Encouraging Agility to Activate Growth with Chris Ratterman at Shady Rays

In times like today, we have to move fast. We must be encouraging agility at all levels of the company. Encouraging agility is hiring the right people. It is about how you lead them too. Today’s guest is Chris Ratterman, CEO of Shady Rays. His company was ranked #54 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. They sell fantastic sun glasses, reading glasses, and blue light glasses. I loved their ordering process, and the guarantee of their glasses is replacement even if you lost them. Chris and I discuss the reason you be encouraging agility if you want a fast-growth company. Tune in today to boost your skills in encouraging agility.

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Target Audience: Chris Ratterman is a Founder and CEO of Shady Rays is an independent sunglasses company that is focused on one thing – Making the best shades to live active and worry-free in the outdoors. Shady Rays is one of the top mid-priced sunglasses brands in the U.S. and boasts over 50,000 5 star customer reviews.

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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.

Chris Ratterman
One of our core values is simply test, test, test. I mean, we are communicating that from top to bottom to continually test and continue to share ideas. And it’s important, I think, to communicate to share the bad ideas to the bad ideas can spur good ideas. And we don’t want to hold anyone back thinking they only need to share their eight plus ideas. We want it from all levels, and we want as much of as possible. And then we want to consolidate a time where we can really tease it out and, and digest it and turn it into action.

Intro [0:29]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs in 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 them. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:46]
Growing your company fast requires employees are agile enough to move with the punches and roll with all of the challenges that come up. In today’s economies, you have to actually have this agility baked into the way you lead, hire, and develop people. When you think about agility. Hopefully, you’re encouraging agility across all levels of the company. Because it’s not just about you being agile, but it’s about everyone in the company to be able to react to the market conditions. being agile doesn’t mean just moving fast. But it means moving fast, getting the information and moving fast again to the next step in the next step and continue moving that without loss of any kind of movement forward, you’re moving forward continuously. Today, we have a special conversation about encouraging agility in your employees to activate growth. We’re talking with Chris Ratterman, founder of Shady Rays, Shady Rays is an online, digitally native eCommerce company focused on sunglasses and other types of glasses, prescription, and even blue light glasses. We talked about some of the details today, what drove them to be number 54 on the Inc list. This is the first time they got there over 5,000% growth in a three year period. And they got there because of this drive to be agile and nimble. It’s a part of their core values. We talked about some of the questions he asked of employees to make sure that they actually are agile before coming in. But he also talks about how you do this on a day to day basis. And he gave us a story that was really elegant, around how the best ideas come from within the organization, not from just you at the top. And if you create that kind of space, you can have tremendous growth in your company. Encouraging agility is something I believe is important across all businesses. When you think about your business, I want to make sure you think about your leadership and you are continuing to evolve. My job here is to create content for you to absorb and hopefully challenged the way you see the world but also to help you evolve as a leader. If you haven’t already checked out what’s available on our website, go to genehammett.com, you can see an option to try coaching that little button there is absolutely free to encourage you to check it out. Because it is something that I would really love to give you if you’re listening to this you’ve you tuned in to multiple episodes, I would love to connect with you and help you get more clear about the challenge that’s in front of you keeping you from growing. My job is to study growth. My job is also to help you help become the leader that actually activates more growth inside your organization. So make sure you go to gene Hammett calm and try coaching now. Now here’s the interview with Chris.

Gene Hammett [3:21]
Chris, how are you?

Chris Ratterman [3:22]
I’m doing great Gene. Thanks for having me on.

Gene Hammett [3:24]
Well, I’m excited to talk to you, you’re going to talk about Shady Rays. So tell us a little bit about you know what the company is and what you stand for.

Chris Ratterman [3:34]
So Shady Rays we are a digitally native e-commerce sunglasses brand, we sell high-quality sunglasses for a fraction of the price of the big-name brands. We are most known for our warranty with the best warranty and all sunglasses we replaced if lost or broken. So we are for the person that buys an expensive pair of sunglasses goes out of the lake and they sink to the bottom. So that is our sweet spot. And we are of course focusing on innovative quality design, but also backing them up more than the other brand. And the third leg is our social mission, we donate 10 meals to fight hunger in America every quarter. And we’ve done that since day one. And we’ve donated over 10 million meals to date. So that is what the brand is is largely about and we’re you know, we’re a lean independent team and you know, excited to talk more about that.

Gene Hammett [4:19]
Well, I can’t let you just go buy this. I always thought that I’m not going to buy expensive sunglasses for that one reason I’m going to lose them.

Chris Ratterman [4:28]

Gene Hammett [4:29]
And so you actually have a guarantee. How often do people exercise I guarantee?

Chris Ratterman [4:34]
A lot quite a bit. I mean you know it’s we make it easy. We do not make people register we don’t make people go through a lot of hoops. We do that on purpose. We make it easy. We want someone to drop their sunglasses in the lake and the ocean on a Saturday that next Monday they process their warranty and then that next weekend they’re back into him again. So we process quite a bit. It is a cost for us but it’s core to our brand and we stand behind it 100%

Gene Hammett [4:57]
Well, I’ve never heard of that guaranteed I wish I could make that in my business. It makes it easy for people to say yes to you. So that’s a big powerful thing for the growth. Speaking of growth, Chris, this is your first time on the Inc list. Number 54. How did it feel when you realize you were at that high in the rankings?

Chris Ratterman [5:16]
It was incredible, incredible. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I mean, number 54 overall. And number five, I believe in consumer products and services, number one, and eyewear. And it was a big milestone for me, but it is a big milestone for everyone in the company. So it’s a big moment.

Gene Hammett [5:32]
Well, you’ve grown this business to about 50, full-time equivalent employees, you’ve created this brand, you’ve got this incredible guarantee, you’ve got a mission behind it. So you’re checking a lot of the boxes here. But I want to ask you something about leadership and culture. What do you think really drives the fast growth of the company?

Chris Ratterman [5:54]
Number one, passion, and having a team that is continuing to grind and improve and undertake the new initiatives and continually drive at brand-building initiatives day every day, week over week, I know we’re going to be talking a lot about innovation and agility. And that is certainly a core core core tenant to how we have grown and how we built the brand and how the brand has evolved and evolved quickly over we are now eight years in business.

Gene Hammett [6:25]
Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today is you know, agility. And I think in today’s economy, that’s more important than ever before because we want people that don’t resist change that actually embrace it. So what’s the magic formula that you’ve seen, Chris?

Chris Ratterman [6:43]
The magic formula for new ideas and for agility, specifically, is to put things out in the market to test to create that minimum viable product, to come up with an insight and a solution and just go out there and see what consumers are going to think about it. You don’t know in a conference room, around a PowerPoint presentation, what is going to work and what is not going to work, I’ve been at this for quite a bit, you just don’t know, you got to take it to the customers, you’ve got to see it in market. And you’ve got to continue to build on that. And that is what I encourage all of our team members at every level to do and to present to me and to our team and to marketing in particular that are putting out new programs in the world. So that we can act quickly. And we can, we can continue to put things out the market, see what succeeds, build on that, and then kill what doesn’t quickly.

Commercial [7:27]
Hold on for a second, Chris just talked about the ideas that come from the people within the organization. Here’s one thing I want you to understand is that fast-growth companies believe that ideas don’t just come from the top of the executive team they actually come from within, the best ideas can come from anywhere. In fact, the best ideas probably come from the people that are on the front lines. A little bit later. In this episode, Chris shares a story with you about how the best ideas that you can drive a business forward actually came from someone on his team. It’s a great story. But the real point behind this is that you want to make sure you’re leading people so that they feel like their ideas are appreciated and valued. You want to be able to execute on those best ideas. And you want to be able to move quickly around it. This whole episode around encouraging agility. So we, of course, we want to move quickly, right? Back to Chris.

Gene Hammett [8:17]
There’s a couple of things in there, I want to kind of break down for the audience by asking you some questions. One of them is everyone has ideas, and you expect everyone to share their ideas. A lot of companies say that, but they don’t really mean it. So how do you? How would we see this operate inside your company?

Chris Ratterman [8:35]
Right? So for one, we have many different channels, many different forms of creativity of people providing ideas for us to the company, and almost look at it like squeezing an orange, we want to soak up all those ideas. And you’ve got to squeeze in in different ways at different times to be able to get all the different ideas. To specifically answer your question, one thing that we have is we have a Google form, and it’s a new idea Google Form. And so whenever a con, an idea comes to someone’s head, whether it’s their own creative idea or feedback from a customer, they just drop it in the Google form that makes sure that it’s captured. And we can come back at a specified time. And we can and we can act on that idea. We can talk it through and flush it out and see if it makes sense. In addition, one of our core values is simply tested test. I mean, we are communicating that from top to bottom to continually test and continually share ideas. And it’s important, I think, to communicate to share the bad ideas to the bad ideas can spread good ideas. And we don’t want to hold anyone back to thinking they only need to share their eight-plus ideas. We want it from all levels and we want as much of as possible. And then we want to consolidate a time where we can really tease it out and digest it and turn it into action.

Gene Hammett [9:51]
You mentioned your core values there. I don’t want to go through all of them. But what specific core value do you think really drives the agility to have your team?

Chris Ratterman [10:01]
Well, certainly one of them, quite frankly, is nimbleness. We have to be nimble, we’re lean, and we’re independent. And we’re a flat organization by design and our competitors, the larger our companies, our larger conglomerates, we have to beat them where we can compete best and being nimble and being agile. And, and pivoting quickly, and be able to test small is the way that we can do that. And so we very directly asked people to make sure that we’re doing things in that way. And that could be spur the moment presented to me on a new concept and marketing that we’re going to activate on, it could be a charity that we’re going to, to propose that we’re going to donate to could be a variety of things that were very direct about being nimble, and making sure that we do that. And we bring it in action. It’s not to speak.

Gene Hammett [10:52]
A lot of people have core values that, you know, sit on the walls back when we actually had actual businesses to go to. We’re still sort of quarantine, I’m getting a lot more you probably are your offices back up to full speed?

Chris Ratterman [11:07]
Our warehouse and our fulfillment operations back to full speed or what our office team is still working remotely.

Gene Hammett [11:13]
Well, when you think about that, how do you really operationalize the values like is there routines that you guys do or things that you do on a regular basis that you could share with us.

Chris Ratterman [11:23]
A lot of that’s work in progress, to be honest with you, we keep the communication lines very open through group messaging forms, through remote meetings, all team meetings that we do up to twice a week. And then we are activating against a different kind of breaking the mole type of meetings and an area and times when we can really keep everybody engaged, whether we’ve done things like remote pizza parties, where everybody has pizza delivered same time for our warehouse team, there’s lunch every Thursday, and simple things like that. But we want to have purposeful things that people can look forward to, and spend time together in a way that’s safe. And I think that’s what keeps everybody excited and happy coming to work every day.

Gene Hammett [12:12]
Chris, let me ask you a question about hiring nimble employees? Do you have a favorite interview question or a series that allows you to tune into it? Are they nimble enough for your organization?

Chris Ratterman [12:23]
I think a few key questions that we like to ask are, how do you react when your boss gives you changes a change of direction at the last moment? And also, how do you manage through a project that you are not giving you do not feel like you’ve been given enough direction at the outset. Because we want to see resourcefulness we want to see that they’re leaning in and that they’re going to get the information and they’re going to make it happen. And also that they can think on the fly. A third question is when you have more to get done than you have time to do on a certain project to meet the deadline? How do you make sure that you achieve the end goal in the time allotted when there’s clearly too much to do? And we want to see things like they are breaking down the core priorities of that project and the core aspects are going to turn the needle and getting rid of the extra stuff. And and and making it happen that way?

Gene Hammett [13:29]
Well, I love the fact that you have three right away because, you know, we know that hiring great employees is fantastic. And you have to do that through the right questions and the right interview process. Chris, I want to kind of switch gears here a little bit. you’ve, you’ve been leading this team for a while you’ve had fantastic growth, what have you had to let go of as you’ve, you’ve reached this point in your career as a leader.

Chris Ratterman [13:57]
I’ve had to let go. And I’m really kind of at this inflection point a bit now. And over the past 12 months of not being able to follow the details of all key projects all the way through, I simply don’t have the capacity to follow the details along the way. Now for a long time our team’s managing projects and doing the work. But a lot of times I’ll stay very tuned in. And so now I’m trying to find those times where I can check-in at milestone dates and work against target dates and weigh in and redirect but not be involved for the entire ride along the way. And that’s something that’s definitely working through right now.

Commercial [14:39]
Chris just said something really interesting. He talked about the need to let go. Now, this is one area where a lot of founders CEOs get stuck because they’re so used to being involved in the day to day just like Chris’s but when you think about your job as a leader, you have to continue to evolve and you have to evolve at a quicker pace than you expect your team to evolve. So my encouragement to you is to really look at what meetings you’re involved with what details that you are currently trying to manage and juggle, but maybe not doing a great job? And what signal Are you actually sending to everyone in the company, because you are trying to do all of this stuff with them? Now, it sounds great on paper. But here’s the reality, at some point in time, you, as a leader, have to be the visionary for this company, you have to let go of some of those details, you have to be able to create the systems and processes in place to allow you to step back from those details and trust your team, you want them to take ownership of it. And that means you have to give them ownership and you have to treat them with trust and empower them in a different way than you would just someone that you just heard off the street. I say all this because you know what it takes to grow a business and scale it to faster than what it is now. And it means you have to let go of some of the things that you used to do so that you can level up yourself. Now back to Chris.

Gene Hammett [15:59]
Well, I appreciate you sharing that with us. You know, that’s something all leaders have had to go through, I’ve had to go through it. And it’s still something I work on all the time with my team. So I want to go back to this whole agility thing. When you think about the ability to test new products, you’ve talked about going quickly give us an idea or story about something that happened really quickly and to kind of demonstrate this agility?

Chris Ratterman [16:27]
Yes, yes, we won one market opportunity that we identified, and that is clearly growing within our industry are blue light glasses. So blue light glasses are something that we sell. We are known, though, for polarized sunglasses inherently quite different products. But as that category got extremely hot, and we had to come together very quickly and get the product out in the market. And we wanted to test it quickly. Because we knew that all our competitors and other eyewear companies were, we’re coming out with them too. And now we all sell them right. But that was a function of getting some competitive data, and getting thoughts about what our collection could be. And going to each of our manufacturers in parallel path with some initial drawings, and ordering and skipping some of the stages along the way, skipping some of the samplings, making some guesses, not guesses.

Chris Ratterman [17:21]
Assuming that they were going to get certain things right on the design in the logo. And take a little bit of a risk there so that we can get product and we can sell, Of course, we’re never going to sell anything that’s not up to our quality standards. But after a check certain boxes, there are certain things we can cut along the way to act quickly and put it out in the market and not necessarily have a fully baked marketing program advertising program. But get it out to our customers and start to get data to then iterate it further. So like let’s not let perfection keep us from getting out to market and being able to learn and acting quickly.

Gene Hammett [17:55]
I am going to curious about this one is the blue light last glasses. Was it your idea to focus on this? Or is it someone else on the team?

Chris Ratterman [18:03]
it was someone else on the team.

Gene Hammett [18:05]
Tell me just a little bit about how that happened.

Chris Ratterman [18:07]
So I have a team member who manages all of our offices, our optical division. She’s our optical division manager, and she manages all prescription and that includes prescription eyeglasses. And blue light gets the bucket in that category of sunglasses. And she’s extremely passionate and extremely knowledgeable, I did not come from that world. I’m a marketing and social media marketing person. And I’m passionate about sunglasses and actually act on outdoor activities. And that’s where I live and play. Right. So she is the champion of that aspect of our business, which is great. And the marketing team last, so we don’t always see eye to eye. And it’s because we’re coming from very different perspectives. And she comes from an optical background. And so she was pushing this product that I did not yet really understand and didn’t really see the value add necessarily I saw the consumer trend 100% I didn’t see how we can do it in a way that was on-brand for us. And she led that charge. And you know, I want to look and make sure that other team members have ownership 100% and are driving the thought leadership on different categories. And that’s an example of someone who was really well suited to do that in this category for us.

Gene Hammett [19:18]
Now fast forward to today is was that success, he would say looking back at the project to be able to create that product very quickly and get it to market.

Chris Ratterman [19:27]
it was a success. It was a success. We found a lot of interest in our current customer base and the ability to acquire new customers in that category and a product category that’s a little bit different in terms of seasonality than sunglasses. So yes, it has been successful.

Gene Hammett [19:45]
Fantastic story. Just to finish this off here. That wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t have a full team of people because I’m sure it wasn’t just one person that drove this through. It was multiple people in the team that we’re able to take this opportunity and run with it. When you look back at that, what do you really feel from a sense of unity around that team moving fast like that on a project?

Chris Ratterman [20:10]
It’s incredible to see that unity and how everybody comes together. So quickly, I think for us, what we do is we have one person that really is the quarterback and the account the person that’s accountable and the leader on this particular initiative. And then that person is bringing in a cross-functional team and bringing in the marketing team at core places so that we can Ida and we can really flesh it out and go on the same page and be able to execute it because it takes absolutely takes a full team to execute it, not just one person. And so and so we do that pretty quickly. And we do that when we make sure that we have all the ideas on the table. And we have all of the different constraints and opportunities coming from each area of the business, whether it’s email marketing, or advertising, or public relations, so that we can pull a cohesive program together and make sure we’re all working single.

Commercial [21:00]
Let me break in here for a second, I want to remind you that you can actually follow us on youtube with growth Think Tank comm you can find those interviews in video format. If you haven’t already checked that out, we’d love for you to go check it out and subscribe. If you’re already listening to this on YouTube, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. What we aim to do is to help you evolve as a leader. If you’re a founder or CEO of a company, we’d love for you to be connected to our brand. If you haven’t already, go ahead and subscribe and follow us on all the social channels that you can. My name is Gene Hammett, I love to serve you in any way I can.

Gene Hammett [21:34]
Absolutely love that. I appreciate you sharing your journey here, Chris, around leadership and fast growth. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you feel like really is is kind of a big part of why you’ve grown so fast?

Chris Ratterman [21:49]
I think I would emphasize, again, just the evolution of the brand being a result of in-market testing and a result of real feedback from customers, we find that while a customer survey or a focus group might be directional, and might be helpful in that way, early on in the process, truly nothing replaces actual customer data, where they will actually get out their credit card and put their information into their phone or their computer to get to receive a product that is where the rubber meets the road. And then to get their feedback after they experienced that shady raise five years ago look very different than it was today.

Chris Ratterman [22:34]
So now I can explain this brand proposition and it’s collections that we have. And people ask why. And how did you think of this what I see today on the website, and I say I did not it looked very different. The price was different. The headline was different. And a lot of the underlying assets brand was different. Now the warranty was there. So there were certain insights that are fundamental but it was truly this iteration of keeping a pulse on the customer. And coming up with ideas and testing them a way that we can fail quickly and fail cheaply. That that has allowed us to grow. And that’s really the only way that you can you’ve engaged your current customers and expand your market anyway is so I think innovation and doing it in a way that’s agile is crucial. It’s crucial, especially for a consumer branded product.

Gene Hammett [23:25]
Chris thank you so much for being here, I can see your passion for what you’re doing. Building a team is important, especially if you want to scale to the level that you have. So thanks for being a part of Growth Think Tank.

Chris Ratterman [23:35]
Thank you so much. I appreciate being here.

Gene Hammett [23:38]
What a fantastic interview with Chris, I love talking about what does it take to grow companies faster. Being 54th in the Inc list is very impressive over 5,000% growth. I love having these conversations with leaders just like Chris, and hopefully, you’re learning something from it too.

Gene Hammett [23:54]
One of the things he said at the end there was a failure was a part of the journey. When you understand that failure is not something to be avoided, but to something to encourage our team members to fail, but also learn from those failures and move forward. That’s exactly what he’s done through this brand. Over the eight years of launching this, he’s had a lot of success failing forward in a way that allows them to continue the growth that’s necessary for them to be a top of their markets. When you think about leadership and you think about growth, make sure you 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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