An employee at Triad Retail Media had an idea about a new social networking tool for the company to consider. He didn’t need to fight through five layers of management to get the attention of CEO Greg Murtagh. He just e-mailed Murtagh directly. Before the end of that day, Murtagh had already read the proposal, researched the new tool online, agreed that it was a good idea and assigned someone to begin work on the project.
Murtagh founded Triad in 2004 but has continued to grow his company, which sells advertising to online retailers, by 282 percent in the past three years.
Greg Murtagh spoke with Smart Business about how fast-growth companies can keep pace with industry changes by facilitating a culture of innovation and open communication.
Encourage entrepreneurial thinking. People shoot me e-mails from five levels below me, and I think it’s great. That’s change around here. If you unencumber people and you take away the handcuffs and you take away the barriers and the walls … and say, ‘Hey, if you have a good idea let’s hear about it,’ — if you have that kind of open environment, things tend to happen a lot faster. If you are a person who just likes to sit in your office and close the door and say, ‘Hey, I hope it keeps going,’ and be visionary but not be close to what’s going on, you are in trouble. Around here, people like coming to work, because it’s a dynamic place to work. It’s an open place to work. Anybody can knock on anybody’s door at any time.
Give management enough rope. You have to let other people take the rope and trust that the people you’ve hired are going to do what you need them to do. A lot of times, people don’t do that. They try to do too much. They make every single decision, and as a result, the company slows down to a snail’s pace, because everything has to go through the person who is clogging the pipes. Even though you hire a great staff that you like and trust and you think are making the right decisions, and you are delegating, you have to let go a little bit. I’m not an IT person. I’m a sales and marketing person, but I live in an Internet world. There are lots of technical things that I am completely ignorant about. I have to hire people, especially in the IT area, who are telling me to make investments that cost millions of dollars and are giving me recommendations as to why we need that. I have to trust people and that they are telling me the right thing.
Reward innovation. We have a whole series of monetary awards called the Star Awards, where we give money to people every year to come up with ideas in certain areas in all different categories, such as $10,000 to the team that brings the best new idea to market during the year or $10,000 to the team that came up with most creative idea to save the company or grow revenue during the year. We pay people and reward people for being innovative. If you have clear communication and you have compensation that’s aligned with what you want to occur, then people will line up against your vision and make it happen.
Place bets on money makers. A lot of people see shiny new things and basically pick up the phone and tell their organizations, ‘We have to do that! We have to do that!’ And as a result, they waste a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of money on things that they shouldn’t have spent time on. In the Internet space, there are lots of shiny objects. You have to step back and look at that stuff with a very cold eye, and ask yourself, ‘Is it really going to be a transformational thing?’ There’s social. There’s mobile. There’s Facebook. There’s Twitter. There’s video. There are 18 different things that we should be thinking about, planning for and doing. You have to pick and choose your shots. I never put a dollar into anything that I don’t expect to make money. If things don’t work out, usually within six months, it’s not going to work out. If something is a success, it usually takes off.
How to reach: Triad Retail Media, (813) 286-6586 or www.triadretail.com
Mathias Friess compares growing a business in a new market to running a marathon. If you move too fast, you stumble over your own feet. If you get distracted on the journey, you veer off track. If you think short-term, you may sprint ahead and lose momentum down the road.
As CEO of Webjet.com a joint venture launched in April 2010 between Friess and Australia-based Webjet Marketing Pty Ltd. Friess’ vision for Webjet.com accounts for the inevitable changes that come with building an entirely new customer base, while staying true to what Friess calls the “core DNA” of the Webjet brand. By drawing from the past successes that made its $500 million parent company Australia’s largest online travel agency, Friess hopes to establish a local identity on steady pace for long-term growth in the U.S.
Friess points out key ways that CEOs can avoid potential pitfalls when introducing an established brand into a new market area.
Listen to the market first. Nothing beats the experience as the CEO to pick up the phone at the call center and talk to your customer find out what’s working and what’s not working right now, in the beginning, because that’s when you can tweak it and mold it. If you think you just copy and paste behaviors and products from one market to the other, that’s when companies ultimately fail. The consumers may look the same, but they don’t act the same. They have different histories and different behaviors. Have a look at the customers you are targeting and make sure that they really want this product.
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Make sure you see the nuances of a respective culture.
Obviously, you are not going to change your product fundamentally. But what you have to adjust is the way you communicate with your consumers. Know exactly who your customer is going to be. Know how customers talk, where they read, what they read, what they view, what their views are, and then go after them. Don’t try a bigger approach where you try to be everything to everyone. Don’t try to go after 300 million customers. It’s not going to work.
Set a realistic plan for shareholders. You’ve got to set your own expectations. It’s always tempting to pick up an article and say we could be growing faster or to take something out of context. Obviously, every plan is only as good as the adjustments you make to the plan going down the track. But you have to have an overall understanding of where you want to be at what point. You have to say, ‘Let’s stick to our DNA for the next two or three years, and if it works and is successful, the sky is the limit.’
Share numbers with your employees. You don’t have to slice it down or make it overly easy. People do understand numbers. If you take the big picture and walk people through, you get the buy-in. People understand, and they say, ‘I get that. I understand that this is going to be the driver.’ There are always limitations to what you can or cannot share. But in that framework, the more that you can share, the more you can win.
Bring people who bring ideas. You have to evolve from being your own ideas and the developer into having the right team, finding the right opportunities, the right structure and ways to communicate. …You have to encourage them and say, ‘Why don’t you come up with something? Why don’t you make me a case for that?’ If your core team has the ability to sit on the phone and understand what’s going on and come back with ideas of how to make things better, that’s the type of person we are looking for right now. Good people have the capability to communicate.