Leadership is not just about getting the job done. It is about developing others. Another way to say that is helping others be successful. Today’s guest is Sean Mooney, Founder & CEO at BluWave. Inc Magazine ranked his company #127 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. BluWave is a business intelligence network powered by technology, data, and human ingenuity. Sean talks about a fundamental principle that drives him as a leader — helping others be successful. We discuss the importance of serving others.
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Sean Mooney: The Transcript
About: Sean is the Founder and CEO of BluWave where he leads overall strategy and related sales, marketing, and operational activities. Sean is a ~20-year veteran of the private equity industry. Prior to founding BluWave, he was a Partner and member of the Investment Committee of SFW Capital Partners, a leading middle market private equity firm in New York specializing in information, data, and network enabled businesses. At SFW, he managed the origination, assessment, execution, and ongoing support of portfolio company investments. He serves on the Board of Directors of Sachem Inc. and previously served on the Board of Directors of AGDATA, MD Buyline, Spectro Scientific, Ampac Packaging, FTI, and Alpha Sintered Metals. Sean received his MBA from Columbia Business School and BSBA from Georgetown University.
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.
Sean Mooney: [00:00:00] I think the coaching world is one of the more underused toolboxes in business, , and something that we promote and champion with a lot of our clients. And, , one of the things that kind of struck me is since it’s the NFL season, we all have our favorite quarterback Drew Brees, who was amazing as a good Austin, Texas person. So I can, I can particularly appreciate the helmet in the background. And if you think about your favorite NFL coach or any name, your boards or business star, et cetera. , and Drew Brees has probably 5, 6, 7 coaches when he was in the NFL. And so it was Tom Brady. Why can’t a business leader have one. And it’s this idea and in certainly I’m, I’m feeling it in real time. Now, starting in leading a company, it can be the loneliest job in the world, your board we usually work for. And everyone else in your company kind of works to you. And there’s no sounding board to the left or right. And so I think coaches are tremendously valuable because A, they get to see thousands of things over hundreds of other executives, do they [00:01:00] get to see how the problems haven’t been solved before? And they also give you an independent perspective. That’s outside of the echo chamber of life that most of us know. And, and I think in both of those cases kind of, you know, can and are tremendously valuable to anyone. So why not make your life make life simpler by making sense?
Intro: 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: My guest today, coined his whole approach to business as the karma school of business. And I really love this concept because he really does have a different perspective on what does it take to be successful. Now we’re talking with the founder of BluWave. There are B2B marketplace for private equity firms and others inside of that world that are looking for funding and looking for the right company at the right time. And we talked with Sean Mooney about, , [00:02:00] helping others be successful. And this whole concept comes from that karma school of business that I mentioned earlier, but helping others be successful is something he believes works. He’s seen it work for himself. And he said, these exact words, helping others be successful means the numbers will take care of themselves. And so he truly believes that without, any, you know, hooks and without any intention, if he helps others get what they want to be successful and serve them, that he will actually grow from that altruistically selflessly, but also they’ll have an impact to the bottom line. And that’s what we look at inside today’s episode. So I think you’ll find this interesting helping others be successful.
When you’re thinking about your next step as a leader, my hope is that you know exactly what’s next. That, you know, leading powerfully is necessary for whatever phase you’re about to encounter. And we want to make sure that you are prepared for leading powerfully in everything that you do. When you think about leading powerfully, hopefully, you know that there’s some areas where you can prove you there’s areas where you can actually take a [00:03:00] step forward. Maybe it’s being more confident. Maybe it’s being more courageous. Maybe it’s letting go. Or maybe it’s just the way you think about your energy and the management. All of these things are topics for our conversation. If you wanna have a chat with an executive coach and you can call me your executive coach, I’d love to help you do that. If you’re the founder of a company and want to grow faster, want to actually be an extraordinary leader that I want to help you figure out what your plan is. And my suggestion is go ahead and go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call inside that Robin conversation that is very unique and different help you unlock. What’s getting in your way, help you figure out how to move forward. We’ll create a plan together so that you can execute on that plan. Or if you are interested, we’ll talk about how we could work together. That’s what I love to do is help you succeed. And the irony of this, this whole episode is about helping others be successful. And that’s exactly the way I live my life as a coach. So all that being said, if you want to have that conversation, just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. Now here’s the interview with Sean,
Sean, how are you?
Sean Mooney: I’m doing great. Gene. How about yourself?
Gene Hammett: I am fantastic side to have you on the podcast to talk about [00:04:00] growth and leadership. When you, when we set up this episode, we’d done some research on the company. Not only are we a fast-growth company was at 127. That’s pretty impressive growth over the last three years.
Sean Mooney: 127 it’s a, it’s been a long, it’s, it’s been, a lot of lessons learned along the way, but we’ve, we’ve, , managed to figure a few things out.
Gene Hammett: Well, I’d love for you to tell us about the company because that does matter what context you’re in. So tell us about BluWave.
Sean Mooney: So BluWave, is, is like, I think many entrepreneurs, the problem. That I solve for myself, the toy that I wish I always had. So I was in the private equity industry before founding BluWave. And every day I needed to use and work with excellent third parties to assess companies and build companies and value promise. They’re very hard to use because every need was different. And so I decided what if there were this company that was like this magic toolbox, where we could connect business leaders, business builders with the most excellent third party. that we’re the exact fit for their exact needs at the exact time they needed and said, wow, this would solve all my problems. And so I went ahead and did them. So what we do is we connect the world’s [00:05:00] leading private equity funds and their portfolio company, leadership shift, teens and proactive, independent companies with the exact third parties. They needed the exact times they need them. So think of us like a very highly curated business-to-business marketplace. Almost like a Gardner quadrant meets Yelp on steroids for business.
Gene Hammett: I love that concept and I know it wasn’t easy for you to get this started. You had some tough goings in the beginning, so it wasn’t just like, oh, a rocket ship from the beginning. Tell us beginning.
Sean Mooney: Yes. So this was a, as I shared, I was when I was starting off, I had this great job at, , one of the top private equity funds in the country, in New York and, and made this leap of faith. Pursue a childhood dream, really to be an entrepreneur. I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family and had this idea that I actually pressure tested with probably 50 to 60 different groups, private equity funds, company leaders, service providers in the space. And I thought I had it all figured out and I figured how hard could this be to start something from nothing. , and I jumped into, you know, off the proverbial cliff and entrepreneurship got the business going, started to go get customers. [00:06:00] And they all said, I love what it does, but I don’t like this. And I don’t like that. And, , you know, talk to us later. And so for the first year, we essentially did almost zero revenue and it caused me to have nearly a heart attack every night. I would talk to my wife every night. What have I done? What have I done? What have I done? This is crazy. , and we almost went out of business.
Gene Hammett: Well, I think a lot of people can relate to that journey because it hasn’t been easy for most of the listeners to get where they are. , maybe they have had moments where it was really easy, but it’s more like a roller coaster than it than like a, you know, bicycle ride.
Sean Mooney: That’s exactly right. It’s I tell my friends, you know, everyone was incredulous and kind of shocked that I did what I did. It was not something that was typically done. And the industry, at least that I, , came from and I tell them I have the highest highs and the lowest lows, usually three or four times a day, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So, you know, versus where I came from is utterly satisfying. But, , but it does cause a rather manic existence.
Gene Hammett: So things a little bit different now, as you’ve [00:07:00] grown the company, you’ve got a little bit more positioning and people understand that you’re this B2B B2B marketplace. You have built a team around you. But you have some special views of leadership and I would love for you to leave it open and share with us what you see it takes to be successful in leading others.
Sean Mooney: Yeah. One of the, one of the things that I think got me or guided me throughout probably most of my career is this kind of concept or, or, or philosophy that I’ve coined the karma school of business. And it, it’s this idea that if you do good things with and for good people, the world tends to take care of itself. And it’s this idea. If you keep things simple, the world becomes simpler. You make more withdrawals, more deposits than withdrawals. There’s inherent value in that. And people appreciate it and it may not be the fastest kind of road to Rome, but it’s the most certain in and highest expected value path of getting there. And, and it took me a long time to kind of figure that out. And certainly, I’ve probably learned every [00:08:00] lesson three times the hard way.
Gene Hammett: You’ve said something in there that I want to make sure we understand this really is about helping others be successful. And I have a conversation similar. Like it seems, it feels like two or three times a week. Your job as a leader is not just to get the work done, but to help others grow and be successful. Where does that come from your perspective?
Sean Mooney: For me, well, it probably started like a lot of people in childhood. I grew up in a, in big family and we didn’t have a lot as kids and my parents didn’t grow up with much. And so you had to kind of work together to make things happen. And it was this philosophy. You know, really just do good things. And so we, as a family would take in foster kids and we would work for a number of charitable things and his life got better for us. We gave him more and it kind of crystallized for me that this idea that if you, you know, the world kind of comes full circle and then we’ve also seen, you know, people that don’t do that and they take shortcuts and they maybe burn people and inevitably the world catches up in. So I kinda saw things. You not [00:09:00] only as a kid, but as I developed professionally, is this idea of there’s almost selfish altruism. Even if you can’t see the value of helping others, which, which I did even selfishly there’s value in it because you just get along further by helping other people out and letting them help you and, and just doing good things. It just makes things so much simpler. And I think that you know, like anything, a lot of that starts with the way we grew up.
Gene Hammett: How does this help the bottom line?
Sean Mooney: In terms of, from, from us, I can tell you by focusing on just helping other piece successful, it’s led to dramatic growth. And one of the, one of the, I think greatest examples is last year with COVID when COVID hit, you know, our clients, everyone just pulled in the rain it’s are our revenue. Almost hit rock bottom. And what we decided was, well, if there’s, if there’s no, if there’s really not business to be done, because everyone pulled into sales and was trying to figure out what’s going on, why don’t we just focus on helping our clients succeed? And so what we did. We’ve put together virtual forums where they could problem-solve together, executives, [00:10:00] who we knew who were out of jobs for the first time in their career. We just started introducing it to people we knew who could get them back in and in jobs, we started working with the industry association to try to get people mobilized. We, we worked with. The local food bank whose demand went to, you know, when skyrocketing and their donations went on the zero. And we just said, why don’t we just focus on doing something that helps others? Because we know this is, this is going to be ultimately helpful to us, if nothing, but if nothing else is helpful to others more, and mostly it’s helpful to others. And what happened. Is our businesses skyrocket after that.
Everyone appreciates it. Cause we, we went and we just went out to help people and we didn’t ask for anything in return. And when the world started kind of, you know, that when we looked up and saw that the sky wasn’t going to hit us on the forehead and we could get through this and everyone else did, people came back to us in droves and they started asking me, Hey, how can we help you guys? And the business just took off and it was, it was pretty amazing and it was kind of a, you know, our whole business and the whole founding was putting two people together [00:11:00] that can lead to successful business interaction. And we just pointed that in a different direction. And it ultimately paid dividends for not only others but ourselves.
Gene Hammett: I’m kind of curious, you mentioned a lot of different things you did. What did you feel like had the biggest payoff?
Sean Mooney: It’s a good question. I think it was. Really just this, this selfless point of how can we help you be successful and not asking for anything in return. And don’t get me wrong. You can’t be a pushover in life or business and you can’t just, you know, constantly give, give, give, and the world is a two-way street, but just this idea of how can we, how can we help you? That was, it was just very simple. And, you know, I, I grew up in Texas, so I think I only know how to communicate through cliches and metaphors, but it was just this idea of the elite. I found if you keep life simple, it becomes simpler. And that’s all we said we’re gonna do. Just make other people successful in people appreciated it and remembered us for and it leads to business.
Commentary: Hold on, Sean just talked about being selfless and not asking for anything in return. I find that this takes a lot of courage because a lot of people want to make sure they’re not being taken advantage of. They want to make sure that they’re setting out the [00:12:00] expectations. And if I do this for you, you’ll do that. The quid pro quo approach to business. Well, here’s what I find in that, that sometimes that can work. But most of the time when you’re selfless. It works very efficiently and it works efficiently because you have no need for or expectations for what is in return. You just give, when I’m having coaching conversations that I gift people to, to help them figure out through a tough situation. I don’t hope that there’ll be a client. I hope to serve them. I hope to really change the way they see their world. Hopefully, they’ll get more clear about what they’re doing. And that’s what I’ve done over the last 10 years. And I’d love to, for you to really think about what that means for your own leadership, whether it’s your marketing or something inside your company is really thinking about not asking for anything in return, but just being leader to serve them. This whole episode is about helping others be successful. This is another step in that journey. Now back to Sean.
Gene Hammett: Love the story here. I want to turn the focus back on the employees. Like you, you have a team behind you. You wouldn’t be where you are without this team. Every founder I [00:13:00] know can really give recognition to the others around them. Is that fair to say?
Sean Mooney: Oh, a hundred percent. This business or electric to me, we would have been out of business a long time ago.
Gene Hammett: Visionaries have their skills and you had this visionary idea, but we have people behind you. So helping others succeed, what does that look like inside your leadership?
Sean Mooney: So the first thing that we do is hire right. We spend a lot of time bringing in people who we think can be successful in our business. And it’s a, you know, we’re, you know, like every business, we have our unique things. And so my job during the hiring process is to convince people not to come working for us. And so I, I come in, here’s all the reasons why you shouldn’t work for us, but if you like these things, you’re going to love us. And so if you get the right people on the bus, you know, to quote Collins where you’re going to your. And then the next thing that we try to do, and it’s kind of a, some ways uncommon, common sense is we ask her employees and we ask our leaders, what can we do to be better? What [00:14:00] can we do to help them succeed and make them part of the process? And, you know, that’s, that’s hard for a lot of people who joined here from other companies, you know, they say, what, what, what can we do to make you successful? And it’s unsettling because they don’t want to shit. They don’t want to tell you that they want to, it’s uncomfortable for them to say, well, here’s what I really want.
And then they find out if they ask for it, we make it happen, you know, within reason and with an actionability. And as they kind of see that happen, they get that trust. And then suddenly they’re advocating not only for the company, but for themselves. And if you make, we try to make it a two ways street and the more you do that, you know, the, it becomes this, you know, symphony that you know of, of people kind of helping each other and kind of also living this karma school business, helping others to help yourself to help others. And, and it’s a flywheel effect.
Gene Hammett: I’m gonna take this into that realm of an example. When someone you’ve asked that question, what can we do to help you be successful? What did they ask for that? You were able to give them and the impact it made.
Sean Mooney: It’s it’s, it’s really interesting. And so, as a, as a growing business, You know, for instance, we brought on a new [00:15:00] marketing person and we were using a marketing stack that was probably reaching us end and, you know, brand new person. He was probably not a totally wanting to come in and for a big budget request day one. And I said, well, what, what can we give you, make you helpful? He goes, why do we need. So, okay. Tell me why it’s going to be help, why it’s going to help us. He gave it, gave us the examples and we had a use case and I said, let’s do it. And so we did it and it’s been tremendously successful. , it’s this idea of, you know, it’s this idea of share what you can, what you need, tell us why it can, it has an ROI. And then let’s go ahead and do it. And, and maybe another example I, I love is every day, it’s little things too. You know, one of the. Every year, we, we include everyone in our, in our strategic planning process in, in most of our best examples come from kind of the, you know, the, the most junior folks who just joined because they’d get fresh eyes. But one of the things that, that we show every year at the beginning of the strategic planning process is this clip from better off dead my generation and others kind of, it resonates for them.
They’ve never seen it or heard of it, but [00:16:00] there’s this great scene where Lane Meyer, who’s the main characters on top of this mountain and he’s looking down in a ski mountain and he’s kind of a, you know, a semi-good skier and he looks down and he goes talking to his kind of romantic interest Monique. And he, he goes, look at this hill, how can we go down this. We’re going to, if I go down to someone to die, get killed and, and Monique says, it’s real easy. You just go down the hill really, really fast at something gets in your way turn. And she goes down right. Fast and beautifully skiis down. And Lane goes, well, how hard can it be? And he jumps down and immediately tumbles the whole way and falls down and, and, and he gets up and, you know, and they learn said, oh, you know, I can, I can get this. And then 30 movie seconds later, he’s skiing like, like a champ. And so the other thing we try to encourage. You know where it’s okay to take risks, it’s okay to fail. But when you fall, let’s fall small, and course correctly.
Commentary: Now Sean, just said something really interesting, we include everyone in the strategic planning process. Now your company may be too big to include everyone, but you want to include a lot of people into this process because it goes back to the principle of inclusion I [00:17:00] study. What makes people feel a sense of ownership across their company without financial tools. One of those aspects and principles is inclusion. When people are included in the strategic planning process, they have a better sense of ownership of what does it take to reach the goal? What does it take to overcome challenges in front of them? What happens when the process has to change or evolve? They take ownership of that, but if you hand them the strategic plan and say, go execute on it, there’s just something missing there. So you want to include people into that process. This works across when you’re setting the values that work when you’re talking about the mission and the vision of the company, this talks it works really across anything you want to make sure you’re including people. So you are getting their buy-in, it’s much easier to get buy-in if they’re included than after the fact back to Sean,
Gene Hammett: I’ve just done another interview where they talk. Failure is okay Yeah. And, and really the whole episode was around the sense of ownership and people having an entrepreneurial spirit. And what you’re saying is a very similar thing as well.
Sean Mooney: It is. Cause I think if you’re going to make people successful or [00:18:00] empower them to, to help themselves be successful, you have to give them the ability to, to fail. But I also, you don’t want to give them. The ability to fail massively because that doesn’t help anyone. So we have the saying, if you’re going to fail, if you’re going to fall off a small, you know, let’s do micro checks, let’s go, you know, we do these things called OODA loop, where it’s just constant iteration and constant AB testing. And, and don’t get locked into one course and micro-adjust the whole time. So it’s kind of like, it’s okay to fail, but you know, let’s, let’s not, let’s not just run into a brick wall if we don’t have to as well.
Gene Hammett: So I would imagine. Pretty good team around what you have, as far as the executive leadership team, you have the frontline employees, you probably have some middle level given the size of your company and the growth that you have, how are you continuing to evolve and how are people supporting you to be successful?
Sean Mooney: Yeah, I, I think, I think this is kind of a, maybe a common approach for many where we kind of share with people, you know, your job is to try to do the job above the person so they can do the next job. And the greatest thing. [00:19:00] That, you know, from my own personal evolution that’s occurred is, you know, I think most entrepreneurs feel, this is when you start off, you’re kind of involved with everything and then you have to learn to let go. And then you find out that the others end up being better at it than you are. And so what, what I think has been the best thing is that they’re all encouraged now to proactively exclude me from all the fun stuff. And so I, you know, I don’t get to play in the sandbox. So we originally built nearly as much, but that’s good because there’s so much better out now, you know, they do it thousands and thousands of times I knew what I knew, you know, back in the day from a different vantage.
And so what, what our team frees me up to do is to, to execute. I would let them execute on, on what we’re really good at and be better at it than I could ever hope to be. So I can think in the, you know, spend my time. The two to five years out type stuff. And for me, that’s, that’s turned into the most fun stuff is kind of freeing me up from the day-to-day and thinking about where the business is and having the time to dare to drain in ways that it’s [00:20:00] really hard to when you’re in kind of the, you know, in the barrel of the, of the wave getting turned upside down and not sure if you’re going to come out the other side,
Gene Hammett: Sean, I’m glad you said it like that because I think a lot of people do struggle with letting go and you’ve been able to cross that bridge and I’m sure that there are times. When you look back and we’d love to get involved with the execution, but you know, the best thing to do is to develop the people around you and let them grow in those areas so that you can focus on the visionary work that you just described. Sean, we’ve had a very interesting conversation about helping other succeed about this karma school of business. Is there anything we left out that you feel like we need to bring to light?
Sean Mooney: I think the, the one thing that I would, then I would say that I’ve kind of learned the most, as well as this notion of, of asking others for help. And that was the other biggest thing that I had a really hard time with was not only do you give from others, but if you’re giving to others, it’s okay to ask from others as well. And so kinda it’s okay to ask your customers what they want. Cause they’ll tell you, so it’s okay to ask others for advice. I think Gene. From your vantage as a coach, [00:21:00] you know, that’s invaluable to have other perspective and having the, having the, the ability in, and, and kind of the openness to ask for other’s help is something that I learned along the way. And in some ways that’s our business. You know, our clients are asking other third parties to help them in ways that they can’t do you figure out life so much faster. If you bring in an expert at someone who’s really good at something, and then they’ve already learned all the hard life, lessons. Why not benefit from that. And in some ways that’s what we do for others in the same. We turned it into a business, ask others for help or something they’re really good at and bring them in. It’s just the time you need them, you know, in a situation that’s rooted to us and the world becomes simpler and you get better, faster versus I think most of my career, I learned things the hard way, you know, usually multiple times.
Gene Hammett: I have to, and I want to wrap this up, but you said something before we cut on the recorder, being in the position, you are working with a lot of very successful companies. So the PE environment, you’ve seen the value of coaching and you actually recommend coaches across your, your network of people and you, you really see that it is not something [00:22:00] that is just you know, nice to have really a necessary tool for growth. Tell me just a little bit more about your perspective of coaches.
Sean Mooney: I think the coaching world is one of the more underused toolboxes in business, and something that we promote and, and, and, and champion with a lot of our clients. And, one of the things that kind of struck me is if, since it’s the NFL season, we all have our favorite quarterback and we’ve Drew Brees. He was amazing as a good Austin, Texas person. So I can, I can, particularly appreciate the helmet in the background. And if you think about your favorite NFL coach or any name, your, your, your sports or business star, et cetera, you know, Drew Brees has probably 5, 6, 7 coaches when, when he was in the NFL. And so does Tom Brady, why can’t a business leader have one. And it’s this idea. And certainly, I’m, I’m feeling it in real-time. Now, starting in, in, in, in leading a company, it can be the loneliest job in the world, your board, you usually work for and, and, and everyone else at your company kind of reports to you. And there’s no [00:23:00] sounding board to the left or the right. And so I think coaches are tremendously valuable because A, they get to see thousands of things over a hundred of other executives and they get to see how, how, you know, the problems have been solved before. And they also give you an independent perspective. That’s outside of the echo chamber of life that most of us live in. And I think in both of those cases kind of can and are tremendously valuable to anyone. So why not? You’ll make life simpler by making it simpler.
Gene Hammett: I couldn’t have said it better myself, their shots. I really appreciate you being here, sharing your wisdom process, helping others be successful. And I love these concepts that you’ve named the karma school of business.
Sean Mooney: Gene, I really appreciate it. If there’s anything that we can do to be helpful to your constituents, please let us know.
Gene Hammett: So I always take a chance to reflect on what you just heard there and what I take away as an executive coach. And as the host of this show, you know, leadership is not just about getting the project done or getting the result or the. It is about developing those around you. And if you really take a moment, say this is something that we are going to pay [00:24:00] attention to, and it really will pay off, not sure how, but developing others, whether it be skills, giving them the tools, , really is something that you should be thinking about as a leader and all the aspects in between here, where Sean’s talking about, you know, having coaches that will support you and guide you in.
It is Lonely, you know, having a sounding board, my clients use me mostly to get really clear about what conversations are next inside this, whether it be up the board chain or throughout the organization, or maybe there’s just something that’s missing that they don’t see. And so we have that, those real conversations. And if you’re curious about what’s next for your leadership and how to grow and how to evolve and be a powerful leader and make sure you check out GeneHammett.com and schedule a call. I’d love to support you through that journey. This isn’t about me selling you anything. It’s about me serving you. Really. I take this to heart. I’m here to help you succeed. Layout a plan to help you see what’s next and if you want to work with me. Great. If you don’t, that’s fine too.
But anyway, Sean, thank you for being here that you’re sharing your wisdom and always, [00:25:00] when you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank and 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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