Driving company growth is more than just the bottom line. Many companies on the Inc 5000 are mission-driven. These leaders know the mission is important. Today’s guest is Matt Fielder, CEO at Vinyl Me, Please. Inc Magazine ranked Vinyl Me, Please #342 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. This company made the Inc 5000 for the last two consecutive years. Matt and I discuss why the mission is important and how it affects the growth of the business. He shares insights about his purpose that will help you with your mission-driven business. Join us today in our conversation about why the mission is important.
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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.
One of the first questions that we were asking ourselves when we started this company is, because we’re a music fans and really kind of looking for this deeper, more meaningful experience in and around music. We’re asking ourselves like, what if there are more people like us? What if there are people that want to connect and sort of be in community with other people that are just passionate about music? And what does it look like to build a platform or build a way for those people to find one another and kind of go on this journey with us together? So you know, I think at the end of the day, the community is not just one or two things, it’s actually inside of everything that you do. And it’s really about building those relationships and building that dialogue and continue to reinforce the values of the company and the product and everything that encapsulates and to.
Gene Hammett [0:42]
Welcome to Grow 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 help leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow? What do you use to connect the employees to their work? One of the core elements of that is the mission. And I believe the mission is important to every business. When you have a mission, you are aligning people to something bigger than just the work, they are doing it not just because they’re getting paid for it, but they’re doing it because they’re part of something that they love to be a part of. When you as a founder of a company or CEO, have a mission, you make it part of every day, you can create higher retention rates of employees, you can create more engagement, and they’re activated their creativity and innovation across many levels. The mission is important to every business. today.
Gene Hammett [1:39]
Our guest is the co-founder of Vinyl me, please. It is Matt Fielder, this company grew astronomically fast. They were number 342. On the 2018 Inc list. They hit it again in 2019. But one of the things that we talked about inside this interview was when he grew really fast, they were really mission centric, but they had gotten away from it. So they didn’t grow quite as fast. So they spent the last six months realigning to the mission, making it a much more central part of the business. What you would learn today is about why the mission is important, and how you can use the mission to align the people to the work. Before we get to the interview, I want to remind you, if you haven’t had a chance to look at the new training that we have coming out, it’s all about how to create a player even in a down recession. And if you want to get that training, you can go directly to genehammett.com/training. And what you’ll find in there is the three mistakes that are fixable that you can actually use to improve your leadership, your business, we’ve been looking at this for years, we finally have it organized, so that you can actually take it in and about 30 minutes or less. And you can get insight to grow your business. Just go to genehammett.com/training. And now here’s the interview with Matt.
Gene Hammett [2:56]
Matt, how are you?
Matt Fielder [2:58]
I’m great. How are you?
Gene Hammett [2:59]
Fantastic. excited to talk to you about growth, leadership, and culture that, you know, you’ve learned over the years how to align people together. I’d love for you to share a little bit about Vinylme, please.
Matt Fielder [3:13]
Yeah, so VMP at its core. Our mission is exploring music together. And it’s really built on this belief that that music has value both my monetary value, but it also has the opportunity to impact a person in a meaningful way. With music comes such great emotion and such becomes such great meaning and understanding that the music continues to be one of the most powerful art forms. And you know what we see with technology. And as our world is becoming more and more technology technological. It’s really asking us to trade these human and analog experiences for digital convenience. So our mission is really about creating these transcendent and tangible experiences that help facilitate journeys through music.
Gene Hammett [3:54]
And more simply, it’s a vinyl membership program, you get 50,000 types of vinyl per month.
Matt Fielder [4:04]
Yes, we ship about 50,000 units per month. And our core business is really made up of about three different components. The first is a subscription, which is a record of the month model, you get one record per month that’s pressed exclusively for our members. And then that makes up about 60% of our total business. The other part is more e-commerce driven, where you as a member, can log in and buy things that will be added to your next shipment. Or even as a nonmember, you can log in and buy things from our store. That makes up about 30% of our total business. And then the other piece is simply called the anthology, which is this really immersive, amazing product that we kind of bundle a set of records together and tell a story in a meaningful and in depth way with a lot of editorial and additional content to go deeper on a specific subject and that makes up about 10% of our total business right now.
Gene Hammett [4:53]
Well, I appreciate you walking us through that. One of the things that we focus on is the leadership and cultural elements. That made companies grow fast. You were over 12 million in 2019. And 2018, you had a really breakout year you were number 342 on the Inc list. That’s a pretty big honor to grow that fast. What do you attribute that to?
Matt Fielder [5:16]
You know, it’s a great question. I think it’s funny too, because the idea of a record club has been tried and quite frankly, has failed many times before. Columbia music houses is, is a thing that we can constantly get referred to, in various conversations. I think the thing that sets us apart is really kind of sight the way in which we approach which is very mission centric, which is, you know, kind of what will what we’ll be talking about today. But we’ve approached this idea of a record of the Month Club with a certain amount of authenticity and passion for the process and the journey of exploring music and wanting to build a community in a conversation in and around that. And that’s just, it’s, it just hasn’t been done before. And I think what we’re seeing is people want that kind of experience, they’re kind of missing that, particularly in this digital revolution, as streaming kind of takes over as the dominant format. But they really do see value and kind of building this collection of music and really do see value in connecting with other people in and around music. So, you know, it’s hard to say exactly, I’d like to think a lot of our tactics and strategies are, are helping us be effective. But I think at the end of the day, really being able to live with that mission. And having that authenticity for the passion of music is, is what has become the beacon that has drawn a lot of customers to our business.
Gene Hammett [6:32]
You’re right, we are going to talk more deeply about this mission and why it’s so important for the company as you grow. You mentioned the word community, though. How are you taking community? I know a lot of companies think about Oh, we’d love to have this community around what we’re offering our ideas and the movement that we have, how have you been able to do that successfully?
Matt Fielder [6:53]
Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, it’s one of those things that we’re still trying to figure out. And it’s a really interesting problem to solve for like a digitally native company, how do you create community, and we’re shipping records to 40 some countries around the world. So it even becomes more difficult. It’s like how do you create community, when you have language barriers when you have cultural barriers, even with timezone differences, as well. So we’ve done a bunch of different things to, you know, build community over time. And some we’ve continued some we’ve stopped some we’re continuing to experiment with and in a different ways, but at the end of the day, what we’re trying to do in any format, whether it’s Twitter, whether it’s Facebook, whether it’s our emails, whether it’s even our customer support channels, is we’re trying to build a dialogue and build a relationship with our customers. And that could be one-off, but it could also be kind of giving them an opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals.
Matt Fielder [7:41]
You know, one of the first question that we were asking ourselves when we started this company is because we’re a music fans, and really kind of looking for this deeper, more meaningful experience in and around music. We were asking ourselves, like, what if there are more people like us? What if there are people that want to connect and sort of be in community with other people that are just passionate about music? But what does it look like to build a platform or build a way for those people to find one another and kind of go on this journey with us together? So you know, I think, I think at the end of the day, community is not just one or two things, it’s actually inside of everything that you do. And it’s really about building those relationships and building that dialogue and continuing to reinforce the values of the company and the product and everything that encapsulates the two.
Gene Hammett [8:24]
Well, let’s dive into this whole mission-based business. I think a lot of leaders start out their business with a mission. And something happens along the way, they get really focused on, you know, the the customer getting getting traction, started hitting certain metrics, and that mission begins to fade away. Why do you think mission fades away? And so many companies?
Matt Fielder [8:49]
Oh, man, that’s a really good question. And I, we fell into that trap, too, you know, we kind of got drunk on our own success, and just assumed that we could keep doing what we were doing, tactically, very tactically speaking, and that would yield more results. But as we saw that, that actually wasn’t the case. And, you know, as I said, I think part of what made us successful in the early days that helped us have that, that breakout year on the Inc 500 was the fact that we will we’re leading with such genuine authenticity and passion for what we were doing. I think it’s, I don’t know, it’s just you get to a certain point where you’ve hit maybe more success or level than you ever thought you get hit before. And then all of a sudden, you start the pressure comes on of like, well, what am I gonna do next? What’s that next? trick up my sleeve, and you start thinking very tactically and very kind of almost objective minded. Like, if I do this, then that will happen.
Matt Fielder [9:42]
Whereas I think what we’ve seen particularly over the last, you know, six to 12 months, as we’ve returned to this mission-centric viewpoint, everything that we do gets bent around that idea, and then the impact of what we do ends up being much greater as a result. So in fact, we can do fewer things, but they’ll have a bigger impact on the business. That’s really been mind-boggling for us. Because as we thought about growth, you knows, there’s I think it’s really easy to make an assumption like, the more that we do, the more things that we could put out the more products that we have more customers than we have, the faster that we can grow. If you think in actuality, it’s a little bit simpler than that, where it’s like, the better we can do things, the more clear that we can make things, the less friction that are is in our processes, whether its internal, or from a customer perspective, the more opportunities that we have for growth, the more opportunities we have to bring more people in. And that comes from a place of mission, I don’t know that that’s always going to be obvious in sort of a tactical or even in, in, in inside the objective mindset.
Hold on for a second, Matt said something I want to put a spotlight on. He said, we focused on the tactics. And what ended up happening was they got away from their mission. So sometimes you have to focus on tactics. But sometimes you actually have to focus on other elements of the business, you have to look at the mission, you have to look at the values, how you’re engaging each other as a community, the culture, all of those elements are just as important as the tactics and the metrics that drive your growth. You may want to disagree with this. But I want you to really think about how much attention do you put to how your people align together to the work that you’re doing, how you communicate how you create trust, how you create empowerment, and how you get people to own it, I wanted to bring this message to you, because I don’t want you to just to focus on the tactics as a leader, I want you to focus on all the elements that drive growth. Back to Matt.
Gene Hammett [11:34]
Matt, I’d love to, for you to share maybe an example of something about doing less that has paid off for you guys.
Matt Fielder [11:41]
Yeah, for sure. So we let me think off the top of my head. So instead of our e-commerce, we originally thought that more skews would be make more opportunities for us to bring in more people and then increase our revenue. The production process for vinyl is pretty long, it’s a three to six month timeline, most of the stuff that we sell is exclusive pressed exclusively press for our customers, which means we’re managing that process from soup to nuts. So if you can think about kind of just a supply chain process, you know, we’re selling, I don’t know, call it 30 different skews on a given month right now, it basically means we have 30 different skews that are all going through this three to six month production timeline process. That’s where we are now, where we were previously was thinking that like, Okay, well more skews more people more more opportunities to generate revenue. So what we were doing at that point is we had a very limited set of things that were exclusive to us that we were manufacturing. And we actually brought in a lot of other products from different distributors, or different labels or different sources that were not actually our products. And we were selling those things to our customers as well. And it actually created a lot of complexity, because we all of a sudden had, you know, a significant number of people that we were receiving inventory from have varying degrees of quality. And then also we were dealing with a lot of middlemen.
Matt Fielder [13:01]
So the opportunity to create margin there was pretty slim. And then inevitably, we were competing against somebody like Amazon or the local record store or whatever it might be. And we were actually devaluing the products that were making us unique, ie those exclusive products. Right. So there was this idea that if we could build our skew library, if we could build the number of things that we’re that we’re selling, on a given basis, we can bring in more customers generate more revenue. But as we started to crack that open, after we had been doing it for three or six months, or whatever, we started to realize like, one that’s not true, because of all of these things were discount, we have to discount the products that we’re really proud of the things that were really unique to us. And the things that make, you know, our value proposition even stronger, too, we were creating a lot of confusion from our customers, because inevitably, they were looking at us and then comparing us against these other channels. And the three were actually from a marketing perspective is really difficult, because we couldn’t really create the campaigns to bring in different people based on the all of the records that we were, that we had available.
Matt Fielder [14:02]
So we actually simplified our skew library quite dramatically to where we limited it only to exclusive products, only things that were manufacturing, we increase the number of products that we’re doing that for we went from, you know, five to 10 a month to about 20 to 30 a month. But that’s all that we release on a monthly basis. And it’s actually helped us increase our e-commerce revenue quite substantially. It grew about 50% year over year last year. And it’s on track to do that again this year. And then also our margin has gone from mid 20%, on average to about 55 60% on average. So it’s simplified our marketing quite a bit as well, because now we’re able to say, look at this journey that we’re on, this is who we are, this is what we care about. These are the things that we’re focused on, come join us as opposed to a million different campaigns that say go here by the let’s go here, buy this, go here, buy this Oh, and you could probably get it cheaper and faster from other sources. So we just hope that you’ll you’ll come and transact with us. So what that’s actually done is it’s simplified our operations quite substantially. It’s also simplified the message that we bring to our customers, and has had meaningful impacts not just in revenue and margin, but also in retention, and customer acquisition as a result as well.
Gene Hammett [15:09]
That was a mouthful, Matt.
Matt Fielder [15:10]
Gene Hammett [15:12]
It’s a beautiful story of, you know, less actually is more and better for not only the company, but for the customer experience, and you’re able to activate new growth. I, one of the things I took away from that is, you’re not in the transaction business, even though you are taking in money you’re getting your people are joining a movement, right, they’re joining something that’s already a part of their soul. And they’re able to, to be a part of this community with others. But and I think that exclusive thing is a really unique way to put that. And you’re not in competition with you know, Amazon for that one little piece of Vinyl.
Matt Fielder [15:51]
Yeah, yeah. And it’s, it’s given us the opportunity to double down in areas that we know create value for our customers like quality, you know, we sell the highest quality records on the market right now. And that’s the thing that our people care about. And it gives us the opportunity to drive margin gives us the opportunity to generate sales without having to do as many projects at the end of the day.
Gene Hammett [16:10]
So I want to take us into a direction where maybe the listener can can kind of cue into some of the things that you’re doing to put mission on the front side of culture and how you engage with others. What would you say that you do consistently? That makes mission a part of the everyday?
Matt Fielder [16:28]
Yeah, I mean, I think, internally, so we’re constantly trying to look at the things that we do in and around the music, or in around the mission, excuse me. So thinking about, you know, from a marketing perspective, it’s like, well, what does it mean, for music together? How do we actually translate that into an advertisement? You know, like, what’s the photo? What’s the? What’s the copy that goes with it? What’s the creative that goes with it? And how does that actually relate to what we’re, what we’re saying on the on the landing page? Or how does that actually kind of get reinforced in the emails that we might send post transaction, or what have you. And it’s been really interesting, you know, as we’ve transitioned to a fully remote environment, you know, with regards to COVID, and everything. Previously, our team was working in silos in pretty obvious ways, where the marketing team was kind of building their campaigns, the product team was kind of building their features, the operations and logistics team was doing what they were doing. None of them were really talking together, although they were in the same room together.
Matt Fielder [17:26]
So as we started to refocus ourselves around mission, it really did force this conversation of like, what are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing, and how does it all connect. And then there’s opportunities to create overlap, there’s opportunities to D prioritize certain things. And really, kind of the things that do become important that can have a meaningful impact, inevitably come to the surface there. And those are the things that we sink our teeth into. So that’s operationally that’s that’s really what we focus on, instead of the every day, externally, it’s really about storytelling. And it’s really about saying, like, hey, these, this music is not a commodity, it’s not a thing, that’s just something to buy, it’s actually something to know. And it’s actually there’s a lot more behind a particular record, than you might guess it’s a lot more than just what the what the song is or what the artist is or what the album is, or even what the album art is, or it looks like or whatever, there’s a lot of contexts that you may or may not be aware of, that ultimately led to the creation of that music.
Matt Fielder [18:20]
So we try and focus a lot on the storytelling. And that really kind of helps create that. That idea of exploration. And that idea of, of facilitating a journey for people because so much about music is the context, right? And so much about discovering something new that you haven’t heard before it becoming your new favorite thing is going to be the way in which you discovered it and sort of the story behind it.
Hold on for a second, did you hear what Matt said about the silos inside the company before COVID came about? They were individually looking at marketing and sales and operations and service. And what he found through this was they had to back up a second they had to focus on how they aligned together as a team. If you’re concerned about your team alignment, make sure you get the newest training we have. It’s genehammett.com/training, you will find the three mistakes. One of them inside there is about team alignment. And you will see a different perspective just by tuning in to that training. Go to genehammett.com/training, Back to the interview with Matt.
Gene Hammett [19:21]
So how important do you think mission is to other businesses? You probably see this a lot. You see companies are in more transactional-based and don’t have that mission. When you look out to others, are you looking at what that mission is and seeing it seeing what they stand for?
Matt Fielder [19:40]
Yeah, I am that kind of person. So I’m always thinking about like, what what what drew this person to start this company and and I’m just a firm believer that you know, success in life or in business or whatever, is much more than just generating revenue and kind of growing sales and increase enterprise value. Like there’s always something that’s driving Somebody wants to do more. And I’m always curious as to what that is, you know, it could be a very simple trinket based business, but I’m just like, well, what was the what was the impetus behind starting that? Like, was it just an opportunity? And they’re just in it to make money? It’s like, Okay, well, then what, what’s, what’s the drive to make more money? I don’t know, in thinking about that is something that just comes naturally to me.
Matt Fielder [20:20]
And I think mission is really important to every business, regardless of the context, regardless of what you’re selling, regardless of who your customers are, even what your employees look like. Because I think what it does, the real value of a mission is a give something, give somebody something else to care about, you know, and it really does help create something that’s more than just a transaction. You know, and I think when you think about employees, when you think about employee satisfaction, or turnover rate, or keeping your best people, like, oftentimes you have to give them something to care about that isn’t just doing the job or getting the task done. You know, and that could be as simple as like, you know, we want to create a place where this you have a healthy work life balance, so that you can go home and do you know, other things that keep you sane, and kind of help you kind of pursue your passion and whatnot, that could be a way that mission kind of comes up instead of a business, it doesn’t have to be totally emotional like ours is it doesn’t have to be kind of this big, grandiose idea that, you know, is hard to understand, or whatever. I think in fact, the simple, the simpler, the better. And the more opportunities, you can connect it to people, whoever they may be, the better your business is going to be.
Let me break in here for a second. If you’re listening this on YouTube, make sure you give us a thumbs up if you like this content, make sure you subscribe if you want to keep getting the content and hit the bell notification button. If you want to be notified the moment we put another video up. We’d love to help you be the best leader you can be help you go beyond where you are today. Back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [21:46]
I love the words you said mission and mission is important to every business. And so true. That’s one reason why I want to have you here. Matt, I want to give you one last chance to kind of weigh in on what other elements with inside vinyl me please do you think really contribute to the growth of the business?
Matt Fielder [22:03]
Yeah, I mean, that’s a that’s a really good question. I think what you know, so this authenticity, this passion, this credibility that we’ve been able to build, as a result, has given us that in that growth that we’ve seen from a customer perspective, it’s made us one of the largest vinyl retailers in the world, which from a buying power perspective is pretty significant. You know, for one of our subscriptions, we’re buying 20 25,000 units of a single record, there’s really no retailer that’s doing that very few artists are pressing that many units of a single record.
Matt Fielder [22:34]
So that in and of itself has opened up tremendous opportunities for us to be able to work with artists to be able to work with labels, or distributors in ways that nobody else has the access for. And that’s given the opportunity for us to work with artists like Queen, it’s given us the opportunity to work with artists like the Grateful Dead. And just continually finding these new opportunities that were just amazed by like some of these things that come across my desk and like, holy shit, I can’t believe we’re talking to this person about doing these things like this is insane. I never would have guessed. But yet it’s it’s because of our buying power is because of the fact that we’ve been able to grow, and that we provide such a meaningful, we provide such value to our partners on the other side. And that really becomes a thing that has just opened up a tremendous amount of doors for us the business.
Gene Hammett [23:19]
Matt, thank you so much for sharing your story and the importance that mission has on your business so that we can all learn from those lessons and your wisdom.
Matt Fielder [23:28]
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This is great.
Gene Hammett [23:30]
What a powerful interview to talk about mission. I would like to take this moment to talk about the mission I had when I first started this business. And I want to go way back to a time when I wasn’t really a coach, I wanted to be a coach, but I wasn’t one I was an entrepreneur, I was probably much like you had a team of people had daily revenue goals, I had a lot of projects going on and customers going on at one time. And I had to really focus on the most important elements, which was keeping the bills play, keeping the cash flow coming in. And it wasn’t able to do the work I really wanted to do.
Gene Hammett [24:07]
What eventually happened was, I lost everything, not because of I was so focused on this other thing. There’s so many other reasons behind it. But the core of this is I lost everything and had to look back on losing my identity as an entrepreneur and as a founder. I had to reinvent myself and I wanted to reinvent myself to help other leaders go beyond what they believe is possible. So I work exclusively with successful leaders and their teams to help them go beyond where they are today to go beyond the normal growth patterns that they see right in front of them. I was an outsider, in a lot of perspective, a lot of insight can help them, create strategies create more mindset shifts that allow them to grow even faster.
Gene Hammett [24:51]
I share this with you because I wanted you to understand my mission. It comes from a place of losing everything and looking back to what was missing. I wanted to You to Know this about my mission is I care about you as a founder, your team, your growth, growth is opportunity. If you have any questions about that, I’d love you to reach out to me, send me an email, genehammett.com. That way we can connect. And we get to know each other, help you be the leader that you want to be. When you think about growth, you think about leadership, think about Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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