Epic Company Culture Podcast: What is your company’s number one asset?
Our CEO, Tim Quinn, recently sat down with Josh Sweeney, host of Epic Company Culture’s Podcast, to discuss how he’s taking ThingTech’s company culture to the next level. “Your people are your number one asset,” Tim explains.
Tim also shares his experiences with company culture, from being an intern for Georgia Tech to running a successful company. Click below to learn how we’re using culture to improve the employee experience here at ThingTech!
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Announcer: Welcome to the Epic Company Culture podcast. Where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.
Josh Sweeney: Hello, my name is Josh Sweeney and welcome to the Epic Company Culture podcast. Before we get started, I would like to thank Prototype Prime for this amazing podcast space. Today I am joined by Tim Quinn of ThingTech. Tim, thanks for joining us.
Tim Quinn: Thanks for having me.
Josh Sweeney: Awesome to have you. So tell us a little bit about yourself and about ThingTech.
Tim Quinn: Okay, very good. Tim Quinn, CEO, co-founder of ThingTech. ThingTech builds, is a internet of things platform that has built applications that process data in real-time, create actions out of that data and ultimately help improve operations within equipment rental, construction, utility and local government industries. Folks that own and operate very expensive equipment that needs diagnostics, maintenance, and utilization data.
Josh Sweeney: Right. And I spent a little bit of time in that space in my previous company that I had which we talked about on the phone, right. So I have some heavy equipment rental experience in Ground break CRM, which is a platform we had built for the heavy equipment industry. And got a lot of education around what all IOT can do for equipment so, you wanna share some kind of use cases for tracking major equipment for maintenance and what that does?
Tim Quinn: Absolutely. So Josh, our customers have, they own and operate of course, very expensive equipment. They either own the equipment or they lease the equipment. Our customers have a mix of that. What their biggest challenge is, really tend to focus around our things that we call the ‘VAMP’ problem. Visibility, accountability, measure ability, and performance of that equipment. So they need data that can … Data such as discovery data. What that engine is generating. Diagnostic data, utilization data, predictive data, and more importantly, prescriptive data. Taking all this data into one single platform.
Analyzing it, putting rules on it, putting workflows on it, and then giving that data back to the customer so that they can maintain the equipment properly. They can monitor the health of the equipment. They can extend the use of life, and they can make sure that equipment’s operating safely. That’s the major things that our customers want our platform to solve.
Josh Sweeney: Very cool, yeah. I loved the predictive part was one of my favorite parts when I was working within that industry, which was … The concept that was brought to me was caterpillar has a certain size bulldozer. And they know that a certain part wears out after so many hours of use. They’re basically like, “Hey, you’re at 70% hours of this part and by the way, based on your projections and use rate, you’re gonna need a new part next week or your equipment’s going to … Could potentially be down and with the rental rates or cost of this equipment, like you said the daily use costs, they need it up full time.”
So I thought that was the coolest way that somebody kind of brought it home for me and said we can predict when this thing’s gonna go down and fix it now.
Tim Quinn: And a big deal Josh, predictive is one thing but really the prescriptive. And I’m gonna say prescriptive is … it’s one thing predicting potential failure based on the use of life or how it’s been utilized. But give that data some context, such as historically you’ve not maintained that part properly over the past eight years. So you take that and you put it with some heuristics we can really start getting very, very specific about when and how that thing’s gonna break in terms of out in the field.
And you know that if I’m a construction company, if I’m a utility company, if my assets are not working or not performing or not on a job site, I’m not making money. That’s how I make my money so if we can keep those assets up and create an uptime of 70%, from 70% to say 95%, massive ROI, massive ROI.
Josh Sweeney: Definitely. It’s calculatable so it’s easy to show your value, right?
Tim Quinn: Without question. Without question.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. Well I know as a technologist and a car guy, I would love to see something from my car that helped a lot with that. I feel like we’re still in that timing mode where it’s like, “Hey, we checked it last time and you might need some brakes so bring it in so we can charge you to check if you need ’em and by the way you don’t need ’em.” So there’s all kinds of diagnostics in a car but I feel like bulldozers have better heuristics and predictive and prescriptive analytics than a very expensive automobile.
Tim Quinn: You’re exactly right ’cause those things are so expensive. And the maintenance is just so extreme, so.
Company Culture Experience
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, so different level of need for sure. Awesome. Well thank you for the intro and telling us a little bit about what you do. Love the space. As far as company culture’s concerned, we’d love to hear about your company culture but I’d like to start off with a little bit more going back in history with you a little bit and your experience in the workforce. Can you share the best company culture experience you’ve had. And I like to tell everybody, you don’t have to name any names if you don’t want to. But the best company culture experience and what about that was an amazing experience.
Pay it Forward
Tim Quinn: That’s a great question. And it’s funny ’cause this is gonna sound really weird. The best experience I had and I learned a lot, is I was actually intern out of Georgia Tech, I went to grad school at Georgia Tech. And I got an internship which was required for three month, four month internship. It was in Orlando, Florida. It was a company called Gladdening Jackson. Gladdening Jackson’s a civil engineering firm. A planning firm. The reason it was such an incredible experience is that Tim Jackson and Jack Gladdening, the owners of this company of 200 employees. They took the time to spend time with me and took interest with me and the other intern, to really give us really real world, life experiences.
Part of the Team
They gave us responsibility and made us feel part of the team and listened to us. We weren’t just some intern grunt. If you will. And I learned a lot from Tim Jackson and we’re trying to pay that forward. Even today, we have three interns from Georgia Tech. We’re really trying to pay that forward. I had a really good experience there just out of the gate in my first job.
And I have had many other experience where had good culture but not great culture. That’s a place that really had great culture. We’ve discussed this, I’ve also had experiences where I’ve been involved with early stage companies and growth stage companies where we didn’t put in a great culture and it was a challenge. It was a lesson learned on my side that I’m still learning, that I’m learning from that with this company that I’m involved in to learn from those mistakes.
Difficult Turn Around
Is once you establish a culture that is not proper or poor or unhealthy, it is very difficult to turn that culture around. It’s almost impossible to turn it around. So starting early is a very important piece of that.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I love those shares ’cause we talk about it a lot on the podcast with interns or remote employees or contractors. Really making them feel like they’re a part of the team, has a profound impact and I mean you’re sitting here, many years later saying that your internship had that kind of impact on you, which is super impressive.
Respect, Values, and Experience
Tim Quinn: Absolutely. And we have full time employees, we have a few contractors. We outsource some of our work. We have other partners. But they are all part of our team. And we treat them as part of our team. We all have the same mission, we all have the same corporate values that we’re trying to live by. We’re all trying to be successful. How you treat people in terms of respect and values and experiences is really where it all starts. In my opinion.
Josh Sweeney: I’m sure they would love to hear that that was a … Those owners would love to hear that that was that memorable of an experience for you because I mean I hear a lot of the stories in the opposite direction as well of like, it didn’t go that way. Right? We have interns and I get people that say, “Well I was surprised that I wasn’t getting coffee all the time.” And I’m like, what value does it have for me to bring you in as an intern to get coffee?
Tim Quinn: Absolutely.
The Startup Challenge
Josh Sweeney: There’s no value to me for doing those mundane things. So totally get it. You mentioned that you had been part of start-ups where you didn’t build the culture that you wanted to. I know that part of the way that I came up with Epic Culture was in my last company, I don’t feel like we ever built the company, the culture that I really wanted. In reflecting I realize how hard it was. So what was your experience in this start-up world and building your companies and working within other organizations, why is it so hard?
Why is it hard?
Tim Quinn: That’s a great question and there’s probably not an easy answer. But I’ll give my experience. This is my third or fourth kind of early stage company I’ve been involved in. The one that I started with a partner, the late 90’s, 1999. We started a company, I was young. I didn’t have the life experiences that I do now of course, and that’s just part of life, right? We all have to understand that as you grow and as you mature you learn things and hopefully you learn things and you apply those but in this particular company I was focused on growth, I didn’t have the people skills that I should’ve had or could’ve had. I didn’t have the patience and that was a challenge.
So building the culture internally with say just one of the first companies that I was involved in, was really the biggest lesson I learned through the 13 years that I was there, Josh, was, your people are your number one asset. How you interact with them, how you manage them, how you reward them, how you coach them, how you mentor them, as a CEO, is probably the single most important aspect of your job. I mean without question. I didn’t have that approach when I was younger. And I let that slip away. And especially as you grow. As you get further and further away from the distance in terms of the operational side of things, it’s harder to create that culture.
The Focus of ThingTech
What we’re focused on now at ThingTech is really we’re 15 employees or so. That we can build that culture properly now and the managers and the early stage leadership that you’re getting involved with you, they can now, if they’re on the same page and the same values and the same approach as you are, they can help you scale that out as you move forward.
As a lesson learned, I didn’t do that historically in some other companies I’ve been involved in. And I’m now 48. And so you can never stop learning and now I finally learned. I’m still learning, so.
Josh Sweeney: Do you feel that other people are learning the lesson and in conjunction with that, do you feel like a lot of people say that people are their biggest asset but don’t really back it up and that’s kind of one of the big mismatches in business?
The Biggest Mismatch
Tim Quinn: I think that’s the biggest mismatch in business. Everybody says it’s always about the customer, always about the person, always about your staff, but the actions don’t fall behind that. Whether it’s visibility into what are you doing. Having a very transparent management style. If you have goals, you have values. Making sure everybody understands those.
Everybody’s on the same page in terms of how we’re, what our mission is and how we’re going to get to that next point. And really having full disclosure with your staff. At the appropriate levels, of course. Not necessarily low-level financials but being very transparent in your goals and your day-to-day tasks and what those mean in terms of being successful is very important.
A developer wants to know what his or her impact is to the business. In terms of how positive it is. They want to be able to talk to customers. They want to get feedback from customers. So integrating them into the entire business process and giving them that transparency is a big, big deal. I think there’s lots about transparency that can be learned in creating a good culture.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. I love the fact of transparency in the world. We’re always trying to figure out how to push those limits. There’s like open book and all kinds of other things that are coming along. Where traditionally you’re not really sure about but as you interview people and hear about the impact it has and how they do it and how they make ’em teachable moments and educate people through that process. There’s a lot of benefit that can definitely come from it.
This is Your Box
Tim Quinn: Oh, I agree. I grew up in the culture where you kind of sat in a box and this is your box, and you just do your box. Don’t worry about the other boxes next to your doing, just do your box. We’re not that world anymore. We want collaboration, we want openness, we wanted shared experiences. Then we want to learn from all those. So if you’re in a box by yourself you’re not going to learn from the guy next to you or the person next to you very well.
We bring on a lot of younger staff coming up from the technology perspective and I think it’s important to start that early on in the process vs. later in life.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. Well you mentioned, so we highlighted the best experience you had which is the intern experience. What would you say is the worst?
Tim Quinn: The worst was in a previous job where we had challenges with … We had challenges on the management side in terms of collaboration. Everybody being on the same page. We had in fighting across departments. And that created a very toxic environment for the employees. I now recognize that. I knew it at the time. But I didn’t do anything about it. Although I might have tried, probably didn’t try hard enough. But that toxicity at the management level crossed four or five leaders on the management team.
That toxicity flows downhill very fast. People see it, staff sees it. It creates issues internally that become a very unmanageable situation. Towards the end of my career one other company that that happened. That happened and if I were to look back in my life, that’s the area that I wish I would’ve had a little more influence on, little more success. And to keep on, it was my failure. I mean it was purely on my shoulders and it was purely on my shoulders to resolve, fix, and I didn’t. Either I couldn’t do it or I didn’t have the ability to do it.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, gotcha.
The Roll Up
Tim Quinn: In the full transparency, that’s the issue I regret the most in terms of professional issues as it relates to culture.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I feel like I owned it in my last company, right. So I have a lot of those same feelings where it’s like man, I failed. I failed on company culture and now I know why I did and how hard it was and how hard it is for other businesses. As far as the management team and when these things are happening, we interview a lot of employees when we’re doing culture initiatives. And we can see it as an outsider. The issue’s often glaringly obvious and often times it rolls up to some management. Some aspect of management, somebody in that organization that has a blind spot or a belief system or something that’s contributing to the challenge.
What do you think … What’s the best tactic to get them to realize that? The best tactic to get them to realize either things have changed and it doesn’t work that way anymore or how do you help them come to see the light?
Tim Quinn: Well I tell you, that’s a great question. I wish I knew the answer to that better than I’m going to explain it now, Josh. Because I struggle with that. In terms of my areas where I’m strong at and I’m weak at. But I think one of the things … A very good friend of mine told me this who does this very well. His name’s Kit Hughes. Look, listen. By the way, little plug. Who does this-
Josh Sweeney: I think Kit’s a fellow EO’er.
Understanding the People
Tim Quinn: Yes, he is. [crosstalk 00:16:49] Yes, Kit Hughes. Yes. Does it as well as anybody. Understanding how people learn and how they process data and how they process criticism. Understanding that everybody’s built differently. Everybody processes data, everyone takes criticism differently. Some thrive on it, some of them really don’t take it that way. There’s not one way to speak to everybody or try to coach to everybody.
That’s the lesson I’ve learned in my life. I tend to speak the same way to the same personality which doesn’t work all the time. I’m trying to get better but if you ask like a Kit, he really understands that and I think understanding how that person responds to criticism, responds to coaching, responds to mentoring.
Understanding how that processes that data and responds to that data and then crafting a method around to get to them, so that they can take it in as a positive vs. a negative. It’s a very critical thing. And then just consistent. Being consistent in your communication. And you’re consistent in your behavior and consistent in your actions. I think is also critical as well. And it’s interesting, somebody, I don’t [inaudible 00:18:07] told me this but one of the big things that’s all like I don’t know, LinkedIn or something is interesting, is that people don’t work for a company, they work for a boss.
There’s a lot to be said about that. Is that if you work … If you’re not happy with your relationship with the person that’s supervising, or coaching, or mentoring you, it’s gonna be hard to keep that person retained. And working at your firm. They may love the company, love what they’re doing, but if they don’t have a relationship with that boss, that supervisor, that’s positive, it’s gonna be a challenge.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. It’s easy to leave.
Tim Quinn: It’s easy to leave.
Josh Sweeney: [crosstalk 00:18:42] somewhere else and somebody that can mentor and coach and all of those good things.
Tim Quinn: That’s exactly right.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, Great insight. So as far as your company now, ThingTech, what’s your favorite part of your company culture now? You’ve been through this, you’ve been through multiple iterations, you now have the chance to build your third, fourth, fifth iteration of a company culture that you like. What’s your favorite part of this one?
Tim Quinn: My favorite part of our culture right now is the collaboration and the collaboration of all staff members across all departments. I think we have a very, very good open and transparent approach to communication where everybody’s comfortable raising their hand saying, “That doesn’t work,” or “That does work and here’s why I think it doesn’t work.” So the collaboration, the communication that I think we’ve built across all departments and the all staff levels and all staff … And all leadership, is the most exciting thing at ThingTech right now. When you combine that with the senior leadership of our CTO, or CFO, my co-founder, Brian Corcoran, our president.
We’re all absolutely on the same page, aligned in terms of vision. Vision, strategy, and then tactics. That’s the most exciting thing about ThingTech right now is purely the alignment and the collaboration, the communication, and infrastructure we put in place where people are comfortable speaking up. Good, bad or ugly. And we wanna hear it all. In a very honest and positive manner.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. Give them a place to share where it’s a positive experience, they feel like they can open up.
Tim Quinn: We do weekly stand up every Friday we bring in lunch and we do updates, and share information. Sometimes it’s just jokes, sometimes it’s serious. Last week we had Andre, one of our developers had led an internal effort. Apparently they had a wish list for um … That they brought up and they said we wanna read out our wish list.
It was like 20 things. We want a keg of beer not cans of beer. Okay, I got that, I’m with you. We want more snacks. Okay, I get that. We need a toaster oven. Got it, I love it. We need shades for office ’cause the sun’s beating down. That makes sense. Darcy wants a little thing, when this stand up thing. I love that.
They’re comfortable enough to stand up and go, “Here’s our wishlist.” I called it a hostage ransom note but I have it in my back pocket. I’m going to Costco after this.
Josh Sweeney: Right. I love it. I love it. Yeah, it’s good that everybody can communicate what their needs are and have a comfortable to do that. I think that’s the real thing, is like it’s a comfortable place to do it.
Tim Quinn: That’s right.
Josh Sweeney: Because when other things that come up that are a little more intangible than those items, they have the place for it. So what’s another way … We use Slack, we do scrum meetings, we do Level 10’s using the traction system. What’s another way that you found has been amazing to make sure that the level of collaboration that needs to happen is happening?
Tim Quinn: Well it’s a great question, so we have … I think one of the things that’s most important internally for us from a formality perspective is having consistent stand ups or meetings on very specific functional topics. When I say that, every Monday at 9:00 we’re gonna talk from 9:00 to 9:50 about strategy tactics and priorities for the week. And that’s it.
Then on Tuesdays we’re gonna have a meeting to talk about what is our customer success. What’s the challenges around that and these are very … We have agendas, we have [inaudible 00:22:24] but then we have just an open sessions of what’s going on, what do you need. What challenge do you have. What resources do you need, are there things that we’re failing at or we need to get you more of.
And just having those consistent methods of communication that happen without question, without fail, every week at a certain point in time, is really, really important for us. We use Slack and email. We use [Riche 00:22:48] for our project collaboration. And We use Salesforce, we use [inaudible 00:22:52], we have all these systems of communication but it’s hard to check all those from a communication.
People make fun of me internally. I’m not the biggest Slack guy. I mean I hardly have time checking my email and checking my LinkedIn. So there’s things that happen on Slack they say, “Tim we put it on Slack.” So well, I didn’t know that. That’s why we need to say those aloud or we need to talk about those aloud. And just communicate that in a more effective fashion.
Josh Sweeney: I actually just got dinged from my team the other day about my Slack usage because we have a lot of people that are collaborating on Slack but I’m the one that’s probably the most in the field. I’m in the most meetings. A developer is at the desk and they’re developing and the Slack goes off, they can answer.
When Email is Important
A marketing person a lot of times, they’re at their desk. Or they’re around whereas I’m in the field constantly and they’re like, “Well we would love to see you on Slack more.” I’m like, “I would love to be on Slack more but that’s a challenge.” But I did recognize that it was said and was able to make sure that I’m getting back to it or responding or following up maybe a little late in that case. But I’m engaging.
Tim Quinn: The same thing happened to me last week ’cause I tell Tim we’re all on Slack, [inaudible 00:24:00], I’m on Slack but I’m out in the field, I’m the most external person in our office so I’m rarely in the office. Everybody else on our team is sitting down and they’re … And it’s a great tool but there’s a flip side to that that people need to understand our way of learning and our way of processing data and even our developers have actually starting using their email for important messages, which I appreciate.
Josh Sweeney: I like that ’cause when the Slack craze came on I’m like, I was like, “Well I kind of get it but I kind of don’t. Why is this going gangbusters and everybody’s loving it.” I think the disconnect for me was I need email for persistence.
Tim Quinn: That’s right.
Josh Sweeney: Right? It’s there, it’s always there. I can go through it. I can check it off at the time I need to because … Like today, I’m gonna be in this podcast room for eight hours. I don’t have time to check Slack. So if you have an important message it needs to be coming through email so I can get to it later whereas the Slack feed, like a Facebook or LinkedIn, it’s already 1,000 messages up.
I’m not going to go through all of that. So definitely some food for thought. So what we’ll do, is we’ll wrap up with our last question which is at ThingTech, what is either the biggest company culture challenge you have right now or the company culture item that you’re most looking forward to enhancing?
Tim Quinn: That’s a great question. I think our biggest culture challenge right now is bridging expectations on the sales and marketing side to the product side and aligning those two functional areas more effectively. In a early stage company … And although we think we communicate and we think we talk. We think we kind of are all on the same page, getting the alignment from the sales and marketing, the market, and aligned with the product, and getting the communication and the expectation management between both functional areas right now is our biggest challenge.
What naturally happens if a salesperson sells a project and maybe there’s two features that we have to deliver as part of that sales process, the product manager may have signed off on it. But the dev staff didn’t know anything about it. They get put in a bind and it creates kind of … It does the worst thing I think in my perspective is it creates this your sales or your technology, your product development, it creates tension that we wanna dissolve. We’re all on the same page, we’re all pushing for the same thing. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter as long as we made that customer happy. Now our dev team is fantastic though. They really roll with that well but historically in previous lives, I didn’t manage that well.
I’m sensitive to making sure that we manage that properly as we move forward. ‘Cause it could the area that falls off. So I’m very sensitive to that. That’s my sensitivity right now.
Josh Sweeney: It’s interesting you bring that up ’cause I just picked up
Account Based Marketing
Account-Based Marketing for Dummies written by my friend, Sangram over at Terminus. I had some pre-conceived notions about account-based marketing. Mainly around how aligning sales and marketing and conceptually I’d read a little bit about it but one of the things I’ve enjoyed so far and I’m not done with the book yet but, the alignment across multiple organizations. How it starts to align not only sales and marketing on the goal but also sales, marketing and delivery production, service, whatever it might be. I think there’s probably lots of opportunities for it to go one step further to dev or one step further to accounting or other ways.
I found it was a great mind shift to start to align those. How do you plan to start to align those within the organization?
Tim Quinn: Well the first thing I’ma do is go buy a book called Account-Based Marketing for Dummies. Be the first thing I do.
Josh Sweeney: Awesome.
The Strategic Goal
Tim Quinn: We’re gonna do that. That’s gonna be a strategic goal on our leadership team and we’re gonna get the management that’s responsible for product, management that’s responsible for customer success, sales, and many of those are the same person. We wanna start with them to define what that process should be, what that strategy should be.
Then start building work sessions and workshops over December, and January and February. And getting the other functional staff involved in that. Start helping us define what that system needs to be and what that feedback needs to be in terms of how we resolve the market to sales, market sales, product delivery alignment methodology.
Execute the Process
We’re really gonna define that and all agree on it. Sign off on it and then based on the process we develop, really agree to execute that process. And I’ll take a personal investment in executing that process so that it’s agreed upon, we like it, we understood it, now we just have to execute it. Is what we’re gonna do over the next three months.
Josh Sweeney: I love the plan.
Tim Quinn: So we have some ambitious goals.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I love the plan. I look forward to hearing how it turns out.
Tim Quinn: Oh, we’re excited.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:29:13]. Well thank you for joining me on the podcast.
Tim Quinn: Thanks Josh. Thanks for having me.
Josh Sweeney: Thank you. Thank you for joining us on the Epic Company Culture podcast. This has been an interview with Tim Quinn at ThingTech. Thank you.