Teamwork requires the right people and exemplary leadership. Building the right team is an exercise in many skills of leadership. Today’s guest is Jeremy Parker, CEO of Swag.com. His company was ranked #218 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Swag.com is more than a place to buy your logo brand gear because they are a distribution system for your branded items. Jeremy shares his insights and challenges in building the right team. We look at the hiring process and the development strategies. Building the right team is essential if you want to grow beyond where you are today.
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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.
Looks at problems and just sees problems doesn’t see the solution. We need many solution driven people to see issues, and there’s always gonna be issues in startups. And now we’re 35 people. And we’re, you know, as you mentioned before the top 218 fastest growing companies, I know, we’re gonna see the wave method, we’re gonna see so many more issues arising as we grow the business. But as long as we have people in place that are okay with there being issues, and are always constantly looking for solutions and not looking, as you know, why is why are things so broken like that is like really, there’s a shit, as long as you get the right the right mentality for work everyone will be okay.
Welcome to Growth 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 growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:51]
Building the right team is so important to your success, not just as a leader, but also as a company. building the right team is something that you should be thinking about more than you probably are. building the right team is the foundation of what I’ve seen, wakes companies to grow fast. And one of the things I’ve learned from watching and interviewing all of these fast growth founders’ CEOs is that they put an emphasis on their people. Today, we’re going to be talking about building the right team with co founder of swag.com, Jeremy Parker, they were number 218 on the Inc list, they were almost 2,000% growth over a three year period. incredible growth. How’d they get there? You guessed it, building the right team. He talks about some of the things that didn’t work out in the beginning. And through the process. The first 10 employees hiring the next 10 is very different than hiring the next 10 is different from that. And so all of those things take evolution. So what can you learn from today’s episode? Well, you’ll learn about the entrepreneur spirit and about how to get people to take ownership, You’ll learn about some of the questions he asked in the interviewing process of hiring people that build the right team. My name is Gene Hammett. I work with founders, CEOs, and their teams to help them align together to grow faster. If you want to grow faster, I would encourage you to check out my website, there are some free resources on there that you can actually, you know, learn and download for absolutely no cost. You can also jump on a coaching call with me. If you click the button in the menu, try coaching. When you do that, you will be going right into my calendar, you will you don’t have to pay anything, I will serve you as best I can to build a relationship. Now. It’s only right for those people that are actually growing a company and have people to lead. But if you had to go to [email protected]. Now here’s the interview with Jeremy,
Gene Hammett [2:36]
Jeremy, how are you?
Jeremy Parker [2:37]
Doing great. Thanks so much for having me.
Gene Hammett [2:39]
Well, excited to talk to you about growth and leadership. You have been a co founder with swag creating amazing growth. Number 218. On the Inc class, when you first got that notice, how did you feel?
Jeremy Parker [2:53]
It was amazing. You know, I never kind of celebrate these awards. But this happens to be a very personal one, when it’s really about the numbers. It’s not just you know, a four year old or four year old these kind of lists that are chosen by a writer, this is about the team. It’s more than just me, it’s about the team. It’s about our growth of overcoming challenges. So it was really big moment for our team to see that all the hard work is paying off. And obviously we have a long way to go. But it’s a good first step.
Gene Hammett [3:21]
Well, excited to talk to you about this today. Tell us just a little bit about swag. And I know you’ve got a different kind of take on this in the industry. What does that take?
Jeremy Parker [3:31]
Yeah, sure. So swag.com, we like to think of it is the best place for companies to buy quality promotional products that you’ll actually want to keep. So we’ve done is we’ve curated the best of what’s out there, you don’t need to, you know, be busy searching for thousands of products for stuff just to be ending up in the trash. we’ve really done the heavy lifting, and we’ve automated the entire buying experience. So once you find the product that you’re looking for on our site, you simply upload your logo or the system will detect how many colors are your logo nears Pantone match, you could check out in and matter of seconds. And obviously, we also have this whole swag distribution platform where instead of just buying swag in bulk and sending it to your office, you could buy swag, we’ll hold it in our fulfillment center. Think of it as like an online swipe closet and easily send swag to one address or to thousands of addresses at once. So really engaging with your remote team, your best customers humanizing virtual events, really trying to bring some sort of connection in this time period where everyone is so disconnected.
Gene Hammett [4:27]
Well, we’ve all been, you know, bombarded when we go to conventions with the swag stuff. Appreciate you being here. You know, the convention industry kind of ended. I’m very curious what happened with inside your organization and team when that that happened?
Jeremy Parker [4:45]
Yes. So right. We march it. We did about 200,000 sales. The first week of March, things were good. We were having our best month ever in February, the pandemic kit and our sales plummeted the second week in March. And it makes sense to think about the industries that got hit With this pandemic, you have the marketing teams that there are no more trade twos, you have the office manager who’s buying swipe, typically for the office. Now no one’s in the office. And you have HR teams find swipe for onboarding new hires, and no one’s hiring right now. So the entire infrastructure swag has shut down. And they even just came up the stats that over 92% of the companies in our industry are down more than 50%. This year versus last year. We are actually up this year. And you know, September was our best month ever doing breaking a million in sales. July, August, we’re having record breaking months. And the reason for that is that, yes, those industries and those kind of our focus before the pandemic kind of shifted to all this work from home culture, and the ability to actually distribute swag and send swag to remote addresses and sending packages in the mail, and humanizing. It’s all about kind of this disconnect that people can travel across the country for a tradeshow or for their sales page or to close this customer, how do you still engage with those remote customers leads and your best employees. So we’ve seen a really big uptick in our distribution side of the business. So we’ve been very thankful that we’ve been able to really push the gas, honestly, during this period of slowdown for a lot of companies.
Gene Hammett [6:10]
Well, you wouldn’t be where you are today and having a very strong month, even despite the industry kind of falling apart, which is really amazing. If you didn’t have that right team, you mentioned it earlier. What do you think the core components of that right team when you sit back and go, you know what, this is what we’re looking to build together? How do you define that?
Jeremy Parker [6:29]
Exactly what you said, it’s a team effort. We’ve made a lot of hires in the past that frankly, just didn’t work out. And we made those those hires. And frankly, they were the wrong cars, it could have been the smartest person in the room, it could have been by far the best all the kinds of accolades, the experience, but if they’re not the right hire at the right time, and we like to think of it as your 35 employees at this point. For the first 10 employees, those first 10 employees are very different than the next 10 employees, which are very different than the next 10 employees. Like you have to have a different mentality of the type of employees you’re looking for. And we didn’t frankly, know that early on, we were just trying to hire who we thought was the best person for the job. But really, when you look at it, you want to have somebody from the get go, who’s such a team player who realizes when they enter startup, that things are not going to be right now most things are actually wrong. Most things, most things are broken. And a lot of employees don’t understand that. So when they come in, and things are not working hundred percent, how they envisioned it, they get upset, they get frustrated, all these different things. We need people with the mentality that things are going to get better. If we all work together. If we help each other out. Ultimately, the right vision will be set forth. So we’re really into finding those right kind of team player mentalities. And it’s really been our focus for the last three years, and we haven’t made one wrong hire in less than two years, we haven’t had to let him go. He hadn’t had to know this person didn’t work out in the jobs, because we’re so laser focused on making sure that every hire is that team player. It’s really it’s above else, the most important thing.
Hold on for a second. Jeremy just talked about the wrong hires. But when you think about you hiring the right people, have you really looked at the process of hiring people? Has it changed and evolved as you’ve grown as a company? Here’s the one thing I know that what used to work no longer works. And that’s the reason why we must continue to evolve and continuously learn new tricks. And hiring is not usually a founders or entrepreneurs, best skills. So you want to make sure that you have a right process that gets tweaked and gets improved. Every chance you get. One of the things I’ve seen, is having questions that align to the values of the company, the biggest mistake that many founders have made on the show I’ve talked about is hiring for skill fit, not culture fit. Well, culture is defined by those values. So have questions that align to that allow you to tune in to see if they’re a culture fit. First, back to the interview with Jeremy.
Gene Hammett [8:48]
So I love that and I want to come back to the team player thing. But let’s go back to the mistakes you made early. To help others avoid that. What is one of those mistakes you made early? I know what I hear most often is they choose someone with that has the skills to do the job and don’t really think about the culture fit.
Jeremy Parker [9:08]
Gene Hammett [9:08]
You’ve had to work through yourself.
Jeremy Parker [9:10]
You had to work through it, we had to work through honestly, there was a period in 2002 2017, early 2018, which we had for people like that, frankly. So you think about one person that you bring into your company that’s not the right fit, and the damage it could do. It really sets the team and the whole vibe and the culture where you’re doing back there’s one outlier. If you make consecutively wrong hires, it really kind of puts a magnifying glass on all the issues. And what we had to do is really understand what makes an employee who Why are we making these wrong hires and what’s Why are we making these decisions to hire certain people that clearly are not right for it and what is the type of person that really is the right player for our type of business. And our entire mentality shifted. We had to unfortunately let people go they weren’t the right fit, but we’ve hired from that point. For 20 people, and they’ve all been the right fit. So we’ve really learned a lot in those early days on what to avoid. And what to avoid is frankly, a person who looks at problems and just sees problems doesn’t see the solution. We need many solution-driven people who see issues, and there’s always gonna be issues and startups. And now we’re 35 people. And we’re, you know, as you mentioned before, the top 218, fastest growing companies, I know, we’re gonna see, wait a minute, we’re gonna see so many more issues arising as we grow the business. But as long as we have people in place that are okay with there being issues, and they’re always constantly looking for solutions and not looking, as you know, why is why are things so broken like that? There’s like, really, there’s a shift, as long as you get the right the right mentality, I think we’re gonna be fine.
Gene Hammett [10:42]
I want to ask you a question on this. How do you determine in that interviewing process that someone is solution-driven?
Jeremy Parker [10:50]
Yeah, that’s a that’s a good question. It’s very hard in interviews, because everyone’s putting your best foot forward. And everyone’s trying to position themselves like that we’ve seen is talking to a lot of the references. And most people maybe give two or three, you’d like to speak to like five to eight references. And when we do speak to the references, we really drive home that specific question, when were they you know, when was there a challenge in the previous job that they had to overcome? What was the challenge, like types of questions like that it didn’t really matter about, you know, how good they were at the job, because at some point, like, we’re only hiring smart people, right on our team, we’re clearly the people we’re hiring are going to be really smart. But we feel like we could train them to do any sort of job as long as they have the mentality. And that kind of, you know, this person on my team needs help, I’m going to help them, this person has helped me to stay late for you know, at the office to help box things up might not be my job.
Jeremy Parker [11:40]
But I’m willing to do that, because that’s what the team needs. Somebody who’s kind of complete team player that never looked at you. There’s no ego involved. So really trying to dig in and ask those kind of questions, to try to make sure we’re not hiring people who have an ego, because there’s no place for that in businesses. And we like to think of swag as any business as a team sport, right? There’s no there’s no place for ego in team sports. So you really need to build the right team, and the right pieces in place, if too many All-Stars they’re not able to play with each other will never work out.
Gene Hammett [12:10]
Now, I’m a big fan of Michael Jordan. And I don’t know how you feel about this. We don’t have to go to the big question of who’s the best of all time. But I don’t think our businesses want a Michael Jordan in our in theirs is great as that sounds, we want individual players that all rise up together to play as a team. And that’s what you’re kind of describing that right?
Jeremy Parker [12:31]
That’s 100%, right? You know, and we’ve had Michael Jordan, we’ve had superstars on paper, and an interview. But when it comes down to it, they’re maybe not the startup superstars is a very different mentality of somebody who’s worked for a big company for 10 years. And someone who is the third employee on the team, it’s there comes a lot different challenges. You’re building the infrastructure, you’re learning from the customers, the product is adapting things could be one way one day and the next day or the next week, completely different and shifted based on feedback from customers. And you have to people who are okay with this changes, it’s not everybody, it doesn’t mean the person is a bad person, it just means they’re not the right person for this role. So we constantly have to find the right right person for the right role at the right time.
Gene Hammett [13:12]
Jeremy, when you talk about being a team player, we talked about hiring a little bit, I want to talk about, you know, how do you lead a culture of team players? Is there anything you figured out in this journey of fast growth that you can share with us?
Jeremy Parker [13:24]
Yeah, I think my challenge in the very beginning I think it’s a lot of founders challenges, founder CEO challenges, is that you micromanage at least that’s what I was doing, you know, every single thing. I believe that I can do better than anyone else. Because I had the vision for it. I thought that I had the right solutions to answer all the problems. And I realized that only gets you to some point. Now in the beginning, as a founder, you have to do everything yourself. You have to be the CEO, you have to be head of sales, you have to be head intern. But at some point, your job changes, it becomes more of I need to manage a team, I need to build the right team, I need to hire people that could do things, frankly, better than me who are smarter than me.
Jeremy Parker [14:00]
We know how to do things. It was it was one pivotal moment that kind of hit me really hard. We’re independent ik we had a lot of things thrown at us. I mentioned before the whole industry was on the shutdown. investors were nervous, what’s going to happen with the industry with capital, if your business ever just panic? worldwide, everyone’s terrified. On top of that, yeah, another issue, the fulfillment center that we were integrated with went bankrupt. So this pandemic causes fulfillment center where we are holding a million dollars worth of our customer swag went bankrupt. And they gave us two months to find a replacement.
Jeremy Parker [14:34]
Now to find a replacement in a pandemic, when you can actually visit the facility with another logistics background. I was doing everything myself. I realized at that time, I need to hire the experts. And we’re able to really make an amazing hire that frankly, saved the business and allows us to grow. We hired a person who had the startup culture who had the big bucks, the big experience at Amazon, who understood the logistics in and out completely. I had to make that Hire and basically give that hire the autonomy to do what they need to do. I couldn’t micromanage it, I had to trust that who I’m going to hire is the right person, and free of my time to do everything else that I need to do. So I think at some point, you have to really be okay, giving up that kind of micromanaging kind of the ownership or every single detail of your business, and be okay with that it might not be done to 100% of where you want to be right away. But it might get 80% there and 80% is good enough, it frees up your time allows you to do other things. So now this person is doing 150 times what I could have done. But in the beginning, it’s sometimes hard to make that shift.
Hold on, Jeremy just talked about the challenges of going from founder to CEO, well, this is a real thing. Because what made you a great founder doesn’t make you actually a great CEO. In fact, it actually gets in the way, a lot of your I can get this done move out of my way kind of thing that you as a founder, which moves you forward, in the early days was very helpful. But as you grow, and you want people to take ownership, becoming a CEO, and truly being a leader doesn’t mean you jump in and do it for them made you step back and allow them to do it, even if they don’t do it the right way. You’ve heard this before. But here’s the thing I know, I’ve talked to hundreds of CEOs, I’ve worked and coached over three dozen in the ink list. I’ve helped them through this founder to CEO challenges. This is a big part of my business that I want you to understand how important is your work on yourself, as much as you work on your business, going from founder and CEO, don’t take it lightly. Get help. If I can help you in any way, make sure you reach out. Now back to Jeremy.
Gene Hammett [16:36]
Well, it’s a constant battle, because as CEOs, and we have so many on the show, and I appreciate you sharing with us, you have to always continuously let go of things. What have you learned about this and the journey of just just being able to let go? I know I know for it’s easy to say that it’s easy, but and it’s worth it. But what would you go deeper on that?
Jeremy Parker [17:00]
I would say it’s up, it’s hard. It’s hard to see. I mean, for me every single new hire, and they’re great. And they learned and they know better than I could have done in the very beginning. First two, three months, they need constant mistakes. And it just it’s it’s it’s frightening, frankly, as a CEO to give your business, your brainchild, your baby your buildings for years, now you’re seeing other people not doing it, as well as you could have done it. But you have to realize that that’s the process of anything you would never great from from the get-go. So you have to be okay with hiring people that you know that could could, you know, rise up and take the lead and be autonomous. And you’ll remove your you’re looking over the shoulder. And I definitely had a challenge in the beginning. And so my employees frankly told me and I said to them, please let me know how I’m doing early days. And they said you’re too you micromanage too much.
Jeremy Parker [17:51]
You look over our shoulders, got it. And I understood, and I was internalizing it. And I realized that’s probably the hardest thing is not to micromanage, but at some point you have to be okay, not happy be okay with giving up the reins. And you’ll see if you’ve hired the right people they’re going to be they’re going to surprise you in many amazing ways. And they’re gonna do things that you otherwise couldn’t have done and scaling. You know, frankly, our business, we had one employee in 2017. And we did 1.1 million in sales in 2017. The more people we hire in the right roles, and the more we’re able to kind of take people who frankly grew into the role that maybe never sold swag before. I mean, nobody on our team has ever seen swag before. And now they’re running a swag business. And we’re doing you know, 7 million in sales last year. And to bring 10 million in sales This year, we’re on a really great growth trajectory, even in this pandemic. And it’s really completely based on the team. It’s about people taking ownership. And people really need to feel like they’re taking ownership. No one wants to be you know, looked after, or somebody behind them always. So you have to give your team the autonomy to run it how they want to run.
Let me break in here for a second. If you’re listening this on your phone, or on your computer, do you know that we have a YouTube channel? Well, that YouTube channel has a lot of the videos, a lot of the Solo’s videos and content that you can’t find anywhere else, just go to youtube.com search Growth Think Tank, or search by name Gene Hammett, you’ll be able to find our channel. But if you want to be a better leader, you want to create extraordinary teams, and you want to grow beyond where you are today. This is the content that you want. Subscribe now on YouTube.
Gene Hammett [19:22]
Jeremy, you probably not familiar with the research I’ve done in the hundreds of interviews with people just like yourself. But this is one of the core thoughts that keeps coming up over and over. So you’re just you’re playing right into my trap, which is leader should inspire people to feel like owners, even if they don’t have an ownership stake. When I say that, you understand the value of that because you wouldn’t have grown to where you are if you wouldn’t have let go and let them take ownership of this and let them rise up and into those roles. Right.
Jeremy Parker [19:52]
100 percent. Yeah, I mean, it’s, it was definitely a learning process for our team. I mean, it was a big learning process and we learned it the hard way. But I’m thankful we’re only, you know, approaching closing out our fifth year of business. And we’ve learned it. And I would say that the future is really bright. As long as we know that we want to make sure we’re building the right team, give everyone that autonomy, to run them to run it, like they want to run it to give input. If you feedback, you have to constantly get feedback. I mean, I talked to my team, when I hired them from the get-go, I said, I am going to annoy you.
Jeremy Parker [20:24]
In the early days, I’m telling you right now I’m going to be on you, I’m going to be you know, not criticizing, but giving you hopeful, helpful information that will make you better, don’t take it as like a criticism or as me against you, I need you to understand it’s just to make you better, because at some point, I want you to be completely running this department only to be running the show. And I think people understand that in the very beginning, you have to really put the pressure that they learn. But at some point, you got to let them fly. And I think having team of leaders and they all are leading in their one specific area, no one’s stepping on anyone’s toes, this person leads customer success, this person needs logistics, and this person’s and the products, even the person under the head of products is owning their own kind of job. As long as people feel like they’re running their own their own business, and they’re not being micromanaged. I feel like people will enjoy work, the work harder. And you know, which is obviously our kind of business is very important. People need to really love to do it.
Gene Hammett [21:18]
One of the things we haven’t talked about today, Jeremy, and I didn’t set you up with this, but I feel like you encourage them to think like entrepreneurs, which is about when you see problems, see them as opportunities to improve and see, you know, when you see things out there, do you do do much thinking or talking about this entrepreneurial mindset inside the company?
Jeremy Parker [21:38]
I don’t that i think you are right, because I think I am. I’m an entrepreneur, obviously. And I think like an entrepreneur, so I try to get them to be the same mentality. I think I mentioned before, there is one of these big issues, we’re launching this new initiative, swag in the box. It’s complicated. It was the ability for people to buy swag boxes in bulk, where they could do a custom box, and no card and notebook and all these different pieces, it was much more complicated than our traditional swag sales. So it came with a lot of issues. And when we were building the first version of it, there were certain people on our team that are no longer on a team who were so negative, right? It’s never gonna work. It’s never been the work you’re doing, you’re wrong, like finding all of the issues and taking this kind of perspective of it can’t be done. It’s impossible. And it basically meant it spread throughout the company. And it built this kind of negative culture that, you know, we’re just not going to try things because it might be hard. But nothing’s nothing that’s worth trying is easy. And I kept pushing as hard as hard as we had to let go.
Jeremy Parker [22:37]
So people hire other people to get this right mentality that it’s not going to be 100% from day one. But as long as we keep pushing, and we talk to the customers, and we learn from the customers, it will ultimately get there. Now we’re doing over 3 million in sales with just this initiative, that if you listen to the naysayers, or the people who are like this can’t happen. And these were extremely bright people who ran divisions of big companies before, but they didn’t have the right mentality. And I think it’s just all about being okay with failure. And I think a lot of that’s like an entrepreneurial trait that you need. And I think a lot of employees in general who work for other, you know, they just they’ve never had to deal. They’re not comfortable with failing. And I think as long as you’re okay with failing, and as long as they have the permission to fail, like I give my employees the permission to fail, it’s okay, if it’s not right, as long as we learn from it, and we make the process better, right? If we keep failing at the same thing, and we keep running into roadblocks, then there’s an issue because we’re not figuring out a solution. But it’s okay to fail a couple of times, it’s okay, totally okay to fail, because that’s the whole process, you’re never going to do something great. If you’re not okay with the actual initial fail, people are scared.
Gene Hammett [23:43]
They are. But I will tell you, the people that listen to this interview, probably understand the importance of having a failure relationship that isn’t negative, but actually the path forward. So I appreciate you bringing that to light. Jeremy, thanks for being here on the podcast and sharing your wisdom about leadership and growth.
Jeremy Parker [24:01]
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Gene Hammett [24:03]
I love interviews with a guest has so much energy and passion for what they’re talking about. Jeremy didn’t have it all figured out as a leader. And you probably feel the same way. If you think about your journey, as a leader, you’ve evolved tremendously from years ago. Hopefully, you don’t even recognize yourself, because you’ve worked on your growth. As much as you work on the growth of the company. I do believe that this is important as you want to be an outstanding leader, create a team of people that really does go beyond you, but create impact in the world. This is what I do helping people as an executive coach, if there’s anything I can do to help you make sure you go to genehammett.com. Get free resources there. Some of the things that you can download will help you grow your business but just go there. If you want to try coaching. There’s a button in the menu that says “try coaching“. So I’d love to connect with you and serve you any way I can. When you think about leadership and you think about growth, think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. Will 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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