Maintaining a Culture with a Remote Team with Jeff Kupietzky at PowerInbox

Maintaining a culture with a remote team requires intention. The culture of an organization is the cornerstone of how work gets done. It is easier when the people show up to the same building and gather face-to-face to maintain culture as the company grows. As companies have embraced virtual workers, the idea of maintaining a culture with a remote team has become more critical. Today’s guest is Jeff Kupietzy, CEO of PowerInbox, who shares how they have to see a culture with their remote team. PowerInbox ranked on the Inc 500 list at #30 in 2019. Jeff gives you insights on how to lead a culture when the team is virtual.

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Jeff Kupietzky: The Transcript

Target Audience: Jeff is the CEO of PowerInbox. PowerInbox provides publishers, marketers, and agencies with dynamic, real-time and personalized email solutions which increase email engagement and revenue.

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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.

Jeff Kupietzky: [00:00]
I would say everybody in the company knows exactly where we are against the plan and they know hopefully what their objectives are to support the achievement of that plan and because in a work environment that’s all remote, you really can’t manage any inputs. The whole idea is to just manage the output, basically the outcome and so by having clear communication each week about how we’re pacing and what people need to do to hit those outcomes, I find that at least we’re able to kind of provide more context for the average employee to make their own decisions about how they spend their time.

Gene Hammett: [00:33]
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: [00:50]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run. I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to GeneHammett.com/Worksheet so you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episodes. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can tune in to the date that means the most to you.

Gene Hammett: [01:32]
A lot of companies are facing the need for hiring people, but they don’t actually have them in their local area. They may have offices in a separate area, but they really are looking to hire the best people. So when you want to hire the best people, you might have to think differently about how you run and operate the business. Well. One of the things that you have to look at differently is the need for remote employees. If you want to hire the best engineers, they might not be right at your doorstep that you want to hire the best marketers. Maybe you have someone that’s completely in another time zone or country that you’re in right now. You’ve probably faced this as this is a natural way for us to develop our workforces and develop our companies right now is hiring these remote workers. Now there’s some pros and cons to this that we’re going to go through in today’s interview, but one of them is really is about how do you communicate and how do you develop culture when people are remote. And a lot of people put up objections right away. Our guest today is Jeff Kupietzky. Jeff is the CEO of Power Inbox and Power Inbox is a really innovative marketing company. They’ve growing really fast. Amazing growth. Number 30 on the INC list. I had to look at my notes here. With 45 employees, they knew that they had to have a different structure than what other companies had. They, they have them all over the world and we talk about the cadence of meetings and some of the things that they do differently than others. One of the things I love the most is really the discussion of instead of delegating an actual kind of project, they delegate the outcome. And really they have scorecards toward the outcome. And it really is a way for people to take more ownership of the work. I love what they’re doing and we’re going to share some of those insights with you. So this is Jeff, the CEO of Power Inbox.

Gene Hammett: [03:25]
Hi Jeff. How are you?

Jeff Kupietzky: [03:26]
I’m doing well, how are you, Gene?

Gene Hammett: [03:28]
I’m fantastic. I’m really excited about having you on the Growth Think Tank podcast. I would love for our audience to understand about your company Power Inbox and about you personally as a leader. So tell us about the company and about you.

Jeff Kupietzky: [03:43]
I appreciate that. So I’ll start with the company. We provide a service to digital publishers to help them monetize their messaging channels, primarily email, but also push notifications and others and really help them better engage their audiences with what we think is much more relevant and dynamic content. A company’s been around for a couple of years. Uh, we’ve been fortunate to hit the INC list in the last couple of years. So it’s growing very quickly. My own background, I’ve worked in mostly digital media and SAS companies ever since I left business school. I’ve done work on the east coast the west coast and now a much further coast and then I’m based out of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Gene Hammett: [04:23]
Well, when you think about the leadership that makes a company grow fast, what are the core principles that you believe that has made you guys grow so fast?

Jeff Kupietzky: [04:33]
Yeah, a couple of things. First, number one, you’ve got to pick good people. And we were fortunate to kind of create the nucleus of our team through our a private company merger. So we were a small company. We found another small company Kinda saw die and we put them together. And that was kind of the nucleus of a great founding team. And I’m pleased to say all of those founding members, that’s now going on almost eight years. They’re all together still. Even though our business models have changed a bit, the target space has changed. What hasn’t changed is our kind of desire to work together. Uh, so that’s been very, very fortunate for us. Great Recipe. On top of that, I think we had very clear objectives. So the initial kind of products we were trying to build while they didn’t work out as well, when we finally hit on the one that did work well, uh, we were very focused on what we were trying to solve and that made it easy to stay focused. It made it easy for us to see the traction. And then frankly, the last one is we didn’t overspend, so we made sure to kind of stay within our means. And so as we grew, we were able to kind of fund that growth and not always have to be looking outside for capital.

Gene Hammett: [05:40]
That’s rare these days because a lot of people think, oh, I just need capital to grow. But you, you took a different approach with that. When you think about, you know, going back and redoing it again, would you have done anything differently?

Jeff Kupietzky: [05:55]
Well, it would’ve been great to find the winner earlier in the process than it took us as long as it did. And, and, and full disclosure, we did raise money, but obviously we had that money earlier in the process or maybe, and I’ll kind of, again, once we had the idea, we might not have had to take as much dilution, uh, when we did do that res, but all in all, we’re very pleased. We know there are many different outcomes for affirm and the fact that we’re now able to say we have high growth and profitable business is kind of a unique achievement. And we’re just really thrilled to kind of be a part of it.

Gene Hammett: [06:28]
Well, a lot of your team is remote based, so you have about 45 employees under that, right?

Jeff Kupietzky: [06:34]
We do. And they’re across many different geographies and time zones. I always say I’m not sure that we started the business with that as an objective off to that. As I mentioned that the company was started by a merger of two private companies and one was based at the time and Tel Aviv and one was based in Boston. And then through a whole bunch of reasons, we wanted to provide flexibility to the founding members to live where they felt more comfortable. And that actually became for us a bit of a mantra that we noticed. There was a way to recruit and attract talent that wasn’t in the traditional either silicon alley in New York or silicon valley on the west coast. And that became something that helped differentiate us early on and that we attracted great technical talent no matter where that individual lives. We obviously have to learn a bit about how best to take advantage and build a communication structure around those folks. But that kind of core insight of like, let’s find great people no matter where they are, I turned out to be, again another good decision we made early on.

Gene Hammett: [07:34]
Well, there is a big war for talent. I think a lot of companies are filling in if they’re looking for new people and you have, you know, kind of removing some of the barriers of geography when you think about that as a strategy that that’s kind of helped you guys with that talent coming on board.

Jeff Kupietzky: [07:52]
It did. But we’ve also learned the hard way all the things that you have to avoid as well. So I’ll kind of just share some of those items. Cause I think it becomes logical after the fact that you don’t really know it going in. So the first day, for example, we don’t hire anybody that doesn’t have at least several years experience. So we’re not a great firm when it comes to somebody that’s just kind of starting their career. Nor have we seen success with somebody who hasn’t already significantly worked outside of an office. So we find you can’t really train this. You can’t really expose somebody for the first time. They have to have already if you will, little self-selected for this kind of work environment. It requires an individual that is extraordinarily self-disciplined, that can kind of follow objectives and doesn’t lead, need a lot of frankly either interaction or management attention. So we’re probably familiar with people that do really well in that environment, but you can probably just as much relate to people that weren’t as successful because this environment isn’t for everybody.

Gene Hammett: [08:51]
Well, I love the fact that you have that doll in you figure out that hiring people who have never worked outside the office just wasn’t going to work because you hired someone…

Jeff Kupietzky: [09:02]
Yeah! we found out by hiring them and then they didn’t work, so they’re not with us anymore. And to be honest, some of that was just, you know, voluntary attrition, meaning that they just didn’t see it as a fit either. And, um, yeah, I had a crazy story where we were having a salesperson, a remote role, and without him kind of letting us know. He started moonlighting for another company may be thinking that because he was remote, we couldn’t figure it out. Obviously we quickly figured it out, but kind of it underscored for us that all we could screen for our integrity and good people because you can’t really keep your eye on them. So I think that’s helped us also realize from the mistakes we have made. You know what to kind of avoid in the future.

Commentary: [09:43]
Jeff talked about self-directed employees and let me just chime in here for a second. When you hire someone, your intention is never to hire someone that needs to be micromanaged and needs to be told what to do day in and day out. You never wanted to hire someone where you thought that you would just tell them and they were kind of a monkey that just like, you know would peddle faster when you told them to. You want them to actually think for themselves. So Jeff talked about the power of hiring these self-directed people and really a value that they have in the company is that you think for yourself, you take ownership of the work. And that is what allows them to have the efficiency that they have as a fast-growing company but with the company, with employees all over the country. So I share this with you because I want you to think about your ability to have people that are self-directed. A lot of the work I do is helping companies create more ownership that helped them go beyond responsibilities. So if there’s anything I do that could help you with that, let’s set up a call. Now go back to the interview.

Gene Hammett: [10:48]
Now a lot of people have resisted the remote teams because of the lack of team that comes when you’re in different places. How have you guys overcome that objection?

Jeff Kupietzky: [11:00]
Yeah, I mentioned that before we went on here that this is still a work in progress. So you know, when we were 2030 people it was pretty easy because communication is really simple. There’s a single individual typically with a single set of responsibilities and the most they have to draft with is maybe two or three others. So the single engineer talks to the single product manager and then maybe it has to bring in the single point of contact from the sales team. Now we’re a bit bigger, it’s a bit more complex. The products they require, six to eight people may be involved in something. So communication really is a premium. We try and not kind of address that in a couple of ways. One is that we do believe in bringing people together. So even though we have a remote working environment, we try to insist on at least three times a year we have what I call on sites.

Jeff Kupietzky: [11:45]
It’s the same thing as an offsite, but because everyone works remotely, it’s really the only time they’re all together. So we try and celebrate a kind of coming together. We both fun and a workweek. But those are relationships where people can kind of, a bond together in person are extremely important to then foster the communication. When they go back to their home offices and start working remote again, we’re obviously big believers in zoom and Skype and slack and any mechanism, even the plain old telephone. We encourage that as well. Just that it’s not purely a messaging-based environment, but there’s face to face interaction. We do encourage video wherever you can. Snd there are still issues and you obviously have to recognize that you have to work harder to communicate. It doesn’t come naturally. There’s not the kind of easy conversation that just happened cause you’re both sitting over a water cooler here. You have to actually reach out to people to kind of make that happen.

Gene Hammett: [12:38]
Yeah. A lot of millennials really value the flexibility of a workforce. I would imagine many of your employees are millennials. And is that be an attractive kind of benefit to the millennial talent that wants work for you?

Jeff Kupietzky: [12:54]
Yeah, I’d say we’re mixed on that. Again, some of the millennials who had not had prior remote experience didn’t work out as well because they need that mentorship. They need to see people every day. I think we’re finding again, that we skew towards probably a bit more mature. I once got quoted in an article that I said mature and said, why are you calling us all old? I said, just have significant work experience and the average of our 45 people is at least 10 years. And so that’s pretty unique in a fast-growth ad tech high tech kind of business. But that said, I think the are millennials we have in the company and they are extraordinarily self-directed. They’re folks that know how to balance their personal and professional lives and that makes it work too. I’ll share a quick story.

Jeff Kupietzky: [13:35]
This is always what I like. We had a young employee that was just starting out and kind of his married life and they had a kid and we saw as productivity just completely fall off. And what we finally realized once we started talking to him about performance and everything was that he just needed to close his door when he was working and then open it when he was done. But the fact that kind of, they had a new family, it was hard for him to kind of make that separation. So you still want to create a bit formality in your Home Office, but the whole idea is to provide that flexibility so you can still put in what we think is a legitimate set of hours a day. Those though are at your choice. They can be at any point during the week. We would have to know if you do it on the weekend or not or even where you doing those hours. So it’s really kind of filtering for that personality that is good at making those divisions of time who can be, you know, self-directed.

Gene Hammett: [14:26]
From a leadership standpoint, how do you handle one-on-one meetings and things like that really engage and kind of develop that employee to the next level?

Jeff Kupietzky: [14:37]
So I probably am on a plane a bit more than the average person and I do believe in the face to face. So while our team will get together three times, I’ll try and reach out to different folks through my travels at least once a month an I’ll meet and kind of do team dinners depending what city I’m in. And they’ll have this, I have a regular set of weekly one on ones for my direct reports and every two or three weeks with kind of skip directs. It’s again, it’s an effort you have to go and kind of make sure you schedule that time and you’ve made it a priority. I think without that it doesn’t work as well.

Gene Hammett: [15:13]
Now, what about a week to week meetings or any kind of regular cadence of meetings. Do you like to do a daily stand up or anything like that within teams or the whole company?

Jeff Kupietzky: [15:25]
Yeah, so we have, I’ve gotten a, also some experimentation. We’ve tried different things. We now hit upon what I think is a good balance. We do one all-company meeting every Monday morning. We set it for [9:00] AM eastern no matter what times on your end. For some folks, that’s early. Some folks that are very late. But the idea is let’s get everybody together beginning of the week and kick-off what’s going on. And the other thing I try and do is we’re very transparent about the business pacing. How are we doing today, yesterday, this week, this month? I would say everybody in the company knows exactly where we are against the plan and they know hopefully what their objectives are to support the achievement of that plan. And because in a work environment that’s all remote, you really can’t manage any inputs. The whole idea is to just manage the output, basically the outcome.

Jeff Kupietzky: [16:13]
And so by having clear communication each week about how we’re pacing and what people need to do to hit those outcomes, I find that at least we’re able to kind of provide more context for the average employee to make their own decisions about how they spend their time. Ultimately, each team then comes up with its own cadence. Some meet them with their own standups every other day or every day. Some of it’s once a week, but we try and minimize the formal meetings if you will. I do another kind of full company all-hands once a month, but not more often than that. And then there’s not other maybe one other two other com standing meetings and everything else is kind of set by the team level.

Gene Hammett: [18:14]
When you think about some of the challenges you’ve overcome and had a remote workforce what comes to mind is something that you had to work through and figure out.

Jeff Kupietzky: [18:24]
So when you’re dealing just with founders we found it to be a pretty easy thing, right? We all know each other. We work together. Now we’re kind of in a different time zone. So we’ll just kind of pick up that relationship. What we found was that new people need to be really thought through their onboarding cause it’s a different way to work. They don’t have a context, they don’t have the relationships, they don’t have that base of kind of familiarity. And again, this is a work in progress, but we found that it’s really important that early in someone’s onboarding that you get that face to face time. If it is a new engineer, we fly them to a location where they’re with another engineer. If it’s a new person in the sales organization, we make sure they’re traveling with another salesperson or they’re in the same location for a period of time. We try and schedule people starting around. We do one of these on sites. So there’s kind of interaction with others. And then we try and track their progress 30 days, 60 days, 90 days. So we really try and have a high level of your onboarding is important to us. We want to know how you’re doing so that they can kind of get if you will. Kind of, I think part of that culture of now we’re going to let you figure it out on your own, but at least we’ve given you some of the tools to start with. I’ve seen people I guess adjust faster than others. So like I said, it’s still a work in progress, but that turns out to be a pretty important thing that new employees have to be managed through the onboarding rather than just being thrown to the deep end.

Gene Hammett: [19:48]
You know, I think a lot of companies could learn from that onboarding process cause it’s one of the critical components of, you know, once you find a great person is, is really getting them connected and getting them in the culture and becoming a part of the team as opposed to, oh, just get this work done.

Jeff Kupietzky: [20:04]
That’s right. I always find I think it’s setting the context and then creating the relationships to improve communication. And we, we continue to be surprised sometimes about just forcing people into these kinds of interactions, whether that’s in person or just over the phone or kind of other ways that they talk to each other that really foster a better working relationship that you may have already answered this, but I guess I am Kinda curious around the uncommon approaches that you’ve taken to create a culture with remote workers.

Jeff Kupietzky: [20:36]
So like I said we really kind of focused on outcomes. So everybody has a scorecard that says, this is my job, this is what I have to accomplish. Those are public and visible to everybody in the company. We then every company goals department goals visible as well. And the whole idea here is that we kind of remove what normally might happen in a kind of single workplace, which is people closed doors. They weren’t kind of, you know, with the blinds down. Well, this is finance. I’m not gonna share that with you. Or we have that luxury, if you will, of hiding the data. So in some ways, we put it all out there. And what we find again is people just want to have the context right? Even if it’s not their job necessarily to worry about cash or those things. If we give people the comfort of knowing that this is available to them, it removes some of the concerns and fear. And then I think again, focusing on what we have to get done together we think helps define for them. Okay, now let me define what I’m going to do in the case of this broader company goal. And we find over and over again if we can kind of give people the context, give them the overall goal, they’re typically smart enough to figure out what they need to do to kind of get their piece along with that entire system.

Commentary: [21:41]
I want to pause right here because Jeff talked about this scorecard where really they’re tracking outcomes that they didn’t have enough of communication and they’re not meeting in a frequency to really talk about the inputs to work. That really, they just talked about. The outcomes really are a great way to increase the level of ownership with people because there’s really nowhere to hide because you need them to understand the results that they’re going to get from the work that they’re doing and they’re really working to find a way to get there. It doesn’t matter how they get there as far as the, you know, I’m not saying that they need to be out of integrity, but what I am saying is it doesn’t matter specifically how they do it. You just want to make sure that they’re getting the job done and hopefully innovating along the journey because that’s what keeps a company growing and keeps it from getting stale employees in appreciate this trust to give them the outcome because they can take ownership of how they get there and they can take ownership of the goal because they, that’s objective that they need to meet to move up in the ranks and to create more value for the company. And they really appreciate that. I’ve seen organizations that have increased that sense of ownership just by this one factor is by stop doing it the old way, but to really just talk about the outcomes that the driving too, and that’s what they really focused on. So back to the interview with Jeff.

Gene Hammett: [21:42]
So there are two pieces in there that really align well with my research on fast-growth companies and leadership. One of them is too loud. People want to delegate the task of a process or something like that because it’s been proven. And maybe it’s just something that needs, we need to follow step by step. But I have always said, you know, I understand that, but why not just give them the outcome and let them figure it out for themselves. And maybe even say this may help you, but you make it your own. Because that outcome places really huge. And the second piece behind this is, you know, a sense of transparency that you have with these scorecards. Did you learn that somewhere to do your travels or your work?

Jeff Kupietzky: [22:25]
I mean, definitely I would say that just given the number of companies I’ve worked at, you know, the more you share, the better you do. The, especially when times aren’t great, you kinda build that trust. And so, therefore, if you’re consistent you can kind of, I think, whether through, you know, harder periods, and we’ve been fortunate, you know, the business cycle now has been pretty long. It’s been positive. So this company might not have been challenged yet with some of the downturns that I’ve seen earlier than other companies. So it’s important for me that people kind of always know where we stand so to speak. So far we’ve been fortunate to kind of have that. I tell also, I’ve also learned, I kind of don’t have the patience for what might be the harder task of deciding who sees what piece of information. How do I remember that you show these it’s much easier to say, look, guys, this is what the board asked me to do. I’m gonna tell you what my job is. You guys help me get it done.

Gene Hammett: [23:18]
I think employees really appreciate that level of trust that you have with your objectives and giving them a chance to be a part of it. Giving them a chance to, to take ownership of it has probably contributed to the growth of the company, would you say?

Jeff Kupietzky: [23:33]
Absolutely. And then again, you always want to celebrate when people do come up with something that is innovative or they took ownership of something and we really try and do that as well. I mean, it’s hard for me to ever imagine that I’m an expert in all the different functions we bring together. And so all I can do is help them kind of with the context, hopefully, set a little bit of the culture and then just to make sure they have the tools that they need to kind of get their job done.

Gene Hammett: [23:56]
Well, I love the nature of this and you guys have some complexities with having a remote workforce. What would you say to someone that’s considering, um, moving a little bit more remote? Cause the war for talent is something that comes up in almost every one of my interviews is finding and attracting and retaining that best place to work. But what would you say to someone else that considering it but hasn’t taken the leap?

Jeff Kupietzky: [24:19]
Yeah, I don’t think that there’s an absolute, either you’re all remote or you’re all not remote. I think that there’s a continuum. I would say flexibility’s important. So what we’re finding as an example is as we scale, it’s a challenge to say we’re 100% only remote. We actually find some people prefer having that kind of a social interaction that allows for people to kind of work near each other. So we’re kind of talking about a concept of a hub where maybe if there’s enough collection of employees in an area, it makes sense to put them all into a, we work as an option not required, but that allows them to kind of self-manage into smaller groups that they see on a more regular basis. As companies think about that war for talent and what they need to do. I do think there are certain departments that need more of that interaction and it’s important for them to have a kind of more facetime and others. It’s much easier for them to work remotely. So it’s that flexibility of not saying it’s an absolute one or the other, but its recognition that again, if you’re doing this to empower your employee base and frankly holding them accountable, you’ll get a good outcome. If the whole idea is, it’s kind of, we know best corporate’s going to decide you’re not really empowering your employee base. So even if you tell them they can work from home, they don’t feel the same. I would say ownership of that work process and they might resist then other things that corporate ask them to do.

Gene Hammett: [25:40]
Well, I appreciate you being here on the podcast and sharing your insights on this and congratulations on your fast growth and continued growth cause I know that you’re, you’re really pacing well too to be on the list again this year.

Jeff Kupietzky: [25:53]
I appreciate your time. Thanks so much for the opportunity.

Gene Hammett: [25:55]
Wow. What a fantastic interview. You know, I love the part that when he’s talking about the cadence of meetings that happen because if you haven’t remote team, you want to make sure you get that right cadence. You can’t have too many meetings where people feel micromanaged, but if you can’t have too few meetings where people don’t feel supported and they can’t share and communicate and collaborate together, so you’ve got to get that balance right. And Jeff talked about some of the things that they’re working through and how they figured this out. And I really love this concept. Hopefully, this is helping you with some new ideas of how you can engage your remote workers and develop a team of a culture, even if they are remote, that really grows the business fast. So that’s my piece today. If there’s anyone that you can think of specially that would be great too, to introduce them to this podcast, make sure you tell them what you like most about Growth Think Tank, because I really, they would value your opinion about what you’re getting out of it. So if there’s anything I can do for you, make sure you reach out to me at gene@.GeneHammett.com as always, lead with courage. We’ll see 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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