Bucket List Interview question

I recently heard the tail-end of an interview on Sirius Radio (no idea who it was) about candidate application questionnaires when interviewing for jobs. One of the questions asked was so telling on what really motivates a potential employee. That question was simply, “what’s on your bucket list?”.

If you are unfamiliar with bucket lists, here is a quick google definition:- “a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime”.

So what does this question have to do with hiring employees? Take the marketing agency I’m currently with (50 person agency in Atlanta). If someone answers the bucket list question with: Own a super yacht, own a gulf stream to travel the world, have a mansion in each continent….Bucket list items like these are most likely not going to be attainable working for an agency, and as a result, we’d never be able to make someone like this happy during their career with us. What’s more likely is that they’d work for us for a few years (or less), then move in search of fulfillment of their dreams (successfully or unsuccessfully), but in that time as an employee we would have done little to effect the experiences and achievements they desire. In other words, at some point they won’t value or feel enriched with the employment experience with us.

On the other hand, if the candidate answers the bucket list question with: I’d like to go sky diving, fly first class one day, learn how to speak Spanish, drive a race car, live in a new city, give back to the elderly….These bucket list items are items our company can work to full-fill. If someone is performing like a rock star and we have the means to give them a certificate to go sky diving as an example, or perhaps live in a new city when the company expands into new markets, etc.; the net effect is that we are helping them enrich actual experiences they hoped to accomplish in their lifetime. Items like these (not all) are within our means and as a result you’d have an employee that’s happier and loyal. As a company, I’d rather we have an ability to positively effect an employees happiness and dreams than disappoint them during there career life journey. I’d rather give them something from there bucket list than a random bonus that has no meaning.

So next time you are interviewing someone, ask the question and see if your in a company that could actually help that person achieve some of the bucket list items. The theory I heard on the radio interview was that, if you can, hire the candidates with attainable bucket list items (not all the items, but some), then you’ll have a solid hiring experience and equally the employee will as well. I like the theory, what do you think?

BrightWave @ 48in48

What brought 17 rockstar BrightWave employees to donate their weekend (48 hours) in-order to build over 57 email templates for 48 local Atlanta non-profits?

Several weeks ago I rebooted a program at BrightWave called “Day of Awesomeness”, which was originally created by Simms Jenkins (Founder of BrightWave) to encourage employees to spend time on non-billable projects that would help us internally, push ideas for clients, and most importantly, do some good for our community.

In resurrecting the program, we defined some categories folks could focus on, provided some examples, extended the number of days folks could use (and the investment into the program), enabled folks to work in teams as opposed to individually, and introduced the concept of “Shared Values”. Continue reading

BrightWave, A New Journey Begins

Last week I started a new and exciting chapter in my career by joining BrightWave as President. I’ve known Simms Jenkins (Founder) for many years and have watched his agency grow over the years. BrightWave has one of the best reputations in the industry, specifically known for ground breaking work within Email and CRM marketing, which is no small feat in the ever-evolving agency environment and the marketing technology ecosystem. I’ve been lucky enough to consult with the agency over the last 5 months, providing advice where I could, but more importantly getting to know the DNA of the agency and the wonderful people that make BrightWave a special place.

The foundation, culture and reputation that BrightWave has been able to create provides an exceptional springboard for the agency to scale and become a dominating powerhouse in the space; the future potential is one of the key reasons that attracted me to join the agency as I can clearly see a path forward. It’s common for someone in my position to enter an organization that has a weak culture or a horrible reputation and have to spend a considerable amount of time and effort defining/executing in order to build a foundation to scale. In the case of BrightWave, we know exactly who we are, we have a strong culture, we have passionate and talented people (the most important element in any agency), we have pride in the work, and we are recognized as leaders in the space.

So, why did Simms and the BrightWave team want to bring in a President like me you ask? Its really quite simple:-

  1. Divide and Conquer – Simms and I have complimentary skills and we see this relationship as a partnership. This feels much like my first business, Spunlogic, where I had fantastic partners who all focused on different things and we shared the burden and adventure of growing a company. Running any company, small or large, is no easy job; you learn quickly that you can’t do everything, at least to the level of depth the business needs when growing. Therefore, having someone in the trenches with you, especially someone who’s gone through growth (good and bad) can help validate and keep the organization focused. In the case of Simms and me, I’ve got a heavy operational, creative and technology background, while Simms has a heavy sales & marketing background. We can easily carve out areas of focus that don’t conflict, while sharing a common vision and mission for the agency. This allows us to focus our attention on the front of the house (Simms) and the back of the house (me) in an effective way that can activate growth and scale while maintaining and building upon the culture, people, and reputation of the agency.
  2. Playing to win – You could say that I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to agencies, having founded one and merged/operated two larger agencies. I don’t have a secret recipe for success; however, I “get agency people”, the work we do, what it takes to operate an agency at different sizes and at different maturity levels, different types of work and clients, etc. This experience has exposed me to different challenges in scaling a business, mentoring and coaching our people, identifying new talent needs during growth, maintaining a strong culture, activating tools/process in order to deliver quality and ground breaking work, and finally, pitching creative ideas to clients utilizing complex technology products. In short, I hope to provide value to BrightWave and our clients, helping build an unmatched agency that’s sought after by the best brands and the best agency talent.

I look forward to a successful partnership with Simms and the team, and I’m thankful for the people at BrightWave I’ve already had the pleasure of working with. I’m truly excited to grow with them over the coming years.

Here is a link to the official PR: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2016/04/prweb13360213.htm

 

Take a Sabbatical – It will change your life

I just returned home after a 17 week family RV trip across Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest with my wife, Tovah, our two kids, Nina and London, and our two dogs, Stella and Chai. Read about the trip on Tovah’s Blog. It’s odd to be back and tough to get back into a “normal” routine. But, I’m ready to jump back in the game, my mind is clearer, I’m healthier, I’m more connected with my family, and my career options have only gotten better since I unplugged.

In the US, taking a sabbatical of this length is unusual and both Tovah and I have been lucky enough to take the time off and break from our careers/life. Actually, this is the second time I’ve taken a Sabbatical (took 4 months off in 2009 to travel the world with Tovah pre-kids) and it (hopefully) won’t be the last. In Europe, doing something like this would be common place and highly encouraged. 34 of the top 100 companies in Europe offer a paid sabbatical, 37% of UK companies provide Sabbaticals, and in Japan its 25%.

Luckily, the concept of taking a Sabbatical and the benefits are starting to take off with US companies. In fact, 24% of small businesses and 14% of large businesses allow their employees to take sabbaticals (paid or unpaid of six months or more). Technology (Google, IBM, eBay, etc)  and consultancy (Accenture, Bain & Company, etc.) companies have been leading the change in the US. However, even if companies in the US are offering these types of benefits, the average professional in the US still has a hard time committing to taking this amount of time off (paid or un-paid) for various reasons (cost, break in career, etc.). It’s not our cultural-norm to do something like this in the US, but I can tell you first hard it’s absolutely the right thing to do for your life, your health, your family, and surprisingly yes, your career. Continue reading

The Idea and a great product before anything else.

A colleague of mine at BLiNQ Media, Zack Adams shared a series of lectures by Sam Altman called “How to Start a Startup“. The first lecture (video below) provides some great insights for anyone considering starting up a company or part of a company that operates like a start-up (Like BLiNQ). Sam’s lecture on the importance of an idea and especially on getting the “product right” was relevant to me in my role at BLiNQ Media. It’s a big reason I took on the role and why I’m excited about BLiNQ’s feature and ability to create great product for a specific type of customer.

The fundamental lesson Sam points out is that you need a great product you can stand behind before you purse anything else. Great press and articles about the CEO, your company, your past, or speaking engagements, etc. should not be a priority until you have a product you believe in and a mission you and the company can drive towards. Success and/or fame will come only until you’ve build a great product and your obsessed with it’s perfection. It’s an important reminder to any entrepreneur or CEO. I hope to embody this believe at BLiNQ.

Enjoy the video.

My first few weeks as CEO of BLiNQ Media

On May 12th 2014 I started a new adventure as CEO of BLiNQ Media, and 18 days later I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made to take this role. I feel incredibly privileged to be leading a group of very talented BLiNQers who have welcomed me into their family.

The past few weeks have been fun, and I’d like to share some highlights.

HelloRajMy first day started off with opening remarks to the company. Hopefully I made a few folks laugh and I gave everyone insight into who I am, what my leadership philosophy looks like, and what they could expect from me. I also felt it was important for them to know right off the bat what I expect from them. I  introduced them to a feedback report called 15five that I put in place to gain insight each week from our folks and I can tell you, it’s been very insightful to listen to our people and understand the wins, frustrations, and ideas that come from the hard working group of folks, spread across the country.

Outside of conducting some 1-1’s (still have a lot more to do), I also got exposed to the core products, future products, team structures, tools, financials, HR + Recruiting, and more. What you’d typically expect. I can tell you, BLiNQ has some exciting things in the oven I can’t wait to share soon, but more importantly we have some incredible solutions today and a group of talented professionals using our tools to deliver incredible results for our clients.

Over the last few weeks I also had group breakfasts, lunches and drinks with the majority of the staff in Atlanta and New York. I had a blast getting to know folks and hopefully they got to know me as well. I learned some interesting things.

  • We have 5+ competitive fencers. One of them was a Junior Olympic fencer. What other company has that many fencers, really? 4 of them were on the same group lunch table and didn’t know that about each other. Amazing.
  • We have a lot of talented musicians, folks who love to travel, folks who love to dance, folks who love to act.
  • One of the guys in Atlanta is actually from Atlanta, in-fact his family have been here since the 1800’s.
  • One of the ladies was Wonder Women at Six flags, not saying who.
  • Our engineers are bad-ass in so many ways. A lot have creative outlets, crazy good at math, and ridiculous at ping pong.
  • We have someone who played professional poker in Vegas at a very young age, made a good amount of cash and put it into a 401k. Actually, that’s not true, he did make a lot of money, but no idea if he actually put it into a 401k, that’s something I might do. Not… Maybe a BMW i8 and a “round the world ticket” again 😉
  • One of our new team members in the Chicago office got engaged last weekend. Congrats!
  • Everyone loves dogs, some more than others.
  • Everyone has a unique background, with a different journey that has brought them to BLiNQ.

What’s amazing about BLiNQ is that you don’t realize how great these people are and the potential this company has, unless you are in the company. From the outside, the perception is so different and I’m here to change that! Yes BLiNQ has had some hard times (and some great times), but the past is behind us and ahead of us we need to be fearless and forge a new future.

I invite the staff of BLiNQ, their family and fiends, our trusted clients and partners, and supports to come on a new journey with me and to discover a new BLiNQ.

Thank you,
Raj Choudhury
CEO – BLiNQ Media

Bittersweet goodbye – Spunlogic – Engauge – Moxie

Today (May 9th 2014) was my last day at the agency I co-founded nearly 16 years ago (November 1998); it was bittersweet and difficult to leave my work-home.

After 15 years and 6 months with the “same” agency (Spunlogic, Engauge, Moxie), it’s time for me to explore a new chapter in my life/career.  I’ve loved the agency from the day I co-founded Spunlogic (from a backpackers hostel in Toronto, Canada) with my college roommate, Jeff Hilimire. It’s part of who I am, in my DNA, and it will always be in my heart.

On May 12th 2014 (this coming Monday), I embark upon my new adventure as CEO of BLiNQ Media in Atlanta. I’m truly excited for this next chapter and will continue to write of my experiences. Nonetheless, for tonight, nostalgia compels me to formally bid farewell and share some of my favorite memories from a wonderful career in an agency I created.

In no particular order, I’d like to say goodbye to the following.

  • Goodbye “Beer cart Fridays,”-  probably my biggest contribution to the agency :-). I may need to implement this in my new space.
  • RIP Netsuite, OpenAir, and Central Desktop – The almost perfect agency systems I put in place with the hard work of some amazing folks at the agency (Dave Burke, Mark Unrein, Jenn Leahy, Jenni McDonough, Victor Wise, John McElroy) and our vendors (especially Mark Fordham from Central Desktop, Carolyn Turley and David Sussa from Netsuite Openair).
  • Adios Suite 2200 at Promenade, the crown of my career, and a space I hope inspired our people to thrive and enjoy the work space. Special thanks to Gensler (Erin Greer ), HITT (Erik Kandler), and JLL (Mike Dolan) and Collier (Brenden Welch) for making the space speak for itself.
  • My red chair and desk that I’ve had for 10 years, I know Kelly Ruggles (best Office Manager ever) will find a good home for them (and not throw them away!).
  • Fun crazy trips like the Spun Cruises (the entire agency on a ship together, you can only imagine…), Tennessee leadership trip (moon bow experience and everyone getting drunk on the bus), and some of the more interesting executive retreats (I’ll say no more).
  • I think I was good at was throwing parties and the more control I had of the budget the bigger the party:-) Halloween parties, Casio/Speak easy holiday parties, Paris on Ponce, etc.

Above all, the hardest goodbye was to the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. I wish all my friends success in their careers and personal lives and hope we cross professional paths again. Thank you for teaching me, evolving with me, laughing with me, and forgiving my bad spelling and grammar. By being the best you can be, you’ve brought out the best in me.

Pave – Investing in an indivdual rather than a start-up

My friend and old business partner, Jeff Hilimire, recently sent me an article about Pave, the crowdfunding platform for investing in people. Pave’s approach differs from crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter that focus on the idea or product where you fund the startup and get ownership of the product or similar. Alternatively, Pave allows you to invest in an individual and you get a share of their salary in the future (regardless of the company they work at or start-up they are involved with).

Pave’s approach of investing in the individual certainly resonates with me. Every start-up I’ve invested in has been mainly because of the people (founders, key employees, etc.) as opposed to the idea/product. Don’t get me wrong, the idea/product matters, but not as much as the people leading the effort that are on the ground day and night. You can have a great idea, but it still takes a special type of person to make a start-up successful. So my rule over the years has been to first make sure I like and believe in the people involved before I look at the idea/product in depth.

As I perused Pave to possibly find individuals to invest in, I came across an issue that’s put me off doing anything with Pave or similar crowdfunding platforms. Although some of the folks where inspirational, everyone seemed so packaged up and put together. I almost felt like I was shopping at Tiffany’s for expensive, perfectly boxed up jewelry. A lot of the individuals looked great, knew what to say, how to act, and were all shining stars in their own right, but I came to the conclusion that these folks would do great in life regardless of my money or involvement. They’ve generated enough interest on sites like Pave and have already learned how to market themselves. I discovered  I am more interested in the diamond in the rough; someone who has all the potential but hasn’t been discovered (at least not in a shop I can browse in with the rest of the world).  I have more fun, and find more value, meeting and discovering people the old fashion way, and generating my own value as a result of what I see in the individuals I come across through my life.

Does anyone share my point of view or disagree?

Start-up stages based on number of employees

I had a fun meeting with three guys from a start-up I’m looking at investing in; it made me re-live my own start-up days and I realized I’m envious of their road ahead. One of the guys asked me how to establish a culture in a start-up. My answer was, “it depends on the size of your start-up and what stage you are in”, which of course led into a discussion of what the start-up stages are.  Here is how I see the stages unfolding – what are your thoughts? I’d like to know other view points.

1 to 8 employees
The founders and the first employees ARE the culture. There is no separation. You don’t have to go out of your way to create/establish a culture, it’s already in the DNA of the company your building just by the nature of who you are, so don’t over think it.

In the early stages everyone is wearing any and every hat. If you need to figure something out, one of you will end up learning whatever it is at 3am and implementing it the best you can the next day. You’ll find that work and social lives combine, your co-founders/employees are best friends, a family, and you have each others’ backs. The start-up consumes every ounce of effort and excitement so nothing else maters. This is your life and you love it.  Most of the time you don’t have a clue what you’re really doing but that’s what’s so exciting; if it doesn’t feel that way, you are over thinking it and haven’t let go of your old life. Continue reading

The essence of “Sought After” for Start-ups

I found myself referencing the term “Sought After” to a start-up I’m advising; I was trying to give them a good example of an essence or driving focus for a start-up or growing company to strive to. A rallying point that helps provide direction regardless of the current marketing conditions, trends, or day to day challenges.

The term “Sought After” was used by Spunlogic (agency I co-founded and sold several years ago) and was the driving focus of the agency as I think back. Jeff Hilimire (Co-founder at Spunlogic with me), Raghu Kakarala, Danny Davis, and I, really pushed this essence into the culture of the agency and what we aspired to be. We all believed and aspired to become a sought after agency. This was also brought into Engauge and I’m sure we’ll all continue using “Sought After” in future enterprises.

So you are probably wondering what the hell “Sought After” means. For me, the term can be applied to a number categories in a start-up or growing company. Here are some examples. Continue reading