How Diversity and Inclusion Drive Growth with Everett Harper at Truss

Every business has challenges that must be overcome. As your company grows beyond product-market fit, you want to figure out your Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) approach. This topic is often misunderstood, and figuring it out will give you an advantage. Today’s guest is Everett Harper, CEO and Co-Founder at Truss. Inc Magazine ranked his company #553 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Truss helps your product, design, and engineering teams work together to produce high-quality, iterative software quickly without putting customer data or safety at risk. Everett and I talk about diversity and inclusion in today’s economy. It isn’t very easy and requires you to be open-minded for sure. Diversity and inclusion are areas of leadership that will challenge you as your company grows.

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Everett Harper: The Transcript

About: At Women 2.0 Founder Labs in 2011, Everett pitched an idea to make calendars more useful for executive assistants. That app, called Tetherpad, was the original DNA of Truss. With cofounders Mark & Jen, they grew the company with the same intent — how to make technology responsive to our time, attention and energy. Everett’s expertise is in customer development, a technique that combines customer behavior with ethnography to inform product and business development. Everett was head of Customer Acquisition and Community for Linden Lab. He is a Webby Award Honoree as the product lead for Bottlenotes Mobile, a social wine app. He has an MBA and M.Ed in design & technology from Stanford, and BSEE in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering from Duke. He was a full-tuition AB Duke Scholar and won the NCAA National Championship in soccer, the first in any sport for Duke. He can be found making up sous-vide recipes with his favorite sous chef, his daughter.

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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.

Everett Harper: [00:00:00] And the mastery of self is about how do I become a better human, because we’re all humans and we’re all flawed and we all have the limitation, but how can we pursue the internal work, the internal game too, when we’re under pressure or uncertainty, we can rise to the challenge and allow other people to follow. I think. Yeah, the thing I’d add is we have a very diverse group of folks. We’ve been a hundred percent. We didn’t remote-first for about a decade. And we’ve had a diverse team from pretty much the entire time as a black co-founder my two co-founders, it’s a white woman who is technically who is our CEO of COO now, and a white man who is our CTO. So we are diverse from the beginning and we’ve just taken that and decided to expand.

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 have a [00:01:00] special topic that hopefully, you’ll embrace because it requires you to be open it requires you to be a leader that really does embrace others because you have a caring soul. And this is what I think is the core of leadership. Today we look at how diversity inclusion drives growth. Our guest today is a co-founder of Truss. Truss is a software company that has a very interesting approach to human-centered development. And we’re really looking forward to sharing this with you. That co-founder is Everett Harper. Everett talks about how their look at diversity and inclusion where it’s not, but what it really is specifically, it’s not some side project that is nice to have. They believe it’s integral to the part of theirs. It is integral to how they operate in the world. We give some specific examples behind this. I think you could learn from, I learned from them. There are some blind spots that are brought to the surface, and I really want you to lean into this episode so that you can be a stronger leader, more courageous, and be embrace this diversity and inclusion as you grow your company because it is necessary. I did [00:02:00] ask him something that might just help you clue in on this. Why this is necessary right now is because we have a very tight job market. It’s hard to find talented people, and you want to make sure that you have the kind of environment where people want to come.

This diversity and inclusion will invite more people to work at your company and they will stay longer. Now, when you think about your own journey, I want to make sure you know, that you have to be really clear about what your next steps are. You may have an executive team that’s not performing at the level you want it to perform at. You may be having challenges in the hiring department that we talked about. You can blame others, but here’s the thing I know to be certain that blaming others makes you the victim. You want to make sure that you are taking control of what you can have agency over this and focus on your leadership. How do you must evolve? Who are you becoming to be the leader that your team deserves? If you want to have a conversation with me to figure out what your next step is, I do this all the time. It will be really powerful for you. If you want to step into this with me, I’ve spent 10 years dedicating to mastery of this [00:03:00] executive coaching and helping people move beyond where they are today. Reach impossible goals. And if you want to have a conversation with me, just go to and schedule your call cost you nothing, but it will absolutely be the biggest payoff you’ve ever had. If you can embrace what we talk about and move to that next level. When you think about your own journey as a leader, make sure you are continuing to become the person that you really want to be. Just go to Schedule your call. Now here’s the interview with Everett,

Everett. How are you?

Everett Harper: I’m great. Thank you. Good to see you this morning.

Gene Hammett: Excited to have you on the podcast. And we’re going to kick off with just you telling us about the company. So tell us about Truss.

Everett Harper: Sure. So Truss is a software company. We create custom software for fortune a hundred companies, as well as large public agencies. The thing we do that’s a little different is we take a human-centered approach. So in connecting with users and customers and operators of systems and partnering with our clients to develop really new, sometimes innovative solutions to a really complex problems.

Gene Hammett: You know, not many people know this, but I, I worked [00:04:00] a lot in software and I worked in the government. Since you worked a little bit of government work. It was right after 911, they had to revamp Homeland security and it required a new infrastructure. And I was the manager of the UAT user acceptance testing for the platform. And we failed it the first time through, right. Sometimes that happens. Right. So you have this human-centered approach. Give me just a little bit more context around what that means.

Everett Harper: Yeah, sure. So give me an example so that just for the audience, one of our big starts was helping to, which was a challenging situation as for the folks who remember. And one of the things that we learned. And one of the things that we sort of took in, take into our projects now is human-centered means, does this satisfy the needs or that solve the problems of the actual users of the system? So not the idea that somebody has of what the users need, but the actual need. And so how do you do that? You go talk to them. It sounds [00:05:00] straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many folks, companies don’t actually get feedback from those, from those users. The second part of humans is we interviewed the operators of the system. So if you can, probably everybody can probably remember seeing it in your company office. And somebody says, Hey, we have a new software solution to solve this thing for you. And you grown because, oh, you mean all the workarounds that I developed over the last 10 years from the last thing that you were trying to do to help me do my job. Actually, if you’d asked me, I could have told you what I needed. And so we tried to avoid that by actually interviewing the people that are the recipients or the operators of the systems, and it’s incredible value. Add, it leads to a better solution.

Gene Hammett: Love the care and detail you put into that. And that puts us right into it’s more than just you growing this company. So Truss has grown really you were a number of what, 553 on the Inc list this year. 870% over a three-year period. And you have a team behind you. What are the core elements, of this team that you’re so proud of really we could learn from today?

Everett Harper: We [00:06:00] have a lot of people who are pursuing mastery of craft and mastery of self-mastery of craft because we have people across different aspects of the company designers researcher. Infrastructure engineers, app engineers, salespeople, BizDev people, delivery, product, customer success, all of whom are trying to be good at what they do. And mastery of self is about how do I become a better human, because we’re all humans and we’re all flawed and we all have the limitation, but how can we pursue the internal work? The internal game too, when we’re under pressure or uncertainty, we can rise to the challenge and allow other people to follow it. I think the other thing I’d add is we have a very diverse group of folks. We’ve been a hundred percent. We didn’t remote-first for about a decade. And we’ve had a diverse team from pretty much the entire time as a black co-founder. My two co-founders is a white woman who is a technical lead. Who’s our CEO COO now, and a white man who is our CTO. So we are diverse from the beginning. Just taking that [00:07:00] and decided to expand it.

Gene Hammett: You started from the beginning with the diversity and I think you’re probably seeing a lot of people look at diversity and we have a challenging job market. I don’t know what it’s like for you. Is it a little bit easier because you have diversity in baked into the way that you guys operate?

Everett Harper: Yes. , I think it’s one of the things that one has to be connected to at the core part of the business, not just a core part of what you think might be important. It’s good to have diverse folks in your company for any number of reasons. I’m sure we’ll get further into that, but if it’s not connected to the business, you have more thinking to do, because if it’s a side project as a leader, if you give it to aside to do it, one of your assistants or one of your folks, and it’s not connected to the core way that you operate your business, then it becomes side project. And what happens the first time that there’s a shortfall, there’s a budget crisis. There’s a customer leaves, whatever. That side project gets side has to be part of the core part of the business in order to be successful. And your people who you’re recruiting can tell the difference.

Gene Hammett: I know that a lot of people have seen and maybe understand the difference between [00:08:00] diversity and inclusion. Can you bring us up to speed on the way you see it?

Everett Harper: Yeah so diversity. The diversity of people, background thought talent expertise, and having that wide array enables for better. I say a different way, reduces your blind spot to either opportunities or to mistakes that you’re about to make inclusion is about how do you bring those diverse skills and perspectives and let it infuse into the business, into the normal operations of the business. So it’s not just a side thing. It is something the way that you normally go about your business. I’ll give you a really quick example. That was sort of an interesting learning for me. We have several folks who are trans in the business. And one of the folks who just came in who had just come in and said, Hey, this is about two and a half, three years ago. It’d be really great if you had your pronouns on your zoom chat or your pronouns in the slack and the slack channel. Now, I didn’t think that that was particularly important for me personally, but I thought it was a really interesting idea. Sure. Let’s go for it. So we did that. [00:09:00] In fact, some part of me is like, oh, but it adds things to that, to the line. I, you know, to the lines, like, I don’t want that much information. Right. What happened afterward was amazing.

The next three people I interviewed. And I’m the last interview is a founder said to me, you know what I really, what made the difference is seeing pronouns in your slack and your zoom? Because it made me think, even though it doesn’t affect me personally, I knew that you were an inclusive company because of the way that you had that be public in your normal things that you do. And I was astonished how much difference that made. And so it’s not just about the person who about including a particular type of person, it’s about how you embrace the entire part of the inclusion. How do you include all people? Because it makes them feel like, oh, it’s safer for me too.

Gene Hammett: I haven’t thought about that. I don’t have my pronouns like you do Everett. And it makes me think because I do have that openness and caring for others. And I, I really don’t want to send any signals, but I guess I’m signaling signal. I didn’t even know. This is an example of one of those blind spots.

Everett Harper: [00:10:00] Yeah. Yeah. And it’s fun. I mean, it’s sort of like, wow, I just, I would not have had the opportunity to learn this, had that person not spoken up. And that was awesome. And now I just get to do it. And it’s much, I feel like much more like I can represent that without necessarily feeling shame that I didn’t do it before. It’s just like, oh, I learned something cool. Let’s do it.

Gene Hammett: I, I really appreciate you bringing that up as an example. Cause I think that’s a perfect way to understand inclusion. When you think about, you know, how it creates a space for people to get work done, serve your client, how is diversity and inclusion, you know, playing a role there?

Everett Harper: I think there’s a couple of. First is we can lead with empathy. So in interviewing customers on behalf of clients develop better product interviewing with empathy is really listening to what is the challenges that you’re facing. What are the things that you need? What is important to you and opening that question up rather than going out on with a hypothesis about what is. What is that person supposed to do? And you probably know, and probably a [00:11:00] lot of listeners know, and you ask somebody that hasn’t been asked before, what they think, and you create a safe environment with empathy. They give you puns of amazing information. They give you your marketing pitches because they can articulate the problem that you’re trying to solve better than you.

And if you’re listening, then, then you’re able to kind of capture that when you have a diverse workforce, I think it increases the ability to listen, to be empathetic, and to value the contributions of people who may not be able to who don’t speak up.

Commentary: Everett just talked about leading with empathy. I find a lot of people understand what those words mean, but they have a blind spot to it. They don’t really understand what empathy means inside of leadership in today’s modern world. Empathy is so much more than just understanding how they’re feeling. It is about really understanding what they’re going through and helping them see that you understand that. And being able to communicate that in a way that provides a level of connection and belonging across each person that you’re talking to, you want to make sure that you become a leader that [00:12:00] has the capability. To, to bring the right amount of empathy, to every situation that you need to. And it’s very important if as you lead, many of my clients get tripped up on this, and I want to make sure that I serve you because you want to make sure that you are bringing that empathy in every interaction you have. Back to Everett.

Gene Hammett: There’s something you said earlier. I want to make sure we go back to, because I think it’s a little bit different than most leaders. You’ve talked about the I wrote it down here, so I take notes on everything mastery of craft. We get that people want to be really excellent at what they do. Salespeople, technical people, leaders, but mastery of self. You went through a little bit of that, but how does that play a role in the success of your company?

Everett Harper: It plays a role in a variety of different. I think in a very pragmatic way. It’s the role of how do you take on new challenges? Not just in skill, but if you’re an expert in one thing, see, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll focus on something that I think leaders can really delve into it. There’s that moment where you have somebody who’s at the top of their game, in their craft and you want them to be a manager or you want them to be a VP or [00:13:00] leader. You’re actually starting that person from zero. Cause they’ve never been managers or a VP. Now, if you’re really good at something, sometimes it’s really hard to go back to the beginning. That takes the ability to look at oneself, say, oh, wait, I can approach this with a beginner’s mind. I can approach this with curiosity instead of needing to be the best at everything right away. Cause you’re not. That’s part of the journey of mastery of self being on the edge of your knowledge and your experience.

And the inner work of saying, oh wait, I don’t feel confident. I feel like a beginner and that’s okay. I can learn and I can continue to learn. And then I can go on that journey. That’s really the essence in my view of mastery of self.

Gene Hammett: I want to take this a little bit deeper here because how has this mastery of self made you a better leader?

Everett Harper: Hm. Well, I’m certainly not a master, so it’s, I’m pursuing mastery a little hat tip to micro variances podcast, which has been really helpful. In pursuing that myself, I think one of the things probably leaders can attest to behind closed doors is I encounter something I don’t know how to do about [00:14:00] every day. And the reason is because it’s not that doing a one-on-one. This is something new. It’s some combination of events of closing, a particular deal, or talking to a particular type of client with a very unique problem. And so having to learn how to do something new every day can really rock your confidence. If you kind of, if I feel like I have to be really, really good every single time, try to approach it with, oh, this is an opportunity to learn. Oh, I figure I can do this. Then it’s a little bit easier. Yeah. I’ll stop that.

Commentary: Everett just said something about learning something new every day. Hopefully, this is your journey of leadership. You’re not having to repeat the same things that you’ve learned last week or last month or last year, you’re learning something new every day and you were doing this because you’re challenging yourself. You are truly on a journey of mastery. Maybe it’s learning to listen better. Maybe it’s learning to have a presence when you need it. Maybe it’s learning not to give your opinions and decisions and to truly let others learning too. All these things inside of leadership, there’s so much to learn. Don’t stop learning. That’s my 2 cents for you, because if [00:15:00] you stop learning, they’ll stop growing. And the company just won’t evolve at the pace you want it to, you have to lead the charge lead by example, continue learning every day. What does that mean? It means you go beyond the traditional measures of being a better leader, have conversations with people that will challenge you, and push you to think about it. I love to talk to you if you want to grow as a leader, but if you have someone else talk to them. Make sure that you’re having these kinds of conversations that truly take action on them, not just taking in information, but moving forward and seeing different perspectives. That’s the key to growth back to Everett.

Gene Hammett: Everett, you’ve had probably some mistakes that you’ve made in your journey as a leader. What would you share with us that we could learn from?

Everett Harper: No, please go ahead.

Gene Hammett: What, what would you share from a mistake that you’ve made that we could learn from?

Everett Harper: Yeah, so I mean, well, I think in some ways that that verse, that story told about this was a mistake. I didn’t think that it was necessary at first, but I went along with it. And I learned, I certainly learned something. I think another mistake is there was a [00:16:00] deal that I had with, ESPN. We were going to develop a it’s very early days before the particular company that we’re, that we are now, we’re going to deal with ESPN to do a game day app around travel and about scheduling and so forth. And, and we were doing a project for an existing company. I thought I had it dialed in. I was at the right people. This person was like, yes, I have a date. We were developed for this particular date. It was Boston College. I think it was on a particular game day. Awesome. But I needed to pull everybody from the old project to get on this one.

So we reached a point with our client. We said, Hey, a good milestone. But we’re going to move on. We did our job, but we’re going to move on. And then the person from ESPN goes radio silent. Oh, oh no. And finally, after about two weeks, He said, Hey, there’s been a corporate reorg and my position has been changed and your project’s off. So I could have killed the company. And I went back to the client. Luckily we had done great work and they still had the problem to solve. And so we were able to, to rescue it, that mistake taught me the obvious, like, don’t do anything until you have was [00:17:00] ideal A but B the value of sometimes it’s more important what you say no to, and sometimes even though you have the right relationships and so forth, that isn’t enough to make up for the storm. There’s a balance between the certainty and the uncertainty that you have to face as a leader and my balance was off. And so I think that is one thing that I continue to carry because there’s very few times where things are clear in black and white.

Gene Hammett: Beautiful. We started talking about diversity and Inclusion, we we’ve talked about a few different aspects of it. What have we left out that you’d like to bring to the forefront in this conversation?

Everett Harper: I think there are two things I’d want to add. One is in recruiting and in hiring a lot of folks. I know make the mistake of making diversity and inclusion a transactional process. Especially if you’re in an organization that doesn’t have a lot of folks who bring diversity to your organization, and you’re trying to increase that within your organization. It’s about building relationships. It’s about adding value to others before asking for value to [00:18:00] be brought to you. So that could be being at conferences and not just sponsoring conferences, but being there being empathetic, being curious, when you show up several times, then people start to respond and say, Hey, yeah, I’ve seen you a bunch of times. You seem to be actually interested, not just here to pay some money, to hopefully get a couple of recruits. You might actually be willing to change your organization.

We’ve changed our organization and I’ve changed myself many times because of the contributions of people. And so I think that is really the key piece I’d want it. The second thing we do as a ritual within the company is every Friday we have as several, a remote company remote first. So we do an all-hands remote and we do a value shout-out. So we have six core values and three, , three. Specifics underneath each of those values. And every Friday we have a section where someone says, Hey, I want a shout out Jane for building alliances. I want to shout out to Scott for make the best move. Not make the best move, not the safest one that’s developed into a ritual [00:19:00] every Friday. It was, it was not by me. It was somebody in the company. Jeremy, two things happen. One you’re reinforcing value automatically that’s how people embrace sort of what the company means because they get to do it every, every week. The second is who doesn’t love to shout out somebody and who doesn’t love to get shouted out for something they did that week.

The third value as a leader, I learn what’s going on. I see what’s important to people. I see who gets mentioned about, as you get bigger, it’s harder to do that and have that intimate connection with your folks. And that’s something I just love every Friday. It’s just the highlight of everybody’s week.

Gene Hammett: Well, I’ve got clients that use the same approach. They love it. And it started at the executive team because I mentioned it as an idea and it came from the podcast. I told you I’m a better coach because of the things I learned. You just, shared another benefit by behind this they do it in their executive leadership team. And when they did it the first time everyone loved it. Right? And then they started doing it with their team as a ritual. No one told them to, no one said you had to, no one set the, you know, the gavel down and said, this is the way it is. They just thought it was a great way [00:20:00] to get personal and getting and give people a chance to give that recognition. So appreciate you sharing that Everett, we’ve had an incredible conversation here about diversity and inclusion. I really appreciate you being here and sharing your wisdom.

Everett Harper: Thank you and I’d love to just add one last thing. If I have a minute a lot of these, ideas in the company context, I’ve actually written a book and the book is title “Attentively, Move to the Edge, Declare it Center.”. It’s coming out by Wiley Jan, February of 2022. And what it’s the story of is how do you make decisions under conditions of complexity and uncertainty and the story? One of the stories that comes out in there and serve in the line of diversity inclusion that is central to this is after the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. And then again with George Floyd, a lot of folks I saw were moved by what had happened, but as leaders didn’t know how to talk about it, excellent leaders who didn’t know how to speak about it. And so they wonder what to do. I knew that I had to speak to. The same level of uncertainty [00:21:00] about this. I knew I needed to write to my team and say, here’s, here’s how I feel. I realize I’m a leader, but I’m also a target. How do I represent that experience to my team? So they feel like if they’re affected by this and have a hard time working it’s okay. I, my job was to create space for that within my company.

And then I published it and people felt that too, that whoa, I can actually speak to this issue. And it was in that moment last summer that I realized, wait a minute, I have a particular perspective and position. And so I need to speak about it and hopefully inspire others to move to your edge declared center, basically to be able to speak to this uncertainty and speak to complexity, even though you feel anxious because it’s important for leaders to get out there and show their voice and show their heart and show their compassion.

Gene Hammett: Give us the name of the book again. So we don’t miss it.

Everett Harper: Sure. Move to the Edge, Declare it Center published by Wiley 2022. It’s a tentative title. So it may shift a little bit, but that’s a negotiation that’s going to happen in about a week or two.

Gene Hammett: Tiling books is hard. Yes, it is. [00:22:00] So, I appreciate you sharing that with us being here today and giving us the perspective that, that we don’t have as a black leader of a company that’s growing fast and really having a diversity of inclusion is not just a site of the project, but it’s something that’s integrated into who you are. So thank you.

Everett Harper: Thank you. Appreciate it. And appreciate your interest and drive for it, and I’ve enjoyed it and I hope this is valuable for your readers and your listeners. Sorry.

Gene Hammett: Yeah. So I’m going to reflect a little bit here. What I’m listening in to this Everett has a unique perspective on business, and I wish it wasn’t unique. I wish we had more of this diversity of inclusion. I think a lot of people don’t understand the trans community example of pronouns. I mean, that’s a real courageous thing to do, but it shouldn’t be courageous. It should be just something that we do because of who we are and what we believe of everyone being equal. Diversity inclusion is not just about hiring someone that’s not the same color of you. There’s so much more to it. Hopefully, this has unpacked it for you, and being a leader that is courageous enough to be open-minded to new ways of seeing [00:23:00] things is it critical if you’re struggling with any kind of fear and uncertainty or doubt around your leadership, I’d love to talk to you about what is next for you.

We talked a little bit about the blind spots. My job is to help you understand this line side bot so that you can move forward with cuff, with courage as an executive coach for 10 years, I’ve been doing this with founder CEOs and their teams. I’d love to help you too. Absolutely free. If you’re listening this deep into an episode, my call to action here is go to my website. Schedule a call. Let’s get to know each other. I’d love to serve you to be the leader that your team deserves. When you think about growth, you think about leadership. Think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. Well, 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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