Promoting the Entrepreneur Spirit within the Company with Brian Elrod at Text Request

The entrepreneurial spirit is one reason why founders are driven to innovate. It can also be harnessed to grow your company. The entrepreneurial spirit throughout your people will help you overcome the challenges you face. Today’s guest is Brian Elrod, Co-Founder and CEO at Text Request. Inc Magazine ranked his company # 335 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Text Request helps businesses increase profits through powerful text messaging software. Brian talks about the entrepreneurial spirit and why it is vital to company growth. The entrepreneurial spirit is a force that unites the culture together.

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Brian Elrod: The Transcript

About: Brian Elrod early years, he worked for a couple of Fortune 1000 companies where he was heavily involved in internal corporate start-ups, including an international shipping division with Roadway Express, and a parcel home delivery service for Averitt Express/Harte-Hanks Logistics (that partnered with USPS to compete against UPS). After 8 years in the corporate world, he left to start his own ventures. Brian Elrod first was Educational Outfitters, a retail store focused on school uniforms, corporate wear, and embroidery. Two years in, they decided to franchise Educational Outfitters. They since sold 50+ franchises across the country, over $150 million in school uniforms, and donated over $5 million dollars back to local schools in the process. Educational Outfitters also made the Inc. 500 list of Fastest growing US companies three consecutive years from 2004-07. Their best finish was #298. Brian Elrod second franchise venture, JockSale, focuses on re-selling sporting equipment and outdoor gear. He also launched a tech company called Text Request that is focused on text enabling businesses and organizations. Instead of having to call a business, you can just text them.

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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.

Brian Elrod: [00:00:00] In the beginning, we always look for that silver bullet. We’ve never found that yet. It’s the combination of doing a lot of things, right. For a long period of time and not just hitting on one thing, but certainly, if you focus, the only employee part of that is, number one, giving them the ability to fail without fear.

Intro: 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: What about ownership across your company? Do you think about what it would be like if every employee took a deeper sense of ownership of their work, of the challenges and the opportunities that are available to the company, what’d you grow? I believe you would. And you know, that you would, if people were showing up. More committed and more loyal to the company. And in frankly, if they had that sense of ownership that ran through them. Today, we look at it from this perspective, [00:01:00] what would it be like to promote the entrepreneurial spirit within the company? That entrepreneur spirit is a lot like ownership. I think I use them interchangeably sometimes, but promoting the entrepreneur spirit is something that I have talked about many times before then many speeches. But I wanted to go through and see what it looks like in the real world. And so we have the co-founder of Text Request, Brian Elrod. They were a, really a fast-growth company of this last year and they continue to grow. We have about 30 employees. What we learned in today’s episode is this, that ownership is not something that, you know, you have to be strict around. In fact, you have to be open. You have to be open to letting people fail. You have to be open to empowering people. You have to be open to, including people it’d be open to other elements that really help people feel a sense of connection about what they’re doing inside this episode.

Brian talks about what promoting the entrepreneurial spirit within the company really looks like for them. And you can learn from that as well. What I really like about what we talk about is he said something about when people leave, they’re really firing you. You’re not [00:02:00] firing them. Think about that for a second. When people leave, they’re firing you or you’re not firing them. Now we’ll talk about that inside the episode. So join me for that with Brian. And just a second. When you think about your own journey as a leader, I want to ask you this question. Do you know, what’s next for you? Do you know what skills that you have to focus on to become a stronger, more powerful leader? Well, my hope is that you have a plan in front of you. That’s as detailed as you have for a sales plan or marketing plan or product roadmap, but you know where you’re growing next, you know, what’s necessary to get your company to perform at a higher level so that you can lead more powerfully. Now, I don’t want to tell you what that is, because I think it’s different for each people in their stage of growth. But one of my things. Is to help you figure out what that path looks like for you. What’s getting in your own way. What’s your blind spots are, and you may be kind of hesitant to reach out to me, but I want to let you think about this for a second. I spent 10 years working with leaders to help them see what they can’t see for themselves to help them grow. I’ve had tremendous success and really proud of that. And I’d love to help you too. All you have to do is go to [00:03:00] GeneHammett.com. And schedule your call. We can talk about your growth of your company leadership, specifically what leading powerfully means and what inspiring ownership across the company looks like and what gets in the way. And you’ll walk away with a plan. Now, in some cases, you want me to help you with that plan. In some cases, you want to do it on your own. I’m perfectly fine with either. I would love to get to know you and help you through this. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. Now here’s the interview with Brian,

Brian, how are you?

Brian Elrod: I’m doing great, Gene, thank you.

Gene Hammett: Excited to have you on the podcast to talk about, you know, really what is an entrepreneur spirit inside of a company. But if we get there, I’d love you to tell us about your company Text Request. Sure Text Request is a business messaging platform. , we work with all-size businesses so that they can control their text messaging, in a professional and organized manner as a team. So that includes a lot of things, but that’s essentially what we do.

I want to go a little deeper there because I don’t want anyone to miss construe this. Text messaging is something that we use in different ways. Some people use it in marketing. Some people use it within the teams. What, what is the specific use [00:04:00] case for your platform?

Brian Elrod: So, there are a lot of use cases, but essentially what we’re going to do is we were founded on conversational messaging. So it’s a lot more than sending out a text. , it’s really engaging with your customer and they can even engage with you first and giving you tools. So the team can easily manage that. Now, what does that mean about features? Like now you can use our text to pay. You can use our location where you can text someone and see their location. Use the a lot in the transportation industry reviews, text for reviews. We’re HIPAA compliant though. They can use it inside of a medical office. , we even do a work in the political space and do have a feature called a peer to peer messaging. So that’s a few of those things. , but really just letting you know, businesses engage with their customers.

Gene Hammett: Love it. Well, we didn’t come here to talk about text messaging and the platforms and whatnot. We want to talk about your company and really how this company leads and how you interact and engage with [00:05:00] each other. When we did research on your company, we found that not only were you a fast-growth company, what was it? Number 355 on this year’s Inc list.

Brian Elrod: That sounds about right. Yes.

Gene Hammett: I mean, just under 14,000 or 1400% growth rate in. A lot of people wonder how do you do that? Like, how would you say what’s the biggest contributing factor to your fast growth as a company?

Brian Elrod: So, you know, there’s never one thing right. In the beginning, we always look for that silver bullet. We’ve never found that yet. It’s the combination of doing a lot of things, right. For a long period of time and not just hitting on one thing, but certainly, if you focus the only employee part of that, Is, number one, giving them the ability to fail without fear. , so we assigned teams and people tasks. I, Hey, this is yours. You have ownership of this, run with it. And we’ve done that really from day one. And, you know, and originally we might’ve done that out of necessity, right. Because, You know, there was only a few people and as we added people, but we really have kept that as we’ve grown [00:06:00] into now about 30 and they’re all with a lot of job openings. So really just allowing people to fail and have ownership of things has, has really led to that top of growth.

Gene Hammett: I wouldn’t take that fear of failure. And just talk about that and fear fail without fear. Is, do you put boundaries around this or how do you actually bring someone in? I’m sure it’s probably different with a new employee as it is with someone that’s a little bit more seasoned in and mature. But how do you put those boundaries around it or no boundaries?

Brian Elrod: Well, we try to really put no boundaries around it. I guess the only boundaries would be cost and, having communication about it. So, you know, whatever team they’re working on, whether it’s marketing support development, you know, they’re gonna have conversations with other people. So I would say there’s. Boundaries around that. Now a lot of other things have led to that top growth, you know, market via Tommy luck, having a need product versus, you know, a nice to have a product. There’s definitely a lot of things happening there, you know, with COVID obviously, communication became key. A lot of businesses, [00:07:00] you know, went down during that time and, you know we went up Because people were looking for touchless communication. So I don’t want to put everything on that. There’s a lot of, a lot of reasons, but those are, those are some other ones.

Gene Hammett: The center, most of the conversation around what we’re doing in leadership and culture, and really the people, the employees, because that’s what other people can learn from. They can’t take your product and apply it to their industry and their world. But, but how you approach this. This fear without failure. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, Brian, I’m sure you’re not surprised. I work mostly with basketball companies. Most of the people who’ve been interviewed here are on Inc 5,000 and they do have this kind of interesting approach to failure. And I think it comes from people like you got to where you are because you weren’t afraid to try things and take some risks under calculation and under the right conditions. , but you’ve allowed that to cascade down throughout the organization. So how do you actually get them to do that on a consistent basis?

Brian Elrod: You know, that’s a great word. The risk w we definitely are fine with people taking risks because that’s who I am. That’s my nature. [00:08:00] Right. And really for it to cascade down, I, you know, I, I’m not exactly sure how we do that other than we just allow for it, you know? It’s not a, it’s not like written on a strategic plan. Like this is how we’re going to do this. It just happened. Now you could probably come in and analyze it and find exactly why it’s happening. I don’t know honestly why it happens that way. Other than we just allow people to do it.

Gene Hammett: Before we leave this moment. I want to ask you this question. What’s one of the biggest benefits that you’ve seen. Maybe it’s a new feature that has rolled out, or maybe it’s a new marketing approach from this allowing your employees to fail without fear.

Brian Elrod: So features definitely would be one of those that there’s probably, again, there’s probably a multitude of those features by having customers in those conversations and drive those things. we’ve definitely taken a lot of risks. Unusual attack attacks and marketing. You know, we’ve done a lot of things that were free that just took a lot more time. Cause we’re, you know, we’re a bootstrap company [00:09:00] and, you know, taking those risks and allowing, the marketing folks to have the time to, to let these things evolve is probably right one of the bigger things that we’ve seen.

Gene Hammett: I’m glad you brought that up there just before we leave this marketing is one of those areas where it changes so quickly. If you do have a need to control the risk of your company, it will limit your growth. And so you’ve been able to open the doors of that. Probably learned a lot in that journey. Is that fair to say?

Brian Elrod: That that is, you know, when you start with a marketing budget of probably zero and you’ve got to make things happen, it’s amazing how creative. That the right people can be. You know, our, I use this example a lot, our VP of marketing, , came to us around. I think he was age 22, just, you know, working in the financial industry. So he was a huge risk that we took, but we, we really all we could afford, but he took those risks. You know, he took that opportunity. He educated himself. Every opportunity and has [00:10:00] done an amazing job, becoming a senior marketing person to this point. , and coming up with a lot of these concepts and ideals and risks. And of course, now we have a marketing team of seven or so, and all of them kind of take that same approach and it’s been very beneficial to us.

Commentary: Now, Brian just talked about failing without fear. Now what I see this play out inside of organizations, there’s a hesitancy to embracing this because people need lots of boundaries. They feel like they need lots of rules. And in some cases they do, but too many rules really kills innovation and kills that the sense of empowerment that you really want to foster inside of people and failure is just a part of the journey. I mean, if you think about your path to get to where you are today. Did you avoid failure or did it teach you lessons that you were able to learn from and be able to pivot your company are able to push forward to become the confident, courageous person that you are today? My hope is that you can be honest with yourself and say failure was a part of my journey. It’s part of the path and that if you rob your employees of not allowing that, then you aren’t really [00:11:00] developing them to the highest degree. The way you really should develop them as leaders, which is allowing them to fail and learn from those failures and keep moving. Now, you want to keep those failures, the low side. You want to make sure that they are manageable. There are, you’re not taking a risk. That’s going to kill the company. That is very horrible to, to think about. I know, but you want to make sure that these failures are something that you can embrace and let people know that across the organization, back to Brian.

Gene Hammett: We came here to talk about this whole, bit, about entrepreneur spirit. I think we had to go up a level or two because the fear of failure, or having failure without fear is a part of that entrepreneurial spirit. So where do you get this concept of embracing and promoting the entrepreneur spirit in your company?

Brian Elrod: So where does it come from? Is that the question? Well, I mean, I think it’s just woven in the fabric from the founders and there’s three of us that, well, you know, that put that into the next level of folks that started and, you know, they’ve put it, it’s just, it’s just rolled down from the top over a long period of time in [00:12:00] all. I think the last employee that left our organization was in 2016. So it’s been five years. And when you start having that type of consistency, you really start seeing, you know, benefits. And one time I had someone tell me that, when an employee leaves, they’re firing you, , you’re not firing them. And, you know, that’s kind of always stuck with me, that we would, we want to be the best place to work yet. So I, again, There are so many, there’s no one thing. There’s so many topics that weave into every single thing. I mean, I can point a few out, but that’s probably one of those as well.

Commentary: Now, Brian just said something really incredible that want to put a spotlight on for you. And he said this when an employee leaves, they’re really firing you, not you’re firing them. What I take away from that is something that I’ve heard many times before we read the data that people don’t leave companies because the company is not a good company. They leave companies because of their direct manager. And if you were leading a company, that really promotes [00:13:00] people and growth, you want to make sure that you are the leader they deserve. What that looks like really is, are you having the conversations with them to give them feedback? Are you supporting them and recognize it, or are you just so heads down into the work? You don’t have time for these things. Well, if you really step back and think about it and the people that are leaving the organization are fairing you because you failed them to really create a space for them to Excel. Now, again, some people are not a good fit and we just have to find that out. But in many cases, the people around you, or maybe it’s you directly are the reason that people are leaving and you really want to look at that, find those blind spots, and address them because it will keep happening. It will be a very expensive lesson to learn. Just think about those. I should carry on and become a stronger leader, a more powerful leader. Now, back to Brian.

Gene Hammett: Well, when you talked about this before you talked about this, getting people to take ownership and I’ve, I’ve, I’m playing around with the concepts of this. I’ve been doing speeches about this for a few years. why do you want your people to take ownership? Because I think it’s very different than taking responsibility for their work is ownership is a [00:14:00] deeper level of commitment. Would you agree?

Brian Elrod: Yeah. And I think it’s because when they own it, you know, it’s something that is deeply personal to them. You know, when they’re at the gym, they may be thinking of ways to improve on it. Or, you know, when they first wake up, when they really have the ownership of it, instead of the responsibility of it, you’re really going to get a deeper dive and looking at every corner and finding opportunities. Essentially. I think that that’s what you’re going to see.

Gene Hammett: Is there any kind of phrasing or any way that you consistently talk about this? Because I know that when we delegate, and within our team, one of the things I will say is, so now that we’ve looked at this, do you feel like you can own this as it moves forward and they will tell me yes or no. Do you guys use any phrasing like that?

Brian Elrod: No. Obviously, we have conversations about it and we do it by department. We still to this day have a Monday morning team meeting with the entire company and each department at that point, lets the entire company know what’s [00:15:00] happening. , you know, we’ve, as we’ve grown. We needed a bigger conference room. And of course, there was a time period. We were doing it over zoom. I do think that helped them take even more ownership of it. When you have, you know, someone reporting to the entire company every Monday.

Gene Hammett: Is there anything else that you would add into this sense of ownership and what it’s done for the company?

Brian Elrod: Well, I mean, I guess you would just have to come here and walk the halls and talk with the people to understand. How they feel, communicate, take ownership. but, but certainly again, it’s just really having the ability to trust them, have the ability to step back, and give them the freedom to do it. And, you know, they know that they’re not going to be punished, but, It’s not hard to understand where you need to get to. It’s hard to kind of figure out how to get there. And when they do have ownership, they start to figure that out.

Gene Hammett: One of the things I’ve said within my coaching work, and when you want people to take ownership, you’ve got to bring them into the process and like the why behind this. It’s hard to give someone a [00:16:00] goal and let them to really take ownership. Have you found that you’re including them into, looking at the problems at a deeper level so that they actually have that, that feeling inside of them, that they’re going to figure out the solution?

Brian Elrod: Yeah, without question. And I guess some of these things are just so second nature, you know, I don’t know how you feel about. Trying to get someone to solve it if they were not at that level of the conversation. So absolutely they would be involved in all of that.

Gene Hammett: And I’m curious, what have we missed on this conversation? We’ve been talking about, you know, failing without fear. We’ve talked about this sense of ownership. The whole big topic is around this entrepreneurial spirit. , what have we not touched on?

Brian Elrod: Well, You know, I, I think, Gene that’s, that’s a wide open. There’s a lot of things we haven’t touched on, but you know, I think if we’re just talking about entrepreneurship inside of a company, you know, I think it’s really going to be a reflection of the founders or the people that are leading it day-to-day and either that’s who you are or that who you’re not. I mean, I, I constantly see, you know, [00:17:00] founders that are not that way and that’s fine. And, and I’m assuming they can adjust and make changes, but if you’re that’s who you are, Then it’s easy. So it’s not, this is not, you know, this part of this conversation is just who we are. So, you know, I, I, I don’t know how to say it other than, you know, that it’s just easy for us.

Gene Hammett: No part of my job and my curiosity. Comes from just looking at fast-growth companies and what makes them tick. And more often than not the fast-growth companies have the same view and they haven’t been able to put it into words. So you’re not alone at all, Brian, but my job is to codify that. And I can tell you the main things that come out of this, our mission and vision, right? So the mission has to be alignment with who they are, what they want to be a part of. And that’s a big part of ownership. Also the vision they’ve got to buy into what we’re doing together do. And want to be, do this as a team, not just in an individual, collecting a paycheck. So that’s part of it. There’s [00:18:00] empowerment of course because no one takes ownership without feeling powered. And I’m adding a few things in here just because we haven’t been able to talk about everything, but I’ve been doing so many interviews. This puts it in. There’s inclusion, transparency, a growth, like a skillset growth. And then also that mindset, it’s a two-way street to take ownership. I’m sure you probably wouldn’t disagree with any of the things I just talked about in this journey of, of entrepreneur spirit and ownership.

Brian Elrod: No, I mean, all of those things, you know, come into play, certainly. And I, I believe we’re doing most of those, but we don’t think about, you know, I hear people and I hear a lot of leaders talk about company culture, and frankly, And they obsess over it, frankly, we don’t, we don’t think about it at all. , you know, so I just know that I want people to enjoy coming to work and I want to come to, I want to enjoy coming to work every day and that’s what we try to strive for. But, you know, I, I’ve never understood the obsession behind that’s just to me the way it should be now, I’ve had the unfortunate or maybe fortunate of working in some really bad [00:19:00] situations. Cause I, I was like you, I spent 10 years in the corporate world and working for a lot of big organizations. , luckily enough, during that time got to be involved in multiple corporate startups, but, you know, had really bad report to CEO’s and hours and office environments. Then when I first became an entrepreneur in 2000, I was like, I will never be like that again. That’ll never happen again. , I guess, you know, I haven’t put a tie on since then. Just a lot of things. And maybe I did that subconsciously or, or not, but we don’t think about that lot.

Gene Hammett: You are unique in that sense. Cause I think people do think about culture, but if it works for you, I wouldn’t say change it, Brian. I really appreciate you being here on the show and sharing your journey of leadership and growth with our audience.

Brian Elrod: So thank you for having me, Gene.

Gene Hammett: Let me reflect back what I’ve just taken away from this. Hopefully, this will help you become a better leader. You know, if you want your employees to take a sense of ownership and have this entrepreneurial spirit, then you’ve got to look at some things. One of them [00:20:00] is that your attraction or your risk tolerance is when it comes to failure and fast-growth companies. Tend to lean toward it’s okay to fail. We’re going to fail fast and we’re going to move forward. And that’s what I kept hearing from Brian beyond that, including people into the process and to the conversation so that they’re willing to take ownership of the challenges in front of them and willing to find their way forward, find new opportunities. All of that I think is very modern, mature leadership. And hopefully, you’ll see that too in today’s conversation and it’ll help you become a better leader.

Now, one of the things I also know that will help. Is, if you had a conversation with me about what’s getting in the way of your leadership, what is the real thing that you need to let go of? Maybe it’s unlearned. Maybe you need to stop doing certain things in order for your company to unleash this growth. My job is to help you figure that out, what that is. , you can keep listening to the show or you can get on the phone with me, and I’d love to talk to you about your job and growth as a leader, just go to GeneHammett.com.

You can schedule a call, absolutely free. I’m here to serve you and help you become [00:21:00] a stronger leader and you think of growth and you think of leadership. Think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage, Will 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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