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Home  /  Podcast   /  People, Products and Profits with Andrew Fischer – Episode #11

Evan speaks with Andrew Fischer CEO and Founder of Choozle. Andrew is a seasoned entrepreneur with extensive business development and sales experience in digital media and enterprise software (Saas). He launched Choozle, a SIMPLE end-to-end digital marketing platform, in the fall of 2012. Find him on Twitter @choozle. – View Infographic





Announcer: Welcome to “Training Unleashed.” The show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain and will make a difference. Now, here is your host, Evan Hackel.

Evan: Today, we’re very lucky to have Andrew Fischer from Choozle with us. Choozle is not a company directly related to training. What I love about Andrew, from my getting to know him a little bit, is that he takes and applies training to everything he does, and he’s used training as a way to make his startup company very successful. Andrew, if you tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about Choozle, that would be great.

Andrew: Yeah, so I work in digital media. Our company is a digital advertising platform. We started about almost four years ago on the building process, and about three and a half years ago, we raised our angel round. And it went from a bit of a hobby to a full-time job at that point. And we have just been growing and scaling since then. And I can dig further into the company as you see fit, but…

Evan: Yeah, let’s go from here. First off, very successful startup. In four years, you got to 28 people which is very, very rapid. You got lots of great years. When you and I talked, you said you had three principles that you use to grow your business, and if you’d just quickly share those three principles, I think, that would be very interesting for everyone.

Andrew: The three principles that really are important for any company, but especially a high-growth tech startup, is really about people, number one. Some people prioritize them different. That’s certainly at the top of my list. The recruiting and the retaining of talented individuals is paramount, and the training is a key part of that.

Number two would be product and strategy. In our company, our product is our strategy and our strategy is our product. It’s a rapidly evolving technology platform, software-based, and so making sure that we’re aligned on those strategies are key.

And the third piece is essentially the money or revenue. In the early phases, it was really about making sure we could raise capital to support and invest in our early growth. Now as we’re growing up, it’s about reaching profitability and having the proper cash flow management and so forth through the driving of revenue through our team. So yeah, people, products, and profits.

Evan: So let’s talk about the people part and the training part. You’re one of the few people I know in the startup world that I’ve met and chatted, I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to a lot of people, that when they talk at all about people and training, you know, almost everyone talks about what my product does. And you seem to have a philosophy where training is really instrumental, so maybe just bring us through the onboarding process. Tell us a little bit about what you do from a training perspective and an alignment perspective.

Andrew: You know, I think, training is one of the key foundation pieces of our overall culture. Culture is really the through line for our company. Our product and strategy will change. Our revenue model will change over time, but the culture is really that through line that keeps all of us aligned and believing in what we’re doing, and so, you know, I also…And, again, training goes hand in hand with culture as a key part of it. So imagine an employee jumping into high-growth new company.

They get there on day one and everyone is so busy, including their own manager, that no one really even takes the time to properly onboard them, show them what they’re doing, show them the core systems, and I know companies that have this culture. It’s more of a, you know, “If you figure it out, great. You know, here’s what we’re doing.”

We take a different approach. I think those first 24 hours, those first weeks, those first months are critical for the long-term success of an employee. So we do have what we call the onboarding handbook. We really formalized that last fall, and all of our new employees starting last fall have been following this plan, and it’s what you imagine, you know, and I’m looking at it now as a reference.

We start with a little bit of history of our company, really our kind of goals as well. We talk about our mission. Ours is very simple, “Make digital advertising easy.” Everything flows from that. And then we jump into our values. We have attitude, growth, service, ownership, and balance are really our core values. And I spend an hour with ever new employee ideally on their first day. I think this is really important so it can set the tone that, even from the top down, we’re really committed to making sure this employee is successful on every step of their journey with Choozle.

And we talk about it, too, that, you know, we see their career as a progression, and our goals are very simple. We want them to have a positive, challenging, rewarding, and fun experience here at Choozle. And, again, this kick-off training and onboarding is a key piece of that.

Moving through, we do a little bit of a history with Choozle. We talk about the employees that we like to recruit and retain. And it comes down to three key principles, and I give credit to the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner for this, but we look for people that are smart that can think big, solve big problems, that’s number one. Two, they can’t just, you know, sit in a hammock and contemplate those big problems, they have to be able to execute and make visible progress on those. And three, they have to have fun, and that really does tie into our first value here at Choozle which is attitude.

There’s a reason that’s our first value as, again…When I talk about the training and onboarding process, my goal is to say, “You know, when you finish this process, I want you to want to recruit your friends to come work at Choozle.” It’s really that simple, so. We walk through who we are. We break down the team, so everyone is really clear and understanding who does what here at Choozle.

We’re not big on organizational charts. We’re inherently a very flat organization, but even for the basics, for an engineer to understand, you know, which client success person is the touch point for key deliverables is very key to our development. And then we jump in to…we do some fun facts. We do a bit of a match where, you know, everyone in our company shared kind of some past experiences, work experiences that are unique. You try to match that experience to the…this comes at the end of your onboarding.

The onboarding takes typically around two weeks, and then after the, kind of, core onboarding that I work with them on, they jump into all their individual training modules across every department, and actually that’s gonna be somewhat tailored depending on the role. And then those individual building blocks, we essentially have a checklist.

And then typically, after about two weeks of the onboarding, we have a welcome lunch where everyone gets to really hear the story. Sometimes this happens during the the first week. Sometimes it’s during the second week. And individually, the manager will essentially interview that person, and so everyone gets a personalization of who this person is. And again, we’ve all worked for, you know, companies where you’re moving so fast sometimes it’s hard to make those personal connections, so we try to really facilitate those. So that’s really the general overview of how we onboard and train here at Choozle.

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Evan: You also said something to me that I also thought was fascinating which is you have training for your customers. And can you…

Andrew: We do.

Evan: …talk a little bit about that and why you have training for you customers?

Andrew: We are a high-growth tech startup, as I’d mentioned. The key to our growth is being a platform versus a services organization. Our goal is to get our platform into our customers hands. That enables the Choozle customers then to run digital advertising campaigns. We primarily focus on advertising agencies. We also work with different types of marketing groups, often brands directly as well.

Our success is inherent upon making sure they’re onboarded and trained as quickly as possible so they can not only run our platform in a self-service manner, but be successful. Obviously, the measurement of a long-term partnership for us is gonna be completely centered around their ability to use our platform properly and to achieve results through it.

So led by Christian Ditch and our team as part of our client success organization, I will say, almost a year ago we started building the core plan for this foundation. We built it up through the fall, and then recently announced I think in later April, we had some press around it. It was called Choozle Academy, and it’s a learning management system that’s designed to both train our perspective partners and then also our current clients on not only the Choozle platform but also educate them on the industry in general.

What is programmatic digital media? How does it work? What are the basics? And our goal is to both train people properly but do it in a way that’s very scaleable for us. So by having this system in place, we can direct people there to say, “Hey, you always gonna have a personal touch point here at Choozle. We’re gonna help you. We want you to be successful, but here’s a great curriculum we’ve developed that you can start learning on your own.”

Evan: You probably know a lot about training. Maybe just share from your perspective mistakes people make, things that you see that are maybe not good in training just in the overall sense of training.

Andrew: Yep. And, I think, you know, we have weaved training and coaching into our organization. So I mentioned last week we had our first official management training. We have a lot of young leaders in our team who have ascended into management positions for the first time in their careers. And so it’s important to, you know, invest in what’s important and not just urgent. And so training is…I would put that in that bucket. It’s…you know, we all have fires on a day-to-day basis. We all come in and do our checklist of what’s urgent.

But what I encourage our team to do both on a day-to-day basis and then through their ongoing goals is also focus on what’s not necessarily urgent but really important, and training is certainly in that bucket. And so relating that to a mistake is…It’s easy to push out the training. It’s easy to push off the one-on-one coaching sessions. And we have all of our managers meet with all the direct reports on a weekly basis, what we call a weekly check-in, and then we do a monthly deep dive where they’re encouraged to get offsite, go to lunch.

And again, these aren’t designed to be feedback sessions, it’s designed to be an informal training where the coach or manager gets to listen to their employees, understand what their priorities are, and really offer them help in training. So the mistake that I often see is pushing off these really important meetings because they’re not urgent and saying, “Hey, you know, I need to get this out the door.” Or, “Gosh, my checklist to get this done is…” And so I always encourage people not to push those meetings off. Work around those. Those are really the key foundation points for our growth as an organization. The other work will be there when you’re done with them.

Evan: What advice would you give to someone thinking to their team to get people to get that training is important and it can’t be given up just because there are other urgent things taking place?

Andrew: I like telling stories. We’re in the business of advertising inherently, and in an effective story or analogy is often, you know, what helps people see what’s important. An analogy I use sometimes, which works here in Colorado because we have a very active lifestyle and population is, you know, the training and other things that you’re putting in that important not urgent bucket is kinda like working out, right? And keeping on top of your health.

It’s easy to push off a workout. It’s easy to say, “Hey, wow, I’ve got these commitments. I have this to do.” You push off one day and then the next, and then all of a sudden it’s been a few weeks and maybe a few months. So it’s these meetings and these key touch points on training and culture are just like that. You have to invest the time and realize that it’s important. You health is as important as anything in your life, if not the most important thing. And so investing that time to make sure you commit to it personally is very analogous to the way that we see training and these one on one sessions with our team.

So whether it’s using fitness as a potential analogy or, gosh, you could use, you know, car maintenance. You could use any number of things. But again, tying that story through a lens that makes sense to your employees, I think, can really hit home.

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Evan: Maybe if you could share with us some things that people could do for themselves, things that they do for their company that if you’re a training professional and you wanna get better just yourself, what would you recommend to people just to help themselves improve for their own personal benefit?

Andrew: That’s a great call. Everyone has kind of their own ways of, I think, growth. I think one of the obvious one is committing to a reading list and really doing kind of your individual training and self-work, and making time to do that, you know, whether it’s more on evenings or weekends. We can always learn.

And one thing, I think, is interesting and that’s changed especially in the last 10 year, let alone 20 years, is the amount of great information that’s just online. And so the ability to find something very specific and relevant to your specific job whether it’s around training, whether it’s around culture, whether it’s around, you know, self-improvement, there’s a wealth of information

In the startup world, I often argue that people are writing more than they should be and they should be probably be working more, because there’s a tremendous amount of content. So, again, making that time to realize that it’s urgent…I’m sorry, important not urgent to do some of that self-work is a huge resource. And I’m constantly looking through, you know, Twitter feeds of people that I like and respect, seeing what they’re reading, how they’re sharing it, following along that way.

I’m also looking at Quora, which is a great resource especially in the startup and technology world. And, again, most problems you’ve encountered have been encountered by others before, so you can find a lot of helpful tips very quickly.

Evan: What is Quora?

Andrew: Quora, Q-U-O-R-A, I believe it’s founded by former Facebook folks. It’s basically a high-level Q and A site where you can find out just about anything, you know. There’s expert articles on, you know, from astronauts on what it’s like to be in space to, “Hey, I’ve got this challenge in a high-gross startup, you know. Has anyone come across this before?” So it’s curated, high-quality content typically peer-to-peer but most people are experts in their fields.

Evan: Let’s now talk about how you continue the process at your company. So you start off. You’re doing the onboarding. What happens from there? How do you do ongoing training?

Andrew: You know, training is a, again, part of a subset of overall culture and ongoing learning. One thing that we do at Choozle is we also provide a stipend for ongoing education on a quarterly basis. And one thing I thought was important is we didn’t say, “Hey, this has to professional development. You know, it has to be specific to your field.” We’ve had everyone take things from like ski lessons to…I’m actually taking a cooking course tonight with my wife and a few work friends. Others have used it for professional development to learn a new coding language, to get certified as an IB sales person. So it’s cool. We’ve had a really nice balance.

And, I think, not forcing it and saying, “Hey, you’ve got the resources. You do what you want to do.” Gives them the freedom and flexibility to kind of work on it themselves. So that’s one thing that we do that encourages them to do it for themselves, and, again, on their own time, but we provide the resources to do that. I think it’s important to have, you know, weekly meetings which have a kickoff meeting every Tuesday morning. It’s all hands on deck. It’s less training-oriented but also a dispersal of information, you know, so we’re all staying aligned on where we are.

And then each individual team is encouraged and has a budget for ongoing education and culture and training as well. And so things can come from the top down and sometimes have to, and I found if you empower people and provide them the resources, even around training, it becomes more important that the individual managers and leaders and even the employees’ input allows them to basically set up the structure that’s gonna help them succeed.

Evan: I think people really appreciate being invested in.

Andrew: Yep, absolutely. And we’re in a highly technical field that’s changing very, very quickly, and so one of our challenges is make sure our sales people who spend most of their time on the field are educated and understanding not just the industry but the specifics of our own platform. And so every Friday, we have a what I would consider a more typical sales and revenue meeting or viewing opportunities, challenges, wins.

And then the second half of the meeting is ongoing training where we bring in our client success team. They’re experts on the platform. They’re working closer to their engineering and product team about what’s coming down the pipeline, new features that are released. And so we give a forum to our team to both ask questions and learn. And then we also have an interactive support center that’s both client-facing, which is their number one resource for training is to send it through our fresh desk system, and we have a wealth of information online. If they can’t find their answer there then they email our team and we reply to them that way.

And we’ve got an internal section that’s primarily for our sales people, stuff that we’re not revealing publicly yet, and you can, kind of, sense that theme here, especially with a company like Choozle. We try to do things at scale. Obviously, you can’t replace those weekly one-on-one touch points. We’re always training and coaching in a personal level, but anything that we can do with technology that helps us scale, both internally and then with our clients, is very important to us.

Evan: Can we talk a little bit about our culture. I mean, I love how you started off, and, you know, you talked about the first thing you do where the persons talk about the culture of the company, your mission, your vision, your values. Do you do ongoing training or ongoing engagement around culture within your organization?

Andrew: Mm-hmm. We do. And this is actually, you know, I’ve considered hiring a full-time person for this, but it’s a little bit of a paradox because if we have someone kinda take over the cultural full-time I would prefer it to be someone internally as opposed to trying to bring someone outside, so that’s something that we’re looking at. We have what’s called the “Culture Club” which is a group of me and four other employees from all the different departments. We meet quarterly typically offsite for a breakfast session.

For me, it’s a, “Hey, how is everyone doing? You know, let’s get a temp check on morale, what’s working, what’s not.” Having these offsite touch points where it’s really an open forum is important because, again, we’re so busy day-to-day that often things that may be important can slip by the wayside, and perhaps I’m completely missing something, right? and so it’s an opportunity for us to have a two-way dialogue about what’s important in our company. And then we typically come up with kinda cultural guidelines.

Again, our values are really the principle there, and, you know, number one, around the people which I’ve talked about. The nubmer one health…When people ask how Choozle is doing or the thing that I point to is not our revenue growth, it’s that we have essentially a 100% retention over three and a half years with our employees. That’s what I’m most proud of, and I’m proud of it because that leads to the productivity and a great product and profitability, everything else that we’re aspiring to.

So it is important, culture, especially when you get past that 20-employee mark. Early on with startups, you know, the culture is really defined by the founders. And it’s easy, you all sitting in the same room. You don’t have to get there everyday. You’re gonna hear me whether you like it or not. But as we get bigger, you know, especially once you’re across 20, now we’re about to cross 30, I can’t have individual touch points with every person every day, so it’s important not to make it corporate but to codify and develop systems, shared values, shared activities, you know, shared stories that really establish our culture and make it ongoing, so we do invest in that.

And then, you know, part of what I’ve realized in establishing the culture for me, you know, just day-to-day is just being here in the office number one and listening, and saying…you know, talking to people, and not even just about work, you know, “What’s going on? How are things in your life?” You know, showing people that you really care is the bedrock of the culture that we define, and I’m always interested in learning about it.

I do think we could probably add some additional cultural offsite trainings as well. We do have two kind of key off-sites, one at the beginning of the year, one mid-year as well. And we are bringing in a cultural expert in July which we’re really excited about. So it’s gonna be a little bit more touchy-feely than normal training so to speak, but I figured it would be really empowering for our team.

Evan: So I wanna just take a moment here. Take everything we’ve talked about and relate it to the audience. So there are people that are listening to us right now that are in fairly small companies. They’re probably eating everything up. They’re really eating everything up. And then the people in here that are part of a larger companies, and, you know, 10,000 employees, 20,000 employees, 50,000 employees, 500 employees, and they’re saying, “Hey, I’m a small part of this.”

But I wanna make a point, then I’m gonna ask you a question. My opinion is that every single thing you talked about could apply to the training department and that they should think of the training department as a mini business within the organization and that they could have their own mission. They can have their own values. They should coordinate with the companies. Don’t get me wrong. They should not be different than the company’s values, but they can create this kind of culture that you’re describing within the training department, even if it’s not something available to the whole organization.

And what I find is that when you do those type of things and people see the success you have, other people in the organization start to look and say, “Well, how you can help us do that?” [Crosstalk 00:22:03] My question to you is…and, I think, I might have asked this question earlier, but, I think, in vein with everything you’re saying it might be like really a good kind of final question here is, how do you take this idea, all these things you’re talking about, to senior management?

And I know we talked about, you know, this analogy of working out. But just if we could take the section of the mission, vision, values part of it, how do you get people, you know, for a bigger company to spend time on things? Because I mean, most of the time they’re [inaudible 00:22:41] on the wall.

Andrew: No, I think that’s a great point. And, in some ways, you kinda defined it already, right? That individual organizations are their own little mini companies within the organization. And unless there’s, you know, strict company policy that prevents it from doing so most companies encourage employees to be somewhat autonomous, but build the system that you’d love to see on the global level, on the corporate level. Build it within your team, test it, see what’s working.

And as you mentioned, I think, it’s especially relevant for training organizations, let’s say, with the bigger companies, because what’s gonna be more powerful than if that trainer can go to the head of HR, the head of finance, or the head of sales and say, “Hey, we’re doing this currently in our training department. Here’s the results that we’re seeing. Here’s how it’s helped us change. We’d like to not just tell you how to do this but show you, because we’ve done it.” I don’t think anything could be more powerful.

Evan: I wanna personally thank you. A lot of people that participated in this program have sort of a…something they’re really trying to sell. Yes, it’s not sales presentation, but, you know, they’re hoping that people will check out their company. You’re talking to training people. You’re in marketing, so it was a true gift that you’re giving to everyone. I sincerely appreciate it, and thank you for being a part of the program.

Andrew: Thank you. I really appreciate the kind words, and, you know, everyday is a new challenge and a journey. And, again, I think, that the training and onboarding is such a key part of that, so I appreciate you allowing us to share our story and I hope it connects with your audience.

Evan: I’m sure it will. And thank you, everyone, for listening. We appreciate it. Have a great day.

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