I wake up at 7am every morning.
Like most people, the first thing I do is grab my phone and check my work emails. Unlike most people, the first email I open is from Superman. He’s an automated bi-hourly report recapping revenue generated by country, city, category, sales rep, and listing best-selling deals on the site. After four years of staring at Superman, I can tell what type of a day it’s going to be by 8am. This in turn dictates whether I smile in the elevator on the way to work. I do a quick spot check on a few of our daily deal emails to make sure the subject lines are enticing, the deals are ranked logically, the images are crisp, and the writeups are appetizing.
Mondays are mostly about setting the team up for the week ahead. I host a company-wide update meeting with our 100 employees to kick things off. Staff members in our other cities dial in as well. I quote exact revenue numbers and performance metrics, I celebrate company wins, I talk candidly about our challenges, and I announce our Employee of the Month. Normally, I end with a free flowing talk about where we’re at in the journey, and what the next chapter has in store.
If I do my job right, the team is riled up and ready to roll. I know they feel that way if the call ends with energetic applause. The update meeting is what brings it all together, all at once, with everyone present. It serves as a reminder to everyone that we’re building something special. The team then gets a “Rate My Update” feedback form. I’ve had an employee once tell me that I’m surprisingly transparent for a CEO, but maybe too transparent for my own good. I can see his point. Every startup has its ups and downs. Being extra transparent gets tricky as soon as things turn on you because it impacts team morale and productivity. Still, I’ve found treating the team like adults goes a long way in building character and getting everyone on the same page as to what needs to be done to keep this place a happy one.
Back to the battlefield from there. The rest of my Mondays are dedicated to quick one-on-one touch points with each of the divisional managers. I find individual sitdowns to be especially efficient because it allows me to spend more time where each respective manager needs it the most. I try to restrict full on management meetings to once a month. Instead, I encourage that each manager touch base with all other managers at least once a week to keep things fluid.
GLOBAL TO GRANULAR
For the most part, the rest of my week is a free-for-all. The range of topics and people is dizzying. One minute, I’m on the phone with world renowned investors, the other minute, I’m asking accounting for a breakdown that explains why our coffee expense is up for the month. Global to granular in 60 seconds. Dollars are dollars.
I spend a significant amount of time thinking about what comes next. By the time the team is executing an experiment, my mind is already racing miles away to the next big thing. TeamBuy, much like its competitors, started off as a deal-a-day business. In the past six months alone, we’ve launched Flyers, Coupons, Car deals, Mortgage Comparison, Credit Card offers, a full fledged flights/vacations portal, and an event tickets hub. We have another six initiatives on the go at the moment. We’ve re-imagined the daily deal model a number of times in recent years. By the time our competitors catch on, we’re already re-inventing it again.
Whatever downtime I have, I’m answering emails. Someone once passed on a great rule of thumb here. If you can answer an email in less than 60 seconds, do it now, otherwise, park it, and set aside some email time. Despite my relentless pursuit to answer emails in real-time, I still have exactly 34,487 unopened emails in my inbox.
Hold on, there’s an explanation for that. If you run a deal site, I’m signed up to your emails. From Beijing to Brazil. I’m watching you closely and I’m stealing your best ideas daily. Stealing is okay. Tarantino steals from Scrocese. Kobe steals from MJ. Angelina stole from Jennifer. In the end, they all walked away with golden men, and the world for the most part forgot with time.
I’m a big fan of viral. After all, TeamBuy’s DNA is routed in guerilla tactics. In March of 2010 we were featured on Dragons’ Den and took that opportunity to roll out our national campaign in front of two million viewers. Though we never took the funding that was agreed on, in many ways, it was one the best decisions we ever made. The only investment on our part really entailed waking up extra early for the weekend auditions. Crazy to think we almost didn’t.
Kevin O’Leary, a former dragon, wanted to invest $150,000 for 50% of the company. I bumped into him recently, and let him know we average $150,000 in revenue a day now. The sad part was he barely remembered me.
We have an email group set-up called TeamViral to bounce ideas around. Lots of misses but some actually make it to the big leagues. Our “Shit Rich People Say” video garnered almost 475,000 views on Youtube. Right now, we’re brainstorming cool ideas for our upcoming announcement: our members have saved $1 billion in total to date on our service. We’re thinking an infographic would be a neat way to demonstrate the sheer range of this feat.
The marketing brainstorm is free-flowing. How many cupcakes have we sold? How many massages have we brokered? How many people have we flown to China? How many stadiums have we filled up? How many Brazilian waxes have we contributed to society? Scrap that last one. Too risque.
Speaking of buzz, we spent a lot with PR agencies in the early days to get the word out but as the daily deal space got saturated, it was tough to pitch new angles. That said, they did land me a spot on one of Canada’s most eligible bachelor lists. Ultimately, I didn’t feel comfortable deploying investor funds to subsidize my groupie fantasy. Instead, we now do all PR in-house. Can you tell?
To cap the week off, I’ll email out “Deal Spotlights” to the team highlighting our most successful deals from the previous week celebrating the staff members that contributed to them starting with the account executive that secured the deal, to the production and quality assurance teams behind it. Fifteen minutes of fame goes a long way in reinforcing their energy as they head into the new week. Most people want to be recognized. They don’t want to have to tell you. I turn them into superheroes for that moment, and it often makes their day.
A culture of recognizing wins is engrained in everything we do. We have a number of big screens displayed throughout our offices showcasing our real-time traffic on the site, as well as monthly sales competitions. Gamifying the workplace keeps the team interested in how we’re progressing, and reinforces what they need to do on their part to help us meet our goals. I often tell the team that I work for them. I mean it. I’m their number one fan. An employee once joked that I had a built a macro in to “Like” all their Teambuy-related posts on Facebook. I actually did. No I didn’t.
Nothing like capping off a long week with a few cold beers with the crew.
BEYOND THE DAY-TO-DAY
I try to completely unplug most of the weekend and usually get back into the game by Sunday evening when I start reflecting on last week and planning the next one. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the magnitude of the ride. I spend time connecting with my father overseas where he is seven hours ahead. At times, I think it’s symbolic because he always seems to be ahead of the curve. Four years ago, he said mobile would make up 50% of our transactions. The other day, we surpassed the 50% mark for the first time.
Aside from the day-to-day stuff, I like to talk. I try to accept a few speaking engagements per quarter. I figure that if I get to present to a combined audience of 1,000 people a year, then in five years that will add up to 5,000 people who will have heard our story the way it is intended to be heard. That’s 5,000 potential brand ambassadors. Now, TeamBuy often gets 5,000 new members a day, but spending marketing online can’t buy 5,000 new warriors a day, let alone, in a year. Besides, talks are free.
My latest talk was a keynote at the University of Toronto Startup Bootcamp. I’ve also done a TEDx talk a while back. It was fun, but my favourite was still going back to McGill University, my alma mater, mainly because I had almost failed my entrepreneurship class there almost a decade ago. In the end, I’m mindful of the fact that a CEO can only represent a business, but if the service or product doesn’t live up, the hype will die down quickly.
Everything that was wrong with my previous Wall Street job, I try to right. Even the tiniest things have stuck with me. I walked in on my first day as an investment banking intern and when I said good morning, nobody answered me. The first email I received was from a sympathetic associate who emailed me saying “they don’t say that around here.” No joke.
For starters, I say good morning to everyone in sight. I know every one of our employees’ names. If they have a dog, I ask about him. To add a personal touch, I have my assistant send me birthday reminders. We never really got to automating this. Occasionally, we’ll get it wrong, and it will make for an awkward “Thanks man, but you’re 238 days late.” Memorable moment either way and they appreciate the effort. I’ll take it. With 100 employees we’re looking at a birthday once every four days on average. We really ought to invest in a reliable birthday reminder soon.
Most people arrive back from New Years’ break and enjoy a relatively light schedule to kick the year off. Last year, I arrived back having just closed a merger with our largest Canadian competitor, Dealfind.com. Suddenly, we had an additional 100 employees that I had never met in offices I had never been to. We spent the better part of 2013 consolidating teams, cultures, offices, and platforms. Despite all the headaches and hiccups, we had our first operationally profitable quarter to end the year, a milestone that neither company was able to achieve on their own. We’re one hell of a team at this point if you ask me, but it didn’t come cheap or easy. Nothing does.
People like to have lunch meetings. Unless I really like you or we’re celebrating something, I prefer to have our meetings at the office. It’s just more efficient that way. One of the biggest things I’ve developed is an ability to say “no.” One of my mentors even advises that I build “No Thank You” templates to save time on declining meeting invitations. Maybe that’s a stretch.
A lot of entrepreneurs these days claim to not be in it for the money. I never understood that. I love money. I want to save it for our members, I want to make it for my shareholders, and for everyone in between.
I keep a list of all the investors that have turned down an investment in us over the years. Every time we hit a milestone, I let them hear about it, together, on bcc. I make it a habit to thank them for the motivation. Whether they know it or not, they had something to do with how we’ve arrived here today.
I want everything now. I used to send emails at 3am in the early days. I don’t do that anymore, it’s inconsiderate. Instead, I type them up at 3am these days, but wait till 9am to hit send. They really appreciate it.
I take feedback seriously. When I got a lengthy thoughtful 360 review from one of my managers, she was surprised to have found that I highlighted the document and was ready to discuss my performance with her.
I turn 30 this July. When we first embarked on this journey, I secretly hoped to retire by 30. That’s not going to happen in time. But you know what, I don’t mind that one bit. We’re changing the way Canadians save, and we’re having a real blast doing it. No rush at all.
They say life is a climb but the view is great. One thing is for sure, if we get there, I’ll be letting you know about it. Bcc or otherwise.
Once Superman says so, of course.
My name is Ghassan Halazon, and this is the way I work.