The work in defining your company values may seem like fluffy work. However, after talking with hundreds of leaders from the Inc 5000, I can assure you that defining your company values is a strategic move that pays off. We look in the trenches with a company that has grown incredibly fast by emphasizing company values. Today, my interview is with Sam Bobley, Co-founder, at Ocrolus. They offer a service for document-driven workflows in the digital space to help clients make faster, smarter decisions. Ocrolus was ranked #30 in the Inc 5000 list for 2020. Sam shares stories about how defining your company values are one of the best things the company did to boost growth.
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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.
If something comes across your desk, and it could take 60 seconds or less for you to do, just do it that, right, just do it immediately to get rid of it and move on to the next thing, especially in a CEO role your backlog is always accumulating. And if you’re not able to kind of dynamically clear out your backlog by knocking out these tasks, you end up underwater.
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 moment of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:41]
Defining your company values creates? How do I know that? Well, so many leaders, founder CEOs of companies say their values are the backbone of who they are, as an organization defines their culture. It shapes how they hire people who they hire, and what they do once they come on board. defining your company values really is a foundational element that many people kind of go through the motions, and they don’t go back to it and truly live the values. Today we’re talking with Sam Bobley, he is a co-founder CEO of Ocrolus, and they are a financial document service, they do digital imaging so that you can make decisions faster. What we talked about today is how important those company values are, what they do with them, and how they’re living them. Some of the things he shares in there are what he’s done through the COVID experience of being remote, but also creating the interview that’s necessary for them to continue growing.
Gene Hammett [1:38]
They were number 30 on the Inc list. They grow at over 7,900% in a three year period, which is insane. But they did all that because they had a focus on company values. When you think about defining your company values, I want you to listen to this episode, and see if you’re truly living by the values. And one of the things before we get into this, I want to remind you if you are a founder, CEO of a company, and you want to grow faster than you are today, I work with CEOs and their teams to create alignment to grow faster. If you want to check out some free resources I have just go to my website, Jean hammer, calm, you can find a try coaching button right at the top. If you’re interested in having a conversation with me, and we can actually get on the phone, talk about what you’re facing in real-time. And I can help you to my insights, all the research I’ve done on the conversation I’ve had and the clients on the Inc 5000. You want to grow faster. And I’d love to help you do that. Now here’s the interview with Sam.
Gene Hammett [2:32]
Sam, how are you?
Sam Bobley [2:34]
Hey Gene, good to see you today doing well. How are you?
Gene Hammett [2:37]
I’m great. excited to have you on the podcast to talk about leadership and growth. I want to just kind of pause right here for a second. You’ve got a very interesting company. Oculus, what is it? You guys actually do?
Sam Bobley [2:50]
Yeah, so I’m close as a FinTech infrastructure company, what we do is we transform financial documents of any format or quality into 99 plus percent accurate digital data, helping financial services firms make high stakes decisions.
Gene Hammett [3:05]
Well, it’s definitely necessary in the automation of everything, and people going paperless and all of that stuff for you guys to be able to pull in all these, these documents and make them so that we can make decisions. We appreciate it. For sure. We’re doing our part. Sam, you recently made the ink list number 30. On the ink list, I I’m kind of curious, what what was the feeling when you saw that you were ranked that high?
Sam Bobley [3:28]
We’re excited about it. You know, I mean, the ink list is interesting, because they measure growth over a period of time, I think it was, you know, from 2016 to 2019. So, you know, it really does feel like a nice, you know, milestone and kind of validation of the work that we’ve been doing over the course of a few years here. And it was also cool to take a look at you know who else was in the top portion of the list. I mean, what we, what our marketing team came away with when looking at the list was that we actually were the number one fastest growing FinTech company, as well as the number one fastest-growing software company in New York. So it was awesome to be number 30 overall, but it was also cool to see, you know, where we stacked up in some of these sub categories. And I think, morale standpoint, you know, super rewarding for the folks who have been around and also super exciting for some of our new hires to kind of see the, you know, the momentum of the business.
Gene Hammett [4:21]
Well, it provides a place for people to realize that there’s an opportunity for growth, fast-growth companies can continue to grow fast usually. But they have to have the right structure and the right leadership. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, Sam is what foundation elements did you put in place that allows you to grow fast? The first thing that comes to mind is what?
Sam Bobley [4:42]
I think you know, our company values and also our execution, right? I mean, I think what it all comes down to is getting things done in this world. And you know, it’s the classics like the proof is in the pudding in the early years for us It was really difficult to get our first couple customers on board and you know, get the product out the door. And we do have quite a complex back-office system that we build, which I’m happy to chat about if you’re interested. But, you know, there’s a lot of growing pains in the early days. And then once you get over the hump, you know, execution speaks for itself. And as you continue to execute, you know, opportunity continues to get bigger over time, and just a really excited to be where we are in business, and also just pumped about the road ahead for us.
Gene Hammett [5:29]
So you grew at this pace, it was over 7000, almost 8,000% in three years, and you have 900 employees? How early? Did you start thinking about the core values of the business? Did you wait till you had 100? employees? Or did you do much earlier than that?
Sam Bobley [5:47]
Somewhere in between, um, you know, I think that we, we didn’t do it right off the bat. And again, you know, the early days, for us were challenging, right, it took us a year and a half to get our product out the door. You know, raising money when you don’t have a product and you don’t have revenue is extremely difficult. And we quite literally got hundreds of noes along the way. And we also, you know, we, we improved the talent around our team, right from our early team, you know, one of the great things that we did was we surrounded ourselves with just excellent functional leaders who could help take the company to the next level. You know, I brought on a business partner in early 2016, who became our Chief Operating Officer, his name is Victor. And he came over from a company called called handy, which was a home services platform that, you know, helps route professionals to clean your house or mountain your TV and do various things like that. And for me, and my co-founder, John, John Dorsey, who was my high school buddy, you know, this was our first, our first rodeo, right, we started a company, we were 22 years old, and we kind of got tossed into the deep end, bringing in Vic was awesome, because he came from a place, you know, a venture-backed company that kind of had seen some of the ups and downs and had, you know, had experience building out company values and communicating those values to the team. So once we brought Vic in, he kind of kicked us in the butt and got us going on the company values. And I give him all the credit in the world for doing so because it was a great push. And, you know, from from there, as we were able to launch our values and have them communicated to the team, you know, simultaneously we were getting over the growth hump and really able to, to execute and scale our revenue quite quickly.
Gene Hammett [7:31]
So every company goes through its challenges. But you had mentioned before he came in, you know, you were focused on the work, which is very important, too. as, as, you know, you had to create a product, right, that people wanted, but you also were feeling some things that were not right within the organization. Do you remember the feelings that you were having? Because you didn’t have those core values?
Sam Bobley [7:52]
Yeah, I mean, I think, um, you know, we had paying customers, we had a couple of initial paying customers. But you know, the phrase I use is that the back end of our system was like, quote, unquote, made of sticks and straws, right, we kind of bandaid it together and got enough of an MVP out the door where customers could appreciate what we do and, you know, could could could pay for the software. But we had a lot of work to do from an infrastructure perspective and a building perspective. And I think that what we ended up creating from a values perspective, centered around urgency and execution and, you know, measuring and scaling up our back office and focusing on unit economics, that really helped us create the muscle from an operational and technical perspective, to scale the business. I mean, me personally, I’m a, you know, I’m a sales guy by nature, I love storytelling, I love talking to customers, talking to investors, talking to new hires, and bringing them on board with Vic helped us bring to the table. And what I think our values really reinforced was the the measurements on the back end and being really thoughtful about, you know, getting product out the door, but also preparing for scale and building infrastructure that will, that would allow us to, you know, 100 x Rp.
Now, hold on for a second, Sam just talked about reinforcing the values. Here’s one thing I know for sure, you must live by the values that you’ve set out, you must do this on a daily basis, you must have rituals around this. Some of those rituals are about recognition. Some of them are about rewards. Some of them are just about the conversations you have that allow you to understand and unite together on what those values are. You get to share examples of who’s living them, you get to talk about why they’re not possible in certain situations, and where there’s conflict inside the values. All that being said, It’s an unnecessary conversation for you to reinforce the values across the company. And as a leader, it’s your job to shape these experiences and encourage them as you see them going on. Make sure you do that anytime you can. Now back to Sam.
Gene Hammett [9:52]
When you think about your values, I want to go through them specifically. But before we do that, is there anything that you guys do that you feel like has really helped you live the values every day because a lot of companies have those values on the walls. But how do you guys ensure that you’re living it? Do you do something in your meetings? Do you do something on a regular basis?
Sam Bobley [10:12]
I think two things stick out. When it comes to Oculus. The first is, you know, leading by example. I mean, I think Vic and I have created a culture where people know that if they text or slack or email, or ping us, quite literally any time 365 24 seven, if you ping us with something important like you’re gonna get a message back. And people appreciate that level of urgency, you know, starting from the top, and it’s, it’s contagious, right? Like, don’t get me wrong, we certainly don’t recommend we don’t require nor do we recommend that people, you know, check their slacks at 11 pm or anything like that. But having said that, you know, it’s mindshare, right for me, and Vic and the leaders around the team, like, we’re thinking about the business around the clock and around the year. And people know that if they have something that they need feedback or responsiveness from us, they’re going to get that instantaneously. And I think that that really goes a long way in helping to, you know, to ensure the values are understood team-wide. And then the second thing is our, our product by its nature lends itself to the value.
Sam Bobley [11:18]
So you know, one of our values, which I think is is somewhat unique is, you know, see opportunities, not obstacles, right. It’s optimism, see opportunities, not obstacles, and one of the subcomponents of that is trying to partner with companies that may be perceived as potential competitors. You know, our product was designed in a way that we could partner with companies in the data extraction or document analysis world where, you know, an investor talks to us and they say, Hey, who are your competitors? What do you think of these three or four companies, and they’re expecting us to, like, say negative things about those companies and talk about how Oculus is better, where our approach always historically has been? Hey, I think that could be a nice compliment to us. And here’s how we might work with them, here’s how they could be interesting if we expand into a new market and take a little bit of what they have, and mix it with what we have. So I think that concept of partnership is explicit in our product, and the way we think about our product offering, and, and dovetails into a, you know, a broader company initiative of, you know, having a glass half full type approach.
Gene Hammett [12:20]
Another one of your values is urgency. How does that play out? As you’re, you’re driving a fast-growth company, so I guess, but not everything can be urgent. So how do you guys manage that?
Sam Bobley [12:32]
It’s a good question. It’s you know, our sub line there is today, not tomorrow, I got advice once from an awesome CEO, mentor of mine, who told me, you know, if something comes across your desk, and it could take 60 seconds or less for you to do just do it now. Right? Just do it immediately talk, get rid of it, and move on to the next thing, especially in a, you know, the CEO role your backlog is, is always accumulating. And if you’re not able to kind of dynamically clear out your backlog by knocking out these tasks, you end up underwater, right. And that same concept applies to roles throughout the organization. And I think we’ve just created a culture where, hey, if something comes across your desk, and it’s a low hanging fruit, like, get it done. We are also simultaneously, you know, doing a better job of investing in infrastructure and long term projects and things like that, and it’s a balance. But again, I think I think employees have really learned how to use their own discretion in terms of figuring out where, you know, in probably in the majority of cases, urgency today, not tomorrow applies. But there are also some cases where you know, you do need to be more thoughtful and kind of on have a long term approach.
Hold on for a second, Sam just said, do it now, talking about the sense of urgency when something comes across your desk. This comes from David Allen’s work on GTD get things done. When you think about getting things done, it is very important to take that low hanging fruit, there are some other elements to productivity that I want to share with you today. One of them has been, you know, creating space and time to think one of the biggest problems that founders have is they think that they don’t need the time to think or they’ll think another time they’ll think after hours. Well, here’s the problem. If they’re exhausted when they go into those time to think sessions, they really don’t put forth a lot of thinking time, it’s catching up on emails catching up on things. Maybe they take a nap. But what I’ve done in my business is I’ve scheduled some strategic time for me to think I’m not doing email, I’m not doing things but I’m looking at what I don’t take time to look at. And if you do that, it’s very different than getting it done now, because these are the bigger things, the visionary aspects of your business. One of the things I do is help founders create more momentum inside their business and leadership that allows them to be the visionaries in their business. So I have a lot of experience with that. If you want to get more of that kind of productivity hacks, just go to genehammett.com/productivity, and you’ll get the three hacks that I share with you about your calendar, your time, and getting things done. Just go to genehammett.com/productivity. Now back to the interview with Sam.
Gene Hammett [15:07]
And say, when you also share with my team objectivity is another important value has. So how does that play out? As you guys grow the team?
Sam Bobley [15:18]
Yeah, for sure. Look, this one I give a credit I give credit to Vic for, you know, when he first joined, I think in 2016, he brought a T-shirt that said data beats opinion. And he, he hung it on his desk. And that’s the mentality he’s had, over the years, we’ve on board a number of folks who have come from consulting backgrounds, we have a few McKinsey folks in the house and, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s been fantastic to get into, you know, to really value database opinion, right? Like, at the end of the day, you can have a discussion, you could argue your point of view, but unless you can really back that up with, with with the supporting data, you know, this is what this product build will improve our margin by x percentage. That’s what really swings arguments and when you focus on data, rather than opinion, it makes the argument easy, right? Because then there’s nothing to argue about when it’s a very quantitative summary.
Gene Hammett [16:13]
Do you encourage your employees to get data before they’re having a conversation with you? That’s one of your values?
Sam Bobley [16:19]
So Sure, absolutely. And particularly in like, discussion type situations, like, for example, if we’re talking about, hey, what what what do we want to include in our product roadmap for q4, right? What items are going to get included and what are going to get bumped to 2021 you can have an opinion about it, that’s nice, but you’re really not going to convince us or change, you know, change our minds unless there’s, you know, musters proof unless there’s actual hard data behind what you’re pitching?
Gene Hammett [16:47]
Well, one of the other things that you guys do with the values because I know one of the big reasons for having values is for them to be able to make decisions when you’re not in the room, you can’t be there watching over 900 employees as much as you want to be? And how do you actually use the values to ensure that the company lives through them?
Sam Bobley [17:08]
Sure, so we’ve done a few things, I think, you know, we historically, what we’ve done is we focused our company retreats, on values. So we’ve had, you know, fantastic company retreats over the years, where we get typically like a few Airbnb houses, bringing bring the team out to, you know, somewhere, for us, it’s been Eastern Long Island, you know, maybe an hour and a half away from our office in the city. We’re extremely inclusive, we invite people to, you know, encourage people to invite their families, their significant others, they can bring their children, etc, we have different houses. So you know, families kind of get put in the family house and younger people who might be staying up later and be you know, a little, a little less noise-sensitive, get put in, in a different house, and so forth. But, you know, what we do is we bring everyone together.
Sam Bobley [17:53]
For community sessions focused on values, where we talked through the values, we talked about why they’re important, we cite, you know, specific examples about how the values have led to success at Ocrolus, we encourage it to be you know, we make it so that it’s very interactive, it’s a discussion rather than just a presentation. And it’s also iterative, right? So we recognize that the values today might not be the same values that we have in a year or two years, or perhaps there’ll be the foundation, and then we’ll augment the values with, you know, with additional things that come to mind. So historically, we’ve done a good job of, you know, tying the values to our retreats and making sure that, you know, new hires are educated and, you know, have an opportunity to understand, we also have the values hanging in our office, so people can see them in plain sight, you know, you pass it if you’re going into the kitchen to grab a drink, and so forth.
Sam Bobley [18:44]
Granted, it’s been harder in a corporate environment, I think, you know, not having in-person events and interaction has been a challenge. And for us, particularly, because we’re going through a stage of rapid growth, where we’ve had a lot of new hires come on board in the last six months or so. So actually, next week, we are doing we’re actually sorry, time flies this week later this week, we actually have values zoom session, where we’re going to, you know, make refresh our values and educate all of the new hires, in a dedicated session over zoom, where we go through them one by one. So, you know, we’re trying to adapt to the current times. But this has definitely been something that we’ve, you know, had the top of mind for a number of years now.
Gene Hammett [19:25]
I love it when I hear people that have grown fast, have actually slowed down a little bit and said, You know what, it’s not all about just the work. We’ve got to make sure we’re working together as a team. And the values are a big part of that. So the fact that you include them in your retreats, the fact that you are doing a zoom session on this really kind of warms my heart because it means you take this leadership thing very seriously. Sam, I’m gonna ask you one final question here. You know, speaking of leadership, you’ve had to evolve over the years. You’re young, you’ve got a fast-growing company. What’s something that you had to learn the hard way that you could share with us?
Sam Bobley [19:57]
How much time do you have Look, we’ve made a ton of mistakes over the years, right? Like you have to make mistakes, make mistakes. I think the classic Nelson Mandela quote is, you know, I never lose either win or learn, right? So when it kind of ties back to the optimism, see opportunities, not obstacles, I try to just reflect on my mistakes as learning opportunities rather than just, you know, collisions and a crash course. There’s been a ton of things we did you know, that I wish we could do better if we had a chance to do it all over again, I think just to kind of grab onto one, you know. So, starting with something we did well, something we did well is pivoted focus the business, we saw a market opportunity for us in the FinTech lending space. And although our product was applicable in accounting, and insurance, and healthcare, and government, all these other areas, we really focused the business on FinTech lending, and we said, we’re going to be the best in the world at analyzing documents for lenders. Right? So that was great. However, as part of that focus, we overdid it.
Sam Bobley [21:03]
So one of the things we did as we waited for industry expertise when hiring too much compared to stage fit and skill set. So you know, the concept was, are we going to hire like someone who’s had experience at a series a company and is a killer, you know, as a killer in this specific area. However, they did this in a, you know, in a completely different industry, versus someone who’s a real subject matter expert in fin tech, however, they don’t, you know, they’re not really someone who comes from a VC backed startup mentality, and so forth. And we made that mistake a couple of times, where we wanted to wait too much towards the industry expertise, rather than trusting the person to learn about our business on the fly. And it was a big mistake. And you know, in hindsight, like, even for me and my business partner, my co-founders, etc. You know, we weren’t FinTech lending experts when we started this, and that’s okay. We learned enough about the space over time to become experts. So, you know, again, I think the summary here is waiting too much towards a niche industry expertise that can really hinder a company instead of preparing for scale and focusing on stage fit.
Gene Hammett [22:16]
Well, I know we’ve all made mistakes and in our journeys as entrepreneurs, so thanks for sharing that with us. I really appreciate you being here. Sam, talk about growth and leadership.
Sam Bobley [22:25]
My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Gene.
Gene Hammett [22:28]
Another fantastic interview in the books here on the podcast. We love serving you by creating content with founder CEOs, a fast-growth company. Our aim here is to create the best content out there to help you grow as a leader and help you create growth inside your companies. If you want to make sure you stay on top of it.
Gene Hammett [22:43]
Make sure you subscribe now to the podcast and whatever platform you want. If you haven’t already subscribed on YouTube, do it now because I’d love to get you used to the content we have there. There’s some special content that we only put on YouTube so make sure you go check it out. Now, when you think about leadership and you think about growth, 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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