. It’s been a couple of decades put together almost about, we have 50 plus years of experience working for corporations. So when we started, that was our key decision point.

Even today, the decisions that we make at the company for the team members is basically how we, as an employee would have expected this to be done when we were working for [00:06:00] others. You know, that, you know, we, we make sure that the decision we make is applicable for majority of the employees to that. So those are, those are the values that. The things that we truly, you know, take into consideration before we make any discipline pensions, you know, because we, we are not so good humans. We will just there, but five and a half years before now that the doesn’t make us sort of human doesn’t make us anything blind. It is exactly the same question, but it is, you know, in a different capacity.

Gene Hammett: You mentioned I use inside there, I know that you put a lot of emphasis on the company core value. We don’t need to go through them one by one, but I’m kind of curious, how did you create the values that you have today?

Ganesh Shankar: I think it is important to go one by one it’s five values or make it very quick. It will be, you know, it is, it is worth going through that. You know? I mean, like I mentioned, right, the business as a company, we started in 2000 late, 2015, early 2016, you know, we didn’t have valid that we started formalizing the values in 2019, not just because, you know, a bunch of excavators came inside of, you know, conferences. The [00:07:00] this to keep pat wrote on this fancy terms and became a poster idea and became a values. That’s not how it works in RFPIO. We look back in 2019, we look back almost three and a half, four years or three and a half years of data and said, okay, what are things we really enjoy doing? What are the things that things are pulling together in one direction? What are the things that we cherish? You know, that’s when we formed those values. If you look at our values, I’d walk you through one by one that a five values. These are not one single word values. These are not like. Phrases, you know, , the first value we say is get the G I D G I D stands for get it done.

You know, the attitude of getting it done as being very, get the get, go. We have not, you know, a new solution. We will not, you know, a completely innovative product, you know, solve a new problem. This RFP responsible. Already dead, almost 25, 30 years, people are using some solution. So when we came out, we said that we are going to do it right. We get it done. You know, the way we have done the business so far is [00:08:00] getting it done quick, being very nimble being. We know those are, those are the things that we installed on every, every employee. The second value, again, that kind of adjacent to that workload is an S four S 4 stands for see something, say something, I’m sure it would not have the storm. And you go into the air. And the PA announcer said, Hey, if you see an unattended backseat, but does the same culture that we have here, if any employees see something they have to say with product, even as simple as if you walk into, you know, you know, pantry and you don’t find enough tissue paper that don’t assume the office manager will take care as a corporate citizen, you saw something say it, the office manager that can come back and say, you guys are, you guys are basing too much of paper. I’m not going to get it. That’s their responsibility, but they will acknowledge. I cannot promise everything will be addressed, but I promise that will be yours to listen to what they have to say. The asphalt. Am I making sense Gene so far with the two values?

Gene Hammett: Absolutely.

Ganesh Shankar: The third value. GBT give back time, you [00:09:00] every software company today, they want to save a whole lot of going and doing, but they’re going to claim and we going to pay the same thing you in backpacks, but how can we take this one step further as an employer, as an, as a manager, as a colleague, as a peer, as friends? How can I give that one minute back in my car, my other, other person, how can I give back five minutes? That five minutes can be used for professional development. That five minutes can be used for spending time with the family. That five minutes can be. I spend time with your best. It doesn’t matter. You know, that the time has given back. That’s the third value. We take every measure, every meeting we don’t like kill time if you are wrapping up. So just to wrap up just one let’s, let’s give back time to everybody on the meeting. So don’t keep, keep, just don’t use that also has other implications. Don’t all use your power. Don’t you know, do it. Don’t don’t feel like you’re you have a thought of people make people sit for one hour. Just one, those give back time. The fourth value That band stands for be agile and nimble. You know, this company [00:10:00] can, you know this again? This value actually came out of some of our customers. They literally said, we, this is one of the best companies that we have worked with because of the, the quickness in delivering what they were looking for.

Be the feature Be you know, in a normal, most often. Addressing bug or so quick, you know, we still going do the same momentum. So the customer said don’t produce it. Actually, that kind of became our mantra. We be agile and nimble, no matter how big we get into, no matter how wide we go into. So we are not going to miss that feature of be agile and nimble. Last but not least. This is one of the most important values. We call this DMC. DMC stands for don’t mess with customer, no matter what. And a customer could be wrong. Customer could be defensive. Just hear them out. Just keep it calm. You know, there are a hundred things the customers have to deal with already. We should all be the first thing to deal with. We should not be a burden with the customer. So when we found all of these things, these are the core values of RFPIO oh, am I making sense, Gene? These are phrases. Not single words.

Gene Hammett: Absolutely.

Ganesh Shankar: Yeah. That’s [00:11:00] that’s all about our values.

Gene Hammett: I want to ask you a question on this. I’ve heard the phrases before and we’ve had conversations, and I do feel like phrases are better than single words, but you distinctly have these acronyms, the GID and the BIN and it was that intentional.

Ganesh Shankar: Even if you look at our company is RFPIO. Stands for request for proposal input and output. So the company’s whole idea was like a theme and it kind of resonated, and it was not intent initially it was not intention, but we started noticing these, these kind of became like an, , you know, RFPIOs you know, language people know if you go talk to get, if you could talk in inside the company, get there and know exactly. Okay. This is the language that I, and my colleague and the app, if you’re talking about. So Hey, an S for people, absolutely understand. Code language, but it became like an RFPIO or language that people, people really enjoy. You know, of course we are, we an RFPIO it says it’s an acronym. Right. You know, it kind of, I can actually

Commentary: Now, Ganesh talk, talked about phrases. They chose phrases over single [00:12:00] words, I believe in phrases or a better way to articulate what you’re trying to do. You may choose differently. But let me give you an example of what I was talking about with a client a few years ago. I remember we were looking at the values of the company and someone mentioned customer service. And we couldn’t really come up with anything that really meant something. And we were talking about all of the different options inside of customer service and nothing was really sticking. And someone said, and it wasn’t the, the founder or anyone on the executive team. Actually, it was just someone on the front line that said customers for life. And everyone lit up, everyone took a moment and said, yeah, that’s it. That’s what we’re going for. That’s who we are. We’re creating a product that we have customers for life. And if they do that, they know that they’re going to have a sustainable company and they’re going to continue to grow. So think about that. You want to make sure you were values, have a, something that has an emotional attachment to it. Customers for life. Does it actually have the words, customer service in it, but it does have the idea that they’re striving for and what they’re really working for as a company. I love this story and I love to share it with you so that you can use it. Inside your own values [00:13:00] today, back to Ganesh.

Gene Hammett: I want to go a little bit deeper with these values. You talked about, you know, what they are, but how do you use them? If you’re, if people are so important to the company you’re using them, probably inside meetings inside of hiring inside of onboarding, what do you like most about the way you use the value?

Ganesh Shankar: S4, stand for, see something, say something, right. You know, the way we have done, we have improved product. We have improved process because there are a lot of when we hire a new people, they come with a lot of varied, varied backgrounds, varied experience. They saw something good working in other companies. They saw something in, was not working in the field. They have to say, don’t put it in seven or another. Good, a great example. one of our sales that was doing a demo of the sales demo. And the customer said, Hey, you know, I could product in a little different way. That’s proper compensation today that became a product that became a monetization product for RSPO that has the second highest selling product in the company. It just became, came out of an idea that sales rep was hearing from a prospect doing [00:14:00] a demo on. Now we have a, you know, even to have a group medical escort, for internal purposes, just sent a note to the product team. Hey, this is something the product team replied back and asked for a little bit and we got on a call with a customer and it became a product it’s so much.

So every, every, you know, every department is contact through S4 and now let’s talk about it. Right. You know, get this, get it done. We don’t like to slack around things, our contracts team, you know, for example, I just came out of. you should have seen the praise and the hustle that the teams are, right. Amount of time we use hashtag get on our slack channels. If you had seen how much time that that term was mentioned, not just because of fancy term throwing out there. The just because of the theme that able to finish the work that doesn’t mind, that mindset it’s okay to get wrong. It doesn’t mean you be perfect. You know, there is that there isn’t a progression of getting things done quicker, but the benefit of that is you don’t find fingers at others. If you can do it yourself. Those we [00:15:00] have literally seen many, many different instances of our RFPIO going through this values. And that’s when we started formalizing that actually, like I said, it was not from day one. It was actually after almost three and a half, four, almost four years. We’ve started following licenses.

Gene Hammett: Now, when you think about your own journey as a leader of this company, you’ve probably been through some mistakes, kind of curious, what can you look back on now and said, you know, this was something I had to learn to be the leader I am today.

Ganesh Shankar: You know, as you grow up your career, right? Leader leadership makes you one personally made think, okay, you know, there’s going to be expectation that as a leader, you should know everybody. You know, you, you should know everything as a, as a CEO you’d know that, but not necessarily. I need to know everything. You know, I, I, you know, I’m asking women as everybody else now, I’m everyone else is growing their credit. I’ve been growing in my career as well. So it is okay to ask to ask for help. It is okay to seek out guidance. It’s okay to have mentors. It’s okay. To, you know, don’t assume since you’re the boss don’t feel embarrassed or don’t feel, you know, , shy of asking for help. You know, I [00:16:00] think that’s really one of the biggest learning that I personally don’t feel shy to ask for help if you don’t and don’t feel, don’t feel, you know, at the same time, it is important to recognize no talent, you know, you know, The other thing, important lesson that I’ve learned in across, you know, across this two way street, don’t expect just one way, don’t expect your employer to trust you. You should trust your employees. So that it’s a two way street to those that I have as a leader and learn. Of course, you know, other other things that I’ve learned recently is about how should we be unbiased as leaders when we are giving opportunity to people, you know, we should see somebody as a human being, not because of their color or their race. That it credence not because of their background. It is every human is human, so that we have to, we have to see that in an unconditional or unbiased lens rather than, so that is something, you know, I’m learning every day. I’m coaching myself every day on the spectrum, but you know, I’m not perfect in any way I’m saying, but these are things that I’m I’m I cognitively taking steps to be better everyday.

Commentary: Ganesh, [00:17:00] just said, don’t be shy to ask for help. A lot of founders have this block inside of who they are and their identity that they should have the answers. And they shouldn’t have to go out into the marketplace to find the answers from someone else. And then maybe they can find it in a book and maybe they can credit back some author that’s famous and whatnot, but here’s the reality. And I’ve lived this too. Sometimes it takes asking someone to have a dialogue with you in conversation. It can support you through a reframing or another idea that you didn’t have before. Maybe it’s even seeing a blind spot that you’re carrying with you, a bias that you don’t even know you have. Now. I remember when I was going through this years ago, I wanted to grow my company and I needed some help in marketing. And I was like, you know, I should know the answer, this, I should know how to talk about my product, my service, what I’m doing in this world. And so I resisted actually getting the help I needed until finally I broke down and said, you know what? Maybe someone can give me something I need. And it was so easy for us to address this together. And in that relationship now I’m not sharing this with you because I’m letting [00:18:00] you know, I have a weakness. I’m letting you know, I’m real and honest, and that you probably have some challenges that you would love to talk through. And you want to do that, which maybe you’re a little bit afraid. I get that. You don’t have to know the answers. So here’s a chance for me to invite you to a place where if you have any leadership concerns, if you just want to have a conversation, maybe you don’t want to coach now, but maybe you want to coach sometime in the fufture. Let’s reach out and get to know each other. All you have to do is go to and schedule a call and we will get on the phone, talk about your business. We’ll get to know each other and we’ll connect at a human level. That’s what I want to do. And I want to help you see what’s really going on in front of you to help you get more clarity or confidence and courage in what you’re doing. That’s my job. I’m not here to sell you coaching or coaching program or anything like that. But I want to serve you to the next level. So if you’re bold enough to do that, just go to and schedule a call today, back to Ganesh.

Gene Hammett: I tell you I’ve had to deal with both of those myself. , and it’s still a do. There are many times where I think I should know the answer. So I move forward. I’m the executive coach and I feel like, you know, well, my clients are hiring me to know the answers. Well, that’s [00:19:00] not always true when true coaching is not having the answers. It’s being able to help a client see a different perspective sometimes, or reframe something that they’re experiencing, even if you believe completely something different. I had this happen the other day, so I appreciate you bringing that up. , Ganesh, I want to ask you one more question, you know, now that we have a company that we’re really making, putting people, first people make the company, where do you take it from here? When you think about the culture of the people, what are the things you’re focused on at your level right now?

Ganesh Shankar: Yeah, so, like I said, myself and my. The company, you know, one thing was very clear. We, we, we wanted to start a company where we feel liberated. That is no, you know, , boundaries for innovation. There is no boundaries for your thoughts. So when we, you know, , started the company, that was a core, core, core, , you know, , mission. And then we still continue. We want to be one of the best companies to work for. You know, I’ve been, like I said, I’m not perfect in any way. But we want to get that, you know, we are wanting to create, we want people to feel [00:20:00] empowered. We want to people feel, you know, valued. We want people to thrive in a, in an environment in a, not necessarily I cannot pay everybody the top dollars. We are not going to be ever, you know, the highest paid companies. Then in that case, what can I offer to my employees? I can offer the best environment for them to apply to the best environment, to learn best colleagues, to call France. That is something we are striving every day. And I want to create a company along with my co-founders that people feel valued. People try and, you know, they should feel every day when they wake up from this. I feel like I, I want to go to the office. I want to do some, but I want to, I want to work for this company. That’s the, that’s the ideal scenario that you have.

Gene Hammett: I love the fact that you, you make that an intention around this and you started in the beginning, but you know, it’s a journey as you get more people, it doesn’t make it easier. Does it?

Ganesh Shankar: It does not. But I think that. That’s what we signed up for. Right. And every it’s not just unique challenge for our RFPIO every leader, every company has to, very, very successful companies. Didn’t just get the best out of [00:21:00] it. And then, you know, try to improve yourself. You know, don’t try to defend.

Gene Hammett: Ganesh, I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom here and your journey of entrepreneurship and leadership.

Ganesh Shankar: Thank you, Gene, I appreciate you having me on your podcast.

Gene Hammett: I always like to reflect what we just heard in the interview. I really appreciate the fact that they are putting people first and people do make the company. When you have that as a core understanding, it’s going to be different. You’re going to create a place where people do feel valued. You’re going to create a place where people are learning and they want to come to work. And that is the core of this, this whole episode. Even the values we talked about are really centered around making people understand that they are an asset and that it’s not just get the work done. You know, go home and get a paycheck truly is something more than just a job. It is a calling. That’s what I feel like when I talked to Ganesh about this. And I think that’s what leadership really is, is when you have that kind of environment.

So when you think about your own journey of leadership, I’m curious, do you know what your next step is? Are you able to articulate it the way Ganesh talked about the culture of the business and what we’re striving for? I think you [00:22:00] should be able to articulate that just as well as you create in articulate your vision for the company and the impact you’re gonna make in the world. You want to make sure that you have very clear vision for the culture and for your own leadership.

You want help with that? That’s my specialty. I work with executives, founders, CEOs, and their teams help them grow where they are today. Sometimes do the impossible, just go to Schedule your call and look forward to talking to you. When you think of growth, 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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