How Brad Stroh built Bills.com by creating a team of entrepreneurs

Instead of pizza parties on the floor, Stroh now visits all three corporate offices monthly to have brown-bag lunches with anywhere from 25 to 250 employees, During these lunches, he talks about the company’s goals and challenges, answers employee questions and talks to his people about what matters to them.

The company also holds regular focus groups with employees, giving them opportunities to share insights and experiences. Stroh frequently sits in on the focus groups to moderate or prepares discussion topics to get feedback on specific issues, such as industry trends or customer needs.

“It goes back to the roots of our business,” he says. “That’s what connects me with the soul of our business, talking to the front-end clients, talking to our employees who are most directly on the front line.”

Even with brown-bag lunches and focus groups, it can be tough to keep employees motivated to execute your vision when the big picture keeps getting bigger. As Bills.com has expanded across offices, Stroh has made adjustments to better align his employees companywide on strategy and goals.

In 2007, he introduced “The Founder’s Corner,” an employee intranet similar to an internal Twitter feed. Stroh posts updates on The Founder’s Corner constantly, communicating information about the company’s ongoing challenges, news, and short- and long-term successes.

“I’m a pretty vocal person, and the person right outside my door knows everything that I’m working on, and I know everything that they are working on, but what about the person who is in our Phoenix office and I see once a month?” Stroh says. “Maybe they don’t have the opportunity to come to a brown-bag lunch. The intranet was just a way to pump out all of key strategic initiatives that we’re working on, every single week.”

To make sure his managers also continually re-evaluate their individual goals and growth strategies, Stroh asks his vice presidents and their directors to e-mail their top three strategic objectives at the beginning of every week, and e-mail progress on those goals at the week’s end.

By having management constantly review the challenges facing the company, Stroh ensures that urgent day-to-day issues don’t interfere with achieving Bills.com’s long-term vision. It also keeps them thinking about new ways to add value continuously as individual entrepreneurs.

“When you are growing as quickly as we are, there’s one universal truth, which is everything is constantly changing,” Stroh says. “You are constantly reinventing your CRM systems, your phone systems, your AP process and your accounting systems. It’s a constant thing. You have to get comfortable dealing with change and have a culture that embraces change.”

Today, Bills.com ranks as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in Northern California. It has appeared on Entrepreneur magazine’s 2008 Hot 100 and has ranked on Inc. 500’s list of fastest-growing companies for the last three years. Promoting a culture of entrepreneurism long-term means you are always seeking out new opportunities to better serve customers. Stroh never stops looking for new ways to add value for customers. He asks his employees to do the same.

“We are constantly evaluating new ideas,” Stroh says. “It’s part of our core values, to constantly innovate. That’s both in new products, new offerings and new opportunities in what we do.

“In a perfect world for us, we’re taking hundreds or even thousands of small risks every day, but we try to limit the number of ‘bet-the-farm’ risks to a very small set.”

With lots of calculated risk taking, the company encourages employees to be competitive and innovative, without committing too many resources to an idea that may fall flat.

“Part of the reason we like to test small and let Darwinism work its forces is that with limited resources committed, you don’t have to keep sprinting if you are running in the wrong direction. You can change course quickly.”

With new product committees and new business opportunity meetings, Stroh gives employees many outlets to be creative, take risks and test new ideas. However, the chief way he gets employees to drive Bills.com’s entrepreneurial vision is still by showing them the value of that vision for the company and its clients.

“When people say I found something that I think we can do better, you don’t blow it off,” Stroh says. “You fix it immediately, and you send a message to the whole company of whose idea was it and what value that created for the business. Then you perpetuate that culture of entrepreneurism.

“We celebrate the success of our consumer clients with testimonials we post all over the office. Consumer successes —when we change their lives we make that very visible in our company so it never turns into a business that people aren’t tangibly connected with the consumers that we are helping.”

HOW TO REACH: Bills.com LLC, www.bills.com

Photo by Anthony Garcia