CEO Summit: CorPorate culture

The Launch
Brett Hurt

Brett Hurt, former co-founder of Bazaarvoice and Chairman of the Board for Compare Metrics, has taken many lessons from his experience launching a company. In his talk, Brett offered six key learnings from his personal career journey that are worth noting for any CEO considering corporate culture during the initial launch stage of a company.

1. Hire the right people.
Starting with your very first hire, Brett stressed the importance of ensuring that anyone who comes on board shares the same passion the founders have for the business. Whether a chief financial officer or a salesman, the best way to hire the right person for the job is to create an immersive test that combines an intensive assignment with true role play. Asking a candidate to invest a significant amount of time on a project before they’re hired, and present to the founders without breaking character, will show whether they have an authentic calling for the position.

2. Sell to the cool kids.
It is easy to identify the “cool kids” in any industry. They are the ones who are highly visible -- serving on advisory boards, speaking at conferences -- they are passionate and upwardly mobile. Brett believes that when your B2B company is ready to launch, regardless of the market, you should seek out the influencers in that space and sell to those people, being sure to negotiate including a case study in your agreement. This will allow you to come out of stealth mode with strong evidence of your product or service tied to respected companies.

3. Hire the advice you want.
When you start a company, you can fill your advisory board with anyone you want to include. So go out and find the right advisors, then give them equity and treat them well. At Bazaarvoice, Brett hired an advisory board member from each of the industries they wanted to break into, which made it much easier to get in. Often, the advisor you want on your board will love living vicariously through you as an entrepreneur.

4. Live your brand.
Whenever you’re in the public serving as a representative of your organization, think of clever and memorable ways to show who you are and what your brand stands for. People will remember you if you find an authentic way to connect with them.

5. Have good t-shirts.
It’s a simple piece of advice, but if you have a shirt with your brand, make it special. Brett shared that in his experience, interesting shirts will spark conversations more so than just a logo.

6. Reinforce what you do through offsites.
Once you launch, be sure you don’t lose what you’ve built by ignoring it. Constantly reinforce what you’re doing through offsites with your company. Discuss your culture in addition to your strategy; it’s easy to do and very powerful.

Brett emphasized that launching a business is a special time not only because you are are debuting a new product or service for the first time, but also because it allows a CEO to set the tone that will imbued in the organization’s culture moving forward.

Following Brett’s talk, the group discussed whether the right team for launch is always the right team for a company in the long term. Brett shared that often the answer is no; in the first few years you need passionate, aggressive employees, but later down the road you should build a team with strong operational experience. While some people are a good fit ongoing, most are not. Some people hate change and establishing process to match a company’s growth; these employees will eventually need to transition out.

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EF CEO Summit

Presented by Rackspace

The CEO Summit is an ongoing series designed to support Austin-area CEOs in strategic, high-impact areas of their business. These invite-only events bring together CEOs from ventures of all stages to share tips and unusually candid advice based on real experiences.

For the first CEO Summit, held this spring at Austin's Capital Factory, we asked six executives to share their insights on CORPORATE CULTURE. Successful corporate cultures are key in attracting and retaining the best talent, promoting innovation and driving performance. As the stewards of corporate culture, CEOs must understand better than anyone else what promotes great culture, and what doesn’t.

The CEO Summit is organized by the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas, and is made possible through the generosity of companies like Rackspace and the Capital Factory.