In this week’s episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast Sean Ellis and Ethan Garr chat with Charlie Cole, Chief Executive Officer at FTD Flowers. In March of 2020, it was day one of a global pandemic, and day one of Charlie’s new job at a 110-year-old, global flower delivery company that had recently gone through a bankruptcy. The odds seemed stacked against him, but in this conversation, we discover that whether you are managing a startup or a turnaround there are fundamental similarities that power a winning approach.
Most startup leaders–under tremendous pressure to hit promised numbers or simply to not run out of money–make a common mistake; they try to do everything all at once. Similarly, in a turnaround situation, Charlie explains that “there is so just so much that is broken,” but the only way to fix everything is really to just focus with intensity on a very few of the most important things.
If you enjoy unfiltered honesty, you are probably going to love this conversation. When we asked Charlie why he delivers flowers himself on Valentine’s Day, he admitted that at first it was just because he didn’t know what else to do. And when we asked him about starting his role in a pandemic he says, ”I was completely unprepared . . . but I think if we’re being honest, anyone would be completely unprepared!”
Delivering flowers helped him better understand the florists and customers FTD served and helped him to create a new culture that would put FTD back on solid footing. And starting in chaos forced him to find new pathways to build trust with employees and customers. It has not been easy, but Charlie says it is the most fun he has ever had.
If you listened to last week’s Growth Snack, you will know just how inspired Sean and Ethan were by this discussion. So jump in with us and Charlie Cole as he shows us another side of breakout growth success.
The Breakout Growth Podcast is also on YouTube: Click Here
* FTD’s origins as a wire service: “the first peer-to-peer network” (05:05)
* Charlie’s biggest surprise coming into his new CEO role (09:36)
* “There’s just so much broken”–ruthless pragmatism, because you can’t fix it all at once (20:32)
* What does success look like when you are rebuilding? (32:36)
* Differentiation is important, but it’s equally important to know how you’re not different (39:02)
* Walking the walk; why Charlie delivers flowers himself and what it’s taught him about customers and suppliers (37:51)
And much, much, more . . .
Introduction 00:00:08 Welcome to the breakout growth podcast where Sean Ellis and Ethan Garr interview leaders from the world’s fastest growing companies to get to the heart of what’s really driving their growth. And now here are your hosts, Sean Ellis and Ethan Gar.
Sean Ellis 00:00:26 All right, in this week’s episode of the breakout growth podcast, Ethan Garr and I chat with Charlie Cole, chief executive officer at FTD flowers. If you listen to this podcast regularly and are used to our conversation with leaders from the world’s fastest growing startups, it might be a bit of a surprise to hear us chatting with the CEO of 112 year old flower delivery business that went through a bankruptcy in 2019. But we think you’re going to get more out of this episode than you ever could have imagined. Ethan, why do you think this episode is so valuable to anyone looking to accelerate growth?
Ethan Garr 00:01:04 So, Sean, there’s this point in the conversation with Charlie, where you said a startup kind of comes out of the gate almost dead, which I thought was a pretty apt description. And I think that’s where the convergence is between a turnaround story like FTDs and probably what most of our, uh, listeners are dealing with in their daily lives in startup world, FTD was almost dead and what was going to save it. Wasn’t gonna be another new feature or throwing a bunch of stuff up against the wall. It was gonna be about picking the right things to relentlessly focus on and making sure everyone was on the same page to accomplish that.
Sean Ellis 00:01:38 Yeah, for sure. We, we kind of previewed this in last week’s gross snack, which was all about doing less to grow more. Uh, the reality for startups is that until you can get to a point where there’s a certain level of predictability in the business, it’s gonna be super hard to drive sustainable growth. And Charlie arrives in, in his role really on like day one of the pandemic in 2020. And so he’s, he’s coming into this company, everything’s broken, you’ve got a pandemic. It’s, it’s a really tough situation. And he knows that to succeed. He has to get things under control and to do that, he starts with alignment. So alignment on what has to change and in what order, and, and then really figuring out who’s on board to drive that change.
Ethan Garr 00:02:31 Yeah. And I think because Charlie has had, uh, startup CEO role CEO roles in his past too, he just instinctively knows that you start with getting everyone to understand their role and growth. I don’t wanna give too much away, but he says success is essentially when you’re not worrying about any of your direct reports and in a startup. I think that means everyone knows their role in accelerating the north star metric. And leadership is about getting things out of their way, not micromanaging everything that they do.
Sean Ellis 00:02:59 Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That high level of trust was one of the things that Charlie really emphasized that I think will resonate with our listeners. You know, whether you are in a startup or a turnaround, you have to know that you can depend on the people around you, but that’s not just about having good people as a leader. You have to align everyone toward a common goal and get them to believe in their own ability to make an impact. And kind of in, in between the lines in this discussion is where our listeners are gonna be able to absorb some really powerful lessons on leadership.
Ethan Garr 00:03:34 Yeah. If you, for example, listen to the part where Charlie talks about going out himself to deliver flowers on, I think a really snowy, awful Valentine’s day, um, you’ll know exactly what Sean’s talking about when he says what you’ll get out of the story between the lines in this conversation. So, you know, Charlie really walks the walk rather than just talk the talk and he’s not afraid to tell you where he’s failed, um, and what he’s learned through those failures. So I think it’s a, a great story to tell and really insightful for our audience.
Sean Ellis 00:04:05 Absolutely. But let’s not spill all of it. Uh, this is definitely a very powerful episode and we are so glad you’re all tuning in. Should we get to it, Ethan?
Ethan Garr 00:04:15 Yeah, let’s do it.
Sean Ellis 00:04:25 Hi, Charlie. Welcome to the breakout growth podcast.
Charlie Cole 00:04:28 Hi guys. Happy Monday morning. I think it’s Monday morning for everybody on this call, but at least it is for me.
Sean Ellis 00:04:33 <laugh> yeah, it, uh, it certainly feels like a Monday morning. <laugh>, uh, Ethan, uh, great to have you here as well.
Ethan Garr 00:04:40 Yeah. Good to see you, Sean. Charlie. Nice to see you.
Charlie Cole 00:04:42 Nice to see you.
Sean Ellis 00:04:44 All right. So, so FTD flowers, that’s a, it’s a brand that, um, I’ve personally heard about for years and I’m sure most of our listeners are, are familiar with it, but in case, in case there’s one lone listener, that’s been on a, uh, deserted island for the last many years who just got a computer and internet. Um, can you tell us a little bit about, uh, the company?
Charlie Cole 00:05:05 Yeah, so, uh, FTDs been around a lot longer than the computer and the internet. Um, so we’ll be celebrating our hundred and 12th birthday. This August and UHD started as the, the colloquialism is a wire service and the reason they called it, that is because in the early 19 hundreds, when you wanted to send flowers from New York to Seattle, it was sent over a wire. It was literally done like a Telegraph. And so FTD was kind of the founder of kind of peer to peer networking in a lot of ways, right? Because, you know, there was no way to ship flowers back back then. And so the concept is pretty much rode those rails all the way to where it is today. And so the business in a very simple way is a combination of a digital front end marketplace and an interspersed small business fulfillment network behind it.
Charlie Cole 00:05:53 So put another way we have two principal websites, anthony.com and proflowers.com. We generate orders there. And then we send those orders out to local Floris to function as the fulfillment engine in ostensibly the supply chain. And so we do a lot of other things around the periphery where we actually also sell Floris, uh, a variety of things like POS solutions, website solutions, C, and it is, um, it is without a shadow of a doubt, the coolest business I’ve ever been involved in because of the complexity that comes with that marriage of internet scale and small business fulfillment. And so, um, it’s actually a really fun, cool business to, to be a part of
Sean Ellis 00:06:28 Super cool. And, and so you actually joined in 2020, it, it looks like. Yeah. Uh, yeah,
Charlie Cole 00:06:34 I, I joined the day of the world lockdown. I joined March 23rd,
Sean Ellis 00:06:37 20 timing
Charlie Cole 00:06:38 Was my first day, literally my first
Sean Ellis 00:06:39 Day. Wow. So that that’s gotta be, uh, you know, everybody’s adjusting that you’re adjusting to a, to a new role in a cums been around for a long time, but totally new world. Can you, can you tell us a little bit about that journey?
Charlie Cole 00:06:51 Yeah. And, and there was actually, uh, even more to it than that, which was, um, the company actually went through a bankruptcy in August of 2019 and the private equity firm that acquired the company. Who’s basically my boss, even though they hate it when I called them that, uh, they hired me to be sort of the turnaround CEO. So that’s sort of an idiomatic phrase at this point in time, but, uh, I think it’s, it’s apt in the sense when you’re coming into a bankrupt company. And, and the reason I throw that out there, Sean is because you sort of have to start there to appreciate the tenor of the company, right. Where, you know, let’s just kind of paint with a really wide brush. You’ve gone through a bankruptcy you’re bought by private equity and there’s a new CEO. Um, there’s a lot of underlying anxieties that come with that formula and there’s just no getting around it. You know, we’re
Sean Ellis 00:07:41 All, and, and a pandemic is kicking off
Charlie Cole 00:07:43 <laugh> and then you throw a pandemic on top of it. And so I, I think that with that kind of cultural setting in mind, it, it was something that, um, I was completely unprepared for, but I think if we’re being honest, anyone would be completely unprepared for it. And, and, and I think in a weird way that was somewhat comforting because sure. It was my first time being a turnaround CEO. I I’ve been a, a startup CEO a couple of times, but it was my first time in that setting. But then the pandemic sort of put us all on this crazy equal playing field of anxiety where, uh, you know, none of us really knew what the heck was going on. And I think just to speak for myself, the first call, like two to six weeks of the pandemic, I think it just got scarier and scarier and scarier. Right. Cause you were just like, I don’t know if you guys remember, but I remember wiping down every single counter I had and like for
Sean Ellis 00:08:31 Sure.
Charlie Cole 00:08:32 Cause none of us knew what the heck was going on. And so yeah.
Sean Ellis 00:08:34 Keep the groceries in the garage for a couple of days to let the, the COOs wear off <laugh>
Charlie Cole 00:08:39 It was nuts. And so with that kind of context in mind, um, the cultural aspect of a turnaround, I, I I think is by far the most important and by far the most important thing to, to get right. And for me, um, I there’s some puts and takes, you know, I mean, I feel like there’s some things that I nailed. I feel like there were some things that I wish I could have over. Uh, but now call it two plus years past that we’re at a really fun stage of the company where we sort of done all the track lane necessary, um, to actually make this company what we want. And of course, because the, the darn world doesn’t stop spinning. Now there’s all the recessionary inflationary concerns that you, you kind of have to throw on top. And so, uh, it feels like the world just doesn’t stop moving. Dammit. You know what I mean? It would nice if it just slowed down every once in a while, but the, but it does just stop the way it goes.
Sean Ellis 00:09:27 I, I wanna ask you about the biggest surprise, but I just feel like there’s, uh, like it’s one surprise after the other. So maybe, maybe the biggest non surprise, like what
Charlie Cole 00:09:36 Was well, so to me, um, I’ll tell you that biggest surprise and, and it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise and, and maybe it’s, it’s sort of my idealism and motion. The biggest surprise to me was the institutionalization of the existing company. And let me, let me kind of explain that a little bit, because this is my mindset when I come into something, which is okay, we just went through a bankruptcy, we have to change. Right. That was sort of how I thought everyone would feel. And the reality was the opposite. It was just like, oh, the bankruptcy, wasn’t our fault, the business, model’s fine. You know, we don’t really need to change anything. And I thought I was taking crazy pills for a second. You know what I mean? Cause I was just like, well, it’s kind of like, uh, Pavlovian, you know what I mean? Like if, if you do something and it breaks, you stop doing it. Right, right. But no, but no. And so
Sean Ellis 00:10:30 Habitat hard to change
Charlie Cole 00:10:32 <laugh> well, but as I was having conversations with people and go back to the context I set where I think what, what it was is in a lot of ways, um, just self-preservation right. It’s so I can just keep things the way they are. I’m gonna be fine. I’m gonna get through this pandemic thing. I’m gonna get through this bankruptcy thing. And, and so for me, um, you have to kind of come in with a mindset that change is not gonna be as accepted as you thought it might be. You know what I mean? And so I, I had this very idealistic view of, okay, we’re gonna come in and we’re gonna combine the old and the new and we’re gonna come out stronger on the other side. And they were like, nah, we’re just not gonna change anything. And I was like, what? Like how does that make any sense?
Charlie Cole 00:11:10 But it, it, it, it really is kind of a, um, a microcosm of how humans work, especially in an anxious time. And so I think one of the things I would do over a, as, from that learning is you have to identify the people that wanna evolve and you have to identify the people that don’t and make changes really fast. And, and, and I don’t say that to be callous. I say that because anytime a company is moving forward, you can’t have people that aren’t moving with. You, you have to, if you pardon the kind of team cliche, you really all have to be going after that same north star. Um, and that was a big surprise me, cause I kind of assumed, Hey, bankrupt company, second lease on life. Like let’s make this, the new FTD. And, and instead they’re like, nah, like I don’t wanna do that. And that was, that was a bit of a shock for me.
Ethan Garr 00:11:55 So you mentioned north north star, which we’re gonna have to dive into in a minute cuz Sean and I are, uh, very, uh, bullish on north star metrics. Um, but I’m curious, so my uncle in the eighties worked at IBM and he wrote a book later called IBM Redux, which is actually about Lou ner and his turnaround efforts at IBM. I mean he is like the turnaround CEO. And when I, so when I met you the first time, so for anyone who doesn’t know, uh, Charlie and I have been advising another company called net 32, which is a e-commerce dental. Company’s been really fun. And actually Sean has, uh, previously advised that company as well. But when I met you, Charlie, I expected the turnaround CEO, this, uh, this mindset of like we come in and we just chop and then I met you and all you were talking about was the human beings on the other end and the difficult choices. I’m curious, where did that come from? Like how did like, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and how you, how you became such a culture guy in the context of all this, and then I’ll ask you some other stuff <laugh>
Charlie Cole 00:12:57 Um, so I’m gonna start this with an admission. Um, well the short answer to your question is by screwing up a lot, <laugh> in learning from it. But the, the long answer to your question is, um, really good mentors along the way that caused me to learn and evolve. And so when I was 22, yeah, 22, um, I, I was coming out of college and I was very much your kind of standard type, a analyst type, right? So played athletics. My whole life had always kind of had that mentality. And then I focused on statistics and finance. And then I was just firstname.lastname@example.org. And so basically from age, call it 10 to 25, I was just surrounded by people that were just like me, right? Like I’m just gonna be surrounded by hard driving type a people. And it worked for me, you know, and, and I had some success there because I never really had to learn the other aspect of, of kind of business, which to me is sort of the, the left right brain marriage that I, I think makes businesses really effective and where this came to head was, um, at lucky brand.
Charlie Cole 00:14:05 So I’m 25. So I go from being 22 and I’m, I mean, at real estate.com, then I have an advertising agency and I go to lucky brand and about three months into my job, uh, my assistant who’s this amazing woman named Liz comes up to me into my office and she’s kind of got like a, a little teapot thing going on where she’s just clearly about to lecture me. And she’s like, she’s like, can I talk to you for a minute? And I’m like, sure. I said, what’s up. She goes, people think you’re mean. And I’m like, and I’m like, what, what, what do you mean? People think I’m mean? She’s like, well, everybody who works with you that actually like interacts with you, loves you and knows. You’re not mean, but everybody who doesn’t thinks you’re a jerk. And I’m like, why? And she’s like, Charlie, you’re working in fashion.
Charlie Cole 00:14:54 Like you can’t just be walking down the hallways, looking at your computer and you can’t just be in a hurry for everybody. Like you actually have to take some time to like, get to know people. And I was totally flumoxed by this. And I’m like, but it’s work. You know what I mean? And I just had this like very like type, a hard driving mentality, but I would say lucky Brad, although financially it was a success was the single biggest cultural failure of my life. Because what I found is that I had no respect for anything, but what I understood, meaning like if you’re a merchant and you’re a graphic designer, I don’t care what you do. I’m just gonna look at the numbers and judge you. Right. Cause that’s my job. I’m a business person. I’m an analyst. And, and so I had that experience and I left lucky and I got to a company called shift nutrition and I had a boss named Turang, who’s still a mentor to this day.
Charlie Cole 00:15:42 And Turang in the interview. This dude was the global head of Clorox. The guy literally invented the Clorox wipe. He was the guy that had had the white bottle of Clorox. And he goes, I got it, Clorox. I mean, the guy’s a genius. Like he’s a remarkable dude. And in the interview loop, the first thing Ang says to me is like, okay, look, I know absolutely nothing about eCommerce and the internet and you know, absolutely nothing about consumer package goods. He’s like, if we can work together, we’re unstoppable. And I was just like, holy crap. Like this is like a different level of, of leadership. And so I think Ethan, like the, the, I go back to the short answer by having those failings early and on my career. And then having leaders that helped me realize the value of kind of building that holistic people based culture.
Charlie Cole 00:16:30 Um, that’s where I feel like I get really lucky. Right? Cause imagine the alternative. Imagine if I never got off that kind of like type a analytical JBO wheel, I, I would not be able to lead kind of multifaceted businesses. And, and I would say one more thing. I would say the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning has actually made the generative creative side of the business, much more important than what I did as a 20 year old because, um, analysis in June of 2022 is damn near commodity. It really is. It’s a Damier commodity. And so the culture and the nurturing of generative thinking, I think is the key to a business. So yeah, that was a very long winded answer, but hopefully I did a decent
Ethan Garr 00:17:10 Job. No, it’s a, it’s a great one. And I think, uh, you know, I, I was Sean and I worked together 23 years email@example.com and, uh, I was a little younger than him and, uh, making a lot of dumb mistakes. So I understand how valuable, um, having a good mentor can be <laugh> and, uh,
Charlie Cole 00:17:26 I like that you slipped and you were younger than Sean, by the way. That was, that
Ethan Garr 00:17:29 Was subtlely.
Charlie Cole 00:17:30 Well done.
Ethan Garr 00:17:31 You wouldn’t know it now, but yeah. <laugh> but, um, but yeah, I think both of us would, uh, I don’t wanna speak for you, Sean, but I think both of us would say good mentors have, uh, helped us, uh, change course here and there in, in, in very positive ways. So, so Charlie, so eventually you go from there and I know you led, uh, I think you were CEO at Tomi, or you were at least, uh,
Charlie Cole 00:17:52 CDs, chief digital
Ethan Garr 00:17:52 Officer, chief digital officer CEO. Yep. O obviously there, you know, FTD, uh, there was, you know, the private equity firm brought you in and there was because you were their guy, but why do you think you were the right person right place, right time, you know, for this turnaround? Why, why did it, why did it work with you?
Charlie Cole 00:18:10 That’s a great question. Uh, I think for me, the, to me to Samsonite transition, I think prepared me for some of this challenge because ironically Samsonite is almost the exact same age as activity, right? They’re either 111 hundred 12 or 13 years old or something like that. Like, like I think they’re almost right neck and neck with their feet. And so look, age is just a number, but when you have a company with that much heritage that comes with baggage, right. And that Institute, if you pardon the luggage fund, boy, that was awful.
Charlie Cole 00:18:44 But the reason I bring that up is it goes back to that point of institutionalization. And so I think that first thing, Ethan, of being a part of a company that’s been around a long time and having people that have been with the company for a long time, that was half of, of why I think it was right place, right time for me, because I had seen that at Sampson night. And by the way, I don’t mean to like sit here and talk crap, cuz there’s a lot of good with that. Like there’s a lot of good things where you kind of, the, the, the old cliche is knowing where the bodies are buried, right? Like if you have someone who’s been in the floral industry for 25 years, you can’t just be like, oh, they’re institutionalized and throw them out. Like, there’s a lot of good, good in there.
Charlie Cole 00:19:21 But I think being able to kind of marry that older, new that I learned from S was important. And then the other aspect of it is, um, like, look that <laugh> arose is arose, arose, right? Like we’re selling a commodity. And so you take that institutional knowledge and the heritage that you have a culture, but you also have to focus on customer experience. You know, you have to, because you are not going to win by having a better flower. Like it’s just not gonna happen. Right. That’s not the way it works. And so my background kind of growing up in the eCommerce world and seeing how rapidly customer expectations are changing and having to marry what a modern day customer experience looks like. I think that kind of two sided equation was, was why this was the perfect place for me at the right time.
Ethan Garr 00:20:06 Very cool. And then, uh, Sean, I got one more unless you, uh, yeah, yeah, go for it. I’m just, uh, when you and I sat down a few months ago, uh, you said, you know, when it comes to a turnaround or really any growth operation, you feel really strongly that the order of operations matters, like what order you do things. And it sounds like that was pivotal for you as you came into FTD. But I’m, I’m curious if you could just expand a little that for our audience on what you mean by that and why it’s so important.
Charlie Cole 00:20:32 Yeah. And I would also say, I don’t necessarily give myself high marks on this with FTD. I, I think I learned a lot from this, but I I’ll I’ll come back to that. So the thing about a turnaround and, and I think it’s important to say specifically what I’m about to say applies to a turnaround. A company has to change is there’s just so much broken and it, you kind of have to go into the co you have to go into it with a mindset that you have to change everything. Okay. But here’s the problem with that. You cannot change everything at once. You can’t. Cause if you, if you don’t have just a ruthless focus on fixing one or two things at a time nothing’s gonna get fixed, which is by the way, why I don’t give myself higher marks. I, I, I think when, when I came in, we sat down as a team and we focused for about two months and we came up with these seven strategic initiatives and we showed it to our board of directors who was all smart people.
Charlie Cole 00:21:29 And we were all smart people. And we’re like, this is right. Like we nailed this. There should have been like two or three seven was way too much that. And so when, when you go through the order of operations, I I’d say it goes something like this, Ethan, where I do get myself really high marks is you have to make sure you establish sort of trust within the, the organization and, and something that I did that I will do every single company I go to for the rest of my life in some form or fashion. Like if, if there’s 50,000 people in the company, that’s probably isn’t realistic, but you get the point. I set aside three hours a day for six weeks straight. So basically, you know, caught five days a week, six week, 30 days, three hours. And I had 15 minute, one on ones with people in the company, just no agenda.
Charlie Cole 00:22:12 Hi, I’m Charlie, who are you? What do you do? What do you think of the company? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so by the end of those six weeks, I had Matt with 360 people or something like that. Like I had met with a lot of people. And the reason I did that, if I’m being honest was because of COVID because I couldn’t do it in person. Right. I probably would’ve had like these big town halls and everybody in the same room and the, the, the water cooler moments, which I think are basically a myth would’ve happened. But instead I had to be so intentional about building trust in the company. And I’m so happy that I did. I’m gonna do that every time to some reasonable expectation when I start new jobs, I am. So that sort of operation number one, and then order on operation.
Charlie Cole 00:22:56 Number two is like, identify the two or three things max, you have to fix. And I’d say three literally has to be an as token. You don’t get a fourth because it forces you to, to, to understand what’s truly important. And I would say another thing about this two, a B aligned with your board of directors on this stuff, because some of the things Ethan might be a three month fix. Some of the things might be a two year fix, right? They really might take some time, like, think about like technological overhauls, E you know, E R P work, all that stuff. That really sucks because what you’ll identify is the enablement layers for what really matters. And so if you start with that kind of order of operations, you can’t just say, oh, I’m gonna fix customer experience. It’s probably more like, wow, we need much better data flows, right?
Charlie Cole 00:23:42 Like it’s super easy for us on paper to come up with what great customer experience is. But if you don’t start with the enablement layers, it’s all just consulting BS. It really will never come to pass. And so I, I think for me, that kind of order of operations, of building trust internally identifying the enablement layers, and then getting board alignment. And I cannot emphasize how important best is because what border Aline is, is everyone is walking to the same beat with the same latency expectations. Hey guys, like we gonna spend two years overhauling our E R P and it’s gonna cost five, 8 million. And there is no any immediate ROI. Like if you don’t have that conversation there and be like, why are you spending so much money on this? And so I, I just think that, that you, I cannot emphasize enough how important board alignment is.
Charlie Cole 00:24:27 And, um, this is gonna sound like I’m kissing ass. I’m not, I actually mean this. We’re super lucky because our board of directors, yeah. They’re PE guys, but they’re so self-aware right. They’re not gonna like sit there and like criticize our creative on a display ad, you know? Right. They’re they are investment guys. They are finance guys. And what they’ll do is they’ll look at our plans and be like, well, look like you’re not gonna get as high, multiple on this in the market. Like they come at it from the lens of what they’re good at. And we come at it from the lens of what we’re good at, which is why that marriage is so important. So I guess in, in summary, don’t bite off more than you can chew and be systematic because if you just like throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks, you’re not gonna get anything done. And if you do get anything done, it’s gonna be very inefficient at best. And, and that was a, a key learning for me after call my first six months.
Sean Ellis 00:25:14 Yeah. I, I love that. That’s, uh, I think whether it’s a turnaround or a, or a startup, just being able to take limited resources and focus them where they really matter and, and sequence things in, in a way that you can actually get things done. And if you have seven things that are top priority, that essentially says nothing’s top priority. And so, um, yeah.
Charlie Cole 00:25:36 Well, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you a perfect microcosm. Sean, is that when we bought the asset out of bankruptcy, we ended up with ostensibly three or four things. We had the websites, we had the Floris network, we had some software and we had this, we had this building and downers grow Illinois, right? It was this monolithic 150,000 square foot building that we now own free and clear. And, um, someone wants described it to me and I love the description so much. They’re like, so imagine if you are a Martian and you come down to the planet for the first time, and all you want to do is answer the question to bring back to your planet. What does a 1970s office building look like? What you would do is bring this Martian to downers Grove Illinois. Right. And, and it was like, it was straight out of like, just this big monolithic brutalism, like in, and so the reason I’m bring this up is everyone’s like we have to move offices. Like this office doesn’t really indicate who we are. And I’m like, no, we don’t <laugh>, that is not the most important thing. Like, is it safe? Does it have electricity? Does it leak? Like, I understand that desire, but that’s a perfect example of a shiny object where it doesn’t really matter that much. I I’m not saying that office influences co doesn’t influence culture. I’m not saying what I’m saying. Yeah. But I’m saying it is not the most important thing we have to
Sean Ellis 00:26:56 Do right now. And, and a move is super disruptive.
Charlie Cole 00:26:58 Yeah. And so like, but it’s a great example of like another perfect example is like, um, we, we need a new photo studio. Why, like, why? Like, I, I, I, and so I think it’s so important where you have to just have this ruthless, pragmatism to understanding what truly matters to save your business. Mm-hmm <affirmative> save it. Yeah. And office probably isn’t it. So I, I apologize for interrupting, but I think that’s a, really, a really good anecdote to kind of understand like where people can get distracted very easily.
Sean Ellis 00:27:24 Yeah. And so I kind of wanted to bring it together a little bit with, you know, a lot of our audiences, more early stage startup people. And you’ve, you’ve, uh, you’ve worked in startups before. And I think, I think, um, an, an interesting kind of analogy there is that you’re, you’re talking about saving the business and ruthless prioritization to save the business. A startup essentially comes outta the gate almost dead. I mean, it’s a weird way of saying that. Yeah. But basically the chances of failure are so high that you’re, you’re kind of in that same mindset of, we need to save this business and ruthlessly prioritize what matters when it matters. And the first thing that matters is we need to, we need to get a product that people actually care about that they, that they want. And until you have that, nothing else matters.
Sean Ellis 00:28:09 And, and so we call that product market fit. And then once you have that, then the next thing you’re trying to do is assemble of a growth engine around the business, figuring out a, a systematic way of acquiring customers. But ultimately you’re trying to move into, into predictability, around growth in the business, so that you have a number of knowns about what works to drive growth in the business. And, and you’ve got an aggressive target. And so part of that aggressive target is gonna be around the unknowns that you’re gonna need to figure out. And so I think that’s where, where you have a convergence between a turnaround situation and, and a startup is that, that a successful company is a successful company. At the end of the day. You, you, you get to that point where, where you’re capturing market at a, at a, at a fast pace, you, uh, you have predictability in the business. Um, but I might be wrong because I haven’t really worked in a turnaround. So I wanna get your insights
Charlie Cole 00:29:04 On, I go up one, I actually go up one step before product market fit, which I think is the, is the biggest convergence between both and, and maybe all businesses. So the concept of a team I think is actually extremely simple and the best team is when you don’t need to worry about the other person. Right. And so, um, you know, you think about the greatest teams in, in, in like a sports mentality that you’ve ever seen. Like everybody knows who Tom Brady is, right? Everybody knows who Tom Brady is with the new England Patriots. But what you’ll find is if you look back in the history of the new England Patriots, they had like two or maybe three hall of fame skill players ever, right. They, they did not spend a bunch of money on receivers. They did not spend a bunch of money on running backs because what they needed were people that did their job.
Charlie Cole 00:29:58 Right. I mean, Randy MOS was there for a little while and he broke every record. There was, but then you think about Dion branch was a super bowl MVP, like who the hell is Dion branch? Like, or, or, or Michael Gibbons or, uh, James White, like, and so like, the reason I bring that up is everybody has to know their job. And that’s where I would start Sean, because it’s the same problem with entirely different mentalities. Um, I remember at a startup having the conversation of like, okay, who’s the final decision maker. You have to have that conversation. Like you have to, if there’s three co-founders, there’s a, there’s a great, great bad movie, um, called payback with Mel Gibson in it. And the concept of it is Mel Gibson is, is trying to get back 120 hundred 70 or $70,000 that were stolen from him.
Charlie Cole 00:30:42 And he’s basically going through the mob. And finally, he goes, he goes, he’s like, I need my money back. And he is like, well, we, I can’t do that. He’s like, who can? And the guy goes, well, there’d be a committee. Then he goes, no, no, no one, man, if you go high enough, there’s always one man that can make this decision. You have to have that decision at a start. You, you have to have like, oh, we’re three co-founders no, there isn’t <laugh> there is, but one person has to be the tiebreaker and you can’t have it. You’re not a benevolent meritocracy. Right? Like there has to be decision making. I think that’s easier in a turnaround because you’re like ordained the CEO by some like spooky dark Lord private equity firm. So that comes with its own set of baggages. But over here, like the startup, like if you don’t have that conversation, you’re gonna have really awkward conversations in about six to eight months.
Charlie Cole 00:31:29 And so I think, I think role specification, Sean would be the biggest convergence between these, which is still saying, okay, this is our team. Who’s doing what to get to that product market fit. And by the way, like there’s some really unsexy jobs, right? Like, like who’s doing accounting, who’s doing data entry, cuz we probably don’t have like this remarkable data company who’s doing customer service. Who’s packing boxes if you’re an e-commerce company. Like, so I think, um, role delineation and specification and by the way, this is important. Title and role is entirely different things. Right? I think that to me, um, one of the things I tell people at times that titles for your next job, and so it matters, right? Because what’s gonna happen is people are gonna look at your LinkedIn and be like, oh, Ethan’s an experience guy. Or Sean’s a finance guy or Charlie is a digital guy. Right. But role, like what you’re actually doing is so important in both cases. So I, I would start there. I is that whether you’re doing a startup or you’re doing a turnaround, do not be idealistic about who does what co-founder is not a role it’s title. Right. So what are you actually doing versus your partners? And, and I think that’s where I would start regardless of stage of business.
Sean Ellis 00:32:36 Right. And then, so, so taking in, in your situation now, what, I mean, obviously the, the job is never done. You’re never like, okay, we’re finished here, but what, what does success start to look like when, when, when you’ve prioritized things, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve got people doing the right things. You, you like, what does it look like when it’s firing on all cylinders and, and ultimately, you know, you’ve done a good job. It feels like you’re, you’re likely still in that transition mode on, on the way there.
Charlie Cole 00:33:07 Well, so, um, it’s gonna be a somewhat redundant answer, but I, I think it’s important. So we, our biggest peak every year is mother’s day. So mother’s day is kind of the, the Superbowl of, of flowers, if you will. And, um, this mother’s day, which is, it’s basically a three week sprint, obviously there’s a hell of a lot more prep than just the three weeks. But from a consumer perspective, it’s three weeks, no one really shops for their mom right now. You know what I mean? You’re gonna wait till late April early may. So it’s basically a three week sprint. This is the first peak. So peak peaks for us, our mother’s day Valentine’s day, a little bit of Christmas, that’s basically our three peaks, but it mother’s day is an order of magnitude hire. This is the first peak where I wasn’t just waiting for something to break.
Charlie Cole 00:33:49 Um, I, I, I vividly remember standing exactly where I am right now in Valentine’s day of 2021. And it was like the worst two days of work I’ve ever had. It was so bad. Like the worst winter storms in the history of Valentine’s day bank of American merchant services went out for six hours on February 13th. Like it was just the worst. And, and, and it was helpless. I was just sitting here, my, uh, my managing partner, the guy from the PE firm calls me and he is like, so how are you doing <laugh>? And I’m like, I’m like, you know, I’m just sitting in my office, lighting money on fire, you know, that’s basically what I’m doing right now. I’m like, how are you doing? He’s like, yeah, I’m just watching you light money on fire. But it was just like a commiseration. He wasn’t lecturing me cuz he gets it like, you know, he knows the drill, but this mother’s day we would have our daily touch base.
Charlie Cole 00:34:39 And we have this remarkable leader named Stacy who leads this call. And at the end of, I recall, Stacy’s like, Charlie, do you have anything for us? And I was like, don’t take this as apathetic, but no <laugh>, I actually don’t have anything to contribute. Cuz you guys are all doing your job. Right. And so the reason I send it to somewhat redundant answer is success looks like when you’re not worrying about any of your direct reports. And, and, and the reason I say that Sean is because, um, one of the things I tell people all time is like a management principal is you’ll know, you’re screwing up. If I’m talking to you a lot, like a lot, right. If I’m just like micromanaging you because otherwise that’s why we hired you. Right. So I don’t have to do your job. Right. Because that’s your job.
Charlie Cole 00:35:23 And so I, I think that’s what success looks like is that when you wake up every morning and you don’t have a fleeting thought of like, oh man, I hope Matt’s doing his job or, oh man, I hope Taryn’s doing her job or Christina’s doing her job. Right. And, and um, I didn’t really feel that way, Sean, for at least two years, I was always super nervous about something. Again, I think we had been more focused earlier. I could have cut that time a little bit and I had to make some role changes and I had to kind of establish that and I had to make some personnel changes. Cause remember people in roles are not the same thing. Yeah. Um, but yeah, I, I think it’s waking up and knowing that you don’t have to worry about your teammates and that’s really kind of what success looks like regardless of, of Sage of business.
Sean Ellis 00:36:01 Yeah. And that’s, that’s gonna be super helpful for culture as well when, when everyone’s not second guessing each other.
Charlie Cole 00:36:06 Yeah. I mean, and like I heard, I heard just this just the other day and it’s just one of those things that I heard that I was just like, it made my blood boil. Um, so we had someone leave the company and this was a long time ago and that person reconnected with someone who’s still at the company. And, and he told me this story, he’s like, yes, we had a beer or whatever. And, and he, I was asking her like, what, what she would give advice now that she’s out of FTD. And she’s like, well, I remember sometimes people wouldn’t tell Charlie what’s going on. Cuz he was in a bad mood. And I was just like, oh my God, like I heard that. I was just like, that’s like the single biggest failing of the CEO you can possibly have. Right. Is when someone’s not willing to talk of you because of some assumption of what you’ll say.
Charlie Cole 00:36:49 Right. And so good teams also like I, I had a, a, a coach in high school in basketball. I, I was a decent basketball player and the coach came up to me and he’s like, Charlie, stop dribbling. You’re not good at it. Like set screens, make shots rebound. He’s like stop dribbling. That’s a good teammate right there, dude. Right? Like now if you have a team where you can have those conversations and it’s not like I’m 17 years old, I’m like, who does this guy think he is like, as long as that, as long as you actually have that relationship, that’s what you want. That’s what a good team looks like is you have to be open and transparent regardless of what you wanna hear right now, we’re having a conversation about like, okay, we’ve turned this thing around. We probably cap with this business model around a 3 billion valuations. What do we have to change on a 10 billion valuation? And those are hard conversations, right? Those are hard, not easy conversations. And so if you have that kind of, no, one’s worried about what the other person’s doing. No, one’s worried about how they’re gonna be judged for saying something. I think that’s like the most successful team that’ll ever happen in your life. That doesn’t mean success is guaranteed, but I think it’s the basis of the successful
Ethan Garr 00:37:51 Team. So I think when you’re trying to answer those questions, how do we go beyond that, that market cap? Uh, one of the things that becomes really important and I think people think of this as a like pre-product market fit thing, but Sean and I really believe, I think that it’s a never ending thing, which is you have to completely and deeply understand your customers and really UN, continuously understand your product market fit. Um, and one of the things that I, I like really got me excited is a few months ago I was on LinkedIn and you pop up in a picture and you’re in front of your car and you’re delivering flowers. It must have been Valentine’s day. And I started thinking to myself, you here you are, you’re the CEO of a multibillion dollar company. And you’re out there meeting customers, talking to them one on one. And I I’ve gotten to know you well enough. I think to believe that that wasn’t about posting on LinkedIn. It wasn’t about a PR stunt for you. It was about actually getting some value. So can you tell, like in, in terms of getting your team to that point where you can just trust them and rely on them, how much of that is about you personally and the team understanding the customers and then finding a way to communicate. So that customer value is always in focus.
Charlie Cole 00:39:02 So I think being really clear about how you are differentiating as a business with customer experience, being at the center of it, Ethan, that gives you all an alignment on, on what you’re good at, but maybe what’s equally important is what you’re not right. And so I think the conversations we would have early on, um, we spent a lot of time, a lot of time, uh, focusing on let’s make really beautiful bouquets, right? Like let’s make the most beautiful bouquets out there. No one will ever be able to touch us with bouquets. But then you realize that you can’t patent a bouquet and everybody’s getting flowers from the same four farms in Columbian Ecuador. And oh yeah, by the way, you need to have 9,900. Flos all have these stems in stock all the time. So I guess we’re not focused on making beautiful bouquets, like what an awkward conversation to have at a freaking flower company.
Charlie Cole 00:40:01 You know what I mean? But like, but like this is, but the reason I bring that up is it’s so important to know how you’re differentiating, but it’s equally important to know how you’re not right. And so like, I doubt, I doubt. And I’m just gonna paint with a super wide brush. I doubt at any point at Warby Parker, they were like, let’s reinvent the lens. You know what I mean? Like maybe they weren’t so explicit about it, but they probably did have that conversation. They’re like, no, no, we’re gonna win on service. And this holds Tryon five and get one back. That’s gonna be our core. Right. And so I think you have to align on what makes you truly different. And for me, um, going back to the delivery thing, so the delivery thing actually started as catharsis. Uh, I was sitting here on February 13th, 2021 watching my bank of American merchant services, go down, watching the snowstorm here in Seattle, by the way where we got 15 inches of snow on the 12th and 13th, which never had happened in the history of ever, ever, like
Sean Ellis 00:40:54 My daughter goes to school there. So I, I remember that <laugh>.
Charlie Cole 00:40:57 Yeah. And, and, and I, and I was like, I need to go do something that makes me feel like I’m having value. Cause I feel like the biggest failure on earth right now. Yeah. Like I, and so I call our, our head of head of member division. I was like, can you find me a florist that I can go help? I was like, I have a four wheel drive car. I can move myself around here. I need to do something. So in a lot of ways, Ethan, it was very selfish as it could get. Cause I was like, I need to do something that makes me feel like I have value. But when I, when I did that, when I did that, uh, I learned more about the business in those four to five hours than I had in the previous. What, it would’ve been 11 months because I get to the florist.
Charlie Cole 00:41:35 I immediately see. So this, this florist is basically kind of, um, she’s in an office parking and so she doesn’t have a, a, a front window or a front door. She’s really just kind of working behind the scenes. Almost like almost a mini, uh, factory would be what I would call. I’m sure that’s not a very glamorous way of playing it, but I show up and I see a bunch of popup tents and a refrigeration truck. And I’m like, is this here all the time? And she looks at me like, it was the stupidest question I’ve ever asked in my life. Like, you’re the CEO of FTD and you don’t know the answer to this question. And she’s like, no, we bring this in for two weeks for every peak so that we can have more, more, uh, uh, basically back office. And I’m like, but why?
Charlie Cole 00:42:12 And she’s like, well for mother’s day, you don’t, you need two refrigeration trucks, but for February, we usually assume the weather’s gonna help us out a little bit and it’s gonna be cold enough. And so we can just have popup tents. She’s like, but this year we’re screwed because it’s too cold. The flowers will freeze. So actually what we’re doing is we’re using the refrigeration truck as a warmer and I’m like, okay. <laugh> like, I was just like, all right, now I understand what these people are going through all the time. And she’s like, okay. She’s like, here’s your orders and make sure to do this in the back of the car and, you know, make sure you do this because the water was spill and here’s the app you need for doing deliveries. And I’m going through the app and I’m like, this app sucks.
Charlie Cole 00:42:51 And she’s like, yeah, no. And so like, okay, we gotta fix this. And then I go to deliver to customers. And, um, the third, so the first customer pull up, she’s like your quintessential sweet old lady. And I hand her Valentine’s day. Okay. She opens the door and I’m sitting there holding flowers. She opens the door and she looks like this, like side to side. And she goes, what are you doing here? It is not safe to be driving right now. And I’m like, and I’m like, okay. I just learned a little something about the customer, but that’s actually not the story. The story is my third customer. I show up with a beautiful dozen long stem roses, beautiful. Like one of the most beautiful bookcases I had ever seen. And I’m holding there. I’m just like super stoked. I’m so hoping the guy’s there knocking the door back up because COVID remember, this is like February 20, 21.
Charlie Cole 00:43:38 And, um, he opens the door and I, I was just like, I hear the door opening in my head. I’m like, oh, I’m so stoked. This guy’s here. Cause he’s gonna be so happy when he sees this and he opens the door and he, and he kind of looks at me like befuddled. He goes, there’s supposed to be three dozen. And I pause and I look at my app and I realize I didn’t make a mistake. And I go, this is sort of a strange request. Cause I’m a CEO of a company. Can I see your receipt? And he said, sure. And he pulls up his receipt on the phone, handed me. He had actually placed the order through one of our affiliates and he ordered three dozen. But the way the routing happened on our affiliate side was they said two orders to one company and one company ordered us.
Charlie Cole 00:44:20 So I was like, oh my God, how many crappy customer experiences happened because of this? Right. So I, I mean, it was, it was eight orders. And in like four hours, I learned, I need to revamp our backend order routing system. I need to completely revamp how we think about delivery. And I need to give, give tools to our florist that allow for them to be able to scale four hours. So it started as like this selfish thing where I just needed to get the hell outta the house and feel like I wasn’t completely worthless. And it turned into a complete overhaul of our product roadmap in the B2B side. So I, I think the, the what’s the moral of the story. There’s probably things like that in your business, right. It might be, uh, touring a supply chain floor in China. It might be, um, last mile fulfillment.
Charlie Cole 00:45:04 If, if you’re at a restaurant it’s probably like waiting tables or working in the kitchen, you know what I mean? But I, I think for me, that experience made me realize that I just needed to get a little deeper in the business that I was just a little bit too removed and was kind of turning in like the standard suit. You know what I mean? I didn’t even know these guys needed refrigeration, extra refrigeration. I didn’t even know, like if it’s frozen in February, not a long shot, but it completely changes their challenges. And so, uh, that was a, a huge experience for me. And again, something that I’ll take into every business I have from here on out, I was like, understanding like, what is that key inflection point for customer experience and understanding it extremely intimately.
Ethan Garr 00:45:36 Yeah. I I’ve learned that along the way too. And I think one of the, just like the little nuance there is you don’t learn it by going through your registration. You go through it, you learn it by making a purchase and getting it delivered to your door and having the ex entire experience end to end. Like you have to go through every step. Otherwise you’re gonna miss things. And I like so many times, even with a, an, uh, a company that has a new app that I, I advise, yeah. I was like, get a promo code, no, go through the experience as a, as a consumer and really learn exactly every step along the way. But, uh, yeah.
Charlie Cole 00:46:11 And, and, and, and, and, and also like, um, especially in eCommerce, you, you equally need to understand the steps you don’t control. Uh, and the way I learned this, the hard way, and you know, who really struggled at the outset of COVID FedEx and ups, FedEx and ups were just overwhelmed. Uh, they were overwhelmed with logistics of vaccine distribution. They were overwhelmed because e-commerce spiked overnight. They just weren’t ready. And so you don’t really control FedEx and ups. You kind of do you give them forecast, but if they screw up, never in the history of ever, I don’t believe has a package not shown up. The person looks at their doorstep and they’re pissed off. Cause the package’s not, they’re like, you know what, I’m calling FedEx. It’s never happened. Never happened to never, they’re gonna call you. Right. And so, even though you don’t control FedEx, you need to understand that part of that customer experience as well, Ethan. And so like, it really is easy to your point just being like, oh yeah, I understand how e-commerce works. Like, well, you better really understand how it works for you. And, and I think knowing those points of failure that you own and, and don’t own, and, and technologies in there, third party vendors are in their supply chain, concerns are in there. And I just think it’s so freaking important. And I, and I would bet it’s different for every single business on earth.
Sean Ellis 00:47:27 Yeah. I, so I had a, um, a CEO or actually a, a board member years ago who every time he saw me, he would say, when was the last time you talked to a customer? And so my, my initial thought, yeah, I remember I even saying to him, you know, I actually talked to customers, I see what they do. I look at the data, I make decisions on the data. And he said, no, I want you to talk to customers. And so I, uh, I just, for, for a while, just kind of went through the motions based on, I know he is gonna ask me, so I wanna be able to say, I spoke to one today, in fact. So I started to speak to customers every day. And I found that I was making much better decisions when I started to talk to customers.
Sean Ellis 00:48:07 I ran way better experiments, everything, everything just, just had so much more context and, and just the understanding of the business. And so I think, I think there’s an interesting, particularly as, as a CEO, there’s an interesting, an interesting kind of, uh, back and forth of, of that really zooming in to an individual customer experience or an individual partner experience, but also then zooming back out to get context on how is the whole machine working, what metrics do we look at to see if everything’s on pace? Um, I’m just curious how you, how you balance that and is there like a single health metric that shows that you’re doing well? Or is it sampling of those individual customer, uh, interactions that, that, that give you that
Charlie Cole 00:48:53 Well? So I think the first thing I point out with FTD is we kind of have three different customers, right? Because the Floris pay us. And I would say they’re our most important customer, right? Our Floris, even though they’re not the ones that are buying flowers, that they are a customer, there’s the person on our website. Who’s buying stuff, they’re obviously a customer, but then 92% of the time, that’s not the person who’s receiving the gift. Right. We’re a gift, we’re a gifting company. And so, so we really have to monitor all three simultaneously and by the way, all three influence each other. Um, I like, I, I’m gonna, I’m gonna tell, uh, a story which makes me really uncomfortable, but I, I think it’s, it it’s, um, illuminating enough that I’ll, I’ll tell it. So we got a call, um, from a consumer and the consumer had basically just been the victim of, um, racial harassment, right?
Charlie Cole 00:49:54 So someone used our service to send person, to send a person flowers, to basically make fun of them for being African American. And the way it came out is the consumer called us horrified. And the florist was, felt so bad and we felt so bad and we immediately left into action and be like, how did this happen? And the way it happened was nothing about the process looked bad until you got the context, right? Because we have vulgarity filters on our gift messages. We have all these things that you need to have, but all the gift message was is it basically the, the punchline? And this is the really uncomfortable part. The punchline was, can’t wait to see you at the next clan meeting. And, but it wasn’t with a K. So there was no way to actually automate the safety of this process. And it drew us for a complete loop, Sean, because remember three different customers.
Charlie Cole 00:50:55 I now have one person who was just a dirtbag, right? Who I never want to shop with us ever again, I have a consumer who was victimized and I have a florist who was victimized, right? And so we have these automated messages and we have NPS metrics and we have all these things. But I think the most important thing you can do is understand the worst customer experiences. And by the way, there might not be a way to prevent them without manual kind of intervention. Like, let’s be honest, like you’re never gonna bat a thousand, but what I would say as a CEO, you need to forensically analyze the things that go the worst and accept your fate. And, um, uh, you know, it’s just such a hard thing. And so for us, remember our businesses function in the most heightened, emotional events of your entire life.
Charlie Cole 00:51:45 So just stay with me here a second. Cause that sounded super self-righteous. It’s true. Uh, your wife’s anniversary, the death of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, a get, well soon a graduation, a birth, you know, we function in these heightened emotional moments. And so for me, understanding the customer that sends us the comment and said, Hey, by the way, I tried to send flowers to my mom or nursing home, but she died of COVID before they got there. Cause they were two days late. That actually happened by the way. Um, and understanding those moments. I think it’s the most important thing a CEO can do. And again, it’s not because you’re trying to be self righteous it’s cuz you’re actually trying to prevent them from ever happening again. And, and so that would be what I would tell is that yes, we have NPS metrics. We have consumer metrics, we have onsite metrics, we have florist NPS and, and I think NPS is a pretty good meeting indicator. But I think to answer your, the question you didn’t ask, but I think we’re actually asking, which is how do you decide which experiences to pick and choose to dig into? I talk to customers the most when we’ve screwed up the worst and, and that’s where I probably learned the most. And, and I think that’d be something that anybody could, could do.
Sean Ellis 00:52:51 Yeah.
Charlie Cole 00:52:53 A little heavy, but
Sean Ellis 00:52:55 No, but I, but I get it. I think it’s one of those things that, um, that, you know, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve always taken almost the opposite approach there where, and it might be because I’m in a, a startup world most of the time where I’m trying to understand our busi biggest successes and build the machine that delivers a lot more of those successes. And, and if I focus on everything we’re doing wrong, you’re just chasing one problem to the next. So I’m kind of trying to build on a core, but I think particularly in certain businesses that the downside of a bad experience is, is so bad. And, and there’s such failure that happens in the system when that happens, that you, you, you need to, you need to actually put enough attention on those. And, and, uh, and I think that’s particularly in your business, another business I talked to recently that, uh, is in the luggage storage business and, and, uh, they, they essentially, some of the reviews say the place closed that I couldn’t pick up my luggage and I, and I missed my flight for, uh, where I was going because my I, my luggage wasn’t available.
Sean Ellis 00:53:59 And, you know, one of those experiences cancels out hundreds of other great experiences, particularly kind of on the NPS side. And, and the other side is just really understanding that you, you know, you, you don’t want to, you don’t wanna be creating those experiences. Those are, those are super hardships for people and you don’t, you don’t wanna be responsible for that.
Charlie Cole 00:54:20 Well, and I think you get, um, success can make you lackadaisical. Right. And I think that’s just the way it is. Like, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right. But then when it does break it’s cataclysmic, like when was, when was the last time in American history that anyone gave the first thought to a baby formula factory? You know what I mean? But then when, because you just get lots of days ago, like baby formula will always be there. Right. We’re good until you’re not. And then it’s like, you have people dying, you know what I mean? So I, I just think you, you, you need to be uncomfortable at all times. Right. And you have to be, you have to constantly be looking out and trying to learn so that you don’t have a one off become systematic, cuz that’s how businesses die. Right. Is that when they just ignore their fate forever, um, because it used to work. Right. And I think that’s really, really important. Never, never rest on your laurels, I
Ethan Garr 00:55:13 Guess so interesting Charlie, because you know, I’ve heard you talk about NPS before as a, as a really good be bellwether. And Sean mentioned, you know, that he’s always leaned on the success side. He’s actually well known for a question that he he’s, uh, that many companies, many teams ask. Um, it’s a really good leading indicator of product market fit, which is if this product or this company went away tomorrow, would you be a very disappointed B somewhat disappointed C not disappointed at all? D it doesn’t matter. Cause I didn’t use the product. And it’s a great way to understand, uh, who are your must have users who loves your product. And, and, but you made a really good point, which is you can get really LA like if you just ask that question and eventually you get enough people saying, they’re very disappointed to say, Hey, we have product market fit. Sean’s generally used about 40% as sort of the benchmark. Um, you’ll get LA LA LA lackadaisical, sorry, can’t talk today, but you’ll get,
Charlie Cole 00:56:06 LA’s not an easy word,
Ethan Garr 00:56:07 But the best, the best use of that, of that question continues all the way past product market fit and forever. Because what happens is you start every, the more you ask that question, the more you start learning, what is changing in your business? What do people really love? And, but you’re, I’ve always, I’ve always had this sort of love, hate relationship with NPS. Cause I think there’s some problems with how it’s measured and, and, and issues. But, but you make a good point if you’re not looking at that side of the business too, you’re gonna miss pieces too. So I think both of those, I, I think they’re both valid. It’s not one or the other. Um, well,
Charlie Cole 00:56:39 And I’ll tell ’em where my brain goes. Ethan is like, how often do you need to refresh that question? You know what I mean? Like, because the thing that fascinates me about, so just, just think about something for a second, six years ago, maybe five ground shipping was more than enough, right? Like if buy something online, five to seven days, you’re good to go. Now, if you’re not today, you’re screwed tomorrow. Maybe if not, now, if it’s not same day, you’re screwed. Right. And so the reason I bring that up is if you went away today, well, you know, five, six years ago, if the answer is, yes, you certainly need to refresh that. I would say at least annually, if not like quarterly, know what I macro over that is consumer are changing so much so rapidly. You know, I, I, I’m trying to think of a company that over the last 10 years probably didn’t ask themselves that question enough, but actually let’s look at it a positive side, like think about Google and how much their business has changed in the last 10 years.
Charlie Cole 00:57:52 Right? Like how they had a cash machine, they just had a fricking website and it automatically made advertising dollars until the end of time. Right. And it was, they were good. Right. But then they did Android and they have Google cloud and they bought YouTube. Right? Like talk about a company that did not rest on their laurels. And it’s because they probably asked themselves that question where Ethan, I, I think if they were still just a search engine, your and I answers would’ve changed over time. Be like, nah, Google went away. I’d be good. You know what I mean? There’s other search engines, you know what I mean? But like you really kind of have, I think you have to the latency of how often you ask that question, I think is equally important.
Ethan Garr 00:58:26 Yeah. I
Sean Ellis 00:58:26 Mean, yeah. I, I think the interesting, sorry I got, I got a pile on that one. Yeah. Where you really realize the power of, uh, of Google is when you take a trip to China and none of the Google services work and you realize how darn disappointed you are when you can’t check your calendar, you can’t check your email, you can’t search to find things like
Charlie Cole 00:58:45 I use Google. I use Google hangout with my kids. Like you can’t video call my kids.
Sean Ellis 00:58:49 Yep. Right. So it’s a, it’s a good, uh, it’s a good experiment. But um, do you wanna get one last comment in yeah. Ethan, before I, before I ask the final question here?
Ethan Garr 00:58:57 No, I, um, yeah, no, I I’ll let you go. <laugh>
Sean Ellis 00:59:01 <laugh> some, sometimes I need to cut him off. And when he reconsiders the, uh, comments, he, he was about to make, he realizes he won.
Charlie Cole 00:59:06 He, he’s just, he’s just acquiescing to your seniority, Sean, now that we determined, you’re the older one.
Sean Ellis 00:59:11 Exactly. You gotta respect the elders. <laugh> so, uh, you know, a question that we really like to ask, and I think, I think for you, it’s, it’s particularly important and you you’ve touched on a few things that are almost already baked into the answer, but normally we’re looking at about a two year period over the last two years. What is the most important thing that you’ve learned as, as related to growth? Um, that’s, that’s about the amount of time that you’ve been at, uh, FTD. So while you’ve been at FTD, is there something that stands out as, as a really key lesson in, in how growth works that you may not have understood, uh, going into it or understood as well?
Charlie Cole 00:59:49 Oh gosh. Another really good question. And I have like 17 answers that just popped into my brain. So I, I, I wanna make sure I come up with the best one. Um, well let me just kind of mental vomit to tell you. So, um, I under, so first I underestimated how important exec team and board alignment is. Right? And, and I think it’s, cuz I came from a culture where you went to the board, you did your song and dance and then everybody else went away. And the CEO talked to the board that was kind of your standard board of director from my, and, and what I’ve realized is it is so freaking important to get your board of directors and executive team in the same room together for a good amount of time. So three weeks from now, I’m gonna have eight people in a room with my board of directors, making sure we’re all aligned our three year strategy.
Charlie Cole 01:00:33 Um, so that’d be the first thing I’d say is board alignment, executive alignment is super important. Um, the second thing is what I said about focus, right? Don’t growth is done by doing few things. Well, not a lot of things. Okay. Uh, I think that’s super important. And the third thing is, um, you cannot, you cannot appreciate how important having the right people is. And, and let me just expand on that. I know we’re short on time, but, um, there you, it’s, it’s a double sided challenge, Sean, because it’s hiring and firing, like let’s just call like I, I was trying to figure out a nice way to say it, but if someone’s not right, they’re not right. And you need to move really quickly and respectfully, if someone is right, you need to make sure they’re really freaking happy. And so for us, we have this, um, team in H bad India that it always just been like the personas non grata for us and, and no CEO had ever gone and visited them.
Charlie Cole 01:01:36 And I’ve realized like we have to invest in everybody right equally and make them feel special and make them feel wanted and make them feel like a part of the team. And so I think that the two sided point there is make people changes quickly and invest in people quickly. And, and, and you need to, you need to do ’em and you have to be fast. You cannot be like, oh, they might come around or like, oh, they won’t leave. Right. And, and, and I think that’s where as a CEO, you should probably be spending the most amount of your time is identifying your superstars and identifying your weak spots and acting very, very quickly. And, and I think that’s both a really positive message and a very Machi veian message, but probably the most important one.
Sean Ellis 01:02:14 Mm-hmm <affirmative> fantastic. Well, I, uh, I could, I could try to pull these apart and, and dig a little bit more into ’em, but I think you did a really good job of just, just laying that out and it’s really the theme kind of through, throughout the presentation. That’s why or the, uh, the discussion that’s, uh, that, that’s why I sort of said that you’ve I think you’ve answered that question to a large degree and, and, you know, starting from your very first answer where you talked about, you know, seven things that we need to do, and you should have narrowed that down to, to three things. And so, um, I’m, I’m have a lot of admiration for your ability to course correct. As you’ve gone along it’s, uh, it’s, it’s not always an easy thing to do. And, uh, and, and you have to humbly, uh, see that, that, you know, there, there’s a better way to do things than how I may have done ’em last week. And so, uh, lot of, lot of admiration for that. And so thank you. Thank you so much for, for sharing the story of, of what you’ve been focused on with FTD. And obviously, um, it’s a business that’s been around for a long time and I, uh, it looks like it’s on track to, to continue to be around for a long time. And I’m happy to see
Ethan Garr 01:03:19 That. Yeah, Charlie, thanks guys. I can’t thank you enough for, uh, for joining us. It’s been working with you these last few months and getting to know you a little bit. I I’ve really I’ve come to learn so much, not just on the e-commerce side, but just about how you, how you lead. And it’s been, it’s been really exciting to, to kind of sit side by side with you on that, um, a little bit, so, uh, really appreciate you coming out and, uh, gotta dive in further, Sean and I had a conversation in one of our growth snack episodes about differentiation and, uh, you just added a whole different dimension to that today. So, uh, looking forward to thinking about that some more as well. So yeah, thanks again for joining us and, uh, good luck as you, uh, continue to, uh, grow FTD.
Charlie Cole 01:03:55 Thanks. It was a lot of fun, fun way to start Monday, Monday morning and, uh, and hope it’s valuable for everybody
Sean Ellis 01:04:00 Thanks for listening to the breakout growth podcast. Please take a moment to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform and while you’re at it subscribe. So you never miss a show until next week.