Cultural Transformation to Drive Growth with Brittany Burns at Simpler Trading
Cultural transformation is more straightforward when the company is smaller. As the company grows, any changes in culture can be complicated. Today’s guest is Brittany Burns, CEO at Simpler Trading. Inc Magazine ranked his company #3856 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Simpler Trading, assembled a team of successful trading experts knowledgeable in Options, Stocks, Forex, and Futures with over 100 years of combined market experience to create effective trainings to help you improve your trades. Brittany talks about cultural transformation and how it relates to company growth. We talk about leadership’s job in growth. This story is a powerful example of cultural transformation that allows you behind the scenes.
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Brittany Burns: The Transcript
About: Brittany Burns is a Virginia licensed attorney working with clients from start-ups to Fortune 200 companies to make complex communications and strategies efficient and digestible. With a focus on transformational leadership, Brittany helps founders and high-growth companies overcome plateaus, streamline their product suite, refine company culture, and scale to the next level.
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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.
Brittany Burns: Having a culture, because it has a lot of emotion. You have people that have built something that they are extremely proud of and they’re tied to, but also the thing people can sometimes get in the way of the scale. And there’s a lot of different ways. I’ve seen that approach in terms of, I think leaders come in and dictate if you did the clean house and start again. That’s very much like the antithesis of my leadership style.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insights 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: You know, your people are critically important to scaling. If you want to grow faster than you are right now, you can’t just work harder. You have to be able to leverage through people and you want to make sure that you’re doing this the right way today. We look at cultural transformation. That is a big word or big phrase, but it really is something that you have to consider as CEO of the company. When you think about what it takes to grow your business. The cultural transformation is about how people work together and about how people change from where they are today. To that next level. We have to go through these things every once in a while, as a company grows. And today we look at it with our special guests, the CEO of Simpler Trading, Brittany Burns, Brittany talks about what it takes to lead a company through a cultural transformation. Some of the very details behind that as being open-minded and being able to look to advisors to help you do that process. And also the humbleness that it takes to be the leader through all these changes.
You’ll love today’s interview. If you want to make sure that your people are aligned and that you are working together as a team. Now, if you are a leader and you want to make sure you are zeroing in on exactly what to do. If you were focused on letting go of control at this phase of your leadership, then you want to make sure that you have a clarity call with me. That will give you an idea of what’s getting in the way of you growing your company, you being the best leader you can be all inside that clarity call, absolutely free. I want to make sure you go to my website, GeneHammett.com, and schedule your call. When you do that, you will be set up with just answering a few questions, but also I will prepare for this conversation before we get on the call. I’ll understand. And I’ll take time to truly understand what’s getting in your way, help you get more clear about that. Inside that clarity call. We’ll help you become a stronger leader and identify exactly what to do next. And that is power. All you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com. Schedule your call. Do it today. Now here’s the interview with Brittany.
Brittany, how are you?
Brittany Burns: Good. Good. How are you doing?
Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on Growth Think Tank.
Brittany Burns: Yeah, Thank you for having me.
Gene Hammett: We have been looking at your company, looking at the impact you’re making as a CEO there. And before we dive into the all things, leadership, and culture that we normally talk about, tell us about Simpler Trading.
Brittany Burns: Yeah, Simpler Trading is a financial education platform. , we are focused on being the one-stop-shop for retail traders. And so, , what that means we offer education, and the options featured stock base as well as pools and research that to help empower, the retail trader in these ever-changing markets,
Gene Hammett: Love that, and you guys have had some incredible growth over the years, but your company is not new you’ve been around for a long time, but you’re a new CEO to this. Tell us a little bit about that story.
Brittany Burns: Yeah. So Simpler Trading were founded back in 2001 by John Carter. And for a long time, it was really just John and his way of creating some community around trading, which can be a very lonely profession. So he had left the corporate world with a full-time trader and was very, TJ tired of talking of the fish. And so he starts writing, some of his trades and making, what would a quick like blog posts, early on in his, in the company’s career. And then the company started to evolve in about 2005 – 2006 and really started to continue to scale. We started to diversify into new asset classes, add new content, provide. And discovered affiliate marketing. And that really took the company to the next level and about 2013, 2014. But around that time, that’s where we really sort of reached our plate-style and started to, even out and really just we’re hitting a lot of challenges. I think that are very typical for hybrid companies. They scaled the company from zero to about 13 million and we just sort of stopped there. And, as a founder, John reach a point of, okay, do I want to bring somebody on to help me get this to the next level? Or do I want to continue for this to be a lifestyle business? Because there’s nothing to shake a stick at $30 million a year. Like that is a great revenue. They had great EBITDA, but he really wanted to have the vision to build out truly a platform that started the retail traders also serve this content, , maker economy. That’s now starting to grow. And so he really wanted to be able to help feel that platform.
And, an insane amount of spectrum because he recognized I need to take a step back and help bring in some leadership that can help me do that. And so, that’s really kind of where I come in, and here we are.
Gene Hammett: I love that someone’s ability to say, you know, this is not my strong suit. I can take it to this point, but I need some support. And I would imagine some of the things you guys did. Clarify, a lot of stuff focused on the right things and putting people in place that allows you to create the platform and scale-up. We were never really going to dive into the steps that you did there. We wouldn’t look at your style of leadership. What you feel like has been a big part of the growth of that. If I said, what is the most important part of the growth of your company in terms of leadership? What would you say?
Brittany Burns: I would definitely say it was, the cultural transformation that we went through and about 2018. And really just that pivot to having a really strong focus on culture, defining who are we currently, who do we want to be? And how can we constantly reinforce that? I would say that in my opinion product, it is an easier thing to fix in culture. , when you have to say, Hey, we need to change our pricing. We need to change, you know, what a positioning your product, but having a culture, because it has a lot of emotion. You have people that have built something that they are extremely proud of and they’re tied to, but also those things people can sometimes get in the way of continuing to scale. And there’s a lot of different ways. I’ve seen this approach in terms of a few leaders coming in and just saying, if you did a clean house and start again, that’s very much like the antithesis of my leadership style. So I believe that, truly everyone has a place somewhere and I would like to, you know, for me, I want keep or folks. And help with me, but put them in the right seat. So that’s where really a lot of our focus for our growth was on making sure that we had just the right people in the right seat. And I’m, you know, one of the things I’m most proud of is that we, through that transformation, we didn’t let anybody go. We have a very, very high retention rate.
And so we’ve had very few employees leading from 2018 till now. And that makes me extremely proud. Developed a culture that makes people feel like they are valued and, and comfortable, and they’re growing, they have the opportunity here. And so, you know, that’s, that’s, what’s most important to me from a leadership standpoint. I mean, we honestly, we’re running a business. We need to make a profit, but work is a big part of your life. And to know that we can provide that, the base has been pretty amazing.
Gene Hammett: I love the fact that you have a high retention rate. I think a lot of people listening in to this would say, how do we improve our retention rate? But before we dive into that one question, Let’s look at this cultural transformation, Brittany, you’re an attorney, and let’s be honest. Most attorneys aren’t known for their touchy lameness and their ability to connect with people and whatnot. What do you feel like made you the right person for this, this leadership role?
Brittany Burns: Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, I think that the truth is that I was the right person for assembler at the time in their development. And so really what I think helps me because I was a new, young leader. I was a new leader I work and consulting my whole career. So you work with clients. It’s very different working with clients and managing people. And so I really came in with a very open mind and I think that helps because every company, you know, whatever my next venture is, down the line, isn’t going to be the same as simpler are not going to face any challenges Simpler facing. It will be different, you know, different people in different cultural challenges. And so I really came in with an open mind of this team has been able to get the competency to this point. So to disregard what they have to offer, I think is really short-sighted and ignorant. Even if I can bring in the best of the best from, larger companies or whatever that look like to do the job that they’re doing, they’ve gotten us here. And so they have something to offer. So where are we hitting the pick point? And I really, and it took a long time. Like this was not. We did not go into this, that in March, we’re going to have a cultural transformation in September. We’re going to be complete with our called transformation. It was building a lot of trust.
It was understanding the lack of trust came from some of the employees and why? Because it, some of it was whether it was well-founded or not. It was their experiences, the way that they felt. And so, again, the disregard that in my opinion was just being shortsighted. So it was a lot of patience and a lot of, building that trust and building those relationships. And that really allowed for us to, you know, continue to grow. Bring on new people and allow us to scale up after that.
Commentary: Brittany, just talked about an open mind. How open is your mind as the leader of a company? I find a lot of leaders are very determined about what they’re going to do next, and they really would rather just put their heads down and get the work done. But when you have an open mind, you’re willing to consider other perspectives. You’re willing to challenge the beliefs that have taken you to this far because what I know is sometimes things have to change. It’s not just more work. You have to be open to what is new and what is possible. You have to be willing to let go and try new things and you have to be willing to self-evaluate yourself about what’s getting in your own way. And sometimes you have to identify those blind spots. That’s my specialty inside my executive coaching. And if you have any questions about how I can help you or serve you, make sure you reach out to me. I’d love to help. Now back to Brittany.
Gene Hammett: I want to press into a little bit of this because you have this, this view of leadership that must be authentic and have a sense of transparency to it. How does that create the space for you to be the leader that your company deserves?
Brittany Burns: Yeah, that’s a great question, cause I, it’s definitely a balance, right? Like I think I approach things very often with a sense of humor and a sense of, especially previously could be a little bit self-deprecating and that’s something that I’ve had to learn as a leader, especially as our team, the scale, and, and we scale at our executive team is the right balance there. So it’s definitely, I don’t want to make that seem like it was easy you know, just came in and built relationships, in everyone following in lesson. But I think that obviously success breeds trust and people say, okay, like this did work, but this idea that she had. , this moving, you know, keeps us, did work. But it is always a balance too, of making sure that you are so respected that people understand that like it’s an open dialogue that it’s an open door. I want to give feedback, but then a certain point, like, okay, this is a decision we are making and we’re going to move forward. And like there’s a close in that feedback as well. And so I think the way that we’ve been able to do that is one keep very consistent communication. Well, our executive team is very lock and step and aligned. And when we don’t feel aligned, we’re very quickly to get on and make sure that we are getting realigned. And that way there’s no confusion when we’re communicating back to employees, you’re not going to hear one thing from me in a different thing from our COO.
And that can be really difficult, from my experience to have, you know, especially given the CEO that is a bit more of a visionary and is out on the road more and doing more business development and there’s an operator. And if they’re not aligned, That things can be, that can cause a lot of confusion. , and so that’s really, you know, the focus point of our tests, consistent communication, and to also have an open door, have an open, very open mind because I definitely do not know everything about this business. I did not scale it to where we were out alone, but also having, you know, drawing on the sand of, okay, we appreciate the feedback. This is how I’m moving forward. And that’s been really great for us. I think people feel like they can get feedback, but it’s also, they understand like when that line is drawn, I was like, okay, we’re backing off now. It’s soon moving forward this way.
Gene Hammett: Inside this cultural transformation that we’ve been talking about, you have probably made some mistakes in this journey. Most of them probably were recoverable. What could you share with us today that would help us understand and avoid the mistakes that you had in this journey?
Brittany Burns: Let’s dig up that stuff and then, no. I mean physically. I think for me, it was a lot of realizing that no one knows everything. And so I think I put a lot of pressure and I think a lot of CEOs that are in especially high growth situations, all of a sudden this business that you had, convention and competency. You know, becoming more than like, than what you have potentially done before. And there’s a lot of high growth. A lot of people learn at, you know, fortune 200 company and then started one that started growing. Like it’s a, a lot of people, the businesses I’ll pay thing what their, their knowledge is. And so, That has been definitely helpful. We face a lot of challenges in 2020 as leaders. So between COVID with the political landscape and with things that are happening and trends of how we support our employees, especially our employees of color are unemployed color and our minority employees. And I think for me, that was a big challenge that I such a focus on culture. I really felt the pressure of am I showing up correctly? Like, am I saying the right thing? Am I. What if I’m not, what if I’m not developing culture? That is really, that is inclusive. That is diverse. And so for about like two weeks, I put a lot of pressure on myself, a lot of sleepless nights. And I mean, truthfully, it’s a lot of fears of like, am I the right person to be doing this?
And then finally it was like, it’s okay if I don’t know that it’s not okay if I don’t go find someone does. And so we reached out and brought in a DEI agent and the, I started thinking volumes. We reach out, we’ve gotten to a point of about 40 employees. Then we’ve got BI agent. Then we hired an HR function and really just being open to feeling like you don’t have to do it on your own, and it’s okay to raise your hand for help. And that’s why it’s so important. I’ve started joining CEO groups and, you know, looking, getting coaches and things like that, because I think it gives you a perspective of everyone is looking to you are the leader, but you don’t have to know everything and no one does. And you can bring in those people that can really fill those gaps for you, especially the ones that are very important to you. Like in your core values.
Commentary: Brittany, just says “No one knows everything.” Now, this is absolutely true. And the quicker you learn that you don’t have to have all the answers, you will be a better leader because your people will understand that it’s okay to say, I don’t know. I’m not quite sure, but we’ll figure this out. All of this comes back to mindset because if you have a mindset that you have to know everything that you’re infallible, then you will begin to dominate. And really drive the business for, through your own authority. And that’s not the best way to create a fast-growth company. You want to make sure people feel empowered and saying you don’t know is the first start of that. You want to make sure that you as a leader, understand that you don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to be. But you have to be willing to look at new things and challenge yourself. Now, this relates to the last little excerpt I shared with you about having an open mind, but I want to make sure that this is really clear. I have a lot of leaders I work with that are open-minded to a point, but they really want to just put their head down and get the work done. I say that over and over because it really is a challenge. And what gets in the way, because sometimes. You’ve got to question what you’re doing and where you’re going. You’ve got a question how you were showing up for the team and many times it’s from the inside out that the solutions find their way. Make sure that you understand this. As you move forward as a leader, you’ve got any questions, reach out. Let me know back to Brittany.
Gene Hammett: I want to dive into that. Getting support outside of this, as you know, I’m an executive coach. I support. CEO’s their teams and founders. , I just came back from a retreat where I was doing a communication workshop with one of my clients, a 20 person team. And it was an incredible experience, but I think a lot of leaders see coaches and outside help as something that they, they resist because they should know the answers. , obviously, you don’t resist that. You’re very humble in this aspect without sharing the names of these groups and the coaches. What did you get from each one of those experiences that you, we could learn from?
Brittany Burns: Yeah, so I mean, I think very high, like one it’s very lonely to be a CEO of a company. And then depending on, you know, no matter what the size is, I think you feel. Sort of barriers and boundaries around like you and your relationships with your employees. And so one, it provides community, even if it’s the coach or the group because it provides somebody else that you can feel like you can vent to. Cause you’re still seeing them, like you’re still facing the same challenges and you don’t necessarily want to have that Vincent piled on them, but you don’t want to have like, you know, to communicate those frustrations maybe to your executive team. Boys and maybe lose any sort of faith. , and then, and so that definitely is one big piece, but also it does. It’s a become someone else to bounce things off of. And I know that these are probably very obvious, but as much as we all want to believe that we have like the most unique thing ever businesses are all pretty have all the furniture, same challenges. And so even though I’m a young leader, I got. Great blessing is consulting for companies from helps them start like originate their formation documents to fortune 200 companies.
And so I’ve worked across a lot of teams and their different skills and they have different impacts, but they’re all facing the same problems. And so have a group or to have someone who has. , especially the coach who works with different companies. So they see the problems come in different ways. , and just been really helpful because it can say that, you know, coach your groups and say, well, at my company or one of my client’s companies, this is how they handled it. And it gives you a new perspective of a challenge and you’ve been facing and you just help, help somebody else to help having someone else. So talk through those things with.
Gene Hammett: I could not said it better myself, because those are definitely some of the benefits, these experiences, and I’m not just talking about coaching and you’re not a client of mine. So I just want to point that out. I, I love the fact that you were humble enough to ask for support through these things, because it does pay off it’s paid off for me and the coaching experiences I’ve had. The reason I am a coach is because I went through, a period of growth where I wasn’t prepared and I got someone to help me. So appreciate you sharing that with us today. Brittany, I want to wrap up with one or two more things. Around this, you believe that being humble is a part of your own leadership that has made an impact around this cultural transformation around the impact and growth of your company when you really get into the heart of it. How has that played a role in the growth of the company?
Brittany Burns: I mean, I truly believe that at my employees, they trust me. They understand that I am going to make mistakes. And when I do, it’s going to, I’m going to earn them. And so with that, I think that they feel more empowered to be, to take chances, and make mistakes as well. While we have a hundred employees, we are still very scrappy. We are still relatively young in our growth. In terms of like how much we stand in the past three years compared to the first 14. And so we are really, you know, it’s important. We’re putting a lot of responsibility onto employees that actually they not, might not be prepared for it yet either. And so to be able to leave, I’d be able to say, I don’t know how to handle this right now, but we’re going to go and find out we’re going to go find the right people that can help with handle and then to, to really push that up. The top-up has really helped our employees to take more chances. And what they’re doing to admit when mistakes are made, we had incidences where they not they’ve been costly mistakes that have been made.
And I think what we’re most proud of is I’ve never had an employee that offended me and said this happened and like, I need help. And I don’t know what to do in not being afraid of, am I going to be fired? Should I try to hide this? Really having that trust, that employees feel that they can, you know, raise things up without having to worry about their jobs. Like I know it sounds, sounds very obvious, but if you’re not really leading in and showing that through your leadership and showing that you don’t know everything, but, you know, you know, obviously again, the balance of instilling confidence and faith, but really living that, truthfully, it, it won’t trickle down. And I think that’s really been paramount to our stats and in our growth.
Gene Hammett: Well, Brittany, I appreciate you being here, and thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Brittany Burns: Thank you so much for having me.
Gene Hammett: We’ll have a recap here for those listening in what did we learn in today’s episode, but really it was about leadership and leadership comes in many different flavors, but you want to make sure that you understand leadership is the core foundation of anything you’re going to do in your company. The cultural transformations that are necessary as a company make a pivot, not just in product, but in people, but also being open to, looking at things to other ways, being open to other advisors, helping you, and supporting you. And finally. Being humble enough to really understand and create an environment where people feel safe in their work. They feel connected. And remember that whole conversation about retention. You have better retention when all these things are in place. So that’s my reflection on today’s episode, if you are a leader looking to take it to the next level, and you’re not quite sure what that next level looks like, let me help you.
I have a clarity call where I can help you zero in on what’s getting in the way of your leadership in the growth. And in that call is absolutely free, but to help you become the best leader, you can be the one that your team craves. Being empowered to increase the value of your company. All at the same time, just register your clarity call, go to GeneHammett.com and you can schedule your call right away. When you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. 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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