How do you empower employees in today’s crazy world of leadership? Start by knowing that the leaders that empower employees understand how to stop micromanaging. When you empower employees, you signal a deep trust in them. My guest today is Darpan Munjal, CEO of Squadhelp.com. His company was ranked #275 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Darpan knows the benefits when you empower employees. We look at the essential elements that create lasting growth in this interview.
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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.
To me it’s empowerment it has to be more than just setting direction it needs to be, you know, aligning on some some big ideas and then letting the people who are running with those ideas be empowered to make the decisions about how to execute them, how to implement them. And if they’re not working, being able to call them off in a very rapid fashion so that we can then focus on other options.
Welcome to Grow 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 Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:40]
When you empower your employees, you have a loyal base of employees that will give their all they will run through walls for you. I know that sounds great. But I hear it over and over again. When I talk to founders, CEOs and the leaders within fast-growth companies. Now if you’re listening to this, you probably already know the Power of empowering others. But what are you missing? What are some of the key attributes or strategies and rituals that you can use to empower your team to go to that next level, to have that feeling of ownership? My guest today is the founder of Squadhelp. They create a community of people that will help you find the name for your next business or product or service line. Whatever it is, they can help you find the name. We’re talking with Darpan Munjal. Darpan is a seasoned entrepreneur. And he’s built this team, a small team at this point, but they’re growing fast. We talk about empowering employees, and some of the rituals that they have that allow that to happen. Inside this episode, you’ll find out how you can do it too. Now, here’s the interview with Darpan.
Gene Hammett [1:47]
How are you Darpan?
Darpan Munjal [1:49]
I’m doing great Gene. How are you?
Gene Hammett [1:51]
I’m fantastic. excited to have you on the show to talk about leadership and growth. I have already let our audience know a little bit about you personally. I’d love for you to tell us about squad help. So how would you describe what squad helped us?
Darpan Munjal [2:06]
Yeah, thanks to you, I’m excited to be here. So, Squadhelp is a crowdsourcing platform. And our main focus is to help companies come up with great names for their businesses or their brands. So the way it works is companies can launch naming competitions on our platform. And we have a community of about 200,000 people, and they provide ideas for names or taglines or even logo designs for those companies. Also, in the end, one person gets selected as the winner. And that’s the name that the company walks away with for their business or their brand.
Gene Hammett [2:36]
And anybody who’s tried to name a company lately, it’s kind of hard, especially as you want to get .com extension on with your company.
Darpan Munjal [2:44]
Exactly. You know, it’s just interesting that there are over 300 million dot coms that have already been registered. So if you have, if you think about any single word in the dictionary, it’s already taken. So now you have to be a lot more creative than people needed to be in the past. To find a company name that is actually, you know, still makes sense easy to pronounce easy to spell. So you know, there’s all those nuances that are, are kind of important. And our creative community kind of thinks along those lines to still help companies find a great name.
Gene Hammett [3:16]
Well, that gives us context, you’ve grown really fast, making the ink list was that a goal or just something that happened because of the demand for your service.
Darpan Munjal [3:28]
It was never the goal. In fact, you know, this whole business. To be honest, I know what expected this to turn into a real business. I lost this as in as an experiment. So to me, it’s more of like an accidental startup. I was myself struggling to find a name for my own venture and I thought it would be nice to have a resource that other entrepreneurs could use. So it grew organically for several years. In fact, I was focusing on other ventures during that time. Only in 2016, is when I jumped full time into this when I realized after potential and the overall market that we’re trying to kind of go after. So, being an Inc was never the goal, our goal has always been to just innovate and disrupt this industry. And, you know, we’ve been fortunate to be featured in the Inc 500 list for two years in a row now. And that’s just a great testament to you know, what we’re building here and the community that we have that is helping our customers.
Gene Hammett [4:24]
Well, I’d ask you a few weeks ago, when we talked just kind of getting an idea for what we would be doing this interview on. You only have about eight employees, you got about 15 total if you count the contractors, so small, close network, family of people. Tell us a little bit about kind of the size of the company right now and how you work together.
Darpan Munjal [4:45]
Yeah, so it’s a pretty small company. I mean, we had a bootstrap startup and people play different roles. You know, main, the core team that we have in our Chicago headquarters, they focus more on marketing and branding. Our technology team is partly based here. And then there’s a couple of people who work remotely. So it’s a fairly small, you know, setup, of course, we have a very large community like I said about 200,000 people who are providing ideas in these competitions. So we consider them as our extended team, and they’re kind of helping, you know, become more successful by providing high-quality ideas. But the team itself, you know, it’s a, you know, built a fairly risk-taking culture. And just because, you know, our goal has always been to innovate and continue to disrupt as much as we can. And that requires a lot of risk-taking. And you know, that’s what we focus on. There is, it’s not an expectation that everything that we will try will be successful. In fact, we expect in a lot of the ideas that we are going to go after are actually going to fail, and that’s okay.
Hold on for a second. Darpan talked about creating a risk-taking culture. Now, you may think that that is done dangerously. But here’s the flip side to having a culture that isn’t a risk-taker. If they are afraid to have their own decisions. If they’re afraid to push forward, then they end up asking you everything, and you become the bottleneck of the business. And that is dangerous. You won’t be able to scale past a certain level because everything must go through you. This is a classical micromanagement. But when you understand that risk-taking is necessary, and you encourage that to rituals, like we’re talking about in this interview, you have something where people feel like risk-taking is a part of the way we do business. Back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [6:39]
Well, let’s talk about failure today. But I want to go through one of the things we talked about last week was around empowerment, why is empowerment such an important piece to the company growing as fast as it has.
Darpan Munjal [6:53]
So, you know, empowerment is always important, but in our case when we are bootstrapped, I feel it’s even more important, especially when we are trying to disrupt other ways very traditional industry. You know, for us, we have to think outside the box every day for us, it’s important for us to, you know, take risks by trying ideas that we, you know, understand that may or may not work. So, unless the team is empowered, they will be second-guessing themselves every day and then be thinking really incrementally about how we can operationally improve the business or maybe, you know, not stretch push themselves as much. by empowering the team, we are able to really test some out of the box ideas. And that has really allowed us to grow that fast because we have really changed the way companies think about naming and how they discover names. There’s a lot of innovative things we have done in this business that you know, you would not expect in such an industry which is otherwise been dominated by very large agencies that work very traditionally.
Gene Hammett [7:57]
I don’t know if a specific example It comes in mind where you may be set the direction for a team member or a specific team within the organization, and they were able to come up with ideas beyond what you were thinking about is something come to mind.
Darpan Munjal [8:13]
Yeah, you know, so one example is, you know, as a context, we have a lot of names in our platform, people have submitted over 6 million names. And, you know, one challenge is how do you discover great names, you know, as a company, let’s say you’re launching a new clothing brand, and you’re looking for a modern name. Or you come to a platform, which has, you know, thousands of names, how do you find the right name for you? So what we started thinking about is, how about, you know, we think about companies like, you know, Netflix, or Pandora, or Spotify, how they recommend your music or movies based on your tastes and preferences. So this was one of the ideas that you know, we were just playing around and I challenged one of the team members to kind of run with it and kind of come back with something that we could really build upon. So that started this whole investment into AI. And we started building what’s called a name genome where we classify all the names and different attributes, that helps us now to recommend names based on what somebody else is like it. So based on your tastes and preferences, we can recommend names to you, that that are very close to what you might be looking for. So this whole idea kind of started with brainstorming, how can we learn from companies in different industries, what they are doing to make this discovery successful? And how do we apply to an industry like naming, which is, you know, like I said, has always been very traditional in the past?
Gene Hammett [9:38]
Now, I gave you a part of my thoughts inside that question, but I want to go back to it. I work with clients who want to increase the level of ownership across the company, and part of that is empowerment. That’s the reason why we’re talking today is you know, when people feel ownership there, they feel empowered. I talked about the need for you to set direction is that the way it works for your company like, and I don’t even mean like, you know, this is even the goal. But you know, what you just gave me as a great example, do you believe in like just setting direction consistently for the team being clear about that and letting them figure out the piece?
Darpan Munjal [10:14]
So I think that is, I think there’s a healthy balance, what we do is, in our case, we have what we call a big picture meeting, we talk about what are the sort of big picture opportunities that we need to go after, and we align on those. And in that, you know, it’s not really more about setting direction, it’s really about aligning on what are the top five things that we’re going to focus on, that we believe are going to set our business apart compared to what others are doing. And then based on those big picture ideas, be turned those into some strategic initiatives, and that that’s what we go after. So it to me it’s empowerment is it has to be more than just setting direction it needs to be you know, aligning on some big ideas. And then letting the people who are running with those ideas be empowered to make the decisions about how to execute them, how to implement them. And if they’re not working, being able to call them off in a very rapid fashion so that we can then focus on other opportunities.
Gene Hammett [11:15]
Now, you basically brought up another piece to what I see ownership is inclusion, you’re including your team into it, you can do that at your level. And it gets harder as you get, you know, 50, 100, 200 employees, but it’s really a powerful strategy to make people feel this sense of ownership when you include them in setting those big goals. Right, then how you align around them.
Darpan Munjal [11:37]
Yeah, you know, so it’s an interesting thing to bring up. You know, to me, I look at this more than just our team. I feel inclusion needs to go beyond your own internal team. It also needs to include other constituents who play a critical role and make your company successful. You know, in our case, we have this community of 200,000 people. I feel their ideas and include including them in some of the decisions we Making are equally important. So what we have built is, you know, we have a discussion forum where we engage with that community every day, every single idea that knows the roadmap that we work on is it comes from that community as well as, as we are testing those ideas, we get real-time feedback from the community around whether or not that idea would work or how can be teased that idea. So there was a lot of inclusion that we have in place, in addition to not only our own internal employees but also the spiritual community of you know, hundreds of thousands of people who are giving us that feedback every day.
Gene Hammett [12:35]
I love that thought. I know we talked about failure at the beginning of this conversation. Any company that I feel has a need for innovation and disruption has a very healthy, optimistic relationship with failure. Tell us a little bit about where that comes where you got that from.
Darpan Munjal [12:53]
So you know, for us, it is more important to Recognize failure as soon as we can, so that we can learn from it and then, you know, be successful. And there is actually an expectation that a lot of ideas I’ve even tried will actually fail. And that’s okay. So for us, you know, what we do is we have, you know, almost weekly to talk about things that are working things that are not working. And every month, we actually have a meeting that is focused on killing ideas, you know, as a startup, more than ideas that are, you know, focusing on, you know, all the products that we’re working on, it’s also important to recognize that we always will have trade-offs. And we’ll always have to make some hard decisions about ideas that we need to stop just because they are not delivering what we expected them to deliver.
So we actually have a form of meeting where we say, out of the 15, things that we’re working on, these five things are are just not giving us the outcome we wanted. So let’s either change or kill those ideas, and let’s figure out what did we learn from them so that we can then move to the next step in making a similar or Some other idea work, I feel, you know, failure and making trade-offs and killing ideas, they all go hand in hand. But they say, at the end of the day, the expectation has to be that all those things are okay. And you know, more than just making sure every idea is successful. It’s about getting the learnings from these failures and then applying them in a bigger fashion to the next thing that you can work on. And to me that really helps us move forward as quickly as we
Hold on for a second. Darpan just talked about learning from failure. When you have conversations around what did we learn from today’s failure or this week’s failure. And you do that consistently. everyone realizes that failure is not a bad thing. You don’t get fired for failure. They have a sense of psychological safety, which is very necessary for people to share their ideas and have that feeling of ownership. And the way you do that as a leader, is you make it okay to fail. As long as you’re doing it quickly. People are learning from it, and they’re learning to manage the risk. They’re not going to You know, rogue outside the boundaries because they’re clear about what the boundaries are. That’s your job as a leader, to be able to set those boundaries with your team. Let’s go back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [15:10]
You probably wouldn’t be surprised when I say this, but a lot of fast-growing companies grow to a point where their level of focus is no longer, right? They used to be focused, and they grew fast, but they have so many projects running. And we actually talked about this with some of my clients and prospects is, you know, how do we take 30 ideas and get it down to five or seven, but you are starting early that you have a small group of people and you have this monthly meeting? I’m kind of curious, do you have a name for that meeting? Or is there…
Darpan Munjal [15:43]
Well, I mean, we actually call that a kill meeting. So basically, it’s an idea. Basically, we’re gonna get together and focus on one of the things we’re actually going to stop. So you know, that’s really what how we go into the meeting. Everybody brings their analysis around, you know, what worked Did it work and then you decide as a group, here are the things that we’re gonna end this point just because they’re just not giving us.
Gene Hammett [16:06]
I love discovering little hidden, counterintuitive ways because everyone’s having meetings about who’s going to do this and who’s going to do that. But having a specific meeting to talk about, what are we going to stop doing? and having them bring their notes about? Let’s killing it? I imagine this helps the company align together another way.
Darpan Munjal [16:27]
It does, and, you know, sometimes it also can lead to a little bit of chaos, you know, because if you started something and you, let’s say, you know, you announced a new feature, and you know, that it’s not working well, but there are people out there, hundreds of thousand people who have started using it. So kidding, things like that, if you’re doing it too quickly and too rapidly, you know, that can also lead to a bit of chaos. So we have to balance that a little bit. So, while we, you know, like to, you know, stop things that are not working. Our goal is always to Test only part of the feature first, in a very small fashion to see whether or not it has potential, and then we make a very rapid decision about whether or not to kill it. Because if you wait too long, and then you have to kind of step back, it has implications beyond your own internal, you know, company’s strategy. There are other stakeholders that are kind of, you know, might be impacted. And so you have to be, you know, cautious about.
Gene Hammett [17:26]
Darpan, you’ve said, this number of times, I want to make sure we put a spotlight on it, rapid decisions, a lot of companies are really getting at a point of they’re getting construe, cut strangled, because so many decisions have been made. They’re not making them and which is kind of a decision in itself. But you have part of your culture is making this rapid decision. How are you doing that consistently across all the teams?
Darpan Munjal [17:52]
Yeah, you know, it’s a good question. We the VM moving at 100 miles an hour v. Our goal is to leapfrog, you know, where we were in terms of features in terms of where our competition is, and that can only happen if we can make that happen decisions. And sometimes those decisions come are based on some very specific data that we have collected. In other times, we may not have the luxury of data, you may have only tested that a little bit. We may have only anecdotal feedback from people who be tested. But at the same time, you know, that’s the whole entire team is empowered to take all the data that they have in sometimes some cases may be imperfect information, but make a decision in one way or the other. Whether this idea is worth moving forward with or do we need to make some changes? Or do we need to stop this altogether? And we do that and we try to apply analytics into this. I mean, we use a lot of AV testing and feedback that they’re collecting as a measure of whether or not something is working. But even when we don’t have the data the team is empowered to make those decisions as well. as possible so that we don’t keep going on a path which we have. In our minds, we know that it’s not going to work, even though we don’t have all the data that we would have liked.
Gene Hammett [19:10]
I really appreciate you being here, sharing your journey of taking squad help to this Inc list, and building a culture around empowerment in this healthy relationship with failure and talking about, you know, creating quick decisions. So thanks for being here on the podcast.
Darpan Munjal [19:27]
Thank you, and I appreciate it.
Gene Hammett [19:29]
What a powerful episode, we talked about the rituals of empowering your employees, what are some of the things that you can do? What are some of the things you can think about as a leader if you want to increase the level of empowerment, there’s a reason behind this empowerment? And it really comes back to having people feel like they’re owners inside the company.
That feeling of ownership is your job as a leader. But thanks for tuning in here. If you have anybody that you know, that could use an episode like this that wants to take their leadership to the next level wants to grow their company. To increase their culture to really tune into empowerment or anything else, make sure that you tell them about 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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