While most people avoid problems, Zac Carman pursues them. “The bigger the problem you focus on solving, the bigger the opportunity to build an enduring company,” Carman said.
The CEO of ConsumerAffairs is building a billion dollar business out of solving problems for consumers by helping them make purchase decisions.
“Growing a billion dollar business requires a leader who inspires, a great product, a willingness to evolve and a determination to win,” said Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks and CEO of MSCO, a global marketing and management consultancy.
As a sure-footed millennial CEO, Carman appears to be on that exact track.
The ConsumerAffairs website was originally founded in 1998 as a news resource for journalists looking for trends in consumer experiences. But when Carman acquired the company in 2010, the firm pivoted. Today, the ConsumerAffairs for Brands accreditation program enables firms to interact with customers, use feedback and analytics to drive operational improvements in customer service and product offerings and acquire new customers.
“It’s our focus on helping consumers and brands in their mutual time of need that has enabled us to grow the business,” the Dartmouth graduate told Newsmax Finance.
The path to building a billion dollar business, however, is paved with obstacles.
Below are five lessons Carman is learning in the process.
1. Motivate your employees with team building activities
The first challenge was changing the long faces of ConsumerAffairs employees on Monday mornings six years ago. “The troops were either dragging their feet, showing up late, Facebooking until noon, shopping on Amazon or watching a Netflix movie at their desk,” Carman said.
If Mondays are a drag, it’s usually an indication that purpose-driven company culture is missing so Carman quickly implemented changes with the intent of making the start of the work week a welcome relief from the weekend. “When employees do not want to be at work, it’s typically because they are not attracted to the office and are only there for a paycheck,” said Richard Trimber, a business attorney and advisor. “The culture is lacking a spark.” Carman set out to create a spark when he launched Stand Up Monday at 9:00 AM, which now takes place weekly without fail.
During Stand Up Monday, more than 100 staffers rotate monthly in multiple circles for 15 minutes and tell each other about the most impactful thing they did the previous work day and how they plan to impact the business today.
“People build trust when they blow off steam together, share stories and feelings,” said David Kilimnik, CEO of Hero Digital, a digital consultancy firm.
Now, when Carman walks into the office on Monday morning, his employees are inspired, high-fiving each other and actively engaged in their work for the day. “It’s a huge difference and purpose actually now starts with the hiring process, which is very long and intensive,” Carman said.
2. Hire Only the Best Employees
The ConsumerAffairs philosophy is that the way to build a billion dollar business is by hiring the best employees.
“Execution is where the rubber meets the road and at any sort of scale, it’s the employees who do it all,” Carman said.
What makes workers effective at execution is the ability to apply their strengths to the work that needs to be done, according to Greg Chambers, founder of the sales-and-marketing consultancy firm Chambers Pivot Industries. “Don’t look for employees enthusiastic about work,” Chambers told Newsmax Finance. “Instead, look at your current employees and get them enthused about using their self-identified strengths to reach objectives.”
3. Share Long Range Plans With Staff
Start ups reportedly fail because very few CEOs consistently articulate why they do what they do as an organization or as an individual. At ConsumerAffairs, the secret sauce includes Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG), a plan designed to focus an organization on a single goal based on a book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras called Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.
4. Take Frequent Breaks
Carman spent nearly three days envisioning the future of ConsumerAffairs and charting a path at a retreat center in rural Oklahoma with his Chief Operating Officer (COO) Eric Jenkins and Director of Special Projects in tow.
“You’ve got to get out of the office, turn off communications as much as possible and have a strategic discussion,” Jenkins told Newsmax Finance.
The CEO and COO did not set out to re-invent the wheel. Instead, Carman and Jenkins borrowed from Netflix and other hot startups to establish ConsumerAffair’s company culture, office environment, long term and short goals as well as rules and company policy.
5. Deliberately Create Company Culture
Known for its progressive office culture, Netflix offers salaried employees unlimited vacation and freedom from traditional yearly performance reviews among many other perks.
“During the retreat, we investigated Netflix, Google and Facebook and we really liked the characteristics of Netflix,” said Jenkins. “In addition to adopting the work hard and play hard philosophy, we seek out high performing individuals who don’t have to be micro managed.”
Had ConsumerAffairs been 20 years old, that fateful retreat would have been about changing the existing culture instead of establishing a brand new culture. “Revamping ConsumerAffairs was a clean sheet of paper. It was still in its infancy then,” Jenkins said.
The ConsumerAffairs BHAG is enhanced with worksheets from Cameron Herold’s book called Double Double: How to Double Your Profit and Revenue in 3 Years or Less.
“We created a detailed step-by-step plan, which culminated in a longer form document that contains some 15 slides known as our Painted Picture, which helped us to visualize and consistently articulate to the team exactly how we would achieve the BHAG,” said Carman.
With ConsumerAffairs well on its way to becoming that billion dollar company Carman envisioned, it’s only a matter of the company that he keeps and that company is vetted three times over.
Juliette Fairley is an author, lecturer and TV host based in New York. To read more of her work, Click Here Now.
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