“Constantly give people feedback.” – Chris Campbell, Founder and CEO of ReviewTrackers

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Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins Podcast, where we’re featuring entrepreneurs whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, and for the next 25 minutes, I will be your host, as we explore how to build your business through better hiring. Today on the program, Chris Campbell is the founder and CEO of ReviewTrackers, based in Chicago. ReviewTrackers is a venture-backed company founded in 2012, currently with 50 employees, and, Chris, we are so excited to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.

 

Chris Campbell: Adam, thank you so much. I’m excited to be here with you and your listeners and walk through a little bit through our company history and share some of our tidbits with the audience, so it should be a lot of fun.

 

Adam Robinson: Yeah, so let’s do it. We know the best learning happens through real experiences shared by fellow entrepreneurs and, Chris, this will be a lot of fun, and so for listeners, I’ve known Chris for a long time. Chris, you and I met back when you had a previous business, so we will call you a serial entrepreneur, if that’s appropriate. Lakeshore Branding is how I know Chris, and you’ve been on the journey for a while, my friend.

 

Chris Campbell: Yeah, 10 plus years self-employed, so it’s a fun journey, though. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

 

 

Adam Robinson: Also known as unemployable.

 

Chris Campbell: I’ll be honest, I do think entrepreneurs are terrible employees, but usually they’re good leaders.

 

Adam Robinson: That’s, I second that, 100% agree. Nobody needs to hire me for any job, so that is spot on. All right, so we have a tradition here on the podcast. We always start off on the right foot. That’s the best news that happened to you in the last week. Could be business or personal. We’ll both go. Chris, you first. What’s your right foot for last week?

 

Chris Campbell: So my right foot for the last week, we actually were, had a big presence at South by Southwest, which is a big interactive marketing festival in Austin, Texas.

 

Adam Robinson: I’ve heard of it.

 

Chris Campbell: And we flew down 13 members from our team, we hosted a number of events. Great turnout, sellout at some of our events, and came home with literally hundreds of leads, so for us, that’s a great event, and every single year it turns out even better as we invest more into setting up appointments and all that, but our team just did a fantastic job, and I’m so proud of them. It’s come a long way from a few years ago when I had to run everything to like, I’m not in charge of anything anymore. It’s kind of a crazy process, so it was … For me, it was a lot of fun.

 

Adam Robinson: That’s awesome. Congratulations. I mean, at a conference that big, I mean, SXSW is just so massive, to stand out and have that be productive lead-wise is tough. Congratulations.

 

Chris Campbell: Thank you. Yeah. I couldn’t do it without the team. They’re the ones that make it happen nowadays.

 

Adam Robinson: Very cool. Very cool. Well, we’ll talk more about that. For me, on the business front, we, our leadership team just wrapped up our quarterly planning, and that’s a process that we follow. It’s fairly scripted, and I was just so impressed with the level of work that they got done, and as you said, you’ve transitioned to a role where people are doing more and you’re doing less. I certainly had that experience this week watching our leadership team dig in and do great work and solve tough problems, and I didn’t feel the need to shoehorn anything or force my ideas into the group, so that was great, so all around a good week on the delegation front, it sounds like.

 

Chris Campbell: Well, that’s great, and from one leader to another, I’d love to see what kind of template you’re using, because that’s actually kind of interesting, is we’re implementing more rigor around our quarterly objectives and goals, so we’ll talk about that offline, unless you write a blog post or something about that.

 

Adam Robinson: No, all good. We follow a program called EOS, which you can read about in a book called Traction, and more on that offline, Chris. Happy to talk to you about it. So we’re here today to focus on the people side of your business, but before we dive in, let’s set the stage. Give us 30 seconds on ReviewTrackers.

 

Chris Campbell: Sure, so ReviewTrackers, we’re a software platform that powers enterprise brands to allow them to interact and engage with customers, so pulling in and sucking in all that customer feedback from sites like Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and others. We analyze it, we have workflow and tools to actually help solicit more feedback, and basically you could think of us as like, as a salesperson you live inside Salesforce, but for a marketer and someone who’s trying to manage all their customer feedback, we’re the platform you want to live in and the platform that makes it easier to manage and make sure every customer compliment or complaint is addressed.

 

Adam Robinson: Fantastic, and if listeners want to know more about the business, where should they go?

 

Chris Campbell: Sure. You can learn more at reviewtrackers.com.

 

Adam Robinson: Okay. All right, so let’s jump in here. Start off with values, is typically how we lead things off here. Let’s talk about core values and whether or not that’s something that you’ve developed. Do you have specific, defined core values for ReviewTrackers?

 

Chris Campbell: We do. Actually, that was a big initiative for us over the last year, as our company continued to expand and grow. We had something initially, but over the last year, we kind of revisited everything. We wrote it from scratch, and I’m really happy with how everything turned out.

 

Adam Robinson: Right. Take us through them, if you don’t mind. Walk us through the core values and what they mean to the business.

 

Chris Campbell: So, Adam, our values are kind of unique, but we’ve centered around aspirational and kind of what we think we are today, so there’s five core values. We call it the five-star values, if you will, since it’s kind of like our business, but …

 

Adam Robinson: I like it.

 

Chris Campbell: The first one being, “We seize the day”: hustle, figure it out, and make it happen. “We are scrappy”: proudly do more with less. Number three, “We set each other up for success,” that means communicate, collaborate, teach, challenge, and inspire each other. Four, “We honor our commitments”: we build and protect trust with one another and our customers. And we ask, “What if?”: innovate by taking risks, experiment, fail quickly and learn.

 

Adam Robinson: So if this is, it’s a recent exercise for your business, how are you looking at making these real and implementable in the day-to-day of the company? What’s your vision for that?

 

Chris Campbell: Yeah, so that’s definitely a process, but we started small, with the example of printing out cards, so everyone on their desk has the values, alongside our mission, vision, and culture statements, so step one. Step two, we give opportunities. We call it Cheers for Peers, where we’re actually calling out opportunities where someone lived our values, so we do that as a leadership team, inside team meetings and team huddles. We also do that through like a, we use a software called TINYpulse that helps us track that and actually note that, so like publicly everyone can see it, and then finally, we’ve, incorporating it, or we’re in the process of incorporating it into like our evaluation and one-on-one process, so saying, “What kind of values did you live this week?” Or kind of identifying those, positive or negative. “Hey, you didn’t live this value. What happened here?”

 

And we kind of use it as a guide for not only our existing employees, but also hiring, so like we revisited all our hiring questions, like how can we identify if people have these traits? So … We’re working through adding in all the different aspects of our project, our company, I should say, to make sure we live it every day.

 

Adam Robinson: Let’s focus on the selection process up front. It sounds like you’ve modified what you’re looking for on the front end to make sure there’s a values match. Take us through some of the changes you’ve made to your recruiting process that helped you figure that out.

 

Chris Campbell: The amount of times we’ve fine-tuned or improved our hiring process is, I think, now in the hundreds, it feels like, of constantly fine-tuning … I guess the biggest change from when we started was, we look at the recruiting process almost a little like how you look at the sales process, so we use software almost like a CRM where we identified all the different stages that a customer … Or, I’m sorry, a job seeker might be at, so from awareness, to applying, taking them down the funnel.

 

How we do outreach, so what that message is, how we communicate it, if we’re trying to prospect and pull someone into the funnel, if you will, to like get them engaged, but then actually, as they’re going through the process, we try really hard to structure it to be like a really good outcome. It’s not uncommon, even if we … We’ve interviewed so many people. I think last year we had, we looked at 6,000 different résumés.

 

Adam Robinson: Wow.

 

Chris Campbell: And we hired about 35 out of that, so that’s quite a funnel, which is great. We have so many candidates coming into the pipe, a lot that we’re reaching out to. The crazy thing is, we actually get a lot of referrals from people that we interview and don’t hire, because at the end of it, they feel like they have a good understanding of our company, what our core values are, and they also leave with a good feeling. Like things we do differently, we actually give everyone that comes in for an interview a goodie bag on the way out. It’s just like a few little trinkets, but … And like a water bottle, but it just seems like it goes a long way to end that experience on a positive note.

 

Adam Robinson: What a fantastic idea. I’m appropriating that, sir. You’re getting that idea stolen. That’s awesome.

 

Chris Campbell: Great. Yeah, and then so in terms of the actual hiring process, we have them meet different members of the team. I guess another example of this would be like, say we’re hiring for a new sales role. At the beginning of the process, before we even post it, we’re putting out a list of what are the key requirements of that person, like almost like a scorecard, if you will, and then we’re going through that scorecard with all the people that are going to be involved in the interview process, which is usually three to six team members, depending on the seniority of the role. And then the person actually comes in, they meet with all the different people. That scorecard that we came up with actually matches what’s in our candidate pipeline flow, so like we ask specific questions, “Do they have this trait, do they have this skill?” So that matches, so that’s what we’re scoring, and at the end, we do a simple thumbs up, thumbs down.

 

We try to make the interview process pretty seamless, so candidates don’t come in seven times. We try to do it one or two visits after the phone screens, and try to make a decision pretty fast. We actually look at the time to hire, from like when we open the job req to when we actually staff the position. I think right now we average like 45 days, and we’re trying to figure out how to get down to 30.

 

Adam Robinson: That’s great.

 

Chris Campbell: But those are the kind of the metrics that our recruiting team looks at. Like that’s how they’re measured, so …

 

Adam Robinson: Fantastic. It sounds like you guys are managing that tightly, and the results you’ve had are indicative of a hiring process that works, and you guys have been on fire and growing pretty rapidly. And I’m sure the people side of the business has changed, from hiring one type of person to another, from generalists to specialists. Take us through the people model. That’s the business model that governs the people side of your business. What kind of people are you hiring? What’s your philosophy towards how you’re building your team right now?

 

Chris Campbell: Yeah, so, obviously, we look to the values, and that’s still something that’s new, but the common traits that we found is, we try to identify through the interview process, we found that there’s a few common ones. So, for example, majority of our office speaks more than one language, and that just kind of happened naturally; but we found that people that speak more than one language kind of are like intellectually curious and tend to be a little bit emotionally intelligent a little bit higher, because they’re … I don’t know if it’s that awareness, or where that comes from, but that’s one thing. We try to find people that are passionate, curious. We do try to identify emotional intelligence in our interview process as well. We have a strong correlation of people that have high emotional intelligence, self-awareness, the ability to take feedback is like really strong indicators of them being successful.

 

In terms of our process, once someone actually gets hired, different from like a lot of large corporations, where they might do an annual review, we believe in constant feedback, and for some people, that can be really a jarring experience if they’re not used to that, where they’re used to … At the annual review, we’ll talk about the good and the bad and kind of go through it, but literally, we’re doing it every week with every employee. They should be having one-on-ones with their manager, getting feedback, good, bad and the ugly and … At the end of the day, it comes from a really good place, of we want people to do the … Which kind of relates to our culture statement of, “Do the best work of their careers.”

 

And we want to empower them to do that, and the only way I know how to do that is constantly give people feedback, is saying, “Here’s where the opportunity is, this is what I want you to learn, this is where you need to work,” and constantly trying to make them better. And it’s wild to me to see how much people progress just even in a year or two’s time, under that kind of leadership. Literally, people on our team are like, “I’ve never had a boss like this,” “This is the best boss,” “I’ve never gotten feedback in my career.” And that’s just crazy to me, that some of these people, younger in their career path, or even older, have those challenges where they’ve never gotten really constructive feedback, and for the first time they feel like they’re able to progress in their career and really go to that next milestone when we … They get the feedback and then we talk about, “This is what you need to do to get to your next career milestone,” so …

 

Adam Robinson: Yeah, well, I, so … Let me ask you this. I mean, that starts at the top, so you’re driving that, and that’s well done, it sounds like. How are you pushing that down as you scale? How are you teaching your managers how to manage that way? Because as you said, so few companies get this right.

 

Chris Campbell: So I’ve learned I’ve got to hire leadership that already gets it, or is very close to it. If people don’t come from that structure or kind of have those beliefs of … So many organizations, it’s like the manager just says, I’ll ask them how to motivate people, and they say, “I just … I throw a pizza party once a month.” I’m like, “Well, that’s not what motivates everyone.” Like, everyone is different, some people care about compensation, some people care about career growth, some care about working on different, cool projects. I could go on and on, but understanding what motivates and aligns people is super important as a leader, and also that ability to identify strengths and weaknesses and give that feedback.

 

So the short answer, Adam, is I try to hire really strong managers, and I’d argue I have an excellent leadership team, and man, they’re even better at this stuff than I am at this point, but I constantly try to work with them and coach them, and I know they appreciate the feedback from me, but having really strong leadership just makes all the world of difference, and I’m sure that’s something you can appreciate in your organization as well.

 

Adam Robinson: Oh, absolutely. You bet. So, looking at the other side of the coin here, in terms of compensation and comp philosophy, well-run companies have a way they think about how they reward people for performance, and there are lots of levers you can pull: base salary, commissions, bonus, equity, things like that. Talk to us about your thoughts on the comp philosophy at ReviewTrackers and what you’re trying to accomplish through rewards and recognition.

 

Chris Campbell: Yeah, so, at least for, on the financial side, for the people that work for us, we pay, I think, very fair market, almost a little above market, but there’s always someone that’s going to be willing to pay you a dollar more. That just exists in the tech market in Chicago. I mean, really …

 

Adam Robinson: That exists everywhere.

 

Chris Campbell: I mean, I’ve had people on our team actually forward me messages from recruiters, like with LOL, and it says, like, “Respond back with your salary, we will double it,” and they don’t respond. They just forward it to me and laugh, and I think it goes, compensation, yeah, it’s those levers of equity and pay and benefits, and all that kind of stuff, but I found that building like a great culture and team is way more important and more impactful. I want people that are fully engaged leaning in, and compensation is just one of those pieces. I want to pay people fair, I want to pay them well, but the reality is, we have limitations.

 

In terms of our company and size, we’re still not profitable and not everything is possible all the time, but it’s definitely an important part of the mix, and something that we constantly reevaluate. We’re working towards, actually, like a process where we reevaluate everyone’s commission, or like comp structure, like almost every six months, and maybe even quarterly for some people. It’s not fully implemented yet, but we think that’s one of the best practices we should be working towards, because people in different times of their career, that might be more relevant. So whether it’s that next stage or bump, or it’s the next title, can be really important for people.

 

Adam Robinson: So, what I’m hearing is a philosophy that says, “Get close to market, pay people fairly,” but you’re really after people who are there for the culture and to do their best work, and so the reward is, you’re not … It’s not a top-dollar recruiting compensating for poor culture. The culture is creating a ton of value, it sounds like.

 

Chris Campbell: I think it’s the CEO that’s … I have, like, three things that you can’t mess up, and culture is number one for me, so that’s what I focus on: Hiring the right people, getting the right people in the seats, and I think if you get the right people there, they’ll figure it out, solve the problems, because I can’t do it all. We need smart, intelligent people who can, and you got to empower them to be able to make the right decision, so that’s what we try to do.

 

Adam Robinson: So I’m a prospective employee for ReviewTrackers. What’s your 30-second pitch to get me excited about the potential to work for you?

 

Chris Campbell: So it depends, so I know you have a family, so I would talk about, it’s one of the things that’s really important to a lot of families, is that we cover 100% of benefits. Health, dental, vision, disability, life insurance, all baked into the existing comp structure. If you care about equity, because I know you’ve also done a few startups, then, “Hey, we have an equity option plan as well. Let’s talk about the growth and future of the organization.” If you talk about career advancement, I talk about the constant feedback that you get, the opportunity to grow inside an organization which is literally doubling their headcount every single year. So, going back to my original point earlier, of different things motivate different people, try to identify what’s important to them during the interview process, and distinguishing that is pretty important, because we’re not just judged …

 

It’s not uncommon for people to be like, “I got seven offers. What can you do for me?” And if they’re looking at just the comp, maybe we do compete, maybe we’re really close, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of … People don’t leave companies because, the product or what they’re working on. It’s because they have a good manager or not, so we talk a lot about the great leadership team that we have, and that really helps recruit. People talk about, at least in the Chicago market being a challenge to recruit talent, and what I found, the more that we recruit and retain these type of people, the easier it’s gotten to hire the next hire. Our recruiting engine’s only gotten easier, and … I think, but … I don’t know if my recruiting team agrees with that, but that’s how I feel.

 

Adam Robinson: Sure. Well, you’ve been there for the whole run, so you know how hard it was back on day one.

 

Chris Campbell: I mean, I remember our first office, people would literally open the door, and it was like above a soda machine shop in a neighborhood, in Wicker Park, and people would look around, and they were like … I could tell in their face, they were like, “Should I just turn around and walk out, or should I stay?” And so we’ve come quite a long way.

 

Adam Robinson: I love it. I love it. Well, so what’s your favorite interview question? When you’re interviewing somebody, let’s say for a key role, the last interview you were in, what do you like to ask?

 

Chris Campbell: That’s a great question. I have a couple staples that I like, but one of the ones that I always think is interesting is, “What do you have strong opinions about?” And a lot of times people will give, like we’ll call it easy answers, easy outs, and then I’ll ask the next follow-up question of, “What do you have strong opinions about, something that the majority of the population does not agree with?” And you really get interesting answers, and … I’m not trying to … Sometimes people say, “Religion,” or, “Politics,” and that’s fine, too, but sometimes, understanding what people think and also understanding what they’re passionate about can come out through that question, as an example. If we’re trying to close them, I like, “What’s your greatest fear about this opportunity?”

 

Adam Robinson: That’s a great question.

 

Chris Campbell: Identify the deal-breakers or things that they have concern at the end of the process. Yeah, I got a lot more, but those are probably the two that I use quite a bit.

 

Adam Robinson: Very good. Very good. Yeah, I like the “greatest fear” question, because it does two things. It helps you trial, balloon whether or not they’re interested or not, that’s a pre-closing technique for sure, and second, you learn a lot about somebody, so I think that’s fantastic, so … Yeah, well done. What’s the biggest people-related question or, sorry, learning or lesson you’ve learned since launching the business?

 

Chris Campbell: Well, when you’re growing this fast, culture, or hiring the right people, and communication is just so important. I feel like we over-communicate everything, and I’m constantly reminded it’s just not enough ever. When you, like … For example, half our team is new within the last seven months. It’s like, half the team started in the last seven months, and that’s kind of crazy to think that they don’t have all that historical knowledge, and as we continue to build up the process and documentation around things, that gets easier, but there’s a lot of tribal knowledge that needs to be shared, so I don’t know if I have a good answer for you other than it’s, over-communication is the thing that I’ve learned is one of the most important things, and making sure that we deal with personnel or people issues right away. Yeah.

 

Adam Robinson: Ah, it’s a pretty big lesson, Chris. I mean, so many companies forget that you have to onboard people. I mean, the hiring process is the easy part, in many ways. You can’t just have people start and hope they work out. That’s doing it wrong, so that’s a lesson well learned. So if you were to come back on this show a year from now and tell us whether or not you accomplished the most important thing on your plate next year, what would you be reporting on?

 

Chris Campbell: So our big objective this year is, revolves around a financial metric, and our goal is to grow two and a half X this year, and so far, we’re on plan to hit it, which is kind of exciting, so that’s what I hope to accomplish next year.

 

Adam Robinson: Yeah, just some ho-hum two and a half X top-line growth. No big deal.

 

Chris Campbell: Yeah, no big deal, just … It’s easy. When you’re in the millions, then it makes it easier, right, so …

 

Adam Robinson: That’s right.

 

Chris Campbell: I think that’s a … It’s compounding.

 

Adam Robinson: So what you’re saying is, you’d take 50% growth in the billions. That’s cool.

 

Chris Campbell: I will celebrate that day, that’s for sure.

 

Adam Robinson: All right, a couple of lightning round questions here, just take your pulse on some things. Do you think the U.S. economy is going to get better or worse over the next 12 months?

 

Chris Campbell: So, I mean, obviously, it’s a challenging time, with politics the way it is, but if I’m honest, I’m hoping that at least Trump is self-serving, and I think, hopefully, business and real estate improves with him in office, but it’s still too early to tell. It’s a rocky ship at …

 

Adam Robinson: Okay.

 

Chris Campbell: … this point, so …

 

Adam Robinson: Do you think it’s getting easier or harder to find the people you need to grow your business this year?

 

Chris Campbell: I think it gets easier as you scale. I don’t think it’s easier at the start.

 

Adam Robinson: Okay, and what book are you reading right now, and would you recommend it to our audience?

 

Chris Campbell: Yeah, lots of books, so one of the books I just picked up is called The Upstarts by Brad Stone. That’s pretty good. My favorite book that I read last year was Hard Thing About Hard Things.

 

Adam Robinson: Tell us about Upstarts.

 

Chris Campbell: Well, I’m only like a few pages in, so I don’t have much, but it was recommended to me as … It basically walks through how great companies, primarily in Silicon Valley, are built, and it just … A great business book on the, I guess, cultural and economic changes that are happening in business over the last decade.

 

Adam Robinson: All right. That’s the final word. You’ve been learning from Chris Campbell, founder and CEO at ReviewTrackers. Chris, thank you for being on the program.

 

Chris Campbell: Thank you, Adam, for your time. I appreciate it, and if anyone’s curious to learn more, or you’re looking for a new job, reviewtrackers.com/careers to learn more.

 

Adam Robinson: All right. That’s a wrap for this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast, where we feature entrepreneurs whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. I’m Adam Robinson, author of the book The Best Team Wins, which you can find online at www.thebestteamwins.com. All right, we’ll see you next week. Thanks for listening.