Define Your Culture Before You Create Your Product with Godard Abel at G2

Your company has a culture whether or not you intentionally set it. When you define your culture to empower people, you set up the business for long-term success. The essential parts to define your culture are a big part of why a company grows fast. Today’s guest is Godard Abel, CEO at G2. Inc Magazine ranked G2 #408 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. This company helps B2C and B3b brands provide immersive online shopping experiences. Godard sees the power of culture through all of the companies he has built over the years. Discover the ability to define your culture with intention.

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Target Audience: Godard Abel is the co-founder and DEO at G2.com (formerly G2 Crowd) is making B2B tech buying easy by connecting buyers to vendors based on authentic customer reviews and real-time ratings of business software and services. G2 has the become leading B2B tech review platform with over 1 million trusted reviews read by over five million tech buyers every month. $100M invested by IVP, Accel Partners, LinkedIn, Emergence Capital, Pritzker Group, Chicago Ventures, Hyde Park Ventures, industry leaders, and founders.

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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.

Godard Abel
That’s a big part of why I love building businesses, because I feel like you’re never done learning. And also feel like, you know, company is always a work in progress, you’re never done. And there’s always things to improve. And so I think it’s very much that spirit and forgetting if I lost it, you know, I think then I’d probably be like, hey, it’s probably time for me not to be running a company. And also guess what makes companies successful, right is you’re always you’re celebrating the wins. And yesterday 500 list. We also know internally, we got 1000s of problems to solve and better. And so it’s kind of a unique combination of entrepreneurship, you’re celebrating the wins, you’re growing, but you’re also seeing, wow, I have all these problems and headaches, and how do I get better? How does the team get better? And that’s really what I think is exciting about entrepreneurship.

Intro [0:37]
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 [0:54]
Let’s go back to the beginning. When you were putting together your company, did you think about the product first and the problem you’re solving? Or do you think about the culture that you wanted to create? Well, most companies, when I say most probably 99 out of 100 would say, of course, it has to be about solving the problem. That’s what we’re here to do is solve a problem. We have to create a product that solves a problem. And I get that. But when I talked to today’s guest, he actually looked this differently. We’re going to be looking at culture, we’re going to be looking at how you create a sense of entrepreneur spirit inside the company. But also how do you evolve as a leader. Our guest today is Godard Abel, he’s a co-founder of G2, they’re a software company that has changed the dynamics of how you can actually interact with your software company if you will. We talk about the importance of culture, we talk about that entrepreneur spirit, what it is, what it means is related to innovation. We also talk about his own evolution as a leader, we get really real about some of the things that are going on inside of his company. But today we share with you the story of G2. Before we jump into the interview, if you haven’t already got the training about how to create a team of A-players, make sure you do that now. All you have to do is go to genehammett.com/training which will take you straight into how do you create a team of A-players, we highlight the three mistakes that often get in the way, how do you fix them? And all that and under 30 minutes, absolutely free. Just go to genehammett.com/training. Now here’s Godard.

Gene Hammett [2:26]
Hi Godard. How are you?

Godard Abel [2:28]
Good. How are you doing, Gene?

Gene Hammett [2:29]
Fantastic. excited to have you here on the podcast to talk about growth and leadership, I would love for you to give us a little bit of insight around G2 and what you guys do.

Godard Abel [2:40]
Yeah, G2, we really aim to be the place you go for software. And especially for business people, entrepreneurs, who want to build one site where you can get all the insights, you need to find the best software for your business. And we were really inspired by Consumer sites, you know, sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, like Amazon, and we always thought it’s just way too hard to shop for business software. And we want to make it much like those consumer experiences more like shopping on Amazon.

Gene Hammett [3:05]
Well, that is hard to do. When you think about programming. I’ve worked in the technical side, since the beginning of the internet, probably around 95 really big projects, work with a lot of the e-commerce stuff as it was coming on onboard in the early 2000s. When you got into this, I know that you wanted to grow a company give us an idea of the kind of starting out what we what were you setting your sights on?

Godard Abel [3:30]
Yeah, and I think gene like you have been in business software now since the late 90s. And you’ll live through that.com, bubble and bust and all of that. But I think what really inspired us in 2012, when we were starting G2 was really my frustration as an entrepreneur. And I was always my first company was called big machines, we were selling configure price, quote, software, eventually, the company was acquired by Oracle. But it took us a long time and a very hard journey, we almost went bankrupt. And before we really started growing, but one of my biggest frustrations as an entrepreneur was it was hard for me to reach my customers. And it was really hard for them to discover me because we’re kind of creating a new niche in the software industry, you know, CPU software. And I remember distinctly one of our first customers Rolls Royce and a manufacturer of big gas and steam turbines. So kind of perfect for big machines, because we started for companies like that, but I remember they met us in like 2006. And they said, well, the first thing they said was wow, you know, I wish or they said we wish you’d known we’d know you existed sooner because we’re trying to develop this software in house. And I think the reality is business software is quite a complex industry, right. But it’s super hard for software buyers to discover the right apps to solve their business problems. And that’s really what we want to set out to do when we started v2 back in 2012.

Gene Hammett [4:39]
And fast forward to today. I know that you made the Inc list in 2019 at number 48 you’ve made it again, this will come out after the formal announcements. We’re recording it before you can really announce it. I wanted to kind of give a view of the business over 20 million in revenue from 2019 I don’t need to know specifics, but employees around 350 million, is that kind of where you still are?

Godard Abel [5:06]
Yeah, we have about 250 employees. And we are, you know, about a 50 million revenue run rate today. Okay. And so we are continuing to grow. And so that has been an exciting, exciting ride.

Gene Hammett [5:16]
When you think about scaling to that size, it takes a different style of leadership. You know, it’s certain points, you can’t be the same leader that you were at 20 employees and even 50 employees. It’s getting harder as the company grows, what are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome? In this, this journey of leadership?

Godard Abel [5:37]
Yeah, and I think you’re right, Gene, I think I’d have I’ve been learning still learning my leadership style needs to evolve as a company gets bigger. And I think especially as an entrepreneur in those early days, you know, begin that first day, there were five of us. Yeah, but those days, I think you’re very hands-on. And it’s all about speed, and just doing stuff. And I feel like now 250, it’s really shifted, where it’s more around setting vision aligning teams, and my Python biggest lessons. I’ve also brought in new leaders, you know, like a new earlier this year, I brought in a new Chief Product Officer, Sarah Roscoe, and just a couple of months ago, I brought in the new chief revenue officer, Mike Weir, and Mike came from LinkedIn, and he spent 10 years they’re helping scale that business when it was pretty small to obviously now multi-billion-dollar business. And so I found this really helped me is bringing a couple in a couple of leaders that have that next level skill experience, what I’ve noticed about them, they manager differently.

Godard Abel [6:26]
In the beginning, it almost seems like they go a little slower, you know, they’ll take more time to listen to the team and listen to customers build consensus and get alignment before moving forward. And frankly, I think now if you’re under 50 employees, that turns out to work much better, you know, I want to go faster. But then sometimes I’ll just start working on something and frankly, the team isn’t behind, it doesn’t understand it isn’t aligned to it. And then it doesn’t have the impact, we hope. And so I think that’s a shift I’m working on right now is going to kind of a more mature, seasoned leadership style.

Gene Hammett [6:54]
Well, one of the things that you said in there about evolving as a leader, I went through my own struggles with my company. And we only got to about 15 employees, but I’ve seen it with my clients too. When you think about your journey of leadership, are you actively looking for these places to grow? Are you do you have to play catch up at certain times?

Godard Abel [7:15]
Well, and I have to say try to get ahead of it. But I still find myself learning new things. And after 20 plus years, I I still make mistakes and mistakes. So I’m still learning but he had become more conscious about learning. And one of the organizations I joined over a decade ago is YPO young presidents organization. What I’ve loved about that is they have peer forums, where you’re meeting with peer company leaders, you know, once a month or so, and it’s really kind of a peer therapy group ultimately. But I think from that group, I think they really helped me and some of them I’ve run inbuilt bigger businesses, you know, say they helped me kind of anticipate some of the personal and leadership challenges I’ll face and hopefully get ahead of it more. And as I also mentioned earlier, through that group, I got introduced to a coach, conscious leadership coach that I’ve been working with now for over a decade. And so I think with coaching and a peer group, I try to anticipate leadership challenges better than I could on my own.

Gene Hammett [8:06]
Well, let me ask you a question about that before you jump into the heart of today’s topic, which is around creating a culture with an entrepreneurial spirit. You know, you’ve invested in coaching over the years, you’ve invested in this peer group through YPO. And probably even other things we haven’t talked about, why do you continue to invest? Is there a point where you say, you know what, I got enough, I just need to execute? Or do you just continue to invest? Because you know, it pays off in the long run?

Godard Abel [8:33]
Yeah, I think it does pay off. And I do think it’s better for the business for me to keep growing, and I need to keep growing. And frankly, but also personally, that’s a big part of why I love building businesses because I feel like you’re never done learning. And also, if you like, you know, the company is always a work in progress, you’re never done. And there’s always things to improve. And so I think it’s very much that spirit and forget, like, if I lost it, you know, I think then I’d probably be like a tight time for me not to be running a company. Because honestly, that’s what makes companies successful, right is you’re always you’re celebrating the wins. And yes, winning 500 lists. We also know internally, we got 1000s of problems to solve and better. And so it’s kind of unique combination of entrepreneurship, you’re celebrating the wins, you’re growing, but you’re also seeing, wow, I have all these problems and headaches and how do I get better? How does the team get better? And that’s really what I think is exciting, but entrepreneurship.

Gene Hammett [9:18]
Well, thanks for sharing part of that journey with us today. Godard, I want to talk about the real reason why we came here is our my research team is always looking for interesting stories about what makes companies grow. We’re always looking at leadership and culture. We found you the real story behind this was was something around this entrepreneur spirit. I don’t want to put words in your mouth. What is an entrepreneur spirit inside of an organization that has, you know, 200 plus employees?

Godard Abel [9:44]
Yeah, and I think one thing that was unique about it to the second company you build I think one thing we did that was maybe abnormal was I met with four of my co-founders and decided we built our first couple different teams together, but by Oracle, we decided not to, we took a break, but we can realize this building company, and it was neat we got together in my basement. And you know, before we talked about what’s the business? What’s the business problem going to solve? What are we going to build, we actually talked about what culture we want. And I think that was a unique situation a second-time entrepreneur and family, we also had the luxury of having had some success.

Godard Abel [10:17]
So if you go a little slower, but I think we also realized for ourselves, why build another company? And we really wanted to create a company where we could work with joy. And so we first talked about how do we define a culture. And luckily, at that time, I met a really cool entrepreneurial leader, Chip Conley. And if you’ve heard of him, but he wrote a book on peak cultures, he built a company called dry Aviva, a very successful boutique hotel chain, in the San Francisco Bay Area. And then he later went on to become the head of hospitality for Airbnb. So a very accomplished entrepreneur. But he really wrote this book called peak and peak cultures that do enable companies to both succeed and work with joy. And so we read, we all read that book, and I met him at a conference right around that time. And that really helped us define our culture from day one.

Commercial [11:04]
Hold on for a second, just catch what’s going on said about defining the culture before they define the problem they’re solving. Granted, this is not their first business. But when you think about your culture, when did it come? Was it after 20 employees, 50 employees closer to 100, maybe even 200? The earlier you start on defining the culture, the more advantage, you will have to create something that’s meaningful, a place that people are attracted to talented people, and they want to stay they want to innovate. If you create that, and you live by everything inside there, you have a chance to create something that really will last the test of time, if you will. When go Godard shared that with me, I’ve never heard it before starting with culture before you actually started the business. So I really think that’s a strong way to look at how you want to grow something meaningful. Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [11:55]
So when use I want to make sure I got that right before you decided what problem you’re going to solve. You define the kind of culture you want it as an organization.

Godard Abel [12:05]
Yes. Yeah, probably a week in my basement kind of debating it. And friggin my wife was kind of like, what’s wrong with you guys? Because Yeah, this was in the summer in Chicago. And we’re all down there kind of scruffy and shorts and T-shirts, with like, some flip charts I brought in and just, you know, kind of brainstorming, talking, we did a group meditation, but all trying to figure out Hey, what, you know, what do we really want our culture to be? And that was also selfish in that, how do we create a company we all really want to keep working for?

Gene Hammett [12:35]
I love that. And it really is an odd thing, I asked you to bring some counterintuitive kind of stuff, but you define the culture before you really define the business and the business model, the problem you’re solving, I know that it helps to have already had some successes before. But when you go back, do you ever think that was the wrong approach to this?

Godard Abel [12:55]
No. I mean, I think there’s 100% the right approach, and that I think we still try to hold ourselves accountable today, you know, we have now better to find what p culture means. We’ve turned it into a mnemonic that encompasses our core values. And I think I you know, we still measured in our performance feedback, upward feedback, hey, I really live in tech culture. And it does take reminding ourselves, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of a business and kind of forget, you know, why you started in the first place. And so now it’s something I think we really tried in mind and culture. But like I said, also keep measuring myself, my leadership team, hey, are we really living up to those peak values? And are we really working with joy?

Commercial [13:33]
Hold on for a second. He just talked about living the values. Let me ask you a question. This is something that might trigger you. But are you truly living by the values of the organization? You have those words, maybe they’re on the wall? Maybe they’re just written down in some notebook somewhere? Maybe you had a meeting or kickoff and talked about the values? But are you saying you live them every day? Would your employee say that you’re living them every day? Well, one of the things I know about fast-growth companies is more than 85% of the time, they are living the values, they have rituals around the values, and they live them every day. Everyone knows what they are. There’s no question what’s expected of him. Many of those companies are paying performance bonuses based on adherence to the values and how they organize. Even one company said 50% of your bonus is how you adhere to one of our values. What are you doing as a leader? How important are the values to your organization? In my opinion, they’re critical for you to create the kind of culture where people feel connected and are really doing the kind of work that allows the company to grow back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [14:40]
So back to the question I originally asked. What is a culture with an entrepreneurial spirit?

Godard Abel [14:47]
Right, that’s why I talked about peak because I mentioned some mnemonic, so the P stands for performance. The E is an entrepreneurial spirit. The A is authenticity, the K is kindness, and that he that often grows We are, we realize also that beginning last company going about 300 employees. So we kind of saw that it was hard to keep that spirit, obviously, with five of us in a room, everyone’s entrepreneurial. But we also said, hey, let’s build a new culture, let’s define what it means. So, you know, now when we have 250 people, we train them on it. And we’ve actually built in specific tools to reinforce that entrepreneurial spirit as we keep growing.

Gene Hammett [15:27]
Let’s look at some of those tools that you have. What’s one of those that you feel kind of moves the needle for you.

Godard Abel [15:33]
And there’s a couple and I think one cool one is we built something called gt labs. And this goes back to our very beginning, because like I said, we didn’t know what we were going to build. We just knew we wanted to work together and have a great p culture. And so we first actually called the company g2labs.net. And you know, that we figured out what we wanted to do, which was the idea of sharing at the beginning, we wanted to disrupt the business software industry make it really easy to buy business software like Yelp. And then we, you know, change the company name tooG2. crowd, eventually gq.com. But then we just brought back to you two labs. And we put our founder, co-founder, Mike Wheeler, our founding CTO in charge of it. And what gt Labs is meant to do his work like that five-person startup. And now our whole team can pitch ideas to Mike about what he does about, you know, four to six weeks sprint cycles, but they all pitch ideas to him. And then he picks the ideas that he thinks is the most innovative. And also, you know, what really moves the needle on the business. And then he will actually go and code it, you know, within four weeks, prototype it and get it live. And I was one of our founding mantras is do it live. But we kind of realized start core engineering product team now is, I don’t know 80 100 people, and figure they can’t move as fast anymore, and innovations. And so now we said, oh, let’s build you two labs and let that be your kind of our incubator. So we can still innovate like a five-person company.

Gene Hammett [16:52]
What’s the purpose behind that? I know, you talked about innovation, but you have this segment of, you know, almost 80 engineers, and you have a small team of kind of this really trying to get this startup to feel to it. But what’s the purpose behind that?

Godard Abel [17:06]
And I think one and alike Mike, our co-founder loves doing it. Yes. Why join us in the first place. But I also think the purpose is just speed. Because the reality is, you know, to manage an 80 person team, we have a not brilliant Chief Product officer Sherry Roscoe mentioned, right. But we have process and discipline and figuring out how to ship a new feature might take three to six months. And to really do it at scale and what Mike can do, and he is hacking a bit. So it’s not as robust yet. But he can get a whole new feature live in four weeks. And so I think it’s really that speed. And I think also the team, though, it’s all driven by Team ideas. So we kind of can gets the best of both where every team member can submit the best ideas. And then you know, Mike can pick an idea, bring it to life in four weeks, I think that really keeps us acting like that five-person startup.

Gene Hammett [17:51]
Is there anything else you do, you know, with the whole group of the company, it could be individually, it could be with other groups like this, but that you really are trying to encourage this entrepreneurial spirit?

Godard Abel [18:02]
Yeah, and I think we have like I said, it’s also defined in our culture, and we train on it. And I think we’re also very conscious about, you know, having them understand what it means. And part of it is always continuously questioning the status quo, and encouraging everyone to proactively seek out a change. But we also teach people to hate, you have to earn the right to do that, yes, you first have to master your craft. And you know, day one, when your new team member in G two, you first go, let’s see, want to innovate in our sales process, hey, before you innovate on it, learn the existing process, right, become best in class at it really learn the best demo. And once you’ve mastered that process, now you’re in a position to disrupt it and share ideas on how to make it much better. And so it’s really also teaching the team, you know, kind of both parties, you have to master how we’re doing things today.

Godard Abel [18:46]
But then, as you’re doing it, you know, question it and find a way to do it much better. And I think in addition to gt labs, we have also had an ideas portal. And quite many companies have that now. But there are a few ideas where they can also say, Hey, you know, I think the sales process is much better if you automate this part of the demo, you know, and so we’re also always have that mechanism where they can share the ideas. And then those ideas are uploaded, and product managers will review every idea. So there’s also an outlet for their ideas and spirit to keep flowing.

Commercial [19:15]
If you’re listening on YouTube, right now, I wanted to start off by thanking you, thank you for coming back to these videos. Maybe this your first one. But if you happen to have been around for a while and you appreciate content like this, make sure that you hit the thumbs up, give us a notification that you like it, but also subscribe, we want to make sure you don’t miss an episode, we want to keep creating content. And this helps the algorithm with us creating content that will help you be the leader that your team deserves. Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [19:43]
So we’ve been talking about, you know, what really helps drive growth for the company? Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you feel it would be important for you to share with other founders and team leads?

Godard Abel [19:53]
Yeah, I mean, I think the other thing I learned the hard way, my first company big machines and we were almost bankrupt after three years and 50 million Training like in school as more of an engineer than I was an MBA consultant. So 59 said as to theoretical, and kind of what I learned the hard way three years in, I’m like, wow if we don’t sell something, you know, we’re out of business. So I had to become the sales leader for the company. And I really had to learn and you know, we’re always in b2b businesses, but especially b2b businesses get to learn. How do you sell to appear executive? How do you communicate value?

Godard Abel [20:24]
And so ultimately, we really bottled that up. And yeah, my second company steel book was acquired by Salesforce. And that was where I also saw with Marc Benioff, I think one of the rules at Salesforce is, hey, at least 20% of the company has to be quota-carrying sales reps. And so I think for any founder, you really have to learn, hey, you need a lot of sales reps, how do you scale that? How do you motivate them? And how do you bottle up in a process that’s repeatable? But I just think that the Importance of Being sales, being able to sell yourself, and being able to be a sales leader, I think, is a skill that I’d be more technical had to learn. And I think every founder needs to learn.

Gene Hammett [21:00]
I went through a similar journey, I came from that technical background. And the only difference was I knew sales was important. And many of the opportunities I was working in, they wouldn’t allow me. Because you’re a good project manager, you need to, you know, kind of sit still and just enjoy that. And I was like, No, this is what I really wanted to do. So I appreciate you sharing that piece of your journey with us. Godard really appreciates you being on the podcast, sharing your wisdom. Thanks for being here.

Godard Abel [21:28]
Thank you, Gene. It was fun.

Gene Hammett [21:30]
What a great interview. I love talking about evolving as a leader. Even someone who’s over 50 million run rate and 250 employees sees we’ve got to evolve. Godard continues to invest in coaching. And so my question back to you is, at what point will you invest in yourself to be the leader that your team deserves, as you grow a company, it really is about you evolving as a leader more than about selling more widgets or services or products or innovation in disrupting it’s about you being the leader that drives that? I say that from a whole heart because I went through the struggles myself without evolving and this is what I do now. I dedicated my life to leaders just like you, helping them be stronger, more visionary strategic leaders when they need to be and really see what they can’t see for themselves. There’s a way that I can help you and serve you make sure you reach out to me, [email protected] When you think of leadership and you think of growth make sure you think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage.

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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