By Alison Osborne
Hustle Harder Episode 21 Transcription
In this episode of Hustle Harder we chatted with the Director of Sales and Marketing at Luxury Move Management (previously the Customer Experience Manager at Second Closet), host of The Lucky Few podcast and our friend, Aaron Parker!
Let’s get into it.
Steph: You've been in the startup world for a while, so what is the number one thing that you would like to remember when your heads down in work?
Aaron: I want to be as specific as I can here and not just give you the standard - remember your vision. I think the most important thing is to understand every single startup goes through specific stages. So first, you're like, oh my goodness, people have seen us on like a subway. That's the most amazing thing. Oh my goodness, we're now getting our first business client. Oh my goodness, we now have a team of like, 20 to manage.
It's so important to know your why with every single one of those stages, because your why is not the same, in my opinion, when people say you have this grandiose “why” that remains true throughout your entire business cycle. I actually don't think that's the case. So in the beginning, you're like, I'm starting to help people. And yes, you always want to help people. But in reality, you may say like, okay, now I have to provide revenue for my board. Now I have to provide an amazing workplace for these people that like I'm actually employing. So I think the biggest thing to always remember is to understand what stage of the business you are. And realize it, unfortunately, doesn't always cater to your original “why”. Because your “why” does change because you will have different priorities as you grow your business. And I will say, this is something that I've struggled with. Sometimes getting big, it's sexy, but it's kind of sad. You lose touch with the original founders, you lose your contact with customers, you lose that intimate feeling.
Steph: I know Second Closet from when you started and where it is now, has actually grown to be a lot larger than in the beginning. What was that experience like?
Aaron: I think right now we're close to 55 people, this week alone, we started four more people because we have people on the operation side. And it used to be a little bit invasive when someone new started like, what are you doing joining our family? Like you didn't grow up with us? Who are you? And now it's like, oh, yeah, four more people started, “hi, how are you?” But I needed to relinquish that possessiveness on the new people that have started and it's getting different. We just moved into a new office, we likely will grow out of that in the next three months. So it's all about finding what motivates you and finding a position in your company and for some people, honestly, that's leaving or it’s staying and revising how they interact and what they contribute.
Steph: I get what you're saying. Because I remember even in my last startup, when we started expanding, the culture just completely changed. And sure, it wasn't as dramatic as 55 people, but I remember it was as small as starting from a core team of four to, I think it was a team of 15 when I left. It was so odd because there were key people that got hired that just completely changed the vibe of the startup. And when you're working in such a close environment with people, it's so easy to get caught up in things that are happening or what people are saying. How do you stay relevant?
Aaron: You just always, always, always have to adapt. And for me, this has been a little bit of a struggle because I like doing so many things in every single capacity, but now I'm being forced to remain in a little bit of my lane and do things a little bit better. It's less anxiety-provoking for sure.
I think the biggest thing of remaining relevant and I actually focused on this yesterday, is internally communicating what you're doing, and offering value to other departments. So in the past, when there was like a 5-10 person team, you could just execute. Now it's like execute, send out an email to all the department heads saying - this is what I did, this is what it achieved, this is how it's going to help you. And the second is being proactive and making good suggestions and always seeming like you want to move the organization forward.
Steph: So what's your definition of just start?
Aaron: So I've read so many books about this. There's one called atomic habits, and just starting is literally making incremental progress towards a goal. So if you want to send out 100,000 thank you cards to clients who you love, just starting is buying the stamps for those thank you cards that need to go out. Us as people, we’re so bogged down and paralyzed by analysis, like paralysis by analysis. I'm sure we've all heard that term. So the thing here is, how can you bring any activity down to incremental, easy, approachable, non-overwhelming tasks. So I think that's the biggest thing.
For example, people don't go to the gym, due to the fact that not only do you have to put on your workout clothes, but you also have to do 100 push-ups and all this stuff. But like, if you set up a time that you only allow yourself to do five push-ups at the gym and a 10-minute walk, you're going to go you're going to do those things, then you'll go hmm, I'm incredibly underworked out at the moment. I have more in my system, but starting is the most difficult thing. And it's only because we view it as an incredibly large hurdle to overcome instead of like the incremental nature of things.
Ali: But I think that a big thing is people feel like they need to prepare so much. Especially if it's something that's brand new and you haven't done it before, and especially in startups. So I found that for us and people we've worked with in the past, sometimes they would spend so much time preparing that it ended up being this huge thing that to begin was just overwhelming.
Aaron: Yeah, very common. Great segue into quality over consistency. And in my opinion, this is not an opinion, this is just right or wrong. Without a doubt 100% this is the thing I feel the strongest about is consistency over quality every time. Because here's the situation, let's just say there are two podcasts that are rivalling and one is worried about quality and one is worried about consistency. Podcast A which is focused on consistency, launches a podcast day one - it's pretty shit, but then they get a lot of feedback and they change it for day seven when they released another one while Podcast B is still working on the album art for their production. By this time Podcast A focused on consistency and has released 14 episodes and learned 14 separate times of how to make it better. Podcast B was focused exclusively on quality and has maybe launched their first episode that had a good wow factor. But they're so behind on content creation. So if you're at all an adaptive or intelligent person, even half-intelligent, you will find that releasing more quantity and being consistent with that will give you greater learning experiences. Also, another thing is that if you show that you're open to feedback, and you appreciate it, you're going to find the people who actively look to give you feedback, because they also want the thanks. So, Ali, if you gave me some feedback on The Lucky Few, and I was like, Ali, thank you so much for that feedback. I've made this change as a result, and now my shows better, you're wonderful. You're like, oh my god, I love the praise I just got, what other insight can I give this guy?
Steph: I think that's something that we struggled with in the beginning and I don't know if you had the same thing, but when we first started the first few versions of the magazine, I mean, it took us six or seven months to literally launch a shitty blog. And it was bad. Like, it wasn't a good blog, it was a bad blog. But what I found was once we launched it, and we started talking about it, and the more that we started putting out content, the more like you said, you learn and you start making it better and better.
Britt: At first I was thinking, why would you want to consistently create shit quality of work? But from your point of view, with consistency, you always get better and better over the next version. And I think that's where people don't understand sometimes just put things out although it's like your baby. Your baby has to grow and you don't know where your baby's gonna grow.
Aaron: There's one point, I think it's very important that we didn't cover yet. And the one thing about improving your versions as you go along is you need to take a step back and think and reevaluate. Because it's very easy to say, oh, I've used this mic and this computer and this is how I've structured my episode and I've done that 15 times in a row. But like, if you never take a step back and say, is there a better way to structure my show? Is there a better way to output my content, even with consistency, you do need to take a step back and evaluate if you are improving, and what that looks like. And a big part of that is looking at either competitors or colleagues or people in your industry that are doing something similar.
Steph: Well, I feel like if you don't take a step back, then you get so zoomed in and I don't know if this happens to you, where you're working on something and you're nose down, and then you start overthinking things because you're so embedded in the thing that you're trying to do. And so I feel like that zoom out time to give you perspective of what's actually important.
Steph: What’s some advice that you'd give to actually help people work on the business rather than in the business because as a startup, or an entrepreneur or whatever your role is, you have those days where your hands are tied, you need to get done these minute tasks, but to remind yourself to take that step back and look at the overall business, analyze how it's doing, how you could maybe perform better and switch some things up. It's hard to do sometimes.
Aaron: Absolutely. I have very specific and helpful advice and it's one thing during your day. Whenever people are around you in your organization, you will not have the same focus time to work on your business, you have to get to the office an hour earlier than your team. That will allow you to be in the same physical location where you do all your output, but you won't be distracted by your team members. And that will allow you say, hi, I'm here, what happened yesterday? What's coming up today? Where do I see deficiencies? Where do I want to improve? What am I struggling with? The second your team joins you, even if it's the three of you, it's too distracting to do deep thought and work on the business. So the one piece of feedback, get to the office an hour earlier by yourself and I guarantee you that will change your level of output preparation and so on.
Steph: So I don't do an hour earlier generally, but I will definitely do hours later. I find that whenever I'm by myself at night and right before I go to bed if I do a bit of reflection time or just sitting there and just being relaxed. And you're sitting there like, hmm, maybe this could work and I find that's actually when the inspiration hits.
Do you find that you have to be in the office? Or is it more of like a disconnection thing because I also find that some of like the best ideas that I've had have been literally walking down the street or at my parents house, like completely away from the business not being in that same like routine.
Aaron: Without a doubt, the best ideas I have come to me in the shower, I kid you not. I'm just so isolated, no distractions, other than which soap do I choose for my short hair, but the office allows you to execute on the thoughts you had in those moments of inspiration. That's what I'm saying. So you're not in front of your screens. When you're not at the office, you're not in the place that you can write the things down necessarily. So absolutely. The reflection time is good for me, comes in the shower. I try and do it in the shower not my bed because then you won't sleep at night, but then you still have to be at the office to put it into a spreadsheet, send it out to your team, all those fun things.
Britt: Yeah, I get distracted so much when you guys are around, I'm just like, I have 50 things to do and then you're both bombarding me with 50 other things and it's like, I don't know where my head's at. I don't know what tasks I'm supposed to do or I forget a lot of things just because I'm working on something and someone needs something.
Aaron: I was actually speaking to my neighbour about this two days ago. And it's the importance of deep thought and deep work. So it's very easy to get distracted and play whack a mole when you're doing your day. In reality, you're not getting anything of substance done, but the reality is when you are in an office space and all these modern office spaces are open concept now. It's such shit, in my opinion, it's so bad like the open concept is great for an aesthetic and a vibe. It's horrible for getting stuff done. You can't do any deep thought deep work.
Britt: I think I read like an article or statistics saying that actually open spaces are the worst for productivity.
Steph: It's so funny that we're talking about this though because the three of us specifically are so bad at this because we go in, and it's like immediately we see each other and we're also best friends outside of work too. So we come in, and we're like, oh my god, this was a story and then it's like we got sucked down this rabbit hole.
Steph: In smaller organizations, something that people talk about, but I feel gives very overgeneralized advice about is that letting go factor and how it actually feels to let go of something that may have been your baby when it started out. So how have you dealt with that as Second Closet has expanded? And what would you tell someone who's trying to let go?
Aaron: When I finish this interview, I'm going back to the office and I'm doing exactly what you're just saying. I'm setting up a new process for auditing appointments. And what it would be like before is I would set up the process and I would just do it. But now I have a team of six and what that looks like and what successful delegation is, so everyone needs to do it this way. Because your people need to know what is success in your eyes and what is not. So if you set up a process, you need to say like, hi team, so you schedule a formal meeting with the title of we're going over this process, there will be opportunities for questions at the end. I expect that everyone will understand how to do this.
You walk the team through the process, you say, guys here's the end goal, I want you to start here, do these tasks, what success looks for me is when this is done, this is done, and this is done. I'm going to follow up with you at the end of the day and then we're going to make sure we're on the same page. If there are any variants that we're going to correct that and then go at it again tomorrow.
The issue with letting go is some people don't have confidence in themselves and you haven't honestly told your employees what success is. And if they're kind of floundering about, it's because you haven't set those parameters. So you have to take 20 minutes to an hour upfront setup, how you're going to explain the content to them, but then also set up a safety net at the end of the day or at the end of the week. When you can go over and say, is this done?
Steph: A lot of the time I think employees got frustrated when they don't have a clear set of criteria or goals that they're actually supposed to accomplish. And when you don't have that, then it's also hard to think about it in terms of well, am I being a productive person of this team? Am I growing? And that's such a huge factor when staying in a company or retaining employees.
Aaron: It's it's much harder to set up the structure and have the confidence to instill that vision in people but that literally is what makes a good leader. And here's the thing, if you're managing a big team, and you've been promoted because you were like the best salesperson, now you're the sales manager, doesn't mean you're suited for that role. It's just like in our society, it's so silly. Out of a 10 person sales team, the best salesperson, you'll take out of the sales role and make a manager so now you no longer have the revenue they used to bring to the table and you're saying manage all these other salespeople, that's not maybe what they want.
Britt: I don't think like your best salesperson should be your manager or could be your best manager just because maybe they're not good at managing but they're good at frickin sales.
Ali: I was talking to another marketing manager and something interesting that she was talking about was she was like, I'm not an expert at all the different tactics that we're doing in marketing. She's like, I'm not but my team is, I can do all the little things, but it's better for the experts to do it, which is them. And she's like, for me, it's more of just overall making sure they're all performing the way that they need to perform. And the team is working cohesively. She's like, I don't see myself as the expert.
And I think that that's something that people try to hold onto really tightly, and that can be an issue that we see is that they want to be an expert in one of their crafts. But sometimes it's just, can you manage the team and that itself can be a craft that you have.
Aaron: For example, Steve Jobs. He was literally not an engineer. He didn't code. He was just insane at seeing results and empowering his people and getting results through his people.
Thank you for reading! If you want to listen to the full episode you can check it out on Spotify, iTunes or wherever you normally listen. Also, if you want to connect with Aaron you can find him on Instagram @aaronparkertoronto and at Aaron Parker on LinkedIn.