Joining to talk about the importance of process and metrics to a company is Erin Rand, the Chief Operating Officer at ServiceRocket, a company that provides exceptional training, support and utilization solutions for the world’s most innovative software technologies. As a process and analytical person herself, Erin discusses the workarounds of the company – from helping disruptive technology companies cross the chasm to expanding and working remotely across different countries. Erin also relates processes to the working relationships she has towards the CEO and the employees with working towards a vivid vision while sharing how measuring people tells them that they are important.
ServiceRocket COO, Erin Rand
Erin Rand is the Chief Operating Officer from ServiceRocket. She’s also one of the founding members of the COO Alliance. I’m super excited to talk to Erin. ServiceRocket is a company dedicated to software adoption and amplifying the impact of disruptive technology companies by helping enterprise customers adapt and get the value out of and love their software. Her passion is helping tech founders identify the keys to igniting accelerated growth, prioritizing the most critical focus areas that will speed their trajectory. She has a broad experience designing and implementing strategic, operational initiatives to companies such as IBM, Brocade, NetApp and ServiceRocket and is the recipient of the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Woman of Influence 2015 Award.
Erin is a ginger, a TEDx speaker, a hiker, a Las Vegas poker player and a bit of a geek who holds degrees in engineering and mathematics. She serves as the Director of ServiceRocket Inc. and is on the advisory boards of Quarrio Inc. and The Club, which is a nonprofit accelerator of woman leaders. I’m also proud to say that Erin not only is a member of the COO Alliance, but she’s also one of my favorite members of the COO Alliance. I consider her a good friend as well. Erin, I’m really looking forward to talking with you.
I’m really excited to talk to you too, Cameron.
I didn’t know you liked poker or if I did, I forgot. I spent watching a good friend of mine, Jim Worth, play at the second final table in the World Series of Poker. He beat out Phil Hellmuth and then lost. He had to beat one final person to go to the final table and he missed it. I was bummed for him, but poker is a fun game.
Poker is a fun game. That’s how I spend about half my time when I’m in Vegas.
We’re going to hook up a poker night here in Vancouver when you’re in town next. Tell me about your journey into the COO world. Where did you start gaining your experience and where did you get into the trajectory of the COO?
Even prior to that, maybe tell us a little bit about ServiceRocket so we understand the business that you’re running.
Why don’t I start with the journey because that’s how I met Rob and got to ServiceRocket? I’m an engineer by training. I’m a Canadian, I’m an engineer and I was always good at math growing up. I ended up being an engineer but very early in my career, no matter what engineering role I went to, I ended up being frustrated by processes that didn’t work well, metrics that didn’t make sense and organizations that weren’t structured well. I mean this, I try not to say always but I always started doing side projects to make things better. That would very early on move me out of engineering. I started doing those for IT groups. I spent a little bit of time in global services and then I spent some time in marketing. When Sarbanes-Oxley came in, I got pulled into finance and accounting when all of the new process and controls around that came in.
For probably the first ten or fifteen years of my career, I bounced from one area of the business to another often at the same company. I spent several roles at IBM and then several roles at Brocade and NetApp. My role often was if something was broken, I figured out how to fix it really quickly. If something wasn’t working or if something didn’t exist, how to build it quickly. I got to the point in my career where it was like, “I’m not an expert at anything. How do I progress to the next level of my career?” I’ve worked in marketing, but I don’t have any depth in marketing. I was an engineer, but I don’t do that, not at the depth that you would need to grow. Somebody said to me, “There are only two roles that you’re really qualified now for, Erin. That’s either the CEO or the COO because you know enough about everything to see how everything connects.” As an industrial engineer which is my training, it’s looking at people, systems and organizations. You see people, process and tools, how they all connect for the outcome. A key part of the industrial engineering background goes with each of those roles.
Anyone who’s reading this is completely getting the difference between the CEO and the COO. It’s so obvious when you actually start dovetailing into the skill sets and the background of someone like you who’s a really strong second-in-command. It’s so completely different from a CEO. Get into ServiceRocket.
Rob and I actually met. He showed me the invitation to the event we met at. We met at one of these events in Silicon Valley where it’s a big networking event. Someone’s getting an award but everyone’s there to either sell you something or network to meet the right people. The same person was trying to sell us something and neither one of us was interested. We started talking to each other and he asked me what I did. I told him the same thing I just told you. I either build things that don’t exist or I fix things that are broken. He was like, “I’m building a company. There’s stuff that we need to talk about.” We ended up talking for three days straight after that. ServiceRocket was really exciting to me because Rob’s whole business is built around this idea that technology can make an impact and change the way people live and work, yet it’s hard and slow to adopt for a lot of enterprise customers.
Even if they want it, it’s just hard. Enterprise organizations are risk-averse. They’re large and I was coming from all big organizations and seeing how hard that was to do. The whole business of ServiceRocket is around partners. We partner with disruptive technology companies whose customers are the enterprise. We help bridge that. I think probably a lot of your readers would know about crossing the chasm. We help them cross the chasm with their customers and then they grow fast. The enterprise customers get a lot of value because they’re actually getting to adopt the software and get all that value out of it and realize the promise of it. Because of that, disruptive technology companies grow faster up into the right.
How did he decide to recruit you? That initial meeting, you fell in love with the company. You knew there was a great fit. How did he decided to bring you on board and how small was the company at the time when you joined?
It was a hundred people. I think we were about $8 million in revenue at the time. I know we were a hundred people because I was employee 101.
Where are you now?
We are just over 265, I believe. We’re over close to $25 million in revenue.
You’ve been there for four or five years, haven’t you?
Five and a half years.
In the role that you’ve been in, you’ve seen quite the growth. What do you think was it that you guys were struggling with in the early days that you perfected or were able to fix? What do you think you brought to the table that really helped the relationship with Rob? Maybe talk to us a little bit about what your relationship with the CEO is like. Rob, as I understand, is a pretty traditional entrepreneurial, big shiny object CEO and you’re very operational. How did you guys work?
Your description is pretty accurate. Rob is amazing. I say we’re Yin and Yang. He loves to be out there with customers, with other partners in our ecosystems, out with the team. He’s very extroverted, although he wouldn’t say that. I just heard him say in my ear, “I’m not an extrovert.” I’m like, “Yes, you are.” He attracts people who are inspired by his vision. For a company like ours at a hundred people, we didn’t have a lot of process people.
What did you bring and what did you fix?
Coming in, a lot of what I brought was the process orientation. I’m an industrial engineer coming from either big companies or companies that grew quite big and this was the smallest company I’ve ever worked with. It was actually a bit of a shock in the beginning because it was so not processed-driven. The things ServiceRocket have done right from the start are culture, values and hiring amazing people. Like most startups, there’s a lot of rediscovering the wheel and people working really hard because they will and they’re committed, but they don’t have the time, the focus or the skill set to turn around and put some rigor, repeatability and scalability around it.
I think part of what I also had to adjust to is not bringing too much process, too much big company, too much corporate in. It took me a while in that early couple of years to understand where that right mix was. I like to say that Rob knocked the corporate off me a little bit and I helped him get more process and metric-focused. I am an analytical person by nature. I love to get into the numbers of how things are working and numbers don’t lie. They can sometimes. They can be manipulated.
I remember at one of the COO Alliance events, we had everyone’s Kolbe profiles. Do you remember what your Kolbe profile was?
You ask a lot of questions and you put systems and processes in place. What was Rob’s? Do you remember?
It was an eight and third number. I want to say it was 3-3-8-4 or something like that.
It’s very similar to mine. I’m 4-3-9-3, so he’s very entrepreneurial, shoot from the hip, make it up as you go, wing it. Those can be taken the wrong way. Those are skills as well to start that way. For you to get him to be more corporate, more process-focused and numbers-focused and him to get you less corporate, how did you get in sync like that? Was it through discussions? Was it through meetings? Was there any good conflict happening? How did you get to that place?
I would say there was a good amount of healthy tension and both of us are real drivers and so we would each be driving our own agenda a little bit. Our monthly business review was very entrepreneurial. I remember going away for three days and rebuilding it, numbers, organized goals and saying, “This is what it should look like.” He would do the same thing for me. I’d be doing something very corporate and he would step in and go, “No, Erin. Be yourself. Go out there. Don’t plan, don’t worry about making a mistake, just go.” What we did a lot that worked tremendously well for us is to hold walking meetings. We’re both early morning people. We’d get into the office really early and it’s like, “Let’s go walk to Phil’s Coffee Shop and get a coffee.” If we had twenty minutes of stuff to talk about, we’d walk for twenty minutes, get our coffee and then break. If we had three hours of stuff, we would end up three hours at walking, drinking coffee.
It’s a great way to do it. I call it a date night and it’s the regular habit that has to happen in the CEO Yin and Yang relationship where you need to have time to get on that same page and to spend time with each other. You guys are also operating in many countries. How many countries are you operating in now?
Five, soon to be six. We got word that we got the last tick in the box to open in our sixth country. That’s not been announced yet.
That’s physical office as well, correct?
That’s physical offices. We have four physical offices. The fifth office is still operating in a shared space as well as the sixth one until we have enough gravity to do our own office. We have apartments in the four countries we have offices in. We do that so that we have a lot of cross-pollination between the offices. People can go work out of another office for a month or two months and live out of the apartment. It encourages a lot of travel and a lot of cross-pollination.
What countries are you operating in? I know you’re in Chile, Malaysia and the US. Where else?
Australia, Singapore and soon to be the UK.
That’s a really great perk for the employees to be able to do that. What software tools do you use to be able to work remotely like that and work across all these different countries? What would maybe be the top three that you guys couldn’t live without?
You guys have tons of technology.
Workplace by Facebook because it’s a great communication visual. We can do live videos. We can do more formal posts. We can create project groups. We can run events and there’s a lot of cultures shared there too. There’s Workplace Chat. It’s like Facebook that you have in public, but it’s a private instance of Facebook just within your company.
ServiceRocket helped launch Workplace for Facebook. You guys actually helped launch it globally, didn’t you?
We were one of the early beta users and then became an early partner. We still work with them. We specialize, Rob especially, in adoption in the enterprise, technology adoption. This is Facebook’s first foray into the enterprise. It’s always been a consumer-facing brand, so there’s a lot of synergies there.
I remember when I was just leaving 1-800-GOT-JUNK and it was over eleven years ago, I was sitting in the office and I was on Facebook. It had been out for a year or so in the colleges but it hadn’t hit mainstream yet. I was adding my first friend on Facebook. Brian, the CEO walked over and he was like, “What is that?” “It’s Facebook.” He said, “What’s it for?” “I’m not really sure yet.” “It looks cool.” I’m like, “I don’t know what it is yet.” That was May or April of 2007. It’s amazing to see that organization change. How did you guys end up connecting with them as an early stage partner?
Rob’s one of those people. You talk about the DNA of the entrepreneur and Rob is passionate about this, about technology adoption. He’s known in the space. We’ve worked with some amazing customers. Atlassian, the number two piece of software that I talked about, has been an amazing partner for a very long time. They were really little when we started working with them. We opened up shop down the road from them when they were a little company in Australia. Rob opened up as well and we’ve grown together with them. It’s Rob’s reputation in this space and his willingness to just give it away. He gets excited about the opportunity to make an impact. I think that it attracts people that want to make an impact. Being an early partner and being willing to take risks and give free advice to engage and be supportive has opened a lot of those doors.
If he’s so into that, what are you into? What is it that drives you inside of ServiceRocket and what is it that’s kept you driven over the last five-plus years?
I like to say that 45 minutes with Rob is 40 hours with the team. Rob moves at the speed of light and he’s often years into the future in where his head’s at. If he comes into a room and has 45 minutes with the team or he does something, then for me it’s 40 hours of helping people connect to what does that really mean right now for you. I connect with people. Rob’s not unique in this. There are a lot of questions like, “What about this and what about that? I don’t understand.” It’s a very human reaction for people in reaction to someone else moving at the speed of light. It can be very frustrating for an entrepreneur. I look at it as part of the COO’s responsibility is to make it digestible and consumable for people.
Walk us through that. How do you do that? Give us an example of when you had to take one idea out of the 45 minutes and make it digestible.
Let’s take Facebook. When the Facebook relationship came up, it was clearer for Rob what an amazing synergy this was for us as a company and how aligned it was to his vision. It wasn’t necessarily immediately obvious to everybody and it could be confusing. There was a lot of sitting with people again and sitting down in groups, hearing people’s fears, helping them connect the dots at their pace, giving them as a really safe place to do that to have those questions. That was a lot of questions in helping people, “What does this mean for me if I’m not working on Facebook?” This is the most exciting thing that we’re doing right now because Rob is so excited about it and I’m not working on it. Does that mean I’m not working on the good stuff?
It’s helping people understand that what they’re working on, even if they’re not working on that crazy shiny thing, what they do matters and their contribution is exciting. It’s helping them connect it to the goals of the company. I like to use your Vivid Vision technique. When we’re doing that well, when our vision is clear and we’re sharing it, it’s much easier to do what I just said. We sometimes in the past have gotten off track with that and don’t do a good job. It’s an uphill battle to really get people to see because you’re not tying it back to the vision. It’s so critical to have that vision.
It’s even as you said, it’s showing people who are working on even some of the smaller tasks that their work is important. I think of the story of the three brick layers that are sitting out on the sidewalk and they asked them what they’re doing. The first guy says, “I’m making bricks.” The second guy says, “I’m building a wall and I’m making the bricks to build a wall.” The third guy says, “I’m building a cathedral to worship God and I’m building the bricks that are going to make the left wall of the cathedral.” They’re all sitting there and making bricks for the same cathedral but one person gets it. Another one partially gets it. The other one just thinks he’s got the job. That’s so critical to be able to pull all of the employees together inside of an organization. How do you connect? The Vivid Vision is one tool that we talk about. I’ve covered that in the book, Vivid Vision and also in Double Double. I also covered it in The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs. You’ve got that as a tool. How else do you show the employees that what they’re working on is important and how it all connects to the bigger picture? What else do you do?
I’m a huge advocate of picking a small set of very meaningful metrics that you can show over and over again. They illustrate measurable, quantifiable numbers, they illustrate what your vision looks like when it’s achieved. This is an art. This is actually one of the toughest things that I do because there’s a lot of information. There’s a lot of data out there. There’s a lot of numbers. People love to run reports or put together tables, but things get lost if there’s too much metrics. It’s figuring out what the right stuff is to measure on your leadership. Take the time to show their team how they connect to those numbers and ask in their teams, “These are the numbers. What can we do to impact them?” Enlist the team’s ideas in the guided ideas. Sometimes even the team comes up with things that we wouldn’t even think about. It’s having really solid metrics. When I say metrics, for me, there are three very distinct, very important categories of metrics you have to have.
A lot of people measure what I call the company metrics first and they show those. That’s your revenue growth or your profit margin, your EBITDA, your bookings numbers. Those are the numbers that everybody talks about. For me, those are important company metrics, but I like to measure those last and talk about those last. I like to measure metrics around your people first. It’s people, customer or employee engagement. I say rocketeer engagement because that’s what we call our team, Rocketeers. It’s employee engagement. With your recruiting, are you attracting the right people? Your attrition numbers, your learning and development investment, your people numbers first, things that quantify are you looking after your people and are you enabling them to do the best work of their lives. If you’re attracting great people and you’re helping them do the best work of their lives, then they’re going to look after your customer, which is your second category of metric. You’ve got people first, then your customer. If you’re measuring your dollars but you’re not measuring how happy your customer is, you’re missing it. If you’re delighting your customer, you’re 80% of the way there.
Southwest Airlines’ mantra was that the employee is number one, our customers are number two. If you’re really obsessive about taking care of the employees, they’re going to be obsessed about the customers. You win and then all the numbers come from there. Your profit and revenue all come off of that anyway.
When we get that right, everything else seems to flow. You’re telling people a message. If you’re telling people that you’re measuring people first, you’re telling them they’re important. If you’re measuring the company numbers first, you’re telling them that you value the company more than you value the people. You’re actually communicating your values.
Do you measure using the Net Promoter Score? Is that how you measure your employee engagement? How do you measure their satisfaction?
We were going to shift to Net Promoter Score but right now we’re using something called Spotlight, which is based on the book Growing Pains. It predates me. I think Rob has always been people-oriented and so we have several years of Rocketeer data. Every six months, the survey is telling us where trends are going. There are new tools out now. We’re not using them yet that are more real-time but I can see us going there.
What about TINYpulse? Have you guys looked at that at all as a tool?
I have it on my list to check out because it comes up at the COO Alliance. Every time I go someone will mention TINYpulse and I haven’t gone there yet.
For caveat, I’m an investor and an advisor to the company. I was an advisor when they didn’t even have their first employee and they’re now over a hundred. It truly is a very strong tool for employee engagement. Not only measuring it but also driving employee engagement. It’s a really strong tool to look into. Talk about how you manage all of the teams in all of these countries. How do you manage them all? How do you stay engaged with them? What tools do you use to stay connected with everybody remotely, to manage all the complexities of your business and to drive the employee engagement as well?
There’s a lot in that. I think that’s 80% of my job sometimes. We have a lot of tools that allow us to do things asynchronously or remotely. I have already mentioned Workplace by Facebook, which you can do online. There are video and chat. You’ve got Jira by Atlassian, which allows us to manage a lot of our workflows and work remotely because there’s only one team that reports to me where everybody’s in one location and that’s because it’s a team of one.
It’s like Basecamp for product management, for engineering?
It grew up in product management but it’s being used so many more because it’s a workflow management tool at the end of the day. Large enterprises have really started to adopt it to run their business. It’s been awesome. It’s a great tool and it integrates with the full disclosure. We sell the Jira to Salesforce Connector. It’s one of our products. It integrates with a lot of other tools that you’ll have in your environment. We have the apartments, which I’ve already mentioned, that allow people to move around but we do a number of very specific things. I spent some years that I’ve been with ServiceRocket eighteen to twenty weeks on the road where I’ll go work out of one of the other offices for a couple of weeks. Rob does the same. We try and be with as much with the team. Not everybody can do that, but Rob and I both are pretty committed to that as are some of the other members of the team.
We have now our Malaysia office, which is just an amazing office. There are over a hundred people in that office. I think more than half of the company is in Malaysia. Every other week, we have a designated time where the two shifts in Malaysia overlaps. The leadership is in Malaysia. We have a standing hour meeting. Sometimes it goes longer with the leadership team, and I know you’re going to hate this, with no agenda. It is literally FaceTime for those leaders to say what questions do they have for Erin and Rob. We often bring other leaders. They can ask anything.
That’s an agenda. I call it a town hall meeting where the leaders listen and answer questions, and the group gives. That’s totally an agenda.
It’s all we do. It keeps those channels open. Depending on what things might be hot, we bring other leaders onto the meeting as well.
Tell us about the TEDx that you did, Embrace Your Bias. I’m curious as to what prompted you to do that, why you did it and what was it like. I know a lot of people wanted to do TEDx Talks and you did one. How was it and why did you do that one?
It’s very tied into ServiceRocket. We don’t have the hard conversations. We’re a global company. We have men and women. We have people who are Millennials to people who are senior citizens. We have people of different nationalities, different belief systems and different genders. We’re the good guys, so we can’t be doing anything wrong. We are always the good guys. We will stand up and protect our people and our team and each other from the bad guys. What does that mean when we’re actually doing something that might not be great? Not because we’re bad people but because it’s human to be biased and not to be able to see our own biases. We are team-based, we love each other. We’re a family. This is my family I’m talking about. How do you have the tough conversation say, “What you said there was a little offensive?” I got into a number of conversations with people where I’m like, “We are biased, and we have to be able to have these conversations without being defensive.” Conversations would get pretty heated and they will say, “No, we don’t have a problem.”
I realized that people were defensive because when we say someone might be being a little bit sexist or saying someone might be treating someone of a different race differently, that they’re hearing that they’re a bad person, maybe even morally flawed. They can’t allow themselves to even consider that that’s an option. I wondered how much that was getting in the way of the bigger dialogue for a lot of people. My team actually encouraged me to do the TEDx. They were like, “You really need to. This has been helpful for us and you need to share this.” We did and then when I was selected to do it, the idea got selected for the TEDx, my team was like, “Let’s do a dry run.” I did it for the whole company at ServiceRocket before I did it for the TEDx and then we had a 40-minute discussion afterwards just where people opened up. It was great.
I like it because I think it’s just more about we can’t necessarily change the people in our organization. Part of it is to understand the people in the organization so we can leverage each other’s strengths and also buffer each other on their weaknesses. It is also understanding ourselves and the more that we understand ourselves as humans not only in the business but walking each other home. When we understand our biases as well as our strengths and our weaknesses, those give us pretty powerful insights to build the organization. It also must build a huge amount of empathy and trust inside your organization.
I was having a conversation with someone and we’ve had the TEDx. We’ve had it inside the company. We were talking about someone’s behavior and that it was probably a little sexist and how are we going to talk to him about it. The person I was talking to said, “I know he’s not sexist.” I said, “This is the problem. We’re all a little bit sexist. Being a little bit sexist doesn’t make him a bad person. He has a bias that he hasn’t seen yet.” We’re still having those conversations, but it’s given us a platform to have those conversations.
I think the key is to realize that we find that the people want to change, want to understand themselves, want to improve, want to grow or just want to be more empathetic of others. That’s the key versus the ones who are like, “Screw you. I don’t give a crap.” Not only do I embrace my bias, but I don’t even care then there’s a little bit of an issue at times.
That’s where hiring for values is really important.
What are the core values for ServiceRocket and how do you test for that when you’re hiring and you’re recruiting?
We have five core values that we talk about: delight the customers, talk straight, think team, share the knowledge and focus on the outcome. I’m really proud of those. Those were done before I joined the company. They’re consistent in the company. When I came, the whole team decided. It was an exercise where the team said, “Why do I like to work here?” Everybody submitted why they like to work at ServiceRocket and those five things bubbled up out of it. It was the existing culture that people attach to. When I joined, I went through a whole new exercise and we landed on the same five which was pretty awesome.
That’s pretty powerful when you do that as well. I liked that you kept them. I’ve always said you have to limit your core values to four or five core values. They should all be short, easy to understand phrases which you have as well. I think you guys are probably an organization that’s willing to fire people who break their core values as well.
You asked, “How do we hire for these?” This is one of those things where I said Rob knocked the corporate off me. I have a famous story that I tell people when we’re going through this, whether we are choosing not to hire someone on values or because of a values mismatch. When I first joined, there was a business area that was really in trouble and I needed to hire just a rock star project manager to get it back in line. It was impacting customers and so I went out of my network. I called for a ringer and I got one. My network coughed up one and he had awesome expertise. He had an awesome track record of results. He flew through our interview process and at that time, Rob was still interviewing everybody.
Rob spent twenty minutes with this guy after he’d flown through the interview process. He said, “Nope, we’re not going to hire him.” I was like, “Are you kidding me? This guy could come in and just clean this stuff up.” He said, “Yeah, but this guy is not a team player. He’ll get the projects back on track, absolutely. He’ll break the rest of the team in the process.” This guy only cares about his own results. We didn’t hire him and it took us another a couple of months to find the right person. It felt at the time horrifically painful, but in the long run, it was such a better decision to get through another eight weeks of pain to not break the entire team.
When the organization is hiring based on that level, that’s really strong.
Yeah, and having to make some of those tough decisions. We’ve had to let people go as well. Those were also hard too because I’m proud that we do hire amazing people. When something goes sideways there, it’s pretty emotional.
If you were to give a tip to anyone who is in the COO role and how to excel in their role, what would the one big lesson be?
I’m a process person. I’m an analytical person. Vision is really important but at the end of the day, get the people’s stuff right. That gives you the time that you need and the flexibility that you need to get everything else. When things go sideways, having the right people on the bus is what helps you get out.
Erin, thanks so much for sharing everything with us. I really appreciate it and I look forward to seeing you later on as well.
Take care, Cameron. Thank you.
- Quarrio Inc.
- The Club
- Vivid Vision
- Double Double
- The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs
- Growing Pains
- Embrace Your Bias TEDx Talk by Erin Rand
About Erin Rand
A TEDx speaker and serial business scaler, Erin’s passion is helping tech founders identify the keys to igniting accelerated growth, prioritizing the most critical focus areas that will speed their trajectory. She has broad experience scaling growing companies through inflection points as well as designing and implementing strategic operational initiatives at companies such as ServiceRocket, IBM, Brocade and NetApp.
Erin serves as a mentor for Techstars, Unreasonable Group and Mergelane accelerators, and on the Advisory Boards of Quarrio Inc., Monday.vc and The CLUB (theclubsv.org), a non-profit accelerator of women leaders. She is the recipient of the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Women of Influence 2015 Award. Erin is a ginger, a hiker, a Las Vegas poker player and a bit of a geek who holds degrees in engineering and mathematics.