Embracing Failure and a Culture of Joy with Evan Horowitz at Movers+Shakers

If you want innovation, then embracing failure is required. You want people to feel safe sharing their ideas, even the crazy ones. Many fast-growth companies have people that are embracing failure in a regular basis. Today’s guest is Evan Horowitz, Co-Founder & CEO at Movers+Shakers. Inc Magazine ranked his company #78 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Movers+Shakers is a disruptive creative agency on a mission to spread joy. By connecting brands to culture, Movers+Shakers drive brand love. Evan shares his experiences around embracing failure. We talk about why failure is misunderstood and how embracing failure is a path to success.

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Evan Horowitz: The Transcript

About: Evan has helped hundreds of brands grow faster and break through to new audiences. His 20+ years of marketing experience span Brand Management, P&L ownership, and marketing consulting. A few of his favorites: launching new product categories at Samsung, advising the CEO of Macy’s on attracting a new customer segment, and leading a record-setting nonprofit fundraising campaign. Evan earned an MBA from Harvard and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford.

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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.

Evan Horowitz: [00:00:00] Because I’ve noticed people hear about our mission to spread joy or culture of joy. And they wonder if everybody is just like happy and laughing and jazz hands all the time. And you know, that’s not, of course, the reality of it, nor is that what we’re striving for our joy is more about a glass half full perspective on things just really appreciation, gratitude, positivity, and seeing possibility. So we want to be a company and a culture that leads with possibility leads with positivity, constructiveness, you know, as opposed to some cultures, which can be a little bit more fear-driven or focused on the negative. We really want to be inspiring both our teams and also consumers with what’s 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 of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: Today we look at innovation and disruption through the lens of embracing failure. Have you ever thought [00:01:00] about the importance of failure in your organization? Well, it is a part of the path forward. I have failed massively in my career in every one of those moments have been a lesson that I really wish I didn’t have to learn the hard way, but I did. And allowing others to fail and embracing failure across the organization will improve your capacity to innovate and disrupt across the markets. Today, we have a marketing company with us, movers and shakers, and we’re number 78 on the Inc list this year. One of the fastest-growing agencies out there. And we talk about you know, embracing failure and creating a culture of joy. We have their co-founder. It’s Evan Horowitz. And I talk about what does it really take to make people feel comfortable with who they are and being bold and being brave.

I really love this conversation because it will help you become a stronger leader. Be more intentional because you understand what plays in the background of embracing failure and creating joy across the organization, Now, stay tuned for that inside this episode. But before we get there, let me just remind you that if you are a leader and you [00:02:00] know that you could play at a higher level, you know, that you could be more confident, you could be more focused, you could be more intentional, whatever it is, those things that you know, that you could play at a higher level. I’d love to talk to you about that journey, that whole, how do you create a bridge from here to there? This is the focus of my life. I’ve spent the last 10 years working with fast growth leaders and founders and their teams to grow faster than they ever believe possible. And that is all because I have learned some things and I have learned to get to the heart of things much quicker than what they’ve used in the past and all the people around them that they just don’t have people to talk to about the things we talk about. And it really does help them grow the kind of. And help be the leaders that they really need to be.

So if you want to be an extraordinary leader, just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. Love to talk to you about what’s going on right now and help you build that plan. This is not a sales conversation. I’ll say that clearly. I don’t really want to sell you on anything. I want to serve you to, to really help you understand what’s getting in the way of your move forward. And if we [00:03:00] do that well enough, I can offer you a chance to look at, you know, working together, or we could just put that on the table or the back-burner for down the road, but either way, we’d have a relationship to be able to start from. So just go ahead and schedule that call GeneHammett.com and love to talk to you about your business and your leadership. Now here’s the interview with Evan.

Hi Evan, how are you?

Evan Horowitz: Doing great. How are you?

Gene Hammett: Fantastic. We are going to have a great interview here for the podcast. Tell us a little bit about the company first. What is movers and shakers?

Evan Horowitz: Movers and shakers is a creative agency on a mission to spread joy. So everything we do is about putting positivity out into the world, connecting those positive emotions back to the brands that we work with to drive more brands we’ve quickly become the number one fastest-growing agency in the world. According to ad week, Inc. Number 78 fastest growing company. And our north star is about connecting brands to culture. So everything that we do is really designed to create buzz cool factor, cultural relevance for our clients. And that’s really what’s fueled our growth is that ability to make brands more culturally relevant.

Gene Hammett: I love this concept and phenomenal growth. When you set out to [00:04:00] do an agency, did you have growth in mind or is this just something that. It’s kind of happened because of you found the right position in the marketplace.

Evan Horowitz: We definitely had growth in mind, but not this type of growth. I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of being the fastest-growing ad agency on the planet. I’m not upset about it, but it’s bigger than my dreams for sure.

Gene Hammett: You said something that we want to put a little bit of a focus on today, and it really is about something you do for your clients, which is about joy and positivity, but you also bring that into the culture of the company. So what is joy and positivity across your company?

Evan Horowitz: It’s a great question. I think it’s good to define first what we mean by that because most people hear about our mission to spread joy or culture of joy, and they wonder if everybody is just like happy and laughing and jazz hands all the time. And that’s not, of course, the reality of it, nor is that what we’re striving for our joy is more about. Glass half-full perspective on things just really appreciation, gratitude, positivity, and seeing possibility. So we want to be a company and a culture that [00:05:00] leads with possibility leads with positivity, constructiveness, you know, as opposed to some cultures, which can be a little bit more fear-driven or focused on the negative. We really want to be inspiring both our teams and also consumers with what’s possible.

Gene Hammett: And so there’s a lot of correlation between what you’re doing for your clients in the way that. Spread the word as an agency and the way you engage your employees is that right?

Evan Horowitz: And we try to be consistent in that. Yeah. And the values that we have, it applies to the work that you see in the world. Somebody put a marketing campaign out there. We want it to be upholding our values. But also that’s how we treat our employees. That’s how we treat each other. That’s how we engage with our clients. And we’re very selective about who we have on the team, both in terms of employees, but also in terms of clients, because we want to make sure there’s real alignment there.

Gene Hammett: Another element behind all of this is you have a different kind of culture where you’re really embracing failure, and I’m going to take the most positive version of that. Cause I know that some people immediately go, well, why would you want to embrace failure? But there is a reason to do that. What, what do you [00:06:00] say to someone when they a little bit question this approach to failure, you have.

Evan Horowitz: Well, for me, it’s very much aligned with breading, joy. , I think we’ve all worked in companies that you’re scared to mess up because you might get yelled at or punished. I’ve certainly worked in companies like that, and we want the opposite. We want everybody to be bold and brave and to do good things and great things. We’re a company that builds our brand on innovation and disruption. And all these things come with failure. So it’s important for us and embrace failure for two reasons. One, because that’s the foundation of innovation and the disruption that we’re bringing to the market that’s made us become the number one fastest growing marketing agency is based on innovation, which requires failure. And the second reason is that that’s really holistically. How you create a culture of joy is you have a team that celebrates wins and you celebrate losses, both, because that way you’re always celebrating. You’re always seeing the good, and you’re always moving yourself forward.

Gene Hammett: Now we all get the celebrating wins, but what do you mean exactly by celebrating the losses?

Evan Horowitz: Well, it, first of all, it means taking big [00:07:00] risks and encouraging the team to take risks, encouraging our clients, to take risks. And then when the inevitable happens, that things don’t go right. You face plant along the way. , you don’t punish people, but you just learn from it. And or you go as far as celebrating it, we have a tradition on Fridays called face Fridays, where people are encouraged and our all-hands meeting to share face plant things that went wrong. I shared, you know, recently showing up to a client’s zoom meeting with another client zoom background on, and there was a competitor so silly things like that. Do you know, bigger, bigger project that didn’t go well? And you know, it blew up, but we learned from it. And that’s that sort of just transparency and communication and upholding a failure that really helps set the tone for the whole.

Commentary: Now, Evan just talked about, don’t punish people. If people think that they’re gonna be punished for doing something innovative or maybe getting a little off really does keep you from growing at the pace you want to. They’ve grown really fast because they’ve embraced this. Oh, if you go back and look at some of the studies around [00:08:00] leadership and what high-performing teams do well, one of the biggest of those is a Google study on high-performing teams and psychological safety was the number one factor of fast growth teams and really performing at the highest level. That means that leadership and the people inside there are creating a space of no judgment. And around these conversations that are really open people, don’t have fear of failure. Think about that for a second across your organization. What that would mean if people didn’t fear failure, but they were able to move forward through all of this and share their learnings at a speed that allows you to grow faster than you are today. Back to Evan.

Gene Hammett: It’s one thing to have. Inside the very top of the company. How do you make sure that they cast the Kate down across the different levels and different types of styles of leadership?

Evan Horowitz: I think hiring is a really important piece. They’re one of our superpowers I believe is finding people who really are mission-aligned in terms of their values and their, their style. And I think that when you look at something like joy or positivity different people in my [00:09:00] experience, security is different amounts of that in their lives and bring different amount into the room. And those are things that are trainable. I do believe that harder to train. And so I think it does start with hiring and then it starts than once people are here, I think the culture that comes from the top and it does trickle down, I’ve worked in companies where everybody’s looking over their shoulder. Because they’re wondering if their boss going to yell at them. Cause their boss is wondering if that person’s boss is gonna yell at them. And you know, I think we’ve done a good job at creating a culture here where people know that they’re not going to be yelled at. They’re not going to be punished. And that allows everybody to spread their wings more.

Gene Hammett: I love the fact that you guys embraced failure because I’ve seen such a positivity of the impact it makes across the organization, you know, looking at your own journey as a leader, I’m sure you’ve had some inflection points. You told me you used to be a coach, and now you have an agency that has taken off really in a massive way. What are what’s one inflection point you could share with us that really helped you shift how you lead and how you engage with your team.

Evan Horowitz: And what a, what sort of inflection point are you looking for?

Gene Hammett: So we all go through times that are, you know, you [00:10:00] learn some, some lesson or you, it didn’t work out doing it one way. And so we ended up having to change the way we look at it. Does that make sense? So as you have, you’ve had some changes across your journey here of this fast-growth company, right?

Evan Horowitz: Yeah. I’m trying to think of a good example.

Gene Hammett: So while you’re thinking about that, I’m going to feel some of the dead space here. One of the inflection points I share with you is, you know, I ended up losing everything. , and I know this is pretty drastic, but I ended up, you know, having to look at my life and really start over and look at many more things other than just money, just building another successful company. And I got more purpose-driven and aligned with that because this money had been ripped away from me or stolen. No, no. Has your brain been able to wrap around an inflection point that you can share with us?

Evan Horowitz: Sure and inflection point in my career was my last corporate job where I had essentially checked all the boxes for what I was looking for in my career. I had the job, I wanted a career path I wanted. The growth that I had been looking for, and I didn’t feel fulfilled by that. Now there’s a wake-up call for me. And because I realized that it wasn’t by checking those boxes that I would find [00:11:00] fulfillment. And so that gave me a lot more bravery to go out on my own path and go off the beaten path and take risks to find things that were more truly mission aligned with myself.

Gene Hammett: Love that, and that’s what has allowed you to create something as special as movers and shakers today?

Evan Horowitz: Sorry. I think we had a connection issue.

Gene Hammett: That would allow you to create the same kind of impact you’ve had here at movers and shakers from that new thinking, right?

Evan Horowitz: Yes, exactly.

Gene Hammett: So when you think about, you know, how you lead now and how you create this space, where people are psychologically safe, you know, failures. Okay, what are some of the things we would see across your organization?

Evan Horowitz: Well I think you’ll see a lot of risk-taking people pushing their comfort zone, their personal comfort zone, whatever that is trying things that they haven’t tried before, whether that’s a type of work that we’re doing for clients pitching ideas that they wouldn’t have felt comfortable even pitching in a past job. And then executing those. That is that’s really the hallmark of the culture that we’re creating.

Commentary: Now, Evan just talked about values [00:12:00] meetings. You may think this is overkill, but imagine that you have a group of people when they first start, they actually understand what the values are, how they can adhere to them, what to do when people get out of alignment, how they’ll be recognized and all of the aspects of your values. Now you may think that you don’t have time for this, but I just, I want you to think about this. It does take a little bit more time upfront, but if they were able to make decisions without you in the room if they’re able to fill in. And they’re able to live by the values and they’re done on a systematic basis or have rituals around them. It really will give you a lot more context for growth as your company grows, and you don’t have to be there to make every decision for them because they know how to do it and use the values as they move forward in their careers. Thinking about that for a moment back to the interview with Evan.

Gene Hammett: Let me ask you another question. Evan, when you think about, you know, how you want to lead forward, and as your company continues to grow, what do you see on the horizon? Something that you think might have to shift from the way it is today.

Evan Horowitz: But one thing that we’re really implementing right now is a lot of Process and procedure [00:13:00] we’ve, we’ve grown so fast from zero employees to about 70 employees and year and a half that we have a very little systematic process and the processes we had a year ago when we were, you know, 15 people they’ll make sense anymore now at 70. So that’s been a big focus of ours is creating systematic processes and best practices.

Gene Hammett: It’s a big part of creating stability across a fast-growth company is, is going back and going, okay, what are foundational. That we need to work on. One of the things I feel like you’ve got right was the focus on values. You’re using values for hiring and also the development of people that you mentioned before. How early buy by headcount, where you really focused on the values of this organization?

Evan Horowitz: From zero. Even before we hired anybody, we’re really focused on our values. It’s just important to me and my co-founder.

Gene Hammett: What would you say to founders or CEOs that would say, you know what, we’re too busy getting things done. We’ll, we’ll get to that when we get to 20 employees or 50 employees, but what would you respond back?

Evan Horowitz: Well, I would say you’re embedding [00:14:00] the values of your organization from when you start, whether it’s intentionally and consciously or not, that those founders, it sounds like their values is getting things done and that’s the highest value for them. And so they are embedding those values in their organization.

Gene Hammett: Yeah, they’re there, whether you have intention around them or not. Hopefully, when you are intentional about them, the way you, you guys came up with it you begin to hire people that are aligned around these values, which you’ve seen when you think about values. There’s a, there’s a lot of research I’m doing with values. And just curious, do you have any rituals or anything that you do systematically, as it relates to values the way you recognize people or the way you do any kind of onboarding or hiring, how would you say values across your organism?

Evan Horowitz: We have some, but it’s also a question we’re actively exploring one place where I think we do well is in the onboarding process within the first few weeks or a month of people starting, we get the new hires together for a values meeting where either me or sometimes both me and my. Well meet with the new hires and actually talk through the values of the company. We have a little dock [00:15:00] at one value per slide, with a bunch of things that are abandoned. What does that really mean to us? And that’s a really amazing meeting because the people have been there. I’ve been here for a little bit of time and inevitably say, wow, I’m actually seeing this. I’m actually feeling this and are able to add their experience of each value. And that creates a really rich discussion.

Gene Hammett: So when I’m picking up on that, isn’t it, it’s not something that. The day that they come on board, but you probably have a bunch of hires each month. And you have one session where all the most recent hires that haven’t been to this, this values meeting show up.

How long does that mean?

Evan Horowitz: An hour.

Gene Hammett: When you do this, are you sharing, you know, stories around this. Really, you know, providing depth, or is it just talking about it at a surface level?

Evan Horowitz: There are, yeah, we’re trying to share anecdotes of times when we’ve lived at either big moments, you know, moments when we fired a client because there was an alignment with our values or just those small day-to-day moments, you know, that come up in how you work with your colleague. Because I do think that those stories make it much more real.

Gene Hammett: I say that [00:16:00] values are something that, that are such an important part of fast-growth companies. It’s really you’re in alignment with your peers around this. When you have grown as fast as you have to have the kind of focus you have on values, what is one thing that we haven’t touched on as it relates to you, spreading joy, you embracing failure, and how your company is able to grow as fast as it has?

Evan Horowitz: I would just say it’s hard. I think we’re talking about makes it sound like things are systematic, but it’s hard and it always feels like we’re pushing the limit and about to fall apart at the seams. So it’s not so structured as it might sound from the conversation we’ve had.

Gene Hammett: Well, I think those that are living it would probably agree that there’s a lot of chaos around these. And that you are not able to put out all the fires as they burn. Sometimes you have to let things burn as you focus on certain pieces of the business growing, systematize, those come back to it kind of as you need to. Well, Evan, I really appreciate you being here to share your perspective on leadership and culture, and really have learned a lot from you today. Thanks for being here.

Evan Horowitz: My pleasure. Thank you for the invitation.

Gene Hammett: I want to take a moment here to reflect back on what [00:17:00] I am picking up from Evan’s interview. And it really is just about, you know, being an unintentional leader, having these values from the very beginning and hiring the right people and having the kind of conversations where people are able to be bold and be brave because, you know, he is in the marketing world. It changes, I think faster than technology because marketing, what used to work a month ago may not even work today. Or at least it starts falling off. And so you’re always having to push the barriers of innovation and he’s got to engage his team in a very different way. And hopefully, you’ve learned something from this interview.

If you have any questions about what you’re doing next within your company, whether it be the foundational elements, the systematizing, or even how you use-values. And those rituals that we talked about, I’d love to talk to you about that specifically it’s best done in a one-on-one conversation so that we can get really lasered into what would help you move forward.

This is not a sales pitch. That really is a chance for me to connect with you and serve you and build a relationship over time. If you have any questions about that, just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. Look forward to talking to you.

If you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of [00:18:00] Growth Think Tank. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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