Leaders often talk about why transparency is important. However, the absolute truth is that each leader has a “transparency line,” which is how much openness they are comfortable with. In my hundreds of interviews with fast-growth companies, you will see a typical pattern in companies that make transparency a central part of their culture. Our guest is Todd Ablowitz, Co-CEO, and Co-founder of Infinicept. His company was #95 on the 2020 Inc 500 list. Infinicept is recognized as the second fastest-growing software company on the list. Todd gives you many reasons why transparency is important. We discuss the power of vulnerability. Transparency is important for fast-growth and to provide a basis for trust across the organization.
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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.
Dozens of families that, that rely on income from a fitness app that dozens of people who spend a good chunk of their waking life thinking about how to move, and fitness up forward. So they’re first on my mind.
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 [0:33]
Transparency is one of those words that a lot of people think they have in the organization and their culture. But when you really start talking about it, there’s a lot of secrets going on, the more secrets you have, the less transparent you actually are as an organization. And when you have a transparency line that kind of airs toward there’s a lot of secrets, then you don’t have the kind of ownership and the feeling across the culture that is necessary for you to continue growing. I truly believe this because I’ve talked to a lot of founder CEOs around the importance of transparency, what that means. I’ve shared about this on stages, where I give keynotes to different organizations to help them understand how to make culture a competitive advantage. But when you think about your transparency inside your organization, it’s not just about sharing the financials, it’s about sharing other aspects to it about really being candid with each other, where necessary. When you think about moving to the next level, I want you to think about transparency and where your transparency line is. My guest today is the co-CEO Todd Ablowitz he is the company they have is Infinicept, they were number 95 on the Inc list over 3,600% growth rate in the last three years, 40 employees, I give you the stats, because I want you to understand that the level of this company, they’re not too big, but they’re not tiny. But they believe transparency has been one of the critical factors that is aligned them together, and also connected them through tough times like COVID, but also through other things that they have to get done. growing fast is not easy. When you run a fast-growth company. We put in there some of the details about what transparency looks like where that line is, and where what is allowed to be transparent. And what is something you still hold back?
Gene Hammett [2:14]
Well, all that inside this episode anymore. When you are a leader pushing to the next level, sometimes it feels lonely, sometimes you feel like your team needs to step up and you’re spending a lot of plates, I totally get it. But when you think about your own leadership and you want to go to the next level, maybe it’s time to talk to an executive coach. My name is Gene Hammett. I work with founder CEOs of companies that want to grow fast, aligned together their teams, and it takes a different style of leadership to make that happen. You’re open for conversation, make sure you reach out to me go to genehammett.com. There are some resources I have there for you, you can check out what I stand for. And if it’s a good fit, I’d love to hear from you. Now, here’s the interview with Todd.
Gene Hammett [2:52]
Todd, how are you?
Todd Ablowitz [2:54]
Gene Hammett [2:55]
Excited to have you here on Growth Think Tank to talk about growth culture and fast growth leadership. I’d love for you to let us know a little bit more about Infinicept.
Todd Ablowitz [3:05]
Infinicept is a software company with consulting as well that helps payments go your way. What that means is lots of software companies out there adding payments into what they offer. So if you think of the software that runs a restaurant, everyone goes to a restaurant everyone pays at a restaurant used to be that that restaurant would get their payment services from a bank or from a processor. And very often now the restaurants get the payment services from the software company that runs their point of sale. So those point of sale companies or our customers, we help him get payments going their way.
Gene Hammett [3:42]
Well, I appreciate you give us that contacts. You made the Inc list this past year. Number 95 is pretty impressive over 3,000% growth rate in three years. What was the first feeling you had when you reach that? That level of growth,
Todd Ablowitz [3:58]
For the incredible team members of the company, the customers who got us there, we don’t get that growth without customers and our shareholders who participated in helping us be in a position to have happy customers with all that growth?
Gene Hammett [4:17]
Well, you mentioned the team members first is that because the team members are such a critical part of scaling a company to this pace.
Todd Ablowitz [4:24]
By far the most important part, we like to think in those three buckets, the team members, the customers, and the shareholders. But we have dozens of families that rely on income from a fitness app that dozens of people spend a good chunk of their waking life thinking about how to move in fitness up forward. So they’re first on my mind.
Gene Hammett [4:50]
So about 40 employees. One of the things that you have done from a leadership and culture standpoint is you have really focused on a certain aspect of that, which is transparency. Why is transparency so important for the growth of your company?
Todd Ablowitz [5:05]
Well, the first thing is we should talk about our core values. If you want to understand where transparency comes from, it comes from our core values. And we have five core values that every employee knows, and could answer at any time, do the right thing be excellent, because perfect is impossible, have integrity, act like an adult, and eat and drink well. And the reason we took in the concept here of transparency, it permeates many of those things. Obviously, without transparency, you cannot have integrity. You can’t be honest if you’re not transparent, but when we talk about being excellent, but perfect is impossible. If your goal is perfection, you’re very likely not to be transparent with your weaknesses, not to be transparent with the errors you make. So transparency, will I’m sure we’ll talk a lot about this, but it is permeated so many aspects of our company and really become who we are.
Now, hold on for a second, Todd just mentioned his core values and how important they are to the organization as a whole. When you think about your core values, is this something that you have talked about in the past? Or is it something that comes up every day? Well, the organizations that have a ritual around their core values that they’re discussed, every day, people are recognized for it, there are rituals that allow them to truly experience what it’s like to live the values, they actually perform at a higher level, from what I’ve seen, when you think about your core values, it really is something to guide employees to make decisions, when you’re not in the room, you want to make sure that they know what’s expected of them. This is one way to reinforce that. And you want to do it over and over again, you want to be consistent about that. There are many different techniques I’ve shared in this, check out some of the solo episodes on the podcast, make sure you go ahead and subscribe to don’t miss an episode of Growth Think Tank. Now back to Todd.
Gene Hammett [6:59]
So how would you define where you draw the line on your transparency?
Todd Ablowitz [7:04]
There are things that aren’t helpful, it’s not helpful to talk to one employee about another employee’s performance review, that’s not appropriate or helpful. They’re things that are not prudent to talk about. But the line should be if it was printed in the New York Times, would you be just fine with it being there and be proud of the way you acted? And in all aspects?
Gene Hammett [7:37]
Do you share a full perspective of the financials across the company?
Todd Ablowitz [7:43]
Full, I mean that our you know, our board meetings have dozens and dozens and dozens of pages. But every employee, every shareholder knows where we stand knows the key metrics of where we need to go knows what the ingredients are to get us there and how they can help to do that. So I would say, I think what you’re really asking me to answer is yes.
Gene Hammett [8:04]
And do you also have the kind of transparency across leadership where feedback is welcomed, whether it be from a junior person to a senior person, you know, across different ranks, the kinds of conversations you have is that the kind of transparency that you kind of have, and really want to have inside your culture?
Todd Ablowitz [8:24]
It’s essential to have that level of transparency and there has to be a vulnerability. If you’re, if you’re going for excellence, you have to recognize you’re not perfect, which means you have to be a little bit vulnerable and listen to the feedback from wherever it comes. We have done 360s my co because I have a co-founder and co CEO who has equal ownership and equal control of the company. I run demand, all things that create demand, and she runs fulfillment of things that fulfill that demand. And so we did 360s on ourselves and took it incredibly seriously. And we do the same thing up and down the organization. The feedback is welcome. We do all hands, we do skip levels. And we really encourage everyone to listen to what people are saying it doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to be right. But you have to take those ingredients and incorporate them in every aspect. Not just employees, but customers, shareholders, board meetings, etc.
Gene Hammett [9:29]
Todd, you mentioned skip-level meetings, maybe not everyone knows what that is, can you share with us how that works for you.
Todd Ablowitz [9:34]
That would be when a manager meets with someone who reports to one of their direct reports. So that would skip the level of the manager, not in any honest way just as something that’s healthy it’s or management by walking around just sitting down next to COVID times it’s not sitting down maybe but sitting down next to an engineer or a support Dev and just having a chat half the time. It’s personal and how are things going in your job?
Gene Hammett [10:03]
You know, a lot of people in corporate America have resisted that because it’s going over their heads. I never really understood it until I understood the seriousness of the politics within corporate America. And but politics and the size of the company, you have just there’s no place for that kind of politics. Is that fair to say?
Todd Ablowitz [10:22]
I think every company has politics. Politics is the study of how humans interact with one another. And there’s probably a better scientific description, but there’s always politics. The point is, is it? Is it benign? Or is it harming the organization? Yeah, understanding human dynamics, you can’t expect people not to have feelings you can’t expect people not to have Coalition’s and frankly, there’s a lot that’s good about that. It’s good for people to have the meeting before the meeting. It’s good to prepare people and not surprise them, or gang up in some way. But the politics of large organizations, when it becomes more important than the core business, that can be a problem. Not every organization has it to that degree. But I’ve certainly seen it many, many times. But I caution smaller, fast-growing companies to think they don’t have it because it’s there. And what I would encourage is openness, if you’re doing a skip level that is not trying to get a gotcha on a manager. And it’s not a secret. It’s not a secret that it’s happening. And the content that’s shared shouldn’t be a secret, and nobody should be. Nobody should be afraid of that. It should just be part of the conversion process.
Gene Hammett [11:41]
I agree. You know, one of the things I want to ask you about this, this transparency, what would we see across your organization, if we witness the kind of transparency that really has helped you guys grow?
Todd Ablowitz [11:54]
Well, the best example I would give is when we started in March, we were raising money. And I think we finalized our plan on March 7, after our February 20 board meeting. And everyone, everything shut down on March 15. And we had to continue to execute our, our plan during the very worst and scariest times of COVID. And so when we did that we did this in areas of if it was bad, and if it was really bad, what would we do and we identify that we didn’t have to do layoffs, we needed to moderate our expectations. And we needed to hit certain objectives, we had to raise the money, we had to do a certain amount with how much sales we would get, we had to do a certain amount of being conservative with our cash. And so we got everyone together, we told them exactly what that was, this is what we need to do, here are the three things that we have to accomplish. And we’ll keep updating you every couple of weeks or month on how we’re doing towards and every single person in the company knew what we had to do.
Todd Ablowitz [13:04]
They knew how much we had to raise. They knew what those milestones needed to be. They knew what we had to do in terms of getting our customers, keeping our customers not losing, we thought we might lose some customers. We didn’t actually, but we thought we might. And the punchline is that during March, April and May, although we had one engineer who got very, very sick and was on a respirator, it felt like the whole company was on in the hospital at that time. But the fact is the team came together, everyone talked about what was going on, everyone knew what the objectives were, we didn’t lay off a single person. And we are in a position now. Where we’re growing again, we had, I don’t even know how many, maybe 10 new hires that we’re in the midst of.
Gene Hammett [13:51]
One of the things I want to go into that is, you know, COVID had some specific challenges around culture. And in many of that kind of transparency is a little bit harder, because you’re not having as many meetings you don’t have as many impromptu kinds of experiences with people. How did you guys and keep this kind of transparency going through the shutdown? If you will.
Todd Ablowitz [14:14]
We answered the questions. We encourage the question, we talked to the managers, we encourage the managers to talk to their people. We were taking one on one conversations, we were calming fears and answering questions, and also saying that we don’t have control of this. There are things completely out of our control. And we don’t know what the future will hold. Here’s the best information we have at this time. And we know what we know. And we know that we can do A, B, and C over the next 30 days, the next 60 days. If that changes, you’ll be the first to know.
Todd just said something about answering the question. One of the things that you can do to really connect yourself to others is to open yourself up to questions and not limited. A lot of leaders want the questions to be focused are they One thing to be submitted in advance, you want the kind of transparency that allows people to ask difficult questions and even encourages them to ask difficult questions. If you have to have some people that will get the ball rolling to ask those difficult questions, you want to make sure that some of the issues that are kind of running around the company that you want to get out of ahead of are someone asked those questions, answering questions of your employees may sound like something that, you know, of course, everyone does this, but do you take time to actually do this in a way that moves the company forward? Is what you’re doing working? If you don’t have the right answer to that, not getting what you really want out of it. And make sure you look at yourself and say what needs to change? How do we need to operate this in a way that makes this beneficial to everyone, back to Todd?
Gene Hammett [15:45]
Love that. I think a lot of leaders are so busy with the work. And they’re so busy with the projects and the clients and the milestones and raising money and sales and all that stuff that they really take the time to lead. But what you’re describing to me, Todd is leading the people has been a very central part of why you guys are where you are, from a growth standpoint. It’s a fair?
Todd Ablowitz [16:07]
Gene, I’m a little uncomfortable only in that it’s always a journey, we have to do the plate spinning that every entrepreneur has to do. We’ve had several areas, we had the era where my co-founder, and I each had solo consulting companies, originally. And then we had the era where we came together and then we had an assistant. And then one day we had enough people that people were getting confused about what other people were doing. And we had to like, you know, knock some heads together and be like, we need to have some meetings, I know you hate meetings, but we need to have some meetings to be coordinated. And we then had the era of going from eight people to 40 people in a year. And the chaos that goes along with that. So we have every bit of the plate spinning, and every bit of the failures of leadership that you have when you’re spinning all those plates, but we care about it. And we have the intention of making it happen. And despite the times that we get it wrong, we do think we get it right.
Before we go much further, I wanted to remind you that we have a YouTube channel, if you want to go to genehammett.com/YouTube, you can get some videos that we only put on YouTube, we’re growing that channel over there, you can find some of the interviews, you can find a lot of the solo episodes, but you can find some content that you won’t find anywhere else, just by going to genehammett.com/YouTube. Make sure you do that now.
Gene Hammett [17:30]
Well, I can appreciate your honesty, there, we’re all plates spinning around this thing to grow a business to the patient have when we talk about leadership and culture, we’ve been talking about transparency, so much Is there anything else that you would get to chime in on as being something that moves the needle for you guys?
Todd Ablowitz [17:48]
You can’t pretend you care. Like, you know, if they don’t care, either, they certainly they wouldn’t belong in our culture. But there has to be a genuine desire if you want if you can’t put on a culture of transparency, and also be a command and control, you know, kind of heartless leadership that you know, there are companies like that, and some people thrive in just numbers basis, I saw one of the famous I forget which one of the famous speakers, you know, at a conference 15 or 20 years ago, and he talked about there being you know, a few types of leaders, there’s, there are visionary leaders, there are people leaders, and there’s numbers, leaders, and I’d like to strive for some more, you know, certainly people and ideally some visionary things, but if it’s purely the leader of a number, and that is the DNA of your organization, don’t try to put lipstick on it.
Todd Ablowitz [18:48]
You can tell from my language, I don’t really agree with it. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Some organizations or, some industries might thrive with that. I would just encourage you to know, with transparency comes the honest intention of like, you gotta mean it people see right through it, that people will tell if you’re phoning it in, or you know that that’s, that’s the first thing. The second thing I think I’m going to add to it is I would really encourage other business leaders to listen to their teams if their teams are, are often younger, especially in fast-growing companies that tend to attract a younger demographic, listen to what the young, the youngest in your company, and the coalitions are what people are talking about socially, because it’s incredibly, incredibly important. They’re going to be the leadership of the country of the world in a number of years, and feeding into it, but also learning from them. You know, and a great example is the Black Lives Matter movement. And it’s not to get your podcast political, but we had to listen to To our team, and we wanted to listen to we were very transparent about our feelings. When these things started to come up, we had an all-team meeting and, and God, every single employee who wanted to be involved in the discussion involved.
Gene Hammett [20:14]
Love that, you know, it was a very difficult time, you know, COVID on top of COVID, which was the Black Lives Matter. And I think all of us leaders, the biggest thing we could have done was listen. And so the fact that you wanted to do that goes back to number one, you can’t pretend you care. Because that wouldn’t have gone off. Well, if you were just pretending to just put it together?
Todd Ablowitz [20:35]
Well, I would say that first of all, I would gently correct that it’s not in the past tense. I think it’s its present tense that we have to be thinking about this every day. And we’re two white men having a manual talking about this. And that’s okay because there are only two people here. But the reality is that we have to think about how can we be proactive? How can we it’s not just, you know, making sure panels have the right demographics on it? It’s not just, you know, putting an EEOC line at the bottom of your of your of your job postings. We’ve got to be proactive and going and looking for diverse experiences and views. Because you, you have a better company if you do it. And I’d like to say, gee, we’re not, we’re not succeeding there yet. We have a giant amount of work to do. And we’re asking for help from everywhere we can get it from colleagues and, and friends and from consultants, and from job boards and from nonprofits everywhere we can to try and improve our equity, inclusion, and diversity.
Gene Hammett [21:50]
Totally agree with you, Todd, thanks for being here to share your wisdom about leadership and really talking about transparency. I appreciate it.
Gene Hammett [21:57]
So this wraps up another great episode of the podcast, I just want to remind you that the topics we talked about today are to be really considered and for you to take time to think about transparency, what that means. Where do you draw the line, listening to leaders like Todd talk about what really matters is a part of your own growth and taking the time to act on it is a part of that too. One of the things I do as an executive coach working with founders’ CEOs is helping them see the blind spots, helping them go beyond where they are today. If you have any questions about that, make sure you reach out to me, as always, lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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