E-Commerce secrets to scale

045 - Improving Communication in the Workplace with Josh Little

045 – Improving Communication in the Workplace with Josh Little

E-Commerce Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals to uncover scaling secrets that will impact your online store.

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Tanner:

This week on the show, Josh Little, CEO of Volley joins me to talk about improving communication in the workplace and how asynchronous communication is the answer. Josh and the team over at Volley are doing some really awesome things, stick around. Welcome to the show, Josh. I’m really excited to have you. Go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.

Josh:

Hey there? I’m Josh Little, founder and CEO of Volley. Veteran entrepreneur. I’ve built four tech companies now and had a lot of fun. So excited to be here on the show.

There should just be a company that does this.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. So how did your career get started? What’s your story? Can you walk us through all those different startups that you’ve been involved with?

Josh:

Sure. Yeah. I’m kind of a reluctant entrepreneur. I didn’t start until I was in my 30s. So, late bloomer. But yeah, I started as a teacher. When you grow up in rural Michigan, in my hometown, you either work at the prison, you’re a teacher or you work at the power company, like my dad did. So, I chose teacher, and taught in public schools and realized that it just wasn’t for me, and figured out that I could use the same skills that made me great as a teacher to sell. And had a very successful career in sales at three Fortune 500 companies. Made the leap from sales to sales training to marketing in each of those companies. And it was actually scratching my own itch that caused me to start my first company.

I was trying to build an e-learning program for Stryker, because we had a global training program for a surgical navigation platform. And it was really challenging to scale what we were doing. We had to do it all live. So I was trying to build e-learning and it became a full-time job just to manage all of the players, the videographer, the 3D animator, all of the different parts and pieces you needed to like build really great online learning. And I thought, “Well, there should just be a company that does this.” And I couldn’t find a company that I had confidence taking our stuff and building online learning courses out of it, so I left Stryker and started that company called Maestro. That was 14 years ago now.

And Maestro, turns out, I was right. That company needed to exist. And pretty much every medical device company said, “Yes. We need you.” So we started working with medical device then pharma. Today, Maestro creates online learning programs for some of the top companies in the world, Netflix, Microsoft, Facebook, et cetera. So, yeah, that was a great ride. But from the back of that, we were able to see problems at a meta level in helping people be successful and learn what they need to learn to do their jobs, because we were working with dozens of training programs. And we realized that 90% of what you need to know to do your job, you actually learn from other places than training. Only 10%, do you actually learn from “training.”

Josh:

The rest of you learn from texts. Or this video that the person created or that email that we save or hang on to. And so, we actually created a company called Bloomfire that collects all of those things in one place, makes it searchable. Now this is 2009, Twitter just launched the year before, and we launched Bloomfire social for the enterprise. And while people were kind of trying, I think people are still trying to figure out Twitter today, but back then they were really trying to figure it out and weren’t quite ready to be social. But we did find success with Bloomfire. That company was acquired in 2011. And took a year off, and then after that built a company called Qzzr, which is quizzes for publishers in marketing. And that went to the moon. And I took four years off actually trying to find the right next opportunity before Volley.

Everything I needed to learn, I learned working in restaurants.

Tanner:

Wow. Serial entrepreneur right here. That’s really awesome man. So, what would you attribute your success to over the years?

Josh:

Everything I needed to learn, I learned working in restaurants. I’m going out on limb here. I’ve never even said these words before, but you asked the question. I worked in restaurants for eight years. Put myself and my wife through college. We worked in restaurants. I think the most I made was $8 an hour, by the end. It started at 4.25. But you learn so much from these crappy jobs, especially restaurants. You learn how to deal with people who are angry or hungry, be timely, get people excited, motivate someone that their meals not ready but that’s okay because… and entertain them. As well as I worked back at the house in the kitchen, and you learn how to be fast, and move quickly, and be efficient with every stroke, every cut of a big potato, every shrimp that you’re laying up on the counter, that needs to be fast.

And we got tickets going, and we’ve got to get the things in the oven, we have to time things out. So there’s also some project management that’s involved in getting fish out of the fryer, and a steak off the grill and on the plate at the right time, so that one doesn’t ruin the other. So, it’s kind of a silly idea, but I did learn a lot of what I think made me successful or has made me successful from restaurants. And the rest I would attribute it to singing. Yeah, I’ve been a musician and a singer my whole career. And there’s just a lot to the art of performance and showing up and preparing that’s made me successful. Like being prepared and having my lines and knowing what I’m going to say, unlike how I feel right now in this podcast, I feel like I’m rambling on saying a bunch of things. But we’ll just say restaurants and singing.

Tanner:

That’s really awesome. I actually really love that. And I think it’s true. I think I had a similar experience. My first crappy job was at Kmart. And it was just an old rundown Kmart in Murray, Utah. It was just horrible. It actually went out of business like two years after I left. But I think there’s a lot of truth there. Being at the bottom, and making the best of it, and translating that into future opportunities throughout your career. Right?

Josh:

Yep. There’s learning opportunity in everything, every experience.

Tanner:

And I think that’s what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, is treating everything as a learning opportunity.

Josh:

For sure. Yeah.

It’s really hard to make lightning strike.

Tanner:

So, Josh, I like to ask this question recently, what’s it like in your opinion, to be a founder or a CEO?

Josh:

What’s it like? Stressful. If I can be honest, it’s a heavy load. But it’s also why I keep coming back. I’ve said entrepreneurship is the most taxing creative endeavor. And I really think that’s true and it’s why I keep coming back. My personal mantra is to make beautiful things. That’s what I want my life to be aimed at, is just to make beautiful things. Whether it’s a jar of pickles, a musical performance, or a YouTube video that I create. I just want them to be awesome, and beautiful, and worthy of their mark. So that’s my goal. But while I can achieve making beautiful things from building a piece of furniture or a jar of pickles, nothing really puts me on the mat like entrepreneurship and building a company. It is really hard to do. And if you do it right, it can be very fulfilling and create all the success and opportunities for others and a lot more exciting than a piece of furniture. Right? But at the same time, there’s a reason why most companies fail, most startups fail. It’s really hard to make lightning strike.

There is a lot of inefficiency to synchronicity.

Tanner:

Yeah, absolutely. And I would completely agree with you. It is one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve ever done. I feel like it gives my life a purpose. So, Josh, topic for today is workplace communication, which I think your app, Volley, is going to help improve a lot. So what do you think contributes to solid communication at work?

Josh:

Well, I think it’s George Bernard Shaw quote, “You have to communicate in a way that you couldn’t be misunderstood.” I think there’s a lot to that, especially COVID forced us all to go remote. And we were all grappling with ways to make that work. Suddenly all of these interactions that we had in the office are gone. How do we fill that back in? Well, we can slack more. But written communication only has about 7% of the communication picture, that tone of voice and body language offer, that’s the other 93%. So that’s what we’re missing when we choose to send thick or context rich message through a very thin medium such as text. But then on the other hand, we have this thing called Zoom we’re on right now, video conferencing. And that is a very thick medium. Video is very dense medium, but it has to be synchronous.

So, meaning we have to stop what we’re doing, wait for each other to arrive, deal with technical difficulties and meandering of the conversation. Now there’s just two of us. We wouldn’t do any of that. And, of course, my meetings aren’t inefficient, but we all know that they are. And we all know that there is a lot of inefficiency to synchronicity. And this is why some of the top companies in the world are going async first, like asynchronous is by default, like that’s where we need to start communication. The problem is that means text. Therefore, that means we’re only showing 7% of the picture. So if you want your message to be understood, use video first.

Josh:

And that’s what we’re offering with Volley as a way to communicate with video first. You can also write a text Volley, a screen record Volley, or a voice Volley. Those things are certainly there, but 80% of Volley sent are video. And there’s a reason, because it’s the widest spectrum. And we can speak seven or eight times faster than we can compose a Slack message or an email. And some of us who are OCD will edit, and re-edit, and re-edit that thing, so it’s more like 500 times faster than you could write that stupid email. So just say what you need to say and move on with your day. And that’s the promise that Volley is hopefully delivering on.

Tanner:

Yeah. And that’s awesome, man. So you’re positioning it as a combination of Slack and Zoom, right?

Josh:

It is. It’s kind of the best of both of them put into one. This has been an evolving positioning for us. We thought when we came out that Volley was the end of meetings as we know it, and it’s going to eat Zoom’s lunch, and this is a more superior way to Zoom. But what we found from our users and even our own team is, there are still a lot of really compelling reasons to meet synchronously. And certain things like emotionally charged conversation or anything requiring like a tight feedback loop in iteration, like we’re riffing back and forth, and we need input from five people, that stuff sucks asynchronously. So, those things should be done synchronously. But for everything else, there’s Volley. So what we found is that teams adopting Volley are actually using it instead of Slack, not instead of Zoom. And that was news to us. So yeah, that’s where we’re positioning. This is a better way to communicate. A new way to move work forward using this moneymaker of a face and voice that you have.

Tanner:

Yeah. I like it. It’s funny how hard it is to get people to evolve to use video. Right?

Josh:

Yeah.

Tanner:

Everyone’s all worried about how they look and how they sound. Have you experienced any of that with trying to grow Volley’s user base?

Josh:

For sure. I don’t have a hard number on this, but I would just say, anecdotally, about 5% of our users are just freaked out with video. They don’t like seeing themselves, they want filters. They don’t really want their coworkers to see them. And I understand that is a natural instinct. And some are more comfortable with video than others. But I can’t imagine a future of work where we’re not all a heck of a lot more comfortable with video and recognizing that this is the thing that’s going to deliver us the freedom and flexibility that we need to move work forward faster.

Tanner:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think the pandemic pushed us as a population or as a culture towards video. Before COVID, if you would’ve asked someone to get on the Zoom call, they would have probably said, no, just come to my office or something like that. So, I think in that way, it’s been a blessing in disguise. But what do you think is one big mistake that companies are using when it comes to communicating or handling their meetings both internally and externally?

Death by meetings.

Josh:

Well, I already spoken to one of them is using a thin medium such as texts for context oriented communication. But yeah, the other is just death by meetings. Just being back to back to back, which is I know what everyone experienced with COVID. We still need to talk to move work forward. That’s not going away. We’ve had to talk since the beginning of the time to work together and collaborate, but talking equals synchronicity. We either have to be in the same room at the same time, or even though this is a virtual call, I have to be sitting in this chair in front of my computer at this certain time. So, talking has historically been time or place bound. We can only do it if we are in the same time, place together, even virtually.

So that creates a lot of inefficiency because your schedule is constantly interrupted. And now the latest research on deep work and finding flows, showing that it takes like 23 and a half minutes for a knowledge worker to get back in this state of deep work or flow once interrupted. And we’re not only interrupted by meetings, we’re interrupted by endless Slack messages and whatnot throughout the day. So, that’s probably the biggest plague of the future of work, is this interruptive and faceless form of communication that we have adopted currently. And that’s what we’re trying to rise above and create like a more superior way to communicate.

Tanner:

Yeah, absolutely. And it seems like it would be 10 times faster, just pull out your phone, just send a video to someone rather than, all right, let’s put a Zoom meeting on the calendar and they can respond whenever they have time. And you’re absolutely right. These back-to-back meetings are just killing everyone’s productivity, it’s almost impossible to get anything done.

Josh:

Yeah. And the proof is in the pudding, I could show you my calendar this week or my team’s calendar this week. Our engineers worked at a company, they were kind of forced to pair, which means they were eyeball to eyeball on Zoom all day. And on Volley, their calendar is just a bunch of white boxes with like one meeting, which we usually cancel each week, because when you’re in the flow of work, when you’re constantly collaborating and talking about what’s most important, a planning meeting isn’t that necessary. Like we already know, and this might be blasphemous, but I’m even wondering if standup is necessary at a team like Volley where we’re constantly checking in, syncing up, unblocking.

Do I need to hear your standup update? I know what you did yesterday, I know what you’re planning to do today, because we’re in the flow of work. So that’s why I say this is like a higher law we’re living when it comes to communication, we’re giving up the lower law of this synchronous text-based communication that lets us live to a certain level. But if you adopt this async video first mentality, it can free up your schedule and allow you to say things a heck of a lot faster than you could have typed them and listen to others on 2X. And so, that’s why we feel like we’ve started to build the ultimate communication tool for the future of work, hopefully.

The only growth that matters to us is product-led growth.

Tanner:

Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re onto something really great here, Josh. So what would you say your secrets to scale are?

Josh:

Secrets to scale? Well, I’ll say what it has to be with Volley. The only growth that matters to us is product-led growth. My last two companies were performance marketed and sold their way to success. And that is one way to succeed. But the future of product, the future of buying is product led, and download the product and experience it for yourself. It’s not behind the demo or a sales process. It could be, for certainly for long sales cycle, very complex products. It kind of needs to be. And I understand that. But for products like Volley, that’s what I’m saying, it has to be product-led.

Therefore, our users need to go invite other users. And Volley as a product is no fun without another person to volley with. It’s like playing volleyball by yourself. It doesn’t work. You need someone on the other side of the court to bounce that ball back and forth with. So that’s the base function of Volley. Therefore, that should be the way that it grows, is by users inviting other users, finding that this is just a superior way to communicate, not only with your team, but to connect with other professionals outside of your team, your attorney, your accountant, investors, Volley’s just a better way. In fact, I’ve got to send an investor update Volley just after this.

Tanner:

Yeah. And with products like that it’s like the chicken or the egg type of thing. Right? Because no one wants to use something that no one’s using, but you have to get people to use it. Right? So, I’m sure it’s quite a challenge.

Josh:

Yeah. It is. You’ve got to first pack the snowball before you can start rolling it. Which is very much the stage that we’re at. We’re still trying to perfect the product, putting in features, pulling out features, talking about it differently. We’re learning every day. So, by no means have we nailed it, but I think we’re on the right scent trail at least.

Tanner:

Well, that’s awesome to hear man. And Josh, I really want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Is there anything that I have not asked you that you think might benefit the audience?

Josh:

I don’t know. I don’t think so. It’s been a great conversation.

Tanner:

Cool, man. Well, I appreciate it. What’s a good way for anyone listening to get in contact with you?

Josh:

Well, download Volley, and you’ll have a conversation with me because we use our tool to support it. So, download Volley and say hello to me in the hello volley conversation.

Tanner:

All right, everyone go download Volley. Thank you again, Josh.

Josh:

You bet.

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