As an only child, Rebekah Campbell claims that she was often bored and spent her free time thinking and planning which made her quite ambitious. At age seven, she sold flowers from her house. On the first day, she didn't make one sale. Yet Rebekah noticed that cars would be driving pass her before even noticing her modest flower stand.
So the next day, her mother bought her some balloons to make her stand more visible. At the end of the day, Rebekah burst into the house to tell her mother that she sold all her flowers. Her mother calmly asked to be repaid for her balloon investment. Through this experience, Rebekah Campbell learned a valuable lesson around marketing and profitability.
Then at 13, Rebekah attended a birthday party at a local restaurant and the clown that was entertaining the party was boring her. Promptly the next day, Rebekah called the restaurant owner and sold him on the reason why she should be the new clown. She was hired instantly and loved her job - she even joined the union (who knew there was one)! From this experience, she learned the power of asking. If you don't take initiative and ask, you won't ever get.
As an adult, Rebekah Campbell's first "real" entrepreneurial venture was starting her own music management company and promoting concerts and bands, including EVERMORE. They maintained a tight budget when promoting concerts, remaining around $20,000 to put up posters and advertise in music publications. With these promotions, she could quickly tell if the campaign was working or not.
Unfortunately for an EVERMORE concert in Perth, it was not working. Rebekah Campbell devised another plan and emailed all the fans of EVERMORE in Perth and asked them if they wanted to be a concert promoter. She then allotted them tickets to sell (plus commission) along with benefits for selling more tickets like attaining better seats for themselves. Lo and behold - she ended up selling out Perth.
After that experience, Rebekah Campbell decided to start Posse in 2008 to capitalize on this experience. Posse is a way for people to share their favorite places with friends and to get recommendations from friends. The company is up to 13 people, and Rebekah relates the wins and lessons learned from starting Posse:
*Caution when Outsourcing Development- Since Rebekah cannot write code, she started Posse's development by outsourcing it to India. She quickly learned one of the main drawbacks of this approach was that the outsourced developers weren't obsessing about the service. They were just writing the code according to the specifications. But even when coding to specifications, there's tons of mini decisions that need to be made along the way. And if the developer is not invested, the decisions just won't be optimized.
Rebekah concedes it may make more sense to outsource development if the prototype or code is straightforward. But for what they were developing at Posse, it was just too new and innovative for an outsourced solution to work for them.
*Trust Your Vision- At the same, if you're the founder but cannot code, you cannot cede the vision and lose confidence in how the product should work. Rebekah set the vision and stuck to it.
*Hire Slow- It took Rebekah quite awhile to find the right CTO. But she thinks finding Alex, their CTO, is the best thing that has happened to Posse. She's also relieved that she didn't jump the gun and hire someone who wasn't "right" for such a key role. Furthermore, with a small team, Rebekah is always willing to forsake growth to find the right team member.
*Fire Fast- Rebekah Campbell admits that they are ruthless at Posse when there's not a fit with new hire. In fact, they let someone go who was a good coder but just did not embrace their culture within the first two weeks. Now whenever she gets a gut feeling, she knows that she needs to act on it - and act quickly.
*Harder Interviews- After Alex arrived, Posse revamped their interview process. Rebekah admits that she likes people and wanted applicants to do well. Now she's much more skeptical, tougher, and conducts exercises with the applicants. They'll usually hold at least three interviews if not five before making a decision. In addition, her perspective is to look for the holes in the applicant rather than to look for the good spots. She notes that this is much tougher, but the results speak for themselves - they have a much stronger team today.
*Quarterly Performance Review Cycles- Posse leverages a lot of the best practices from Google (where Alex used to work), including the quarterly performance review cycles. During these quarterly performance reviews, everyone writes down their contributions for that quarter and any concerns they have. Rebekah really likes this approach because everyone is always thinking about what they're going to be able to list under contributions.
*Emphasize Strengths and Don't Obsess Over Weaknesses- Alex, their CTO, likes to focus on the individual's strengths and leverage those instead of trying to improve the individual's weaknesses. This sounds like the message that Marcus Buckingham delivers in his book, Now, Discover Your Strengths. At Posse, they eschew detailed action plans that focus on how to round out an employee's weakness and instead, they plan around how to focus them on something they're really good at.
*Spread Ownership- Everyone at Posse receives stock options so they gain a sense of ownership. In addition, Rebekah tries to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to strategic planning and brainstorming. She admits this is more challenging, but she thinks it's worthwhile if everyone buys in.
*Leader Vulnerability to Set Tone for Reviews- Rebekah Campbell also shares with her management team her quarterly contributions and company concerns. She always goes first in these meetings and digs deep. She finds that the more open and vulnerable she is, the deeper the team digs to truly get to the heart of issues.
*Conclusion- From selling flowers to being a clown to promoting bands to starting Posse, Rebekah learned some invaluable lessons on being a better leader and embracing change. She confides that she thinks entrepreneurs fear failure less than they fear missing out. Which is probably part of the reason why she couldn't buy a house because she used her down payment to not lose out on an auction to buy the Posse.com domain name.
At the same time, Rebekah shared that at her most recent Christmas party, she looked around the table at the 11 people in stunned silence. She realized that not ONE of the same people from the previous year's Christmas party was around any more, including her board members- a complete 100% turnover rate. Likewise, she wasn't afraid of failure, but instead she was more fearful of missing out on the great culture Posse has today with a new team.
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