Creating a learning organization is not just about training. In fact, training is just a tiny slice of the concept of creating a learning organization. Today, we will unpack some of the critical elements of a learning organization. My guest today is Khaled Naim, Co-Founder of Onfleet, an innovative logistics software company. Onfleet was ranked #124 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Khaled and his co-founders believe that learning is the foundation of innovation. Discover the strategies of creating a learning organization that has driven innovation for this driven company. We talk about the strategies that allow their employees to challenge the status quo.
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Khaled Naim: The Transcript
Target Audience: Khaled Naim is the Co-Founder & CEO at Onfleet. Onfleet is a financially independent private corporation powering millions of deliveries every month for some of the most innovative companies in the world a San Francisco-based technology company that builds software for last-mile delivery operations.
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.
You know things are not necessarily just just about the role you know where we’re not just sort of you know how can I train this person to know just what they need to know for this narrow role but how can we nurture a passion for learning so our team members and be the best versions of themselves whether here and honestly or or anywhere else in the future.
[00:00:18].650] – 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 Jean Schmidt. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow.
[00:00:36].480] – Gene Hammett
A learning organization. It’s not just where you get give people training or you give them you know little bits of to help them with their skills. A learning organization is something that goes deeper into changing the way those people think about themselves. The skills they’re developing as part of it but it really is about raising their entire value to the organization and internally it involves confidence. It involves courage and when you create a learning organization you have something special. I have really searched hard to find organizations that really do this well and I found Onfleet I was talking with co-lead name the co-founder there.
[00:01:14].850] – Gene Hammett
They talked about the importance of having a learning organization. In our interview one of the things I liked most was he talked about how they really encourage their employees to challenge who they are and what they’re doing. A challenge with new ideas they really are looking for innovation inside the ranks of the company not just coming from the top. Sounds pretty good right. Well on fleet is number one 24 on the ink list in 2009. There were little over three million in sales there continue to grow and we’re gonna share with you the interview with Carly when we talk about this learning organization and some of the specific strategies that they’re doing in the hiring onboarding and development of their employees to encourage that learning organization that drives innovation. So here’s the interview with Khaled Naim.
[00:02:02].010] – Gene Hammett
How are you.
[00:02:03].180] – Khaled Naim
I’m good. How are you doing, Gene?
[00:02:04].470] – Gene Hammett
I’m fantastic. Thanks for being here Growth think tank.
[00:02:07].740] – Khaled Naim
Sure. Thanks for having me on the show.
[00:02:09].930] – Gene Hammett
Well I’ve already let the audience know a little bit about you in the intro but I’d love for you to tell us about on fleet and what that is and what you guys do.
[00:02:18].750] – Khaled Naim
Sure. Onfleet as a software platform a B2B software as a service to be exact that helps businesses with their last mile delivery management needs so we help companies streamline everything from road optimization and signing to dispatching real time tracking of drivers provable upgrades operation everything in its fleet. So we we work with companies that have a fleet of drivers that are out there delivering goods to sort of enable them to operate more efficiently sort of enabling them to compete with the likes of Amazon while providing an Uber like experience to their customers. We work with companies and industries rent from food and beverage to auto parts to furniture and clothing. We work with thousands of companies all around the world in about 80 countries. Companies like Gap United supermarkets and imperfect produce as well as many others coming.
[00:03:22].030] – Gene Hammett
How many employees you have Khaled?
[00:03:23].880] – Khaled Naim
We have 31 employees right now.
[00:03:26].540] – Gene Hammett
And you’ve had tremendous growth over the last few years. What year did you start.
[00:03:33].960] – Khaled Naim
So we launched the first version of On fleet sort of publicly in April 2015. So that’s kind of what we consider our anniversary. But as you know as a sort of typically the case is it was not as both pre very kind of you know had a few iterations of different products before that date. So we actually Scott started kind of as a team down at Stanford. I met David our CTO and he was down there doing his master’s in computer science focusing on AI and machine learning. I was doing my MBA at the time and was working with McKell was our third co-founder on a project and kind of David joined the team and we just sort of started hacking away at different projects.
[00:04:18].600] – Khaled Naim
Eventually one of them we incorporated that was called Adi short for address. It was sort of an easier way for people to communicate locations in emerging markets specifically for the purpose of delivery. So that’s how we kind of got into the delivery space and learned a ton about logistics and you know the challenges that companies and logistics face on a regular basis and sort of get excited about building this kind of data and delivery management structure. And that was sort of you know late 2014 where we where we started building the product put together a really quick prototype and and then raised some funding and launched in April 2015.
[00:05:03].900] – Gene Hammett
Well I appreciate you giving us the context on the business the industry and you know growing fast you guys when we talked to a couple of weeks ago we one of the things that was really interesting was how you create a learning organization. And I think a lot of our listeners in here would love to have a real learning organization inside this not something that they talk about but they actually do. So what is a learning organization to you?
[00:05:32].850] – Khaled Naim
A learning organization is as I think just the foundation of building an innovative business right. I don’t think there’s any other way to build a truly innovative business. Learning is an inherent innovation. If you’re not learning you’re not innovating. So that you know Nation is one in which everyone on the team sort of seeks to learn and grow personally and professionally.
[00:05:57].760] – Gene Hammett
Now I know that when the big things about doing that is hiring people that have that desire. I remember reading a stat and I’m not quoting things specifically but people stop reading once they get out of formal school. And I think that’s pretty sad. But how do you determine if someone wants to be a part of a learning organization that you’re creating.
[00:06:20].730] – Khaled Naim
Yeah that’s a great question. So yeah today you know screening for for folks that want to be part of the learning organization for us is just as important if not more than screening for sort of relevant experience and it’s just a big role in our hiring process. And I think you know the way we do that. So a few things the passive predictors or so you know just do these people have a history of learning and growing and they’ve been promoted in prior roles they have side projects we ask them questions like When did they need to learn something new to drive results. Tell me about a time that you failed and what you learned from the failure right. So failure is a great indicator of risk seeking and growth. So understanding how they think about about those experiences what they think about failure and really you know one of the key ways that we screen for this is you know have they taken the time to learn about honestly.
[00:07:18].330] – Khaled Naim
You’d be surprised how many people just don’t do this before the first call and that is critical. We also put it for many roles we put folks through scenarios in which they’re required to learn something about the product often quite a lot. They often have to really dive in there you know go through our guide box and things like that and that really makes it very apparent you know who prepares and who enjoys the process of learning something new we know that none of them have sort of learned about this product for so kind of put everyone on on a level.
[00:07:51].500] – Commentary
Let’s hold on for a second. Khaled just said this very quickly and I want to kind of go back to it in the hiring process they’re looking at it where people were promoted in previous roles. It really is cool to be able to look at where someone has moved levels and be able if they’re looking for something new to be able to see how they move levels what you’re actually looking for is people who move levels but they did that because they moved companies they’re probably really good at interviewing and that really is something to pay attention to. So in the hiring process if you can look at people who’ve been promoted two or even three times you know that they’re performing at a higher level and that’s probably going to be very good for your organization. Now back to the interview with Khaled.
[00:08:35].220] – Gene Hammett
When you think about this learning organization there’s many different pieces to it. Are there specific questions that you ask and you gave us to there you look at their previous roles you look at failure is there is there one that you like more than anything else.
[00:08:52].340] – Khaled Naim
Yeah, I really like putting putting candidates through a scenario that kind of levels the playing field and has them use the product where we’re all very product driven here. Honestly myself the everyone on the team kind of obsesses over the product. And so you know that that’s kind of a learning organization. I’m kind of frustrating a little bit separate from that. But knowing that someone is excited at least at first glance about product and what we’re doing and you can really tell very quickly how excited they are after sort of getting them set up with a free trial dive at the product and learn it and see how well they want a neutral like on well I want to dive into some of the other areas.
[00:09:46].640] – Gene Hammett
Know once you have them on board is anything in the onboarding process where you are really stressing the importance of having a learning organization?
[00:09:57].530] – Khaled Naim
During the onboarding process. I mean yeah like you know really jumping into the deep end and you have to get ramped up very quickly obviously because we’re a small early stage company and you know work we’re trying to move as quickly as possible so getting new employees ramped up as quickly as possible during the onboarding process and you know we facilitate this one once they’re on board it and like part of the team we facilitate learning and development and a few key ways. One of them we have a stipend for everyone on the team. They have a thousand dollar bears a year to spend on learning.
[00:10:38].560] – Khaled Naim
We used to have it be that they had to learn something that was related to their role but a year ago or so we changed it so that they can go out and learn anything that their their heart’s desire. So we just had our our designer learn aquaponics this weekend you know are one of our account executives got us yoga certification last year. You know people are learning about value investing in cryptography and machine learning. And so that’s one of several ways that we encourage and foster learning and development. We have Ted Tuesdays so every Tuesday during lunchtime we cater some food and we all get around the projector and watch a TED talk that someone on the team has sort of been chosen to select and then we have kind of a lively discussion afterwards.
[00:11:31].480] – Khaled Naim
Last week we actually went to the real TED Talks in San Francisco altogether there is a team as well. So it’s kind of learning things that are not necessarily just just about the role where we’re not just sort of you know how can I train this person to know just what they need to know for this narrow role but how can we nurture a passion for learning so our team members can be the best versions of themselves whether here and honestly or or anywhere else in the future.
[00:11:57].890] – Gene Hammett
You know it’s really interesting because I think a lot of leaders out there that it’s natural to give training inside the role but you opened it up. Was there anything that triggered that or just something you guys thought of as co-founders said this is the kind of organization that we are. How did it come to be you opened up beyond just role specific training.
[00:12:16].060] – Khaled Naim
Yeah it’s kind of like teachers like a strong cultural thing you know like my co-founders and I all have a passion for learning and reading and we wanted to sort of foster that across the team and you know to we encourage everyone to sort of challenge our ways to question our approach to doing things and I think this going from from just training learning a development stipend for your role to learn anything you want sort of started. And I’ve been formerly someone requested that they and they were teaching yoga internally at the company once a week they had a yoga session before lunch after all hands meeting and you know they asked if they could go out and get a yoga certification that was sponsored by the company.
[00:13:05].470] – Khaled Naim
We agreed to do that and that sort of got me thinking you know why are we limiting it. You know I think this is a great benefit. Probably one of the best benefits the company. And so you know let’s let people go out and learn what they’re passionate about. And so yeah I mean it’s kind of evolved over the last couple of years.
[00:13:26].850] – Commentary
Really big idea that just came out of what Khalid said. He’s encouraging everyone to challenge them now. Them is the executive leadership the co-founders they all the people at the top of the company is encouraging everyone in the organization to challenge how they do it. You know why they do it the process and the steps so that they can continue to innovate they can actually make this a part of the culture. Now are you encouraging others to challenge you. Are you encouraging to debate what you’ve always done. I always got in trouble when I had a corporate job because I was the person who would challenge the way we’ve always done it. I think you want your employees to challenge you. You want them to innovate on what you’ve done before. They can’t do that by just being a yes person then and really just going along with the flow of things. So invite them to challenge you then back to the interview.
[00:14:22].030] – Gene Hammett
I’ve always thought organizations that help people grow as individuals and grow with their skill set even inside the role outside the role and at that added value to who they were they were more likely to stay in companies and more likely to be engaged. Have you seen that be a part of your culture.
[00:14:39].850] – Khaled Naim
Yeah absolutely. I mean you know retention is through the roof if people love working here and it’s. Yeah. It builds a really strong culture and makes it clear that we’re not we’re not just here to kind of drive people to sort of work in the city and burn out and then do something else. We really enjoy it take pride in the fact that we can help our our team members grow and develop and hopefully one day move on and maybe start their own companies. And you know you have to learn a lot of different things to do that than just sort of you know being an accountant executive or being a designer.
[00:15:22].500] – Gene Hammett
Have you made any mistakes along this journey that you’re willing to share with us because I know I’ve been asking for you to open up the kimono and tell us everything but is there anything that that maybe took you a step towards something that really has made an impact on the company.
[00:15:35].870] – Khaled Naim
Yeah. You know I think I mean you know we’re always constantly making mistakes hopefully not sort of repeating the same ones though. So that’s obviously he is you know it’s part of learning is you make mistake and then you kind of try and learn from that mistake and grow and not make it again. But I think you know the first time we lost an employee to another company you taught me a lot. You know it’s pretty humbling experience. I was just kind of heads down on this pretty early on heads down on sort of the tactical work that I really didn’t think and to sort of check in and develop this person I’m a real product guy.
[00:16:14].760] – Khaled Naim
I’m an engineer. So I like to get into the weeds and it was hard for me to sort of realize at the time but over the following months I started to recognize that I would need to learn new skills as a leader. Ones that don’t necessarily come naturally to me. And you know starting a company running a business is a lot like riding a bike and you’re looking down you know to make sure you don’t hit the rock in front of you or fall into a ditch. But you also need to sort of look up occasionally to make sure you’re going in the right direction.
[00:16:47].610] – Khaled Naim
And I think there was a way in this case I didn’t really look up early enough and sort of didn’t realize that this team member was thinking about leaving the company. But yeah you know now and so learn learned a lot from that. And you know things look pretty different now. I spent quite a bit of time checking in with everyone on the team. You know I do one on ones with everyone on the team are still at least on a quarterly basis and with direct reports on a weekly basis and try to sort of have my finger on the pulse a lot more than they might like that.
[00:17:21].180] – Gene Hammett
What would you say is one defining moment of your leadership and I know you’re young but I appreciate you sharing something that you’ve learned in the last few years around the leadership that’s had the impact of the company.
[00:17:34].590] – Khaled Naim
Yeah. I mean so that I mean that was that was definitely a big one. Losing our first employee to another company firing someone has to be the hardest part of the job as well. And so you know having had to do that too frequently thankfully but. But you know I definitely learned a lot when I went to bat about myself and about the business side that I want to build. I think I guess defining moment for the company recently was you know we decided to get profitable and not go out and sort of continue to raise venture capital. We have raised funding and we’ve raised about five and a half of six million so far from some amazing investors that really contributed to the company success but we decided you know at some point that we wanted to control our own destiny and we wanted to build this business with with funding that came from from happy customers rather than from investor person.
[00:18:41].030] – Khaled Naim
You know we can get more equity to people on the team instead of to investors and and grow kind of organically as we grow revenue. So you know that that decision was was a big moment for the company and I realized that we had we had to get profitable and would I would have to lead by example on our journey to get there. And so you know I would be first one to lost out and had to do that to rinse and repeat until we got to profitability and we did. And here we are. You know I definitely enjoy this part of my job a lot more. You know building the team focusing on the product and not having to go out and busters all day. So this is a lot more fun.
[00:19:33].730] – Gene Hammett
What would you say has been the impact or the biggest impact of having a learning organization to really creating that profitable company. I could not imagine building a business any other way. You just you know if he’s and we have a lot of clones out there a lot of companies that are doing very similar things to what we’re doing and a lot of them are even using the same copier or assets that we have on our site. And you know it early on it started it kind of bugs me a little bit to see that you know you worked so hard on something and then you see some all night. I don’t know how well their products work and obviously it’s a lot more important than the Web site.
[00:20:15].620] – Khaled Naim
But that you know. But those companies are clearly not you know learning and growth oriented companies. They’re you know they’re not innovating and I think to innovate you know is the only way to succeed. Yes. And especially with what we’re doing. You know when we’re kind of building new technologies and kind of pioneering I guess new space I think it’s just critical. And and so that you know seeing that doesn’t really bother me anymore. So Buck somber employees but with that at this point.
[00:20:50].140] – Gene Hammett
Well I want to ask one final question as we wrap this up. What do you do to really challenger your employees to innovate. I know it’s it’s something they probably crave but what is it you do inside your leadership that we could learn from.
[00:21:04].070] – Khaled Naim
I don’t know. It’s a tough question. I mean we you know we sort of nurture learning and I think learning is kind of the precursor to innovation. And we nurture that through some of the things that I mentioned earlier. We also push everyone on the team to challenge our assumptions and to challenge everything that we do. It’s really a question thing. So you know we we get a ton of feedback from everyone on the team and that feedback is is welcome. And that’s you know I think that’s critical to the success of the business.
[00:21:45].310] – Khaled Naim
I mean we hire people smart people. So this is kind of the Steve Jobs saying as it goes you know we hire brilliant people so they can tell us what to do now so we can tell them what’s really true. We got some of the best ideas. This from everyone I mean we encourage people to question things. And I think you know everyone on the team is sort of like minded in that regard because we do a pretty good job of screening for that.
[00:22:10].450] – Gene Hammett
Well I know that fast growth companies have seen the benefit of encouraging all employees to share ideas not just execute on ideas that come from the top leadership run. So thanks for being here Carly. Thanks for being it. Growth think tank and sharing your wisdom.
[00:22:27].150] – Khaled Naim
Yeah. Thanks for having me Gene. To be on the show. Take care.
[00:22:30].450] – Gene Hammett
Wow. Fantastic. Love to be able to share with you some of the details behind this. What they’re doing with their lunch and learns what they’re doing in the hiring process. Hopefully you’re taking notes and you’re applying these to your business. I really am not trying to overload you with different strategies but one thing I do know for sure if you’re having a retention problem at all or you want to get better eight players on your teams and you will have a great organization around learning if you help them go beyond where they are right now they will look back at that for ever but they will also stay longer and they will give you more of their their soul inside the work that’s what you’re really get the most out of your employees. Well I love this conversation. Hopefully your loving growth think tank too. So make sure you share this with those that you think would appreciate the message as always 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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