Every business wants to make money. However, when you believe mission is more than important than money, you will create a company that makes a difference. The by-product is also likely to a business that drives incredible profits. Today’s guest is Kevin Stoller, Co-Founder & President at Kay-Twelve. Inc Magazine ranked his company #2174 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Kay-Twelve helps educational leaders transform their ineffective learning environments into innovative and collaborative spaces by providing furniture that encourages greater partnership among students, more student/teacher engagement, and a fully collaborative setting for learning to happen. Kevin lights up when it comes to the mission more than money. We look at how their company mission aligns and propels the business forward.
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Kevin Stoller: The Transcript
About: Kevin is a serial entrepreneur of mission-based businesses and in 2009, Co-Founded Kay-Twelve, a leading national distributor of educational furniture. He earned a Master’s in Business Administration from The Ohio State University and a Bachelor’s degree from Miami University. Kevin is active in the entrepreneurial community, hosts several podcasts, leads workshops to help educators improve the learning environment and is the author of Creating Better Learning Environments. On a personal note, Kevin spends as much time as possible with his wife, Darci, and their 3 active children, Grant, Maggie & Tessa. The Stoller Family recently moved to Scottsdale, Arizona – but Kevin still roots for his sports teams from growing up in Chicago and spending 20+ years in Ohio.
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.
Kevin Stoller: [00:00:00] We really feel like everyone’s job in this country is impact education. So our three core values are either change ones that are challenging. The status quo that are, are out there and not just kind of checking the box saying this is the way we always done it. Really looking at how do students learn best, how to teachers learn, teach best. so be the change is a big one for us. , and that’s for every action that we’re doing. The second one is you belong here and it used to be phrases. We attract other peers that share the same passionate. But you belong here. It’s just such a catchy way to help us all of that, because we are saying whether you’re joining our team or you’re just joining our mission, you belong here. Like we want you to be part of this part of this movement that is going on with education. And the third one is listened care and follow through. This is just really hot, more about how we operate is that where listeners for hers that we really care about doing, and that we’re going to follow through on our commitments.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders [00:01:00] 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 look at mission. Mission is something that a lot of companies think that they use effectively, but are you truly using it to the fullest power? Is it aligning your people? Is it a recruiting tool? Is it something that people are talking about on a day-to-day basis inside of today’s interview we have the co-founder of Kay-Twelve. His name is Kevin Stoller, Kevin, and I kind of look at mission over money and mission over money is really the core of this idea, but also we, we dive into some of the details behind that. Like how do we use values and what are really going on inside the company as we recruit and as we develop, and as we fire people along this mission over money, idea. When you think about your own business, are you absolutely certain, you know how to develop your executive leadership team to a fully functioning optimized [00:02:00] team or they running without you? If you were not able to show up for work, what would happen inside your business? Well, my hope is that it runs fully without you, but it’s better while you’re there.
And that’s what my clients are looking for. If you want to have a conversation about what does it take for you to step up as a powerful leader and really empower your executive leadership team and even leaders across the organization. I’d love to talk to you about what’s getting in your way of doing that. But really help you grow your company to that next level, whatever it is for you. If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you’ve probably heard me say this, but just a lot of people don’t take advantage of this one offer I’m making to you, which is a chance for you to talk about what’s really going on in your company. What’s really, it takes for you to grow your business. I’m going to help you identify it and create a plan for that. And it costs you absolutely nothing. I’ve been doing this for a decade. When you’d like to talk about your business with someone that could give you the insight, you need to get more clarity and confidence to move forward.
Well, that’s exactly what I’m offering to you. All you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. This is not a sales pitch. We truly are looking at [00:03:00] what is it getting in your way and create a plan for you. And you can follow that if you want to work with me. Great. If not, you’ll have that plan to go execute on. So all you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call today.
Now here’s the interview with Kevin,
Gene Hammett: Kevin how are you?
Kevin Stoller: I’m doing well, Gene, thanks for having me
Gene Hammett: well, excited to talk to you about the ideas that are driving your company, that to get to what level you are now, but tell us a little bit about the company itself kay-Twelve
Kevin Stoller: yeah, Kay-Twelve we always say we’re a mission-based organization that is out to impact education. , we just happen to be in the space over selling furniture to schools. So, it’s. It’s something that when you heard phrasing and I was saying like, no, we sell school furniture. That’s a lot different than talking about what we really do, which is really changing what schools look like.
Gene Hammett: Well, I think this is a big topic today, schools. I think most people are concerned about what’s going on in education, especially with their children and, then really just, you know, hiring different people. So tell us a little bit about that mission and really what drives the company for.
Kevin Stoller: Sure. Yeah, the mission is really [00:04:00] everything for us, and it kind of starts with our core values, but that mission is the driving force and it’s kind of translated into a really tangible thing for our team. we have a weekly meeting every Friday meeting we go through and we go through our scorecard with the team. And the first line is looking at how many students do we impact that week. And, , and we set this 10 years target of wanting to impact 10 million students learning environments. And it becomes really the driving force for our entire team of realizing everything we’re doing as an impact. Not only on every student that we work with right now and their learning environment, but really it’s like multiple generations. We know whatever we put in this school, it’s probably going to be there for at least 20 or 30 years. And the work that we’re doing really does, can either hurt that learning environment and the teachers and the students, or it can really be a learning tool to help them learn the best way that they can.
Gene Hammett: I don’t know if you can do this quickly, but, and I’m assuming you’re not coming up with that number. There’s some kind of sales speaker that comes up into the impact made walk us through just so we understand how [00:05:00] you come up with the scorecard number for number of students impacted.
Kevin Stoller: Yeah, we do. So it’s not always exact. On your end. We’ve had actually a lot of discussions with our team to do this, but one of the things like when we’re creating an opportunity in our Salesforce, CRM, for them to actually create an opportunity and get a project number, one of the required fields is how many students is this space going to impact? So we look at that on like the year one, and then we do have a derivative that we at kind of add-in every year, but we don’t do it all at once. And it’s been as accurate as I feel like we could get it without, , without getting in too much detail and getting aware. It’s almost impossible for us to actually get, get the exact,
Gene Hammett: I’m not trying to test you here, but I don’t know when that meeting was last. Where was that number when you last heard it?
Kevin Stoller: Yeah, we just crossed the 400,000 mark. So we got a long way to go. , But it does kind of serve as that kind of that guiding light, that big, big goal that we’re, we’re aiming for. , and because of that, it’s really, it’s really, , put a lot of the strategic decisions [00:06:00] into the perspective of, alright, well, how do we do that? It’s really spurred our geographic growth. It’s also spurred a lot of, , our ventures that we’re going beyond furniture of how we can impact education into other ventures that we’re working on right now.
Gene Hammett: I would imagine from a place of employees like employees, Aren’t necessarily excited by the company generating revenue and profits, although they should be because that’s what keeps us, you know, growing and keeps them fed. But I would imagine this one number has such a huge momentum impact or ability to align people together. Give me just a little bit about that.
Kevin Stoller: Yeah, it absolutely does. , like for us, you’re exactly right. I mean, the first time we were kind of coming with a ten-year target as a business owner, I’m sitting in like, well, I want to be, you know, whatever million dollar company, but that just did not resonate with the team. And literally, like the day we all collectively decided this is about impact. We might as well be at, be measuring our own impact. Everything changed [00:07:00] employees change. And we, we even said, this is an internal thing. This is not about marketing, but our team couldn’t help it. Like it, naturally, it became the marketing message where they wanted to go out, and talk to customers about it.
They want to talk to our vendors about it. And they wanted to talk to other people in your industry, which we’re always saying, we’re trying to attract the people that share our values. So it’s been a tremendous impact that I didn’t anticipate it, or even like, necessarily think it was going to do it the way it is.
Commentary: Kevin just talked about goals. Goals could be that you want to reach a certain revenue amount, or you want to reach a certain profitability or some other number, but that doesn’t really align people. It doesn’t resonate with them. You want goals that truly do connect people together creates a sense of unity. It creates a sense of we’re on a mission together. This whole podcast episode is on a mission over money. But you want to make sure that you have goals that align people together, that they feel something they resonate with it deeply. If you don’t have that, you’re missing an opportunity. So putting a spotlight on this [00:08:00] for a moment, because I want you to think about what are the goals that you’re constantly talking about, does it really matter? And I’m challenging you create goals that matter to your people that resonate with them, that they can get excited about you making more money. Probably doesn’t excite them as much as you think it does. Now back to Kevin.
Gene Hammett: Well, we’ve unpacked that a little bit. Hopefully, that gives us, those listing and a, a view of how you’re using this mission and vision for the company. And you call it a ten-year target. I want to go a little bit deeper to this because what you’re using your company’s core values in some unique ways. And I want to look at those today. Do you want to start with what your values are currently?
Kevin Stoller: Sure. Yeah. And this is something that, really goes beyond kind of our company, and honestly, into why I even explain ourselves as a mission-based company is that we really feel like everyone’s job in this country is to impact education. So our three core values are the change ones that are challenging. The status quo that are out there and not just. Checking the box saying, this is the way we always done it. And really looking at how do [00:09:00] students learn best, how to teachers teach best. , so be the change is a big one for us and you know, that’s for every action that we’re doing, the second one is you belong here and it used to be phrased. We attract others that share the same passion as us. But you belong here. It’s just such a more catchy way to encompass all of that, because we are saying whether you’re joining our team or you’re just joining our mission, you belong here.
Like we, we, we want you to be part of this, part of this movement that is going on with education. And the third one is to listen, care and follow through. And this is just really how more about how we operate. Is that where listeners first, that we really care about the work we’re doing and that we’re going to follow through on our commitments. And those are those core values that help us in recruiting and rewarding. It’s way. We, I always say we review reward, higher fiber. Those are, those are the things that we’re, we’re using our core values for. And, and it, it challenges us. I mean, We’ve actively talked to our vendors about it. We actually talked to our customers about it and [00:10:00] obviously our team.
Gene Hammett: Well, that gives us a good starting point. I want to ask you a few questions about values in the formulation of this looks like to me, instead of using the one word that a lot of people try to get it down to, they may have three or four, one word of values. You went with a phrase. Did you guys debate phrases versus one word
Kevin Stoller: we did. I mean, we’ve kind of, we’ve evolved into where we’re at right now. The phrase, I really liked the phrase. , and there it’s, , there’s more of a story to it by doing it as a phrase. , I mean, we can get to the point where we, I’m not wearing one right now, but a lot of my, if you kind of ran into someone on my team, you have all t-shirts with our core values on them and they wear them all the time and yeah. So it is something that’s, it’s almost like you’re becoming an ambassador for our brand by, by doing that. And, you know, like be the change. I mean, who doesn’t want to be the change, you know, who doesn’t want to feel like they belong here? And so it, those phrases mean a lot more than when we talk about saying like, oh, we’re accountable or, you know, some kind of the [00:11:00] more generic. Values that you kind of hear of like honesty or, you know, like I don’t, I don’t want to knock them. We were there, we did that too. , but it’s definitely been an evolution for us.
Gene Hammett: Well, I like the fact that it is an evolution because I think a lot of people look at values and it’s like a project. They did it once. Let’s get to work but you guys are actually living it. This is what I call this. I, the research I have. Right now is about 12 different core areas within the business. I call them touchpoints of where you can use-values. You listed all four of them, recruiting, rewarding, hiring, and firing. I’ve got eight more.
Not that you have to use it in all these areas, but a lot of people are going well, how do I use it? I want to dive into it. How you’re using the values for, for a moment. Give us an example, of what we’d see across the organization of how you use the values day today.
Kevin Stoller: Yeah. Well, I have a real-world example literally from this morning, but even before that, I use them for myself more than anything. I kinda joke around, I’m like, I get bored really easy and you know, it’s really easy to get distracted and work on other [00:12:00] things. , but for me to feel like what we’re doing is a mission more than money. Like, honestly, it means more for me. And then if it’s impacting employees and anyone else, that’s great too, but I want to feel like I’m doing something bigger than just making money and selling stuff. So those core values, I mean, it really it’s changed the way I operate as, as a leader because it goes beyond me. This isn’t now like I started this business for like my own personal benefit. This is not. And it just becomes bigger than me, which is really cool and motivating to do. , so on your question, we’re dealing with, we’re a small team and we’re dealing with, a lot of the things that we’re seeing around the country right now, as far as diversity and equity and inclusion.
And we’re trying to figure out how we address it as a team moving forward. And as we grow. And it literally came back right back to be like, what are the core values? It has to be real for us. We don’t want to just come up with like a generic statement or say like, this is, [00:13:00] you know, this is what we stand for, or this is what we’re going to do just to kind of check that box and say, oh, this is how we’re handling diversity. it literally came right back to, well, what are our core values? And that’s it like that should stand. And that should drive our diversity policy and the actions that we. To make sure that, that we are doing the right things for our team and for our vendors, and for our customers.
Gene Hammett: I appreciate you going into the detail I want to go through and you can give me quick answers on this. If you’ve got quick answers available, what are the ways you use it in recruiting the right people?
Kevin Stoller: Yeah. Yep. , it is, part of our phone screening of that we, that we do early, but I actually should take a step back. We created a culture deck that we stole from Netflix’s ideas. If anyone, if you’ve ever seen what Netflix has done for a culture deck, it’s, there’s this really detailed. We started ours out, not as detailed as theirs. , but we really want to be able to tell the story of like, what is it like to be a member of the Kay-Twelve team? And. And we put that out there on our website and we [00:14:00] promote it within our social media for people to go through and do it. And it really is like a self-filtering tool to try to find out who are the people that this matches up.
So even though those phrases of our core values are fairly descriptive, we have a lot more detail behind that as they go through the culture deck. And that’s a great way to just have people kind of track the people that fit those core values versus doing. You know, like a normal way where you post it on indeed and you have a whole bunch of ones to filter through it. There there’s self-filtering themselves out by going through that culture deck. And then through the questions, we’re asking. And then from that first phone screen, we’re actually asking them about the core values and giving examples of why that resonated and why they felt compelled. To even apply for the position.
Commentary: Kevin just talked about a culture deck. Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen this before, but I’ve looked at Netflix. I’ve also looked at HubSpot. You can Google any company you want and see if they have a culture deck. And some of these bigger companies really do a good job of creating all of the different areas at which we are. [00:15:00] Operating as a culture and it helps in many different ways. One of the ways it helps is, you know, just actually writing the documents out. What do we stand for? Who are, we really is an important piece. The lines, and people together include many people across the organization. And you can define specifically who you are and what culture means to you and how that really drives you as an organization. The another way it works is. It’s just in the hiring aspects. If you showed it to someone, it should either resonate with them or repel away. What I mean by that is if you showed them a culture deck that doesn’t fit with them, they should be repelled. Right. That makes sense. But if they are aligned with the mission, they are aligned with the values. They should resonate with deeply and they should work even harder inside the sales process of bringing someone on board, which is really recruiting and that’s just one way that you can use the culture decks. Hopefully, this helps you, gives you some ideas and why that’s really important as you organize and structure your company. For more growth back to Kevin.
Gene Hammett: Rewarding is probably pretty [00:16:00] simple. But how would you how do you reward people for their values? ,
Kevin Stoller: we’ve done this a couple of different ways. We’ve done anything from just like literally a nomination or somebody do something in a weekly meeting and say like, Hey, who exemplified our core values this week? And somebody will throw out a name. We used to do this like fun game where every time you were nominated, you got to card out of a deck. And there was like money behind it. Like if you picked a five, you got five bucks. If you got an a, so it would be 25 bucks. , and that was a fun way to do it right now. We do it weekly in a shout-out in our weekly meetings where it’s just literally like, like, all right, shout-outs. And it’s really fun. It’s got a lot of energy from our team and, you know, and just be like, Hey, Aaron did this for me. And like me again, and just really, you know, was, showing how he can be the change and was really kind of pushing our vendors to be better and realize the bigger impact what they’re doing. And then, you know, it could be big or little, those shoutouts just are really helpful. , and then we actually do, , an award every year for our employee of the year that our core values employee of the year and [00:17:00] everyone on our team fills out a survey. , and that’s kinda how we figure out who wins that award.
Gene Hammett: Yeah. I’ve heard companies getting away from the employee of the year kind of thing or employee of the month. I didn’t quite understand it, stand that because I guess this goes back to, they don’t want to offend people. They don’t want, they want people to feel a sense of unity and no competition. But you’re, you’re doing this. Are you guys seeing competition with people that are trying to get employee of the year or is it very natural?
Kevin Stoller: It’s pretty natural right now. , we’ve had multiple years where we had a tie, so we’ve had multiple ones. It is a tough one. It’s like one of those like everyone likes to be like rewarded or everyone has different ways. Like some do not want the award. They do not want their name. You know, like they. I don’t want that spotlight and others it’s really rewarding for them. I don’t know if there’s a really clear cut, like the answer and I don’t know if we’ll always continue that or modify it. , but we just did in the last month here where we did our survey and, you know, the team of 14, we had nine different people that got first-place votes for it. So it was pretty cool to see [00:18:00] that. And, you know, I don’t know if it’s a great thing to just kind of highlight one from there. I don’t know. What’s your experience
Gene Hammett: I love the fact that you have nine out of 14 people getting first-place votes.
Kevin Stoller: And that’s, to me was my takeaway.
Gene Hammett: That’s the real, you know, what you’re looking for across the company, it’s not one or two rockstars. It is literally almost all of the company that is really playing at this level and aligning with the value. So really appreciate you sharing that with us, Kevin, I always love it. I don’t know what we’ve missed inside this journey of what really drives the company forward. I know you’ve talked about the power of mission. you actually threw out those words that we can come back to, if you want to mission more than money was something that you, you focus on, but you didn’t explain what that really means to you.
Kevin Stoller: Yeah. I mean, it really is. , you know, I had someone to ask me before. Like what, and I don’t want to act like I have this figured out by any means, like it’s a constant struggle in my mind all the time because you know like it’s hard to not look at money as, like the scoreboard, you [00:19:00] know, to some degree of, you know, especially being around other entrepreneurs, like you see the big exits and you see kind of what they’re doing and, you know, It’s been a mindset shift for me that I can’t even tell you I’m complete with yet, but I can just tell you like my personal enjoyment comes to a lot more out of the mission and the impact, then the money aspect of it, your point, we need that money.
We need to have profit. We’re very focused to it as a team, but we use that also to be like, this also means we can make more impact the more profitable we are, this isn’t for us to just make a bunch of money and then. Retire right now. I have no interest in retiring, you know, as long as I enjoy this and my team continues to develop, maybe I don’t need to be in the business as much as I need to be, but to me it really is about impact. And, you know, and as long as I can live the lifestyle that I want. I don’t necessarily need to have all those, you know, it’s, it’s not about how many zeroes are at the end of the numbers in my [00:20:00] bank account. It’s really about what are we doing to improve other people’s lives. It’s as simple as that for our team, but then also for the work that
Gene Hammett: you’ll be sad. We’ll wrap up right here because Kevin, what you just talked about. Mission over money. I think probably doesn’t align with everyone, but fast companies that understand people and understand that it takes more than just profits to create unity and create cohesion and ownership that what you’re describing and all the things that fit around it really are perfect for today’s interview. So thank you very much.
Kevin Stoller: I appreciate it.
Gene Hammett: I always like to reflect back on what our guests has just talked about and this interview really aligns with the hundreds of things I’ve done with my clients as an executive coach, but also just the other interviews we’ve done is really understanding the power of mission inside your company. First and foremost, people don’t want to just have a job. They want to do something that has meaning Kevin talked about being an education. I don’t know what your business is, but you can find something that would align people together. More than just the, the [00:21:00] big goals of money and revenue that’s first and foremost, using your values across the organization, really critical, you know, really rewarding people. And maybe just having shout out saying thank you for being on the team and doing this. And however you choose to do the rewarding side of it. And then also the importance of recruiting using your values really is critical people. Miss this opportunity a lot. So I’m just highlighting it here for you.
Let’s wrap up. There are a lot of areas in which values are touching the organization that you’re probably not using. If you want to have a conversation about what are some of those areas, just reach out to me if GeneHammett.Com and let’s schedule a call to really look at what’s going on in your organization. Some of the gaps that you have, I do this absolutely free. I’d love to just work with you. If you’re listening to this deep into the interview, it means you really want to change something in your business. And I want to figure out exactly what that is for you, and then give you a plan absolutely free to you. All you have to do is go to Genehammett.com and schedule your call.
When you think of growth and you think of a culture, think of 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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