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Growing a tech company these days is hard enough as it is; growing it rapidly takes things to a whole new level. Joining Cameron Herold in this episode is the COO of ClickFunnels, Ryan Montgomery, who shares the amazing journey their company has gone through and what it’s like to work with two CEOs with different approaches to the same goal. Ryan talks about the growing pains they had to go through and how they creatively tackled their problems while reinventing their company to stay relevant and at the top. He also emphasizes the importance of never losing the excitement for your product and service, not just at the top, but for each member of your team.
Ryan Montgomery is a leader, problem-solver and mentor. He has a background in software engineering and likes to tackle problems head-on to find solutions that work the first time. He measures his success by the success of the people around him and he strives to help his teams and peers realize their full potential. When he’s not working hard to be the brains behind the operation, he spends his time being active and relaxing for his family. Ryan is the COO for ClickFunnels. Ryan, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
I met Russell for the first time several years ago at an event called the Genius Network. You’re sitting beside each other and I was like, “I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s high on the geek factor like I am. He was a little gregarious.” ClickFunnels was small years ago when you got involved too. It was this small little cute upstart at the time and he seemed to be a big marketer, but you guys have crushed it.
Crushed it is one way to put it. It’s been a wild ride for sure.
There are some readers who don’t know what ClickFunnels is. I’m not sure where they’ve been hiding, but tell us what ClickFunnels is and what your space is.
It can be described in many ways to different groups of people that see it as a different tool. Our background and our core original set of customers came from the internet marketing community. These are people selling stuff online and all kinds of things, whether it’s a course, some downloadable PDF or something. Everybody had their own little thing and they wanted a better way to sell it. ClickFunnels was born out of Russell and Todd, the other Cofounder we’re working together. They were making these sites to sell stuff online using all kinds of tried and true methods but they were doing this over and over. Every single time, they were starting from the ground up and having to do the design and development, all the stuff. The impetus of it was like, “Who knows exactly when it clicked for someone?” Todd was like, “We could do this but make it the thing so we have our own little engine to build this for ourselves.” That spiraled out of control as typical Russell fashion started piling like, “What if it did this?” That is what became ClickFunnels through a couple of different iterations.
I’m a client of ClickFunnels and I’ve used a couple of different competitors in this space. What I loved about your software was you kept it clean, simple, fast and easy.
The best way to say it is it’s a simpler way to sell something online.
It works. It’s the opposite of others in your space. Microsoft and Salesforce seem complicated and people complain about them. You don’t hear people complain about ClickFunnels. Is that true?
I hear about the complaints. There are definitely the haters out there. The complaints are good. That’s feedback. We’re not building the software for ourselves. We are a big user of our own software and we love to say that we eat our own dog food. We sell ClickFunnels on ClickFunnels. The feedback is what drives us. Our customers are vocal and active and we love that. They tell us exactly what they need and when we get it wrong, they tell us when we get it wrong. We always listen to that feedback, internalize it and have invested heavily in making it right and making it simpler. People don’t realize how difficult it is to sell something online by yourself. You can throw up a product on Amazon. That’s easy but the thing you’re losing when you do something like that is that’s no longer your customer. That’s Amazon’s customer. You don’t own that customer.
That can be short-sighted for a business. In the long-term, you want to own your own customers, but to do that, you’ve got to engage with designers and developers. As an entrepreneur who wants to sell something or has an idea and wants to get it out there in front of people, you shouldn’t have to know what DNS, SMTP or HTTPS is. This should mean nothing to you and you should never have to be faced with this technological hurdle. Russell nerds out on marketing but he is not a technical guy. He is not the tech cofounder and he will point that out clearly. He stumbles on the technology and wants his thing out there. He knows that if he can get it out on the internet, he can sell it. That’s why Todd and Russell are such a good pair together and why they’ve been successful is they’re a good match. They complement each other extremely well for that reason. Todd is the technical guy who can take a crazy thing that Russell wants to put on the internet and make it happen as quickly as possible.
I want to talk about that crazy thing. With gregarious outgoing business development, PR-centric or marketing-centric CEO, they have an idea-minute. They’re like a perpetual motion machine where they want to throw those ideas into your lap and then they want to create more. One of the ideas that came up was that Russell and good friends of mine, Dean Graziosi and Tony Robbins, decided to launch a course together. Those are not three dissimilar people. They’re Type A, driven and big personalities. How did you say yes to that first off because it seemed like a bit of a distraction to the rest of the business? How did you guys get them to all work together?
In that particular case, the involvement from ClickFunnels was minimal. I met a couple of times with their team as a means of consulting. They already had their own internal team doing a lot of the heavy lifting so we were brought in because we were doing something together to see if there were opportunities to optimize and help them. They have a great team and they had a lot of things already locked down. They wanted to see how we do it and they wanted to learn what we know. They already had a lot of good stuff going so it was more consultative than anything else.
Probably more of a marketing consultant with a partner than operational.
Russell did a lot of work with that and he was more involved. On our side, our team is focused on the platform.
If you go back to the normal day-to-day, how do you get on the same page with Russell and Todd with where they want to go in terms of vision and the technology so that you can then put the plans and the people in place to execute on that?
One thing that is interesting is they have a specific vision of what they want and the way that they want to achieve it is important. We famously have not accepted any venture capital. We’ve bootstrapped our whole company. As much success as we’ve had, we’ve had to earn it and that’s not an accident. There are plenty of opportunities out there for people who want to jump on the ClickFunnels bandwagon and throw money at us. We’ve said no many times because it would confuse our message. It would be another partner that may not be aligned. You have to go out of your way to turn that stuff down. I know there are a lot of people out there fishing for money all the time and they don’t know how to get VC funding. When you have something as clear a vision as ours, it’s good that it’s coming in.
We have a specific clear vision so some of that vision is hard to communicate and you don’t always know until you see it. There are a lot of great people around them like myself. We have our other partners and our product team. We have a lot of people sussing it out constantly because sometimes they don’t know. Sometimes they have an idea and they know when it feels right and when it doesn’t. Sometimes they have a clear vision and sometimes that vision is driven by other people in the company. Russell or Todd didn’t necessarily go in and pick out like, “This little button color over here should be five pixels rounded.” They don’t make those kinds of decisions, but somebody has to somewhere.
There are different levels of decision-making going on. What we’ve gotten good at is that transition from stages of the company and you probably understand this. We’re a new company every six months. Todd, Russell, Ryan and whoever else was around back in the early days, we made decisions differently. Six months, 1 or 2 years later, we’ve been making decisions differently all along to the point where we’re at now. We have a director of Product Design and we’ve got lots of great people around to help suss those ideas out. We’ve got great product managers who then get all the details. Russell and Todd are not necessarily details oriented. Todd can definitely be, but Russell sometimes can wave a broad stroke magic wand and say, “This is the thing we need to do,” and then we’re like, “How?” That’s a great challenge and that’s what makes the job interesting, fun and exciting. It’s not like nobody cares at the top and our customers don’t care. We’ve got super vocal customers who got a lot of strong opinions. We have a clear vision and we want to make it happen. Everybody involved wants to make it the best.
You touched on how difficult fast rapid growth can be. A lot of people think that rapid growth must be simple but I talked to Clate Mask who was the Founder of Infusionsoft and Ben Horowitz from The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Both of them talk about how managing growth, your leadership team almost gets put out of a job. Clate said with Infusionsoft, every two doubles. When a company doubled in revenue twice and it went from 2 to 4 and then from 4 to 8, that mid-level team was probably out of the job for the most part. They were getting replaced by people above them. Ben used to say it was one triple. Did you go through that as well where you were having to bring in more senior talent above the current team and/or how are you training your mid-level team to keep their skill growing to stay with the growth?
Our growth has been a challenge. I don’t know how anybody who’s gone through the growth we have would say anything otherwise. One day, you solve that problem and the old adage of like, “Every solution brings the next problem.” Every day, we solve something and the next day, there’s this new thing that we’ve got to worry about. For example, one of our big challenges is we are required to be a PCI Level 1 DSS compliant provider, whereas before, we were flying under the radar and that was fine. Not that we did anything unsecured. We have a great security team and all that but now it’s required. We have to file policies and we have to do audits every quarter and every annual and all this stuff. We fly people out to physically inspect processes and that thing.
It’s with great success because we’re doing so much volume through our platform, which is awesome that our customers are that successful, it then required us to jump through all these other hoops that we didn’t necessarily want to but are happy to, to make sure that we have a successful platform. Every day, there’s this new challenge. With the team and the structure that we’ve put in place, it also had to change as we had new requirements and new changes. A couple of years ago, we were six devs-ish, less than ten on our product. Now we’re close to 70 total. It’s a huge upswing in the number of people. While you get more people, you need to start managing those people. They need a clear direction. It’s not just me and Todd having a quick chat about something then doing it tomorrow. There’s a lot of stuff in place that has to be managed.
You mentioned that you’ve got about 350 employees system-wide and a great portion of those are remote as well.
That’s another thing. We also made a strategic decision that the way that we want to build this company is distributed. We want a remote team. A large part is based on some of our business idols, the Basecamp fellows with REMOTE, REWORK and all those great, simple but effective thought-provoking books. Those bled into how we built our company so we are primarily distributed. We have a couple of hubs. There are a couple of pockets and some offices like in Boise and there’s one in Atlanta. I would love to say that it makes everything harder.
What do you think was the biggest thing that had to change from years ago when you have 30 employees and now you’re 350? What are the biggest couple of things that had to change and that have stayed the most consistent?
The thing that stays consistent is we are still excited about marketing our product. This is something that we try to teach. We do a lot of education and a lot of teaching. We try to get people excited about marketing because we believe that if you’re the person who’s the most excited about marketing your product, you’ll be successful. All the tools, training and everything out there, if you don’t care to tell the world about your thing, you’re probably not going to have much success. Consistently, we are still super excited about ClickFunnels and telling the world about it and how it can solve your problems. That has not gone down. If anything, it’s gotten more exciting. We have a bigger team and we’re able to solve bigger problems. We were able to go into different markets and do more exciting stuff. That has been consistent the whole time.
A lot of things that have changed have been holdovers from everybody’s previous company or things they learned that didn’t apply. Nobody has done what we’re doing. None of us has built a company that has 350 employees and makes $100 million a year and has billions of dollars going through it. None of us have done that so we all had ideas and preconceived notions. We had baggage and we had all these things and it all had to come together and work together. You had to throw some of that old stuff away because it didn’t work. There are these clear points where we, as an executive team, running the company went through a transition together. We were all still here. We’ve gone from that tiny little thing to that 10,000 customers and then 20,000 and then 40,000. Now we’ve got almost 100,000 customers on our platform and every major milestone along the way, we had to change how we thought about our company, about ourselves and the way that we interact. We become a much stronger executive team because of that. A lot of that requires you to throw something away that that’s not going to help you get to the next level.
What did you have to throw away personally?
I’m an outsider to the group. I came from a traditional tech startup land background doing consulting and software engineering for the valley and that thing. I had a lot of preconceived notions about how startups work because everyone had been VC funded and they had a different viewpoint on the world. Coming into internet marketing, selling from stage and all of this stuff was completely bizarre land to me. None of the partners, Russell and Todd, worked for anyone else. They’ve never had a good old office job, sat in a cubicle and had to sit in a meeting with the boss. They are the driven entrepreneur and they’ve been doing it themselves the whole time. They didn’t have any of that background.
For some reason, there’s a good mix there and I brought certain things that they didn’t know about. They’ve rubbed a lot off on me about what I value and think is important. There were some things that I’ve lost about venture capital, raising money and the way that you invest in employees. You have to throw some of that away to be able to build a company that’s growing as fast as we were and that’s bootstrapped. You have to lose some of those.
I love that you said that the excitement has stayed consistent. I saw a video of Russell and I was laughing. I’m like, “That guy’s either drinking way more coffee than he used to or he’s as excited as ever.”
The funniest thing is he doesn’t drink coffee at all. It’s all natural.
How about in terms of growing your team? You talked a little bit about Russell, Todd and for all of you. For many people, it’s similar that this is the biggest thing we’ve ever done. You wake up in the morning and it’s bigger than it was before. You not only got the accelerated growth curve but every day, it’s the biggest thing you’ve ever done. What are you doing specifically to grow yourself, your skills and the skills of your leadership team?
I do a lot of reading. Russell is a big reader. He will throw a lot of books and we’ll share books with each other that have been impactful or had a good message. We’ll take that and we’ll ship that to employees and our leadership team. We might even engage with some of those individuals that do some consulting and that thing to bring in an expert, which sounds like a grand, old-timey thing to do for a big company to bring in a consultant and come in. For tiny little startups, that’s the epitome of that. For us, it’s cool to bring in a person that you would never probably engage with on your own. We bring that person into our world, have them work with our team, have them bring in those people they would never get to talk to and meet some of our idols in the business world. That was fun.
At the end of the day, the more we grow our people, the more we grow our company. I was talking to a CEO that I’ve coached from about 40 people up to 750. He raised $255 million from Warburg Pincus. We were talking about meetings and he was saying that meetings suck. I’m like, “Meetings don’t suck at all. Have you ever trained your employees on how to run them?” He said, “No.” I said, “Have you ever trained all your employees on how to show up, attend them and participate in them?” He said, “No.” I said, “Meetings don’t suck at all. You suck at running meetings.” I wrote a book for him to then distribute to all of his employees, which is now called Meetings Suck. My belief has always been that the more we grow our people, the more we grow our brand.
Richard Branson said, “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of the customers.” For me personally, if I were to summarize my view on how to build a company or how to run it, I am definitely focused on employees. My role at ClickFunnels as COO, because every COO is unique in every company, you’re the guy who fills in the gaps depending on the company.
That is something about your company culture that has somehow eked out into the atmosphere. People speak highly of ClickFunnels in terms of employee engagement.
We got some recognition in Entrepreneur Magazine for being the number one entrepreneurial company. We had one of the best places to work and all of that is great. It’s great to see that recognition. The best stories come from our employees and from a super low turnover rate. That is the key metric for, are we doing our job of providing engaging work and interesting work? Are we doing meaningful work? In this day and age, especially those in the software world, people can go to work anywhere. They could get a job from ten different places if they wanted to. Why are they choosing to work here? That’s different for everybody. When you keep them engaged, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t keep coming to do awesome work every day. We had a spell of over two years before we had somebody leave the company. It was a contentious position and it was potentially something that we weren’t sure how is going to work out long-term. We knew where it was going but it was two years before anybody left and I was proud of that.
It’s interesting because you brought up in terms of why employees stay doing meaningful work, they’re highly engaged and they’re interested in their job. That has nothing to do with what the mass media covers as the best place to work. They always talk about the massages and the free lunches, but that’s the cost of entry now. Lots of companies do that but lots of people quit those companies, too. Having a great employee culture is what you talked about.
For everybody, it’s different things. You’ve got to have interesting cool stuff to work on. You want to show up and be like, “This is challenging me. I love this. I’ve got enough space to do good work.” I don’t know who says this, but I love it, “Many people hire for innovation, but managed for status quo.” You want to bring that person in who’s going to do everything and solve all your problems, but then you manage them to keep doing what you’re comfortable with and what you’ve always been doing. You don’t let them innovate. We’ve gotten a lot better about letting outsiders come in, new people come in with new ideas and people that have different experiences. While we still have our vision, they’re able to take it, run with it, make it their own and take ownership over it. Ownership is a huge part of why somebody remains engaged.
You mentioned two books, REMOTE and REWORK. Are those books based on running remote teams?
REMOTE was all about not only how but why you should run a remote team and the value of it. REWORK was challenging the status quo of how startups are running.
Give us some lessons on how to run remote teams because everyone’s talking about it and wanting to do it. I did an interview with a media outlet in Germany and we were talking about the remote teams and the gig economy. How do you build a great culture when many of your employees are not coming into an office place? How do you keep people aligned? How do you communicate?
This is a topic I’m passionate about. I’ve been on many remote teams myself and have seen it from the beginning in the early days when there were two people that were remote or a few people, but most people were in the office. I have that experience of knowing what it feels like to be forgotten about like, “We forgot to include them in the meeting. We’ll just catch you up later,” and feeling completely disconnected. I have spent other time before ClickFunnels working on how to be a better remote company.
The reason that I was even hired at ClickFunnels in the first place was I was found through a recruiter as a remote software engineer for that because I had experience in that and that’s what they were trying to build. It worked out because I was remote. If I hadn’t been a part of the business, they wouldn’t have been able to find me. One of the big reasons that you do it is to cast the widest net. I want to find the best people and with technology, there’s no reason depending on the job. Most work should probably be done remotely, but the way that you engage with your remote team keeping everybody distributed, it levels the playing field.
There’s this group of people that had a meeting and nobody knows what they talked about. All the remote people have to catch up or they always feel disconnected. If you approach it from a remote-first or distributed first approach and think about like, “How are we going to build a culture with a completely remote team?” It will work even if you are in an office. It will work if you have processes, tools, and training. When you have those things in place, assuming everybody’s distributed, it will work. If you get together, when you go back home and when somebody’s traveling, it will work. When you bring on a new employee who’s in a different time zone, it will work.
You’ll definitely go out of your way to prepare for that. You can’t have a meeting at 9:00 AM every day. That doesn’t work if it’s 2:00 AM for that person. What do you do? How do you have those things? Every company is different. There’s not like, “Here’s how you do a meeting on a remote team.” You have to think about things more asynchronously. Maybe we don’t need a face-to-face meeting. Maybe we don’t need to all get in and look at each other at 9:00 AM every day. Maybe we could do it through an email thread, a Slack channel or whatever works. Maybe we will have two meetings. Maybe we do one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Maybe just do one at midday because that’s what works for everybody. It’s only a problem to prefer how do we make this work for everybody assuming everybody’s remote first?
Are you dealing with many that are freelance, part-time or fractional or are you big enough that you can get the gig economy but they’re still full-time?
I don’t know that we’re engaging in the gig economy. Our employees are all full-time employees or they’re full-time contractors on a long-term basis. We don’t have part-time and people just checking in. There are a couple of things like we work with an illustrator who does some illustrations. He’s definitely like a gigger but a consistent gigger because we always send him all of our works. Most of our team is full-time and dedicated to the values and vision that we have for the platform.
How does the leadership team at ClickFunnels work? What are your meeting rhythms like?
This is something I put together not too long ago, but we have weekly directors meeting with all the directors of all departments. Our company has two CEOs, Todd and Russell, myself as a COO reporting to them but in the middle of a general administration. They each oversee marketing and product so there are three major divisions. Within each of those, there are departments, which are marketing, product design, product development, accounting, etc. There’s a director of each one of those and there’s about a dozen or so. We have a Go-meeting. I’ve called it a Go-meeting every Monday, about a half an hour with all CEOs, myself and then all the directors for each department. The Go-meeting is for goals and obstacles.
You go through your top goals, stuff that you probably need feedback from either Todd and Russell, or you just want people to be aware that this is a thing that’s going to impact other departments or an obstacle, “I don’t know how to move forward on this. I need feedback from Todd,” or “I don’t know how to move forward in this. I need help from another department.” It’s getting all of that stuff out there for the week so that all the departments and Todd and Russell walk away knowing like, “This is what’s going on,” and we were able to either give a quick answer and build some momentum. Momentum is a huge value of ours. Build some momentum, get that obstacle out of the way, connecting with the right person or “Let’s talk after this and do a quick offline meeting with everybody. Figure that out because it’s not a quick answer.” The idea is to leave that meeting with an idea of what’s going on across the board and who needs to connect with who. It’s quick goals and obstacles and then break meeting. We do that weekly.
I like the Go part, especially the obstacles component because it fosters the team. They’re working with each other to help remove obstacles and blocks from each other. You’re all on that same team and then you run your business area second almost.
That is a good observation because it’s easy to fall into the trap of being your department head and caring about your people in your department, and that’s valuable. You also have to remember that you’re a part of this other team running the whole company. It’s not just you and your department because then you start to self-optimize and you start to prefer. You’ve got to remember like it’s also important that accounting gets what it needs from product development.
I was talking to someone one time about NFL football. You’re between Chicago and Detroit, who’s your team?
Let’s say you’ve got the wide receiver for the Lions and you’ve got the offensive team, defensive team, and special teams. What is the most important team for the wide receiver?
I don’t know. I’m not huge into football, but for that wide receiver, probably the coaching team.
This is where I love setting you up for this because it’s the Detroit Lions. That’s the most important team. Their offensive team, coaching team or the defensive team is their second team. The quarterback, when they’re off the field, they’re not sitting around waiting to go back out and play. They’re watching the defense and watching what’s happening against them. When the defense comes off and goes, “You got beat by this guy. This is what happened. This is what I saw.” They’re helping each other for the sake of the whole team. That’s where you are killing it with your Go-meeting. You’ve probably fostered this culture where you’ve all got each other’s backs. You’re all helping with the problem and solve each other like a ready break. It’s almost like a huddle where you slap your hands ready to go. That’s a huge part of your culture.
The concept is something we haven’t introduced yet. That’s one thing I wanted to make clear is I’ve heard it referred to as Team #1. This is from a guy I’ve been reading, Patrick Lencioni. He has a lot of good stuff and he has this concept of reminding you that you’re a part of Team #1, which is that executive team. We’re here to work with each other and help each other figure stuff out. As a COO, I see myself at least in our organization as that floater for any department. I have direct reports on the GA side of our business, the general administration, but then I’ve dotted lines to every other director but that can jump in. There’s a clear like, “You’re going to work with Todd. You are going to work with Russell directly.” They’re in that line, but sometimes, there’s something that I need to get pulled in on to help out with so I definitely have a glue aspect to my role.
Does he talk about that in his book on Silos, Politics and Turf Wars or The Five Dysfunctions of a Team?
I haven’t gotten to those yet but it’s another one. He references that this is the unfair advantage or disadvantage or something like that where he talked about organizational health.
I haven’t read that one yet. I love that whole Team #1 concept. That’s got to be something that more people truly get. It’s almost not as important when you’re small. When you’re a 10 to 20-person company, that happens by default because you’re all running so fast, jack of all trades and master of none. When all of a sudden, you’re big and you’re managing these big downlines, you can get those silos by accident.
We’ve seen that happen. It’s easy to get siloed. We were operating as two companies for a long time because there were two cofounders with two different viewpoints and two different teams. We naturally grew apart to some degree where there were two companies. We realized that and we said, “What do we want to be? Do we want to be two companies or do we want to be one company? If we’re going to be one company, how are we going to start to do it?” A part of me was moving out from a CTO role, which I had been focused more on working with Todd on the technology and platform. I’m a new COO and a part of that was that realization of like, “How are we going to become one team?” A goal for my role is to bring the company together to be that one team and to bring stuff like a Go-meeting where we have all of the directors from all departments come together. It comes from that strategy.
Do you brand a lot of your systems internally? Do you have a name for them like a Go-meeting?
We’re a marketing company so we market stuff. You’ve got to sell stuff. Sometimes, I know working with Todd and Russell, especially Russell, if it’s not sexy, I’m going to lose them. I’ve got to put some effort into making it marketable and saleable. I love selling.
I had an early-stage mentor who is the founder of a company called College Pro Painters. He said, “To build an amazing business, it had to be a little bit more than a business and a little bit less than a religion. It had to be in that zone of a cult.” Go-meeting is culty but that should sell.
It has to be engaging and it has to feel like a thing. You’ve got to be able to sell it and market it. It has to be effective. It can’t just be marketing and sales. There has to be some meat on it but it’s simple in a framework. Something else we value is simplicity and not overthinking stuff. The concept of the Go-meeting comes from something else that’s an important framework that is called a V2MOM. This is good and I’m glad we’re talking about it. V2MOM is Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures. It is a simple five-section one-page document that describes a goal and this comes from Marc Benioff when he started Salesforce.
There’s a classic V2MOM he wrote for Salesforce before he started the company because this was a concept he took from Oracle. I forgot where we learned about it but we worked with Salesforce a lot. We started to roll this out into our organization like, “We need to start getting on the same page about what it is we’re trying to achieve.” As we grew, there were some of those growing pains of communication like, “Do we need to document this? Can we have a quick chat?” As you grow, having that quick chat isn’t always going to cut it and a lot of times, things are moving fast that you need to go back and remember like, “Why are we even doing this? Who decided this? When did we decide this?”
This was a good solution for us at the time and still is like, “Let’s write it down. Let’s communicate what the goal is, because then what we can do is we can disagree. Maybe that’s not what Todd thought the goal was. Maybe I thought the goal was different. Maybe Jason thought the goal was different. Maybe Danny thought of something else.” What it allows you to do is rally around a consistent vision for something. When I was transitioning possibly into this role of COO, I wrote a V2MOM for COO. What is the goal of a COO? I wanted to make sure that Todd and Russell knew what the goal was and that we were all on the same page. We shared it and made sure like, “Here’s the goal.” It’s a document so as my role changes, I change the document. I should be able to go back there and anybody should be able to go back and reference that like, “What’s the goal here? Why do we have a COO?”
That’s an especially important one because Harvard wrote an article years ago called The Misunderstood Role of the COO. The COO is different in every single company because you’re taking all this stuff that the CEO sucks at and doesn’t love. Think about Shopify. Harley was one of the first guests I had on the COO Alliance. Harley is the COO but he’s all marketing, biz dev, public relations, and outward-facing. Tobias, the CEO, is inward-facing. It’s the exact opposite of you guys. You need that clarity for sure. You said that there’s some stuff that you’re hearing from your customers that you guys are struggling at. Where are you struggling as part of your natural growth or with the product that you’re working on?
Everybody has a different business. We’ve got almost 100,000 customers, which is to say 100,000 different businesses and platforms. They all have different needs and they’re at different stages. They use third-party tools that are different. They’ve decided to make their business this way for some reason. For any platform like we are, everybody wants it to be a little bit different for them. The great challenge isn’t how do we meet everybody’s needs. We would have thought about this differently. We made a big promotion around our birthday. For that, we had a little bit of promotion and there was a lot of hullabaloo about, “What are they going to be announcing? Are they going to IPO? Are they going to buy some company?”
In a true ClickFunnels fashion, we were selling something. We’re trying to get people to upgrade and it worked well. It was effective. At the end of the day, what people want from us are different things. We decided that we’re never going to be able to give everything they want, but we don’t want to water everything down and try to push everyone into one way of doing things. We started to go down that path and we started to try to be the one way to do everything sending emails, Facebook, etc. We’re going to do it all.
This is one of those powerful moments where you get that transition to the next company moments. We had a killing of sacred cows email go out and it was a conversation Todd and Russell had of like, “We need to kill some sacred cows here and throw some bombs in here and see what sticks,” so we did. We decided to make some major changes to our product offering and to the way we run our business, even to the name of the business. We threw it all out there. Everything was on the table. It was a big deal and from that, we decided that we don’t want to be that one solution for everything. We want to be that platform that we work with the best. There’s a book called Play Bigger that’s about this idea.
There’s a lot of good stuff in it. Play Bigger talks about becoming and maintaining success in a market relies on your ability to maintain yourself or become the category king. We are the category king of sales funnels. We are not the category king of email autoresponders. We need to integrate with those. People rely on us to be able to do that so we looked at Salesforce as a successful model. We don’t necessarily want to do everything the way they did it. There’s definitely some feeling that you sign up for Salesforce and then you have to spend nine times more money to configure it, pay consultants and do all these things to make it useful. We don’t want that.
That’s sadly the reputation.
They deserve it. They have a great platform and great service. They’re huge and they provide a lot of value to a lot of businesses, but there’s definitely a bar that you have to be over to be successful. What we’re doing, in many ways, is providing that same flexibility integrating with the best category kings out there instead of trying to become a category king because we never will. We’re category king of sales funnels and we’re happy with that. We want to be able to plugin.
I want to think back to your 22nd birthday. You’re graduating college and you’re 22 years old. What word of advice would you give yourself back then that now you know to be true and you wish you’d known at 22?
I probably finished my degree. I probably would have convinced myself to finish those remaining eleven credits and get my bachelor’s because I never did that. I looked into going back and I’m like, “I can’t. I already have a full-time job. I was already doing this.” It would have been nice to check that box so my kids don’t hold it against me later when they’re going to college. I don’t know what I would tell myself and I’m happy. I’m definitely grateful for all of the success that I’ve been able to participate in and help be a part of. ClickFunnels is quite unique in the world and I’m happy to be a part of it and help out and make it what it is. I don’t think I would have ever thought when I was 22 that I would be a part of something like this in quite this way and at this level. We get to help out tens of thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs and help people realize their dreams.
Every day, we have what’s called the ClickFunnels Pulse. It’s a little ten-minute for all employees, all hands and we go through critical numbers for each department. We talk about how many customers we have and in the end, we share a success story of a customer. There is no shortage of success stories on ClickFunnels. Sometimes, people at ClickFunnels take it for granted a little bit. Sometimes, we don’t realize how amazing it is to have this much success to be doing it in a way. It’s not like we’re just a great tech company with a cool database or some technology. Every day, we have testimonials and stories from real people who are impacted in a meaningful way by the work that we do. That’s a crazy thing to have anywhere. Let alone at a tech company in this day and age.
That’s unique and I love being a part of that. We’re part of some other great organizations that we’re able to help because of the great success we’ve had. We’re able to give back not only to all the entrepreneurs we help but to Operation Underground Railroad, which everyone should check out. They help free children from sex trafficking. We give them a ton of money and we’ve given them a platform. Russell, personally, spent a lot of time helping them market themselves. ClickFunnels could all just be driving Lambos and sitting on CNN if we wanted to, but we’re not. We don’t care about that stuff. It is so much more important to us that we have a great product that our customers love and people are excited about every day. We’re able to give back to these kinds of things. All of that, once you achieve that success, it becomes a lot more important to everybody.
To be able to have that, I don’t know that I would be able to tell my 22-year-old self anything other than, “Hang on a little bit. It’s going to show up. You’ve just got to be patient. Keep putting yourself in the right position.” That’s one thing that I didn’t think about when I was 22 but I was doing. I’m driven and motivated. I was doing everything all the time. I said yes to everything. I was in the Army and I was getting jobs. I was running my own web hosting company. I was doing everything I could. I’m failing a lot along the way but it put me in that position to be the right person at the right time for ClickFunnels.
I love the hang-on lesson as well because that’s an important one. A lot of people quit the day before it becomes an overnight success. It takes a long time. This has been powerful. I appreciate it. Ryan Montgomery, the COO for ClickFunnels, thank you so much for sharing with us.
Thank you. I loved it.
- Russell Brunson
- Todd Dickerson
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things
- Meetings Suck
- Silos, Politics and Turf Wars
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- The Misunderstood Role of the COO
- Harley Finkelstein – Past episode
- Play Bigger
- Operation Underground Railroad
About Ryan Montgomery
Ryan is a leader, problem-solver, and mentor. He has a background in software engineering and likes to tackle problems head-on to find solutions that work the first time.
He measures his success by the success of the people around him, and he strives to help his teams and peers realize their full potential. When he’s not working hard to be the brains behind the operation, he spends his time being active and relaxing with his family.