The path forward will require new ideas that change how your clients engage with your company and services. You must focus on leading innovation if you want to stay relevant. Leadership requires different strategies when leading innovation is important. My guests today are Joel Cox and Dave Miles, Co-founders of Strategus. They were #2217 on the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Strategus operates in the realm of OTT (over the top) ad placements to effectively reach your ideal audience segments. It has required leading innovation as they compete against bigger companies with deeper pockets. We look at leading innovation in today’s world. This interview dives into the power of transparency when innovation is necessary.
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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.
The very purpose of our business at strategist is to provide the best job anyone who’s ever had. So it’s it’s not about innovation as much as the people. So the stability part of it would be around providing, you know, the best pay the best benefits the most time off everything that that people would love to have in a great job. But that also comes with responsibility on their part, to be fully engaged, which is one of our core values.
If our employees don’t love the company, and aren’t ultra enthusiastic about what we’re doing and where we’re going, then it’s disingenuous to expect that our clients would be too. So starting out as being in very employee-centric, every every person that works for strategists, without a second thought could tell you that that the intention of this business is to be the best job I’ve ever had. And that’s it’s so easy to say on a podcast, but it’s so much easier. It’s so much harder to embody. As two founders, I think that Dave and I routinely discussed that that’s arguably harder and more complex than navigating the the challenges of ad tech, and of a global pandemic. But it’s also the most fulfilling.
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 moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [1:28]
We think about growing your company, do you think about innovation, you think about creating the next version of your product or service? Well, innovation is something that we probably hear a lot about. But you tend to tune it out over time, because you feel like everyone’s being innovative, or everyone must drive innovation, or everyone must lead innovation. But innovation is something I believe isn’t that you have to think about a lot, you have to think about how to go beyond where you are today, it doesn’t matter what your business is in. Because if you aren’t going beyond where you are today, someone else will replace you, someone else will come in, take away your customers take away that the benefit that you’ve had, that you’ve worked so hard for, if you aren’t continuing to innovate. So today we’re going to talk about leading innovation, we’re going to look at the power of transparency inside of that. But leading innovation is an important factor. If you want to compete against difficult competition, maybe they’re bigger than you, maybe they have deeper pockets. And all of those things are critical as you think about leading innovation inside your company.
Gene Hammett [2:31]
Our guests today are Joel Cox and Dave Miles. They’re the co-founder of Strategics. They’re over the top advertising company, meaning they have some technology that allows your ads to be more relevant in front of the right segments. And they have been doing this for years. And they’ve grown the company with a small handful of people, less than about 25 employees. But they’ve grown really fast because they’re leading innovation. Today we look at why that’s necessary, what you can do as a leader, you know, pulling from them that power of transparency, looking at why that’s so important as you drive innovation. Well, if you haven’t already had a chance to download the most recent training that we have, make sure you do that. Now if you want to be a visionary leader, if you want to be strategic in a way that drives innovation, go to genehammett.com/training It’s a free gift to you. I’ve taken a lot of my research with my clients, I love the work, I’m doing this interview, I’ve summarized it into three critical mistakes that you’re making, how to fix them, just go to genehammett.com/training. Now here’s the interview with Joel and Dave.
Gene Hammett [3:37]
Hey, guys, how are you?
Dave Miles [3:39]
Doing great, Gene.
Joel Cox [3:40]
Gene Hammett [3:40]
Thank you. excited to have you on the podcast, grow think tank to talk about what makes companies grow, the strategies, the leadership and culture behind that before we get started on this. Tell us a little bit about strategies.
Dave Miles [3:56]
Joey, you want to kick that off?
Joel Cox [3:58]
I’d be happy to Yes, strategist is the innovation leader in connected television and Ott advertising optimization reporting in analytics. So suffice it to say we the firm that world’s first programmatic connected television fan.
Gene Hammett [4:13]
love that. So I would imagine things have been going going crazy for you guys.
Joel Cox [4:19]
It’s been a very interesting tailwind behind us without a doubt. And that was pre COVID. And even doing
Gene Hammett [4:26]
Well when I have done some research on the company. And what you guys are doing and what you stand for. One of the big thing that stands out to us is innovation. Why has innovation been so important to the growth of your company?
Dave Miles [4:40]
I think one of the key elements of that is that we’re small we’re independently owned. And we’re competing with huge publicly on companies, legacy broadcast companies, with you know, 1000s of employees, tons of sales people. They’ve got money to burn from Compared to what we have, so we have to innovate in order to succeed. And also think, you know, we live in a country that people all over the world want to come here to innovate. So just taking advantage of that seeing opportunities, and being able to work with Joel, on doing that is is is key to our success.
Gene Hammett [5:21]
When you think about innovation, where do you think people get it wrong?
Joel Cox [5:26]
I think that you can get innovation wrong all along the way. Tragically, I think that, you know, in our industry in particular, but I think business more globally, victory goes to the fast not to the big, but it’s so hard to continuously innovate and make the right decision every step of the way.
Gene Hammett [5:45]
That phrase, victory goes to the fast, not to the big. What does that mean to you, because I want to make sure that we don’t misinterpret it.
Joel Cox [5:54]
It means to me that, that it’s more important that you can see what’s on the horizon, adapt to it, and innovate more quickly. It’s not necessarily just about being, you know, a much larger organization with much deeper pockets and much more manpower and resources, although that is exceptionally valuable. And alcohol, we think the ability to stay nimble and move quickly. And part of that has to do with exactly what David described, being independent affords us the luxury of able to make decisions specifically about what is going to be the most innovative, the most effective, the best for our clients and our employees with no burdens.
Dave Miles [6:30]
And then to that point, gene. Innovation is a gene that entrepreneurs possess. It’s not a it’s not common DNA in the world, but there’s a lot of people who have it. But like Joel said, being able to see what’s on the horizon is having vision is not something everyone possesses. It’s a tremendous asset, if you have it. And it’s also extremely exciting and satisfying, and and inspirational to pursue innovation in that way when you can see it.
Gene Hammett [7:07]
Now, I know you guys probably have this conversation, but where do you draw the line on kind of stability? versus innovation? Is it something you guys are always trying to balance? Or do you really lean toward one side of the other? Or do you look at it completely different than what I’ve described?
Dave Miles [7:22]
Well, I think stability, in terms of investing in our people, is always at the forefront. the very purpose of our business as a strategist is to provide the best job anyone has ever had. So it’s it’s not about innovation as much as the people. So the stability part of it would be around providing, you know, the best pay the best benefits the most time off, and everything that that people would love to have in a great job. But that also comes with responsibility on their part, to be fully engaged, which is one of our core values. How would you address that, Joel?
Joel Cox [8:00]
Yeah, I think you nailed it. I think that, you know, if if our employees don’t love the company, and aren’t ultra enthusiastic about what we’re doing and where we’re going, then it’s disingenuous to expect that our clients would be too. So starting out as being very employee-centric, every every person that works for strategists, without a second thought could tell you that the intention of his business is to be the best job that they’ve ever had. And that’s it’s so easy to say on a podcast, but it’s so much easier. It’s so much harder to embody, as two founders, I think that Dave and I routinely discussed that that’s arguably harder and more complex than navigating the the challenges of ad tech, and of a global pandemic. But it’s also the most fulfilling, you know, we’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve got really engaged really long-tenured employees who who genuinely enjoy what they do. And that I think that that enthusiasm is contagious. And you know, when our clients have the opportunity to see an experience that I think it’s a pretty good site.
Hold on for a second. When you think about employees loving the company, do you think about, you know, orchestrating foosball tournaments? Or having snacks in the break room or free sodas, or maybe even a beer keg? Well, those things aren’t what really makes employees love the company. Employees love meaningful work, they love to be challenged, they love autonomy, they love that feeling of ownership. A lot of the conversations I’ve had on all of these interviews with founders and CEOs are not talking about snacks in the break room or beanbag chairs. They’re talking about what really matters to employees. So hopefully you’re tuning in with this with an open mind, open ears. When we talk about things like inclusion into ideas or transparency. Do you shut that out? Or do you really open up and say how can we take that to the next level? Well, here’s your call to action. If you want to lead growth, if you want to lead innovation, you want to make sure that you’re open to new ideas back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [9:55]
There’s so much inside of all of this you guys are talking about. You’re probably not as familiar with that. research but one of the key factors I asked fast-growth companies, I never know where where people will say on this and feel pretty comfortable, I kind of can guess. But I call it the impossible question. And here it is, as a leader, what’s more important, your customers or your employees?
Dave Miles [10:15]
Gene Hammett [10:17]
You, I’m glad you say it’s easy. It’s not always easy for some people, there are all these like fighting factors and history and sizes of companies. And, you know, people quickly go to Well, you can’t have a company without customers, you can’t have, you know, growth without really employees and scaling that way. But when you think about, you know, putting your employees first and specifically where we’re, I love the phrase, we wanted to make the best job ever. Where did that come from?
Dave Miles [10:52]
Well, years of thinking about why anyone would want to work with me or us, and what’s in it for them. And really recognizing that our, our employees, our, our, our customers, Joel and I have customers and they are, they come in the form of the people that work with us. And if we can invest in them and find the right people and give them not just a job, but a job with meaning in a culture where they’re respected, which is another one of our core values, where they can grow, then they’re going to represent the company well with the company’s customers. And it’s, it’s to Joe’s point, it sounds so simple, but it’s it takes a full-time commitment, especially if you’re growing. There are all kinds of issues that come with growth, there’s uncertainty for the people growing or within the company and all kinds of things. So just staying focused on that. We really do believe culture is very, very important in that sense.
Gene Hammett [11:54]
Well, I do too, and I’m glad we’re here talking about this. I want to get us back on topic to innovation. But I want to stay connected to this people side, I I’ve seen this within my own career growth that I really love doing new things. I love learning new skills, and I love innovating in places that really pushed me and challenged me, that’s when I was an employee. I love doing it even more as a CEO. How are you creating that kind of workplace where people are able to perform at their best in this term of innovation?
Joel Cox [12:26]
I think there’s there’s two things. Dave has already alluded to our core values, right? respectful engagement and growth. So I think that if you embody all of these core values, and you’re conscious of them daily, what that means is exactly what David mentioned earlier, we want you to be better compensated with more benefits and time off. That also means that we expect that when you’re in your role, you’re fully engaged. And that’s something that’s very difficult. But when you’re able to combine a fully engaged, respected growing workforce, with kind of the industry tailwinds of what we’re doing and the enthusiasm that we have, it can, when done properly, it can really start to scale itself.
Dave Miles [13:11]
I’m sorry to talk over you like that we’re, we’re at the forefront of consumer behavioral change in the way that they view their video content. And so bringing that innovation, being at that chip at the forefront of that change, allows us to recruit people that want to be in that space that is enthused about that it’s not, as I said before, it’s a job as much as it is a way to grow and have meaning in your occupation where you spend so much of your time to be able to give people an opportunity to grow and have meaning is absolutely critical. It’s such a privilege. And, and so we’re a small team. But we have a very tight team we’ve got we can we can really be very selective about the talent that we bring on.
Gene Hammett [14:09]
I want to unpack one of the things that keep playing in my mind, and you haven’t said the words, but I see a lot of fast-growth companies, not only they’re putting employees first, like you guys have described, but they also have this sense of the experience they want and work is not just the normal. We trade time for money. We want people that are fully engaged. And the word that I use quite often is we want our employees to take ownership and do you guys think about this feeling of ownership, whether you actually have the competence or not, but how do you get people to feel that sense of ownership as they work day in and day out for the company?
Dave Miles [14:48]
Yeah, well, so we we practice open-book management, and we teach him about how the business works and and how they fit into the ecosystem of this business and the industry that we’re in. So when you do that, yeah, it requires transparency. So we teach people our, our income statement and a balance sheet, we go through that every Monday. And, their pincher bonus system is based on the performance of the company. So it’s meant to incent people to do exactly what you’re saying to take ownership of their jobs. And we find that when we do the job of that, and they and they can connect the dots, that it’s just natural that they’ll want to perform so that they can be in control of their own destiny to some degree, they can increase their own, inspire their own effort. And that’s something we celebrate a daily, really we meet every day to celebrate what open-book management in our culture and the industry that we’re in is providing people.
Joel Cox [15:53]
You know, if I could just kind of riff on exactly what David said, there’s a tertiary benefit to me as well, particularly for organizations like ours that are extremely cutting edge small, nimble ad tech organizations, you know, when you kind of walking on the knife’s edge, the other thing about open bid management is it gives all of our employees the peace of mind and knowing precisely what our cash situation looks like what our income and our balance sheets look like. Because there’s a lot of concern in AD tech, in general, is this company going to get acquired and disappear overnight during a pandemic is this company going to be able to make it Am I going to be able to have a job in a month. And so being completely transparent with our financial kind of open-book management has, I hope, and I think, made our employees that much more competent and engaged to know that this is a safe place and that when everyone understands their contribution, how it affects the bottom line, it’s so much more linear to understand that that’s why somebody would want to work a little bit harder, put in just that one extra effort that day.
Dave Miles [16:54]
It’s a double-edged sword, in the sense that it’s great when you’re Inc 5000 company, and you’re skyrocketing up the list. And everybody’s making money and getting bonuses. And you know, it’s fantastic. But it’s also, you know, our growth as a core value, there will come a time where we hit hardships where things aren’t working out exactly the way we wanted. COVID was one of them. It, it helped us innovate in terms of working remotely, we’ll probably never go back, even though we just signed a five year lease on our office space just before, there’s no one here. And we won’t return to that. So, you know, I think it is a double-edged sword. And so far, no one in our company has ever experienced or been through open-book management until now. So they’re getting the upside. They’re learning all about it. But I do think that adversity makes us stronger. And that’s really when we grow anyway. So we try to embrace that when it occurs.
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Gene Hammett [18:17]
Well, I want to bring us home with this, this whole concept of leading innovation. What are the things that you focus on as leaders of employees that you want to think for themselves to come up with these new ideas? Maybe even try things that might not work? Because innovation and failure go hand in hand? And because that’s the way we actually move forward? How are you guys leading that charge?
Joel Cox [18:44]
I’d like to take the first stab at this. And I know that Dave will certainly have kind of a crown to put on top of it. But I think one thing that stands out is it a Dave had alluded earlier, we’re independent, right. And so when we make a decision about onboarding a new partner or going down a new road, it’s based upon what’s going to benefit the clients and our employees first. And so we’ve developed what we would consider kind of our own in house Think Tank called strategist labs, where every employee is incur participant take what may have been presented as a client challenge, and turn that into a potential new product or new process or new way of innovating. And we also have individual employees who take great ownership and pride in certain products or processes. You know, we’ve got a very sophisticated, automated reporting dashboard that requires two people to effectively kind of own that entire piece to make sure that it’s as good and as effective as it can be. And I think that mentality trickles through the entire organization where we empower and give our employees the ability to take ownership, not of just our financial understandings, but also of certain products or processes. And I think that drives greater engagement and greater in You know, enthusiasm for things that you’re doing.
Dave Miles [20:03]
We’re also seeing that people want to be economists today. They don’t want to be managed, they want to be given opportunities, they need to be trained correctly. And then they, they just want to run with it. And, and that’s a, you know, a challenge for us. I think there’s many, many ways that we are working on improving, we recognize that we don’t have it down, the promise of the best job you’ve ever had, is gigantic. So it’s, it’s, it’s this constant calling for improvement, to innovate with products and services, but also with the company with the people within the company.
Gene Hammett [20:41]
Well, I know we’ve talked a lot about your company and the people. We’ve talked about innovation, love the fact that you guys know that it’s a constant journey of evolution, as leaders. So I really appreciate you being here on the podcast, sharing your journey with audience. Hopefully, any of those anybody listening in picked up a few things that they can use to be better leaders is more influential, visionary, and lead innovation. So thanks for being here.
Dave Miles [21:07]
Very well, thank you.
Joel Cox [21:08]
Thank you Gene.
Gene Hammett [21:11]
Actually love talking with leaders that know their employees are so important to the growth of the business to the service of the clients, and to the profitability as well as when I talked to Joel and Dave, I just felt like I was a connection. Hopefully, you felt it too. Because when you have that finger on the pulse of what people want, and you deliver that when you create a great place for them to excel, you have something where people are allowed to innovate. So today, we looked at leading innovation. I don’t know what your challenge is, but I’d love to get to know you. If you are listening into this podcast, if you hear my voice right now, I’m talking specifically to you because you’re searching for something. What is it? I would love to connect with you. I want to reach out to my audience every once in a while, I have a chance to engage with them set up calls. So if you want to have a conversation with me, just email me [email protected]. I’d love to figure out what you’re struggling with so that I can create content to better serve you. When you think about growth. You think about leadership, think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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