David Noël:Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in this great province. I’m David Noël.
Today’s interview guest has done it all. She inherited a small business and grew it into a much larger one right here in Winnipeg before recently completing its sale to a giant public company in the U.S. In the interview, we dig into the importance of finding a growth market, guiding organizational growth, and what the transition looks like—organizationally and personally—during the acquisition process.
I hope you enjoy this episode. If you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. I would also encourage you to spread the word about this podcast—the website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com
Without further ado, here is Polly Craik:
[to Polly] Polly, thanks so much for taking the time. Can you start by telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Polly Craik: Well, I don’t really know who I am right now. I am a lifetime Winnipegger. Grew up in Winnipeg and lived in Manitoba, other than a couple of years my entire life. I was given the opportunity to join my family business that was started by my father in the early ’70s. I worked with both my sisters and my mother in our family business, until 1991 when my husband and I bought the business from my family.
David: Oh, okay.
Polly: Then we evolved it, transitioned it, sold the original business when we had evolved it to a different business altogether, and then we have just sold that business.
Dave: Wonderful. Okay. Well there’s a lot dig into there. Let’s start with, this is kind of interesting actually, I didn’t realize this until I was doing research for the show, but tell me a little bit about your dad.
Polly: My dad was an entrepreneur, he was an engineer, he taught at University of Manitoba and was a mechanical engineer. But he did a lot of work in the energy sector and he was also a politician, served under Sterling Lyon, both Walter Weir and Sterling Lyon administrations. Was the deputy premier ministry of finance, and he did also real estate development. He is your typical entrepreneur/academic/politician. Unfortunately, he died almost exactly 30 years ago.
David: Oh, wow.
Polly: At the age of 54. Yeah.
Dave: Okay. One of the things that I thought was interesting, I knew that I recognized your last name, but it didn’t really click until I saw your father’s name, and then I realized that I studied in the Donald Craik Engineering Library for years and years.
Polly: You went there, that’s right. So that was named after him.
Dave: Yeah, so I was able to benefit from that. Okay, so tell me a little bit then about the business that he started and that you got into from the beginning.
Polly: Our business originally, it was started by my father who shared an office downtown with three other business people, and they shared a secretary that answered the phone and did their typing for them. And he realized that there was a need to offer that type of service elsewhere. So he actually was behind the scenes, and it was another woman by the name of Sheila Morrison that actually got it going, and my dad underwrote the whole thing. And then after a couple of years, she moved on, and so he took it over, and that’s when my family started getting involved, and my sisters and I worked there during school.
Polly: And really it was a telephone answering service. Answered phones for local Winnipeg-based businesses, 24/7 as of I think 1978, worked 24 hours.
David: So kind of like a secretary as a service?
David: Yes, and it got to be less and less secretarial and more phone answering, and then we got into the paging business. And it started to evolve, but he died in 1985, and in 1987, my sister and I who had been working together, acquired the paging company. So that’s the business that we were in until we sold it six years ago.
David: Okay, interesting. Now that, is if I understand correctly, quite different from FineLine Solutions which was the business that you sold more recently.
David: Although they shared the name, if I understand correctly, your dad’s business was called FineLine Telephone Answering and Secretarial Services.
Polly: Yeah, changed the name. It started out as the FineLine Limited, and then it was FineLine Secretarial and Answering, and then it was FineLine Communications Ltd, and that was the legal name.
David: I see.
Polly: All the way until we sold it, but we operated as FineLine Solutions. And FineLine solutions, I’m trying to think of the years, but it was around 1987, there was an impending postal strike, and what we realized was we had done some work. There was a division that we had, Word Processing Service Bureau. And when we had that business, we did a lot of work in the political field, and that was doing direct mail. So we would have mailing lists, send out a lot of mail.
So we were familiar with the mailing industry, and so we approached the Salvation Army. We had been in discussions with about putting an 800 number on their direct mail piece to help them capture donations through the phone rather than through the mail with the strike coming. And there was a board member, and again, being in Manitoba, I think one of our biggest strengths and opportunities is that we’re big enough, yet small enough. You know people, you trust people. If a board member is going to speak on your behalf, they know you well and feel confident that you’re going to hold up to what they’re selling for you.
So we had a board member that went to bat for us because they had tried at one time with a company out east and it didn’t go very well.
So they decided to partner with us, and we worked with them to position an 800 number on their direct mail piece. The interesting thing was that they ended up raising the average gift was, and I don’t know the exact numbers off the top of my head, was approximately $43 at the time, and the average age of their donor was over 65 years of age for the Salvation Army, through the direct mail program.
When we launched the 800 number on the direct mail piece, the average gift increased by more than double.
Polly: And the average age was much younger.
Polly: So it didn’t cannibalize the direct mail program, it actually enhanced it. And really was an eye opener for the Army at that time, where they were thrilled at the results, and from there, we’ve never looked back, and they’re actually still a client.
David: Were you surprised at those results?
Polly: Pleasantly. You never know with these types of things. Now, you don’t know there was a mail strike, so certainly the following year some people are going to go back to mail that gave through the phone, but it cost a lot less to raise that money as well because you didn’t have the cost of postage and the other things that went along with it. So the net profit to the organization was much higher.
David: Okay. You realized that you were able to offer that service, and then what happened?
Polly: Well that’s when we really started doing our research and looking at the nonprofit sector as an industry. And that was the beginning of our journey to where we ended up building a company that was specializing in a specific niche.
David: I guess dig into that a little more because presumably you had…the rest of the business was going decent, was the rest of the business going decently? Did you decide to follow this path because it was the only path or what was the logic behind that?
Polly: There were a couple of things at play. One was that in a telephone answering service business, it was and still is a very good business. Very difficult to grow the market and Winnipeg was saturated, and there were really two key service providers. So we looked at…and I wanted to grow. I was typical entrepreneur, I want to shake it up, but I don’t like status quo. Let’s grow this thing. And I had taken a program through Entrepreneurs Organization as part of MIT, which was called the “Birthing of Giants,” and when I was away at that program, it was a three year executive learning program, and a light bulb came on because here I am sitting outside of Boston, I’m one of out of 60 people, there were maybe three Canadians. And I realized that it doesn’t really matter where I am with the business that I’m in. If I want to grow, why don’t I grow outside of Winnipeg? I can still have all my employees here, but my market is so much bigger, and what I had been struggling with was the market was saturated. I needed to grow. And with this specific telephone answering business, it really is more…you need to know the street names, and you need to have a local presence.
David: Oh, okay. Yeah, I see. That makes sense.
Polly: Whereas we had started down this path of moving into the nonprofit sector, when we’re dealing with donors, they can be anywhere. As long as you know everything about that nonprofit industry or that organization, you can be the expert of the organization to anybody, and it’s not specifically, you’re not sending a truck to an address to fix a leaking pipe. You’re actually talking to the person about what their passion is, and aligning them with the organization that you’re representing.
So we could train people to know and understand and focus on the person on the other end of the line, versus on the organization that you’re representing, if you know what I mean.
David: Yeah, absolutely.
Polly: That’s what intrigued me. So I came home and just went, “Wow.” Light bulb came on. So we ended up selling our clients to the other competitor.
David: I see.
Polly: Now we talked about do we buy them or do they buy us. They were acquiring. They already had multiple offices across Canada, so it made absolute sense.
David: I see. Then that worked for you. So you basically sold off that piece of the business and you were able to focus on what you had identified as something that was more scalable anyway and something that excited you more.
Polly: Well and the plan was that our marketing was geared specifically to the nonprofit sector. We didn’t divest until our new niche segment was big enough that it was sustainable.
David: I see, okay. Interesting. Okay, so while you were in this program at MIT, you realized that you had existing resources. You basically had a team of people that were skilled at answering a phone, but if you pointed them in a different direction, you could achieve much greater growth.
David: Interesting. Jumping back to the MIT program for a second because I think that’s interesting. Well first of all, how did that come about for you? First of all, what made you think that going back to school was a good idea at that point because I guess you had been out for a while, and then how did the MIT thing happen?
Polly: Well, a couple things. One, I never went to University, and so in the back of my mind, I always had this lack of confidence.
David: Sorry to interrupt. Was the reason you didn’t go to University initially just because you were already working or was it because you didn’t see anything that interested you?
Polly: Yeah, I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time.
David: I see. You were already working in your dad’s business at the time.
Polly: No, I was working for a bank actually.
David: I see.
Polly: And what I knew I wanted to do was have my own business because I was a terrible employee.
David: That is a common theme in the people that I’ve spoken to.
Polly: Because you had to go from A to B to C to D, and I could see I wanted to be over at S, T, U, V, W. So I would work my butt off and figure it out. But there was no mechanism. People weren’t rewarded, and I knew that I wanted my dream was to build and nurture a culture that rewarded people higher for attitude, train for skill. That it really truly is one of the most proudest things for me now looking back because I sold the company, is every time we would have clients coming from all over North America to visit our site here because we did all the work from Winnipeg, it was always about our people, and that I could sleep at night knowing that we had a quality business because of what the people were doing.
David: Interesting. We’ll jump back to that in a minute because that’s also actually a theme that a lot of the people I’ve talked to have said that building the right team is the most important thing, finding the right people is the most important thing. So we’ll get back to that. Just finishing up the train of thought around MIT, you hadn’t gone to school initially, and then did this opportunity come up for you, or were you looking for something?
Polly: No. Well it’s been 25 years. This is really, 2015’s a big year on many, many, many fronts.
David: No kidding.
Polly: So I’ve been a member of Entrepreneur’s Organization for 25 years, and Winnipeg was one of the first chapters in Canada. So it’s a global organization, and there’s now, I don’t even know how many members, probably close to a 100,000 around the world. And as a member, this program is offered. You don’t have to be a member of Entrepreneur’s Organization to apply, but majority of people who go through the program are EO members. So you have to apply, you have to demonstrate that you’re in a business, that you’re with your business plan, why you’re trying to grow because they only take 60 members worldwide per year, into a three year program. So I did that, and then I did a two year additional extended program. I got that much out of it. And I still stay in touch with people from my class. It’s amazing picking up the phone or emailing people that you meet because you’re all there for the same purpose. You’re either at a crossroads, or you’re all alone. You’re trying to figure out what the next is, and when that light bulb came on, getting at me out of my bubble into the MIT zone, it just went, “Wow.”
David: No kidding. So it was not only expanding kind of the way that you thought about business, but it was also an incredible networking opportunity for you to meet a bunch of contacts that have helped you since then.
David: Interesting. Okay. So at MIT, you identified the path your growth was going to be the nonprofit sector. Came back…
Polly: And U.S.
David: And U.S., ah, yes interesting. Yeah, that’s important as well, much bigger market. Okay. So then how did you go about implementing that?
Polly: Business plan as in not your typical ink on paper. But first up was really bringing on board the right minds. And so, my husband and I, we own the business together. We have very different roles, and it worked very well for us because together we brought up our children and we were 50-50. Some people say, “How do you work together?” well actually, it worked beautifully for us because we were working towards the same end game.
David: Yeah, all the same kind of goals.
Polly: And he was my biggest support. Absolutely. And so knowing that I could have the freedom to focus and have the support of family. Again being in Winnipeg, my husband’s parents were in town, my mother lives here. That network, that community that could also come together, can’t imagine. It never would’ve happened without the support there.
So going back to your question, executing on the plan was getting the right person, so again, through a network. One of my mentors I met with, I said, “I need somebody who is flawless at execution,” because again, typical entrepreneur I like shiny pennies, squirrel, I’ve got a million ideas and I’m up in the middle of the night. But it’s how you put them in a methodical order that you’re able to, “Okay, what’s this? With this,” and somebody that could challenge me. Not telling me what I want to hear, but saying, “No no, why do you think that?” So that person joined us, and she’s still in the company, and it’ll be nine years.
David: Very cool. So you found someone who’s really good at executing. You brought them on. What were the steps or did you just pick up the phone and start calling nonprofits in the U.S.? Like was that…”
Polly: Pretty much.
Polly: No, identified. We did a lot of research, identified the conferences to go to and one of the things that I love to do and I’m good at is I just reach out to people. Much like you did, calling me for this interview. I’m very much like that. All the people can do is say no. So I interviewed, talked to people, learned to understand about the industry, what the needs were, and my passion is really customer service. When you think about it, we introduced in the nonprofit industry, talking to donors and calling them customers. And people said, “Well, why are you calling them customers?” Well because they are. And you want to invest in the retention and the repeat. So we brought a different slant to the nonprofit industry that served us well. So we started signing up to be speakers, we got to be on panels, and yes, we volunteered to be part of the planning process for the various conferences, and we did it almost all of it in the U.S.
David: Okay. What was the competition like at that point? Were you really bringing something that the nonprofit sector hadn’t seen before or were you just bringing a different color of it?
Polly: A total different mindset. And the first to bring that mind set. And people at first didn’t really, not that they didn’t like it. We were definitely bringing a different perspective, and that was a challenge. It was hard to get it rolling, but we just kept persevering.
David: Let’s circle back then to the team. I guess my question is similar. What was the process that you asked around, you asked your mentor and others I presume for someone who is really good at execution? Where did you go from there? You already had at least some employees at that point and you needed to hire more. Is that right?
Polly: Yes. So we are typical small company, very flat structure. And that’s what I love about my business. It’s not about titles, it’s about results and people stepping up. So the mentor that I am referring to had actually worked with this person. And they had been commuting to Toronto, wanted to move back to and stay living in Winnipeg. So it was the perfect connect. We had an absolute connection. We met for a breakfast, and it was such a deep emotional connection on the purpose of what our business was trying to achieve, that we never looked back.
David: How would you describe that purpose?
Polly: Well, our tag line is really, “Helping businesses and organizations to do well by doing good.” And we want to change the world.
David: So you saw this business as an opportunity to do that, and this person that you hired also saw it the same way. At that point, this was the beginning of a transition for the business that you’d had. How did you convey that that you were jumping into this new thing, and how did you get people excited about that?
Polly: Well, one of the first things we did was we totally re-branded our company. The very first conference that we went to together, Jocelyn stood in the background and just watched. I knew everybody, I’d been on my own going to these conferences doing the dog and pony show, doing the, “Here’s who we are,” getting the speak down. So then she would go up to someone and say, “Oh, I work with Polly at FineLine and da, da, da, da.” Everybody knew who I was, but nobody knew what FineLine did. It was way too abstract. We didn’t have good messaging. It was all just lingo.
So that was the first thing that we did was she took over and changed our brand, and we came up with reach, relationships, results. What do we do? We help organizations, non-profit organizations extend their reach to their community of interest, build relationships one to one with their community. Whether they’re donors, members, subscribers, because our clients were big organizations that had multiple groups of customers. Maybe not just donors, they would have, Arthritis Foundation as example would have members and subscribers to their magazine and donors.
So our job was to, well, who is that person and how do we engage with them one to one to make it easy for them, give them access to information, and connect them get that stickiness between the organization, and not talk to them just based on well, if they’re this age group don’t assume that they want to be communicated through this channel and in this way.
And then results. How do you measure results? We’ll it’s not just money, it’s about lifetime value of a relationship. If you are going to give a one-time donation to an organization of $100 and that’s it, that’s the life time value. But if there’s a reason for you to give $10 a month, and you do it for 5 years, now your lifetime value is much longer. So we talk about how do we then do a donor journey and map that and get our heads into, about them. Not about pushing about our organization making people feel that they should be doing something. It has to be what’s in it for them.
David: So at the end of the day, operationally you are basically providing consulting services to nonprofits. Is that one way of thinking about it?
Polly: Yes, and then executing them. And then delivering because the other thing that happened is, we measure ourselves. We’re a revenue center for our clients. We base our results, we report daily, weekly, monthly, we do quarterly business review roll ups based on revenue that we’re generating for our clients. Very different. Nobody else does that.
David: Okay. I’m just thinking of the logistics of it here because it interests me, I’m picturing some kind of a fund raising campaign and people will put out your credit cards, are you taking care of the fulfillment and stuff like that for you clients as well? And you said you’re measuring all the financials. You’re giving them reports on the LTV of the customer.
Polly: Well, we’re actually doing the work.
David: Right, so you’re basically doing the entire fund raising function of an organization.
Polly: On the backend.
David: On the backend. Okay.
Polly: We use a figure eight to describe what FineLine did. The frontend is where you have an agency typically that will do the creative, the strategy, the marketing, the branding, buying lists, doing the direct mail. All that front end we don’t do. We have influence on it, because you have to make sure that the 800 number is positioned properly, that the website has the same messaging. So we will help by collaboratively working with the partners that work with our clients on the frontend.
Before FineLine comes into the picture, used to be there was just a circle. So they would do that and then people would respond to their marketing programs. And they go, “Okay, how much money have we raised, who did it come from? Lather, rinse, repeat, let’s go do it again.” And they go round, and round, and round. What we did was we turned that zero into an eight. And so rather than just letting people respond, we went, “Wait a minute, just because somebody gets a piece of direct mail doesn’t mean they’re going to mail a check. They might go online or they might pick up the phone. So let’s put some intelligence behind that response and understand why it is that people are doing that.” And it used to be that people would say, “We only want you to be 60 seconds on a call because it costs us too much.”
So we had to do a lot of education to say, “Okay, well wait a minute, we’re going to do some A B testing and say, ‘If we actually spend three or four minutes and gather some intelligence about who’s on the other end of the phone and make it about them, we can actually solicit a much higher donation and start to build a relationship that is about them and have a file.'” And now we know that the reason they’re giving is because it was something to do with a family member or maybe it’s a pet organization. Maybe they have a dog, don’t talk to them about elephants. So build an intelligent file, and then next time you have an interaction, know them, and say, “Wow, last time you called we talked about this.” Sounds easy, that takes a big commitment from an organization because…
David: I can imagine.
Polly: …you’re investing in that relationship. So when we started doing all this, now that everybody’s talking this talk when we started doing it, it was a different language. Very few…
David: Yeah, I bet. How long ago was this?
Polly: That was well, 1987 was when we began, but we really, really started getting into it in 2006.
David: Right. So when we talk about things like building profiles and understanding the lifetime value of a customer and trying to capture recurring revenues, stuff like that. You’re right. Those are your ideas and now every marketing organization should be doing it, and if they’re not, but that was very much ahead of the time. Interesting. Okay, so that kind of integration requires, like you said, a huge buy in from organizations. So I guess this is circling back a little bit then to what your sales process looked like. Especially at the beginning, how did you get the level of trust required to really be a partner at that level with your clients?
Polly: Well it wasn’t easy
David: I can imagine.
Polly: All of our business really came from referrals, and being present, and being visible, and just nurturing relationships. There’s no amount of money that a traditional marketing campaign, that’s not how our business grew. Our business grew through understanding, nurturing, developing respectful relationships, and identifying where there truly was a need. In organizations, if you don’t have the buy in from the top, it won’t happen.
David: So I guess, I can totally see that because I’ve been in the situation of trying to sell services that are deeply integrated with the client, and it requires a lot of buy in as you put it. Did those processes usually start with smaller engagements where you’re trying to get peoples’ feet in the door?
Polly: Yeah. Absolutely. Think about an organization where you are basically handing over your customer service department to a third party.
David: And not only that, because in this case the customer service department, is like you said, the revenue center.
Polly: Right, exactly.
David: You’re not just handing over the customer service department, your handing over your sales department.
Polly: Exactly. So absolutely. We usually start with a small project. A one off that we would say, “Absolutely, we can do that as a way to start to develop the relationship.” And once they could see and as long as we did a good job of demonstrating the follow through on here’s the results and here’s what happened, then they would have the confidence. It’s all trust, and it’s that care and control of the relationship.
David: So what would a small one off like that look like that you would use to build up trust? I’m sure it varied by client, but was it typically something like running a smaller campaign for them?
Polly: Yeah, it could be a smaller campaign or it could be a led disaster. Something that you had a situation where you had a program that was going to need something for a short period of time. Or we’ve done things where there was a mistake as an example with the mailing went out with something incorrect, and they would have a big influx of response, we would take that on as a project.
David: I see.
Polly: Anything that they wouldn’t have to necessarily go out to RFP for, to start to develop that relationship.
David: I see, and especially things that were time sensitive, like you said, if there was a mailing with a mistake, or if there is a disaster somewhere in the world. Those kind of issues are things where they’re going to be really happy to have anyone who can take on that project for them right away.
David: I see, Interesting. Okay, let’s jump ahead a bit then. You said that by now you’ve sold the business, can you take me through that process a little bit?
Polly: Sure, really, we weren’t planning on selling our business yet at this point, but I think like any entrepreneur, when is the right time? And so, being in Winnipeg, 100% of our staff are here, 80% of our clients are in the U.S., and so we are under more pressure to have a U.S. presence. And always being mindful of the things that can come out and bite you that you can’t control. You’ve got the dollar, can’t control. You’ve got U.S., buy U.S., can’t control. So we had been looking at how do we go about this? Opening up centers there or at least having a presence there, and I’ve been in the business a long time. The person who had come on and been with me nine years, she had really taken over, running the day to day operations. Brilliant on the marketing side, she was moving further into the organization at a senior level. And I started finding myself doing some different things, and I think once you aren’t focused and having that same passion for the day to day of what your business is about, and worrying, staying up at night thinking, “What if?” You have to be planning for what’s next.
So this opportunity came about because the answering service business, when we sold that client base to the company out of Toronto, that company ended up selling their Canadian business to this public company. And speaking with him on a totally different matter, just said, “It was a good experience. If you were ever thinking of selling, I’d be happy to make an introduction,” and I said, “Well talk is cheap, doesn’t hurt to have a conversation, and that was the beginning and the end. We didn’t go out and market ourselves to anybody else. What was important to David and I, that’s my husband and business partner, was is the company aligned from a value standpoint? We were turning away business from our large clients who had high volume, and we’re a small niche high touch center, and they have 50 sites in the U.S. They were wanting into the nonprofit space. Knowing how difficult it is to enter that industry on your own, this was a good fit for them. With the way the dollar was behaving, it was an absolute advantage for them, and the stars just aligned, and every time I turned around, it was just the gut felt right. So we continued to move forward, they came out, met us, and the rest is history as they say.
David: Is this public yet? Who was the acquiring company?
Polly: Public company out of Chicago called Stericycle and they have four divisions. We fall under their communications solutions division. So in a similar fashion, they started out as, they do medical waste removal. So when you go to a doctor’s office and the bins on the wall with sharps. And from there, they moved in and they handle, they’re the world’s largest recall center. So when Tylenol had a recall or the tire recall, so they’re the worlds’ largest, and they have all these centers. So they have capacity, they have infrastructure, there’s an absolute fit with disasters.
So as our client base started growing, we now have several of our clients where, a disaster hits, very difficult for us to ramp up for all of our clients. So we have to bring in partners and oversee it. Now we’re giving up that revenue, but also, we don’t want to interrupt our service level for our existing client base, so this is a beautiful thing.
Polly: And that’s where they see the synergy.
David: So then what does the future look like for FineLine itself? I assume that the employees that are here are staying here is that…?
Polly: Yes, it’s out of my control, but it definitely was, all indications are, they have kept all of our employees, and they have signed a lease on our building. I hope that it continues to move forward. One of the other important things was both the due diligence team and the transition team, almost all of the people came from other acquisitions, their philosophy is one team, one goal. They provide opportunity to people who are looking to move within a company, which going back to my first statement, that working in a big company is a very difficult thing, unless it’s a company who really does provide opportunity and give people a chance to apply for jobs that aren’t necessarily within the same vertical or department that they’re in. So I think for some people, change is tough for everybody. For some, they’ll thrive, and for some, I’m sure some won’t make it, but I did it with the best of intention, and I certainly hope that it works for everybody.
David: Absolutely. Actually on that note, it must feel really weird to sell a company that you spent your whole life building.
Polly: Yeah, it really is.
David: What were the hardest parts emotionally, what was the thought process there? I’m curious.
Polly: Well you’re seeing it right now. It hasn’t hit me yet. I just moved out of my office two weeks ago, and we were on a three month transition contract, I don’t know. My one daughter has left for fourth year university, our youngest son just started first year. So we went from…
David: So a huge period of change for you and your family.
Polly: Now we have no kids, no business. And I don’t know what it’s going to feel like. That being said, I did start about 18 months ago, a new business, and I was able to carve it out as part of our agreement with the purchaser. Which will end up feeding FineLine. So it’s very exciting, and I am having an absolute ball just immersing myself, and learning, and figuring out what’s going to be next. And rather than taking a business and saying, “This is the business and here’s what it’s going to be,” I’m stepping back and learning from all these podcasts that I listen to, and the last two years I have attended the Social Media Marketing World Conference in San Diego, then We First Summit, which is put on by an organization out of California that has to do with cause marketing and working with businesses to put purpose at the center of their being.
Social Ambassador is the name of the new company, and I’m just going to let it evolve, and I’m going to start reaching out and figuring out what it’s going to be. It started out as a technology platform, and I was happy to hear that someone else…it didn’t turn out the way that I thought it was going to turn out. If it’s going to be a technology platform, it has to be an independent platform. You can’t rely on Facebook or other things. I learned a few lessons along the way, but that’s what I’m having fun doing. Just taking some risks and failing along the way. Now I don’t have to worry. The good thing is I don’t have 120 people that I’m going to disappoint, it’s just me.
David: Certainly different, but probably liberating in a way.
Polly: Yeah, it is.
David: Interesting. Let’s jump back to the Social Ambassador for a second. I’m also just realizing we’re getting close on time here, so I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, but I am curious about jumping back to the acquisition really quickly. How long did the entire process take from start to finish? I assume especially being that the acquirer is a public company, there was an enormous amount of due diligence involved. What was the whole timeline for that?
Polly: Well it was very fast in my estimation. But because they have done many acquisitions over a short period of time, they have a very well-oiled machine.
David: Really? Okay.
Polly: And so they were actually very good to work with, and we had our first discussion in probably November.
David: Wow, that is fast.
Polly: And we closed on June 1st.
David: Wow, yeah.
David: Very cool. Yeah, that’s much faster than I expected. And in terms of the actual handover, the logistics there, you said that you had a three month time period overlap. Was that basically the extent of the logistics in the handover? I guess I’m trying to understand how the transition works, what it looks like.
Polly: Well, interestingly enough, we had built a very solid senior leadership team, and David and I had really moved out of the day to day. So it was a much easier transition. I was there from a…I don’t like the term figurehead, but I love spending time with our people and talking to them, but don’t ask me how things work. And remember, my strength is not on execution because I am always one to the next thing. So we have a well-oiled machine that measures everything, that has a rhythm, and that was part of whole…the program that I took at MIT, what you come away from there with is a whole process. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Verne Harnish and “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.”
David: No, I haven’t.
Polly: Well he wrote a book, he’s since come out with another one and it’s a whole system. And it’s…
David: Sorry, what was the name of the author and the book again?
Polly: Verne Harnish.
Polly: And it’s “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.”
David: Okay, interesting.
Polly: So the MIT program, the three years are broken up into what you would typically assume, you do HR, you do accounting, and then you do the operations. But it’s combined with academics, entrepreneurs. Like people are in there, you shut the door, totally confidential and people share where they failed. The walking off the deep end, building it up, losing it all, building it up, losing it all. Just it allows you to be vulnerable and people sharing just the rawness of the difficulty that entrepreneurs have when things don’t go right.
So by learning a disciplined process, having the right people on the bus, and so it takes all these things that you learn from the best of the best, and he puts it into a simplified process, and then he studies these companies that implement them.
Polly: So the most important thing is having the right people and having a rhythm in your business. So they have a daily stand-up every day talking about what it is that you’re going to accomplish, where you’re stuck, how you help each other. Not a silent organization, a collaborative, working together and focusing on the customer.
David: Interesting. Okay, I guess we’re just about to wrap up here. So I have two questions for you. One of them, you just recommended a book and you talked about the influence that the MIT program had on you, are there other people that have influenced your approach towards business, either people that you may know personally, mentors, or people that you observed and learned from afar, or any other books that you would recommend to someone listening to the show?
Polly: So many. First through EO, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, I have my forum group which is like a personal board of advisors. We’ve been together 25 years. We meet every month, there’s still five original people from original group. If you miss two meetings in a year, you’re out, if you’re a minute late, you’re fined, and that’s a completely confidential forum for you to…and you’re taught on how to go through the process.
So my forum group, I would say would be one of the important things in my life.
David: Very cool.
Polly: Mentors, again, I’m just one of those people that I just reach out from Harry Ethans is one of my mentors. He introduced me to Jocelyn. Bob Chipman was one of my closest mentors that had an innate ability. I could go to him and with the biggest problems, and he would sit there and listen, and listen, and listen, and listen. And he wouldn’t say very much, but just with how he asked the questions he allowed me, he had skill that I would come up with a solution myself by listening to how he would ask me the question. It was just incredible.
David: Interesting. Is it because he was asking you the right questions? Is that what you mean?
Polly: Yeah, he just forced me to look at what I needed to look at. Currently, I just took over as Chair of the Business Council of Manitoba, and the people that I get to sit around that table with and learn from has just been absolutely incredible and pretty daunting for me. I’m moving into a position where I’m probably one of the smallest businesses that was a member, and having just gone through and sold my business. But as one of the members, and I think it was Doug Harvey said, “Polly, everybody’s just a person. We all get up in the morning and put our shoes on. So just get up, put your shoes on and make the best of it.” So I love surrounding myself with super smart people and I’m a sponge for learning all the time. And books, I’ve got a million.
David: One book recommendation besides the “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.”
Polly: Well one just because it’s recent, I’m studying, for the last couple of years, I’ve been immersed in learning social media, and I want to help people, especially 50 plus, we’ve got to immerse ourselves in this. Jay Baer wrote a book, “Youtility,” Y-O-Utility, which is very much in line with what my past business is and what my new business is around, is focusing on the you.
David: Very cool. Okay. So then my final question for you, and I know I cheated. There have been a couple of extra questions in there, but just wrapping up then what is the future for Social Ambassador? I guess two questions. What is the future for you, and I think Social Ambassador is a part of that. Where do you want to take it, how can people find out more, or get involved, etc.?
Polly: Well for me, it’s about just taking one day at a time right now, and I’ve committed to saying no for six months.
Polly: And that’s…
David: You probably earned it.
Polly: Yeah, recommendation. Social Ambassador is just going to be part of my life. It’s like growing up and having children together and a business together. Our little family, it’s always been business. It’s just part of our life. It’s not business or life, it just is. So Social Ambassador will just come along with me, and I’ll nurture and hopefully it will have an impact and be able to make a difference in the lives and businesses of someone else somewhere, if we’re able to do it the right way.
David: Very cool. All right. Well, Polly, thanks so much for taking the time.
Polly: Thank you, David.