Early stage

The value you get from kissing frogs

"If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you're going to learn to code. It doesn't matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code." Jeff Immelt, GE CEO

Bretton Putter

An interview with Daniel Reilly, co-founder and CEO of Ruler Analytics

 

 

Watching a company like GE adapt to the digital world is like watching Mike Tyson get into the octagon with a UFC champ in 2017. Mike, although an absolute animal in the 80s would be way beyond his prime and he would have to adapt and learn pretty damn fast if he wanted to compete in a sport where punching is only one of the forms of aggression. The game has changed; the shape of the ring has changed, the rules have changed, the number and length of rounds have changed, the weapons and means of delivery have changed and the ways of winning have changed. Everything has changed!

 

So how is a lumbering beast like GE, a company founded in 1892 with revenues in 2015 of $140.4 billion, managing to deal with the radical changes of the 21st century? Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO since 2001, recently communicated one of the companies culture initiatives, which gives a pretty clear idea of where the company is focused and how they plan to deal with the digital revolution, "If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you're going to learn to code. It doesn't matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code." The behemoth, which employs about 300,000 workers is trying to evolve its culture towards a decentralized decision-making organization with a startup-like mentality, and is looking to transform into the world’s largest digital industrial company and it’s starting at the bottom, building future generations of digital leaders.

 

In a 2016 interview Jeff says, “We may be a century-old company, but we need to move quickly, take risks, fail fast and behave like a startup to keep winning. I joined GE 34 years ago, and until recently our management could make every decision in the headquarters. Those days are over.  We have to embrace decentralization and use technology to help our people to stay connected and allow more automated decision-making so you can look at an app and see what’s going on inside the company.”

 

It’s insightful watching the nimble, turn-on-a-dime, startups get their heads around company culture. The advantage for a startup is that they don’t have the cultural legacy that GE has to fight against, and are working with a new brush and clean canvas. The challenge, is that the startup’s culture in the early days is mostly invisible and subconscious and nobody on the team has the experience of developing a startup culture from scratch. Ruler Analytics, is a marketing analytics SaaS business based in Liverpool and I recently caught up with co-founder and CEO Daniel Reilly to discuss how the business got started, what the culture is and what the global opportunities are for the business.

 

 

 

BP

Where did the idea for Ruler Analytics come from?

DR

Ruler Analytics was spun out of a digital agency called Epic New Media, which my co-founder Ian and I founded in 2010. The agency business is focused on SEO, PPC, Paid Social and lead gen for professional services companies, legal firms and other large corporate customers and Ruler Analytics was born out of the need for a proper marketing attribution solution, which the agency's clients were requesting. Ruler is a visitor level marketing analytics solution to that problem that tracks and reports on customer journeys, conversions, phone calls and the companies looking at a web site.

 

We first started thinking about the Ruler business idea about four years ago when we realized that our clients wanted more from Google Analytics, where goal conversion doesn’t tell you what actually made the phone ring for a sale. It’s limited to goal conversion, which doesn’t tell you if a conversion is a good lead or not.  With Ruler we set out to solve these problems.

 

BP

How did you develop the business in the early stages?

DR

We bootstrapped the business and had one developer working on it full time while I was doing the initial sales. We developed an MVP+ and had 100 paying clients when we raised £500k venture capital in 2015 from the EU Investment Bank via AXM. We then hired a GM to run Epic as Ian and I had decided to both be committed to Ruler. Because it was boot strapped there were a lot of issues with the product, but even so, our customers really loved the solution. We hired a CTO who has sorted out the bugs and issues and we launched the solution officially on the 6th of January 2016. Our model makes use of direct sales and partnerships with Digital Marketing Agencies who resell or white label our product. The first product we developed is a call tracking product, which is sold on a license fee of $99 per month plus a call charge of 2p per minute for inbound calls. We are proud of the fact that we don’t have any customer churn, are growing rapidly and have built a profitable business that now employs 12 people.

 

 

 

BP

How would you define the company culture?

DR

Our office is a pleasurable place to be, we aim for everyone to be able to make everyone else a better person and we are not competitive internally as individuals. Transparency, Integrity, Honesty, Teamwork and Empathy are required to work effectively in our team. They are all important but empathy is critical. People in the office notice pretty quickly when a person is a little too selfish, isn't a good listener and/or doesn’t want to integrate into the team. Our culture is pretty strong and people who don’t fit in leave quickly, both by being asked to leave or by realizing it’s not for them. I get complaints from my team that I am too transparent, as I tell our customers what the margin is on our product.

 

BP

What did your past experiences at Epic teach you?

DR

We’ve made our mistakes and been burnt in the past by hiring for skills and experience and ignoring or forgetting to focus on cultural fit. This has never worked, because we developed such a strong culture. Now we hire candidates who are fundamentally good people. They don’t have to fit with our personalities but they do have to fit with our culture. We look to recruit people with character and personality who can learn and develop skills. We believe that you can learn new skills every day but you can’t learn to have the right character or attitude.

 

BP

What else do you look for in the right candidate?

DR

We have people from varied backgrounds in the team and we have an open forum approach to communicating in the office. We believe that no one has the right or wrong answer definitively, so it makes sense to listen to other people’s opinions because they can bring something different, new or better to the table. It helps if you are able to see the bigger picture, and don’t have a massive ego.  We’ve had issues with ego in the past and that hasn’t worked. We write what attributes we are looking for into the contracts of employment, so there is no confusion from the earliest stages of the person joining the company.

 

 

BP

What’s the talent pool like and how challenging is it to hire good people in Liverpool?

DR

As with anywhere, really good technical people are hard to find. In the early stages when we were bootstrapping and had to be more frugal it was particularly difficult, as we couldn’t afford market rate salaries. We are able to pay a premium for good people who match our culture now that we have raised the VC round and have built the business to profitability. This, together with our culture, is an important element of our ability to retain our people.

 

Our CTO was a key hire and when we went out to make the hire we knew that we needed a different skill set to what we had at the agency. Our CTO is a full stack developer who had been a contractor his whole life. Fortunately we had worked with him on a contract before and knew that he was a good fit for our culture. In relation to the usual salaries in Liverpool he was expensive and the board was initially quite resistant to bringing him on board. But from our experience at the design agency we had kissed enough frogs to know he was worth paying for. We also realized that we really needed his skill set and that this type of SaaS enterprise software candidate would be more expensive than what we were used to paying as a company.

 

BP

What activities do you organize for the team?

DR

We take the guys to the football and once a month we go out for a meal as a team to grab pizza and beers. We use this to get to know the team outside of work, to build and strengthen our relationships. We take lunch together as a team every day. It isn’t a rule that we defined; instead it just started to happen naturally and has now become an important part of the culture.

 

BP

How does your culture impact your customers?

DR

Our clients really like us because our proposition matches our culture in that it is transparent, less restricting and offers far greater value than our competition.

 

BP

What’s the big picture for Ruler Analytics?

DR

Our new product, which we are developing is focused on solving more of the marketing attribution puzzle and is a global opportunity. There are a few players in the space but what’s out in the market isn’t nearly as good as what we are developing. This is a much bigger global opportunity and we are going to have to decide how aggressively we scale the business. The jury is still out on that.

 

BP

Will your current systems scale as the business does?

DR

No they won’t. We are just starting to define the culture and we will be more deliberate in embedding our culture into the design, structure, systems and procedures of the company.