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EPISODE #022

#22 Empowering People in Business with Mark Crockett

Mark Crockett the CEO of Agreed Software joins the Sherpa Cave this week. We discuss his company as well as the ups and downs of owning a business and how to problem solve.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. The easier you can make someone’s life and solve their problems the more they are willing to pay for your product or service.
  2. Take feedback from your customers. They are the ones hiring you. If you can please them, they will come back.
  3. When you value your employees feedback you are able to empower them and they will enjoy their work more than if they feel their input isn’t valuable.

 

Action Items:

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  7. Subscribe to The Biz Sherpa Podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or Stitcher.
  8. Connect with Craig on LinkedIn

 

Transcription:

Speaker 1:

From his first job flipping burgers at McDonald’s and delivering The Washington Post, Craig Willett counts only one and a half years of his adult life working for someone else. Welcome to The Biz Sherpa podcast with your host, Craig Willett. Founder of several multimillion-dollar businesses and trusted advisor to other business owners, he’s giving back to help business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs achieve fulfillment, enhance their lives, and create enduring wealth. The Biz Sherpa.

Craig Willett:

This is Craig Willett, The Biz Sherpa. Welcome to today’s episode. I’m really excited to have a special guest today join us. He’s done a couple startups but one that we’re really excited about is Agreed Software. His name is Mark Crockett. This isn’t his first rodeo and he’s had a lot of business experience. I hope that you gain from him the insights that will help you be more successful in business. Mark, thanks for joining us.

Mark Crockett:

Happy to. Thanks for inviting me.

Craig Willett:

You started your career with a degree in law. Did you practice law before you got into management consulting?

Mark Crockett:

Not for very long. It was—

Craig Willett:

Pretty smart.

Mark Crockett:

It was about a year.

Craig Willett:

Okay, great. And then what led you to go into management and business consulting?

Mark Crockett:

Actually I had done a version of consulting before going to law school and I thought that it was interesting. McKinsey kept keeping in track with me over the years and at some point—I thought it was wonderful to learn the law, but it was really boring to do it. After a while I thought I would just have a walk across the street in LA and sign up for McKinsey.

Craig Willett:

Well, that’s a pretty prestigious firm. How did you get an in there and what attracted you over law in particular? Why did you make the jump?

Mark Crockett:

I really don’t have any bad things to say about law. There are lots of jokes about it but it’s a great profession and I would have had a great career if I had stayed, I’m sure. But I really liked solving problems. The how to pick apart something and put it back together and then have it come to life was a different kind of thing than I was experiencing with documents.

Craig Willett:

Okay. Very interesting. And early in careers, whether I started as a CPA, it’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of documents. You’re really not on the front lines solving the problems.

Mark Crockett:

It’s yeah—

Craig Willett:

You can see some of the problems but you really don’t have any influence over them.

Mark Crockett:

I was probably just a punk and impatient.

Craig Willett:

But you bring up a key skill and that is—to be a business owner in my opinion, it is a lot about problem solving. Whether it’s your product or your service, you’re solving problems for your customers. I think the better you are at that, the easier you make someone’s life, the more they’re willing to pay or buy your product or service. I’m really curious as to how you use that problem-solving desire through your career in management consulting and what led you to make your first jump into buying a business?

Mark Crockett:

Well, the first one was just jumping off, like we’re all young at some point in time. And I’ve done management consulting for about five years and I don’t know, I was impatient again. I thought, I want to go someplace, I’m going to move to Utah because I don’t know why and I want to buy a business. I went looking around for businesses, got a friend to join in with me and we bought this little business and rolled it out really fast and did everything wrong and it was a lot of fun and a lot of pain.

Craig Willett:

What are some of the things that you would do differently if you say you did them wrong? In particular, what would you say would be key to other people who want to start a business? I think it’s really important to own a business but it has to be the right one. It has to be the right time. What would you do over again that would have made that probably a more—not that it wasn’t successful, but a more pleasant experience.

Mark Crockett:

Well actually it’s relevant for me now with this new venture. I think what we got wrong before with my first go around was we went too hard, too fast and we didn’t appreciate all of the details. We tried at that time to roll out, I think it was 100 stores across five states with two different supermarket chains all within two months.

Craig Willett:

Wow. That’s an ambitious endeavor.

Mark Crockett:

It was a little much, it was a little much and there were so many details about how we had to do it. And we—

Craig Willett:

How did you fund that at two? That’s an aggressive growth trajectory so how do you finance that kind of growth?

Mark Crockett:

Well, it was a small business that was already there. We funded a little bit and bought it out. This was 1999 and things were wild and wooly. We got $4 million of funding because it had already been tried and true. The rollout was too fast.

Craig Willett:

This was a venture capital funding?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah, it was.

Craig Willett:

Okay.

Mark Crockett:

It was and we’re trying to stay away from them now. Because we didn’t want to go fast and they wanted to push us.

Craig Willett:

Okay, so you learned from that and what’d you do after that?

Mark Crockett:

Then I went back to a different version of consulting which—well, I was in a hedge fund for four years and learned somewhat about markets, but it wasn’t tactile enough for me. I wanted to do things. I went back to consulting and it was in a different form. Instead of telling people or even providing suggestions, I’d say, “The core of what we do still is we never make recommendations.”

Craig Willett:

Really? Because you typically would think that that’s what you hire someone for—

Mark Crockett:

That’s what consultants do. I’m hiring you because you know something and so you’re going to tell me, “We know what the grand answer is,” and we stopped doing that entirely.

Craig Willett:

Really?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah.

Craig Willett:

That’s an interesting take. How was that received by your customers?

Mark Crockett:

Well, it was a little confusing at the front end but I think it manifestly was far more productive. McKinsey, my old firm, they have a similar product to what we do now and they do it only on a consulting basis, and only half of the things that are recommended get implemented. That’s a coin toss. When you’re spending $10 million a pop, I think you ought to get more than 50%.

Craig Willett:

How do you get them to make changes without making recommendations? That’s an interesting philosophy.

Mark Crockett:

It is the philosophy, and I think it’s really all about agency, and our Agreed Software at its core is we want to increase the agency of mankind at work and in the world. Or in other words, people should be able—whether they are on the front lines or they are in IT or they are in product development, they are the closest ones to the action. They see what works, they see what does not work.

Craig Willett:

Right, and they hear from the people when it doesn’t work.

Mark Crockett:

And they hear from the people when it doesn’t work.

Craig Willett:

And they’re willing to listen.

Mark Crockett:

That’s right.

Craig Willett:

I like that because that really breaks it right down to some core principles that I really believe in and that is get close to that feedback from your customers. How do you get from being—because they’re not the ones hiring you, you’re being hired by people who oversee them so do you get to them?

Mark Crockett:

Well, here’s another illustration of that. Part of it was, we did this whole thing in 2011 and ’12 with Bank of America when they were really in a bad spot. They had at the time, I think 255,000 employees. We went through the entire company in two segments and we only took 14 consultants with us to turn the whole company around. We did that by engaging all the people across the organization, the different leaders, we pulled people out from inside the company who had some sort of context but not enough to actually know the answer.

Then we would bring people and put them together and the simple view version is that you come up with, “What’s not working. Well, what are some ways that we could make it work? Is that going to be hard? Can you put together a business case about that? We’ll help you put together a business case on that. I’m not going to put any of the numbers in. You have to own the numbers.” Who could block the implementation of this?

Craig Willett:

It’s asking the right questions to help them realize the changes that need to be made, so they’re buying in because it’s their idea.

Mark Crockett:

It’s their idea. It has to be their idea, not just at the high level but all the way down way in the detail. So let’s say—

Craig Willett:

How do you get that? Because usually there’s friction at that level. “Well, my boss wants me to do it so I don’t,” just by the nature of that. Did you run into that or am I daydreaming that that doesn’t happen, perhaps?

Mark Crockett:

Well, it does happen for sure. But there’s a process and a software and it’s basically the same software except that we’re making it cooler now. The same software that we’ve been working on for a long time. This is our sixth build of this software. What it does is you have all of these things that aren’t working.

“Okay, how could we fix them, how can we engage with people and have a software that documents it all?” If we take them through that process, it actually changes the way people think and it makes it easy for them to get stuff done.

Craig Willett:

You said you made it cooler, because to me if I’m sitting there at a desk and I get this software that I have to fill out, it seems like, “Oh no, reports and accountability.” I just like to show up to work and do my thing within the general parameters that are given me. How do I buy into this and how do I interact with it without that becoming a burden?

Mark Crockett:

Well, let me just see if I can think of a really good example. All right, here’s one. We were working with a company up in the midwest and they do all of the inventory counting in the middle of the night at Targets and Old Navy. One of the ideas that somebody came up with was, “We keep going to this bus stop. We get in this van and then we go someplace and then we do our thing and then we come back. It’s just such a slug because I’d rather just go home. Then by the way, why do you want to own vans? Why do you want to have liability in the middle of the night when you’re driving around with all these people? Why don’t we just switch so that everybody can go from their home on Uber and meet at the Old Navy?

Craig Willett:

Wow.

Mark Crockett:

No, that’s—everybody was happier and—

Craig Willett:

You didn’t have to have conversations with people in the middle of the night they didn’t want to.

Mark Crockett:

They didn’t have to do that and they actually got there more often on time.

Craig Willett:

Wow. Interesting.

Mark Crockett:

It was cheaper.

Craig Willett:

How do you get buy-in across different levels then to do that?

Mark Crockett:

Especially if maybe one of the people had a company car, and now they weren’t going to have a company car.

Craig Willett:

Because they’re asked to take Uber instead.

Mark Crockett:

There are just all these little nuances and so—

Craig Willett:

How do you affect that kind of change? Well, I wouldn’t want to give up my company car if I felt I’d earned it.

Mark Crockett:

I know, I know. Well, a lot of them kept their cars because some things matter more than other things to be—

Craig Willett:

Did they drive that instead of the Uber?

Mark Crockett:

It ended up being a mix. We ended up having a mix of vans and cars and Ubers.

Craig Willett:

Okay, interesting solution though.

Mark Crockett:

Yeah.

Craig Willett:

To get buy-in all the way across the board. How are you able to make things cooler nowadays? Because I think if you look at software and how it’s emerged and now there’s artificial intelligence and it anticipates answers and—how are you able to make it cool?

Mark Crockett:

Well, we’re definitely heading that direction all the way. It’d be really nice when somebody is thinking, “How could I actually do this?” And then the right nudge comes and says, “Well, why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do this next? Try this. Why don’t you go call this person? This person actually would know how to help you.”

Craig Willett:

That comes from consultants or that comes from the software knowledge?

Mark Crockett:

That comes from the software knowledge about what people are actually interacting. Inside companies, there are all of these positions and roles and—

Craig Willett:

Structure.

Mark Crockett:

—structure, and they work within the software to get an idea, syndicate it, get people to—in five different stages—move from, “Hey, I have an idea,” to, “We’re now ready to completely implement this.”

Craig Willett:

It allows you to jump across some borders that otherwise might seem taboo at some points in certain organizations.

Mark Crockett:

Yeah, I think that’s true. It’s an adjustment. People like to be decision-makers. But I think what we’ve really actually learned is executives love it when everything that they need to know is served up on a plate and they just say, “Gee, that looks great.”

Craig Willett:

Yeah, why not do it?

Mark Crockett:

Everybody has said yes. The business case. That’s the right validator. Actually she knows those numbers. He doesn’t know that number. You got to go back. When they have that level of information and they can make decisions every two minutes or less, it’s really fun for them.

Craig Willett:

Now, how are you making this adaptation from larger organizations to smaller organizations?

Mark Crockett:

We are about to launch with a land and expand program where it’s $10 a month per person and you can just go and try it. There’ll be nudges in there to say, “Well, have you talked to your boss yet? These are the things that you might want to ask. Here’s how the interaction should go so that you know you’re going to have a good conversation.”

Craig Willett:

Somebody could go to their boss or the owner of a smaller business and say, “Sometimes we’re not able to get the changes that maybe we need to make. Here’s a way that maybe we can all agree on solutions. Do you mind if we pay the—there’s five of us—the $50 a month and give this a shot?”

Mark Crockett:

Yeah, and we’re going to let them try it before they buy it as well.

Craig Willett:

Really?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah.

Craig Willett:

Tell me a little bit about that. That’s an interesting concept.

Mark Crockett:

Well people don’t actually generally know this process. It’s been around for 20, 30 years but most people on the front lines, they don’t know this process. We can say, “Hey, these good things are going to happen to you if you try it.” But it’s a lot better if they actually just try it. We can give them two, three months to get a whole bunch of things done.

Craig Willett:

They get a chance to say, “Hey, does this work for us?”

Mark Crockett:

Yeah. We’d love to have them not have any obligation to get all the way through to have a few things that are actually approved.

Craig Willett:

And starting to work for—

Mark Crockett:

Starting to work and then they’re going to tell everybody, this will be how we do what works.

Craig Willett:

Boy, that’s almost better than a testimonial. You don’t have to believe somebody else. You can try it yourself and if it works—

Mark Crockett:

Definitely.

Craig Willett:

It’s better than a money-back guarantee, because you haven’t spent anything yet.

Mark Crockett:

Sure.

Craig Willett:

I like that. How do you define success? You talked about a business that you bought and then you jumped back in and you seem to be an expert at being able to help people ask the right questions. You’ve designed some software to help people ask the right questions to get buy-in in an organization to make and effect change that makes a company probably more profitable, but also in return, more responsive to their customers. How do you define success at the end of the day when you go home, as a management consultant or as the owner of Agreed Software? What is success in your mind?

Mark Crockett:

Well, success for me is that somebody feels empowered that they can actually go get something done. That’s my “why.” A lot of people don’t feel like they can do that. Whether—

Craig Willett:

You’re taking an employee out of the drone or drudgery frame of mind and saying, “Hey, you can make a difference in your company and we’re going to help you with some tools.”

Mark Crockett:

Yeah, and if we go all the way through some of the things that haven’t really worked before, there are biases, there are different experiences that people have had, some have been rewarded disproportionately because there isn’t actually a way to measure. And people have felt like, “Nobody listens to me.” Because there’s no way to have that conversation. If we—

Craig Willett:

They become discouraged.

Mark Crockett:

Right.

Craig Willett:

Just start doing the job at a routine. This as an employer, if you’re an employer, you would want this because this empowers your employees.

Mark Crockett:

And even more importantly, maybe if I feel empowered at work, I won’t go home and kick the dog. Because that’s what really—

Craig Willett:

It’s a life change.

Mark Crockett:

It needs to be a life change. We need to have a different way of working and a different way of interacting with each other. There are so many things going on in the world right now where things are up in the air. This is the perfect time for us to reset. We want people to feel totally empowered at work and at home and in the world to go through this process at a big level or at a teeny level to say, “I can get something done. I can reach out to other people and know that they will help me get something done.”

Craig Willett:

I remember one of my children working for a company and he was feeling—they’d always give him a ton of tasks and he would do it and then they would say, “You could get a promotion when you can do this.” And he’d master that. Then the promotion never came and it never came. He finally decided to make a career jump and he switched to another organization who—his whole outlook on life, his personal happiness and satisfaction, they value him.

The person that’s not even his boss but the supervisor over his boss calls him and just, “Hey, what are you thinking and what can we do? How do you feel about these things?” And all of a sudden he feels like somebody values what he can do. It makes all the difference in the world in his comportment and his happiness.

Mark Crockett:

People want to be paid but they really want to do something real and to be rewarded for it. Now we’ll be able to actually know who is delivering, who is actually interacting in a good way or a bad way, and how to guide them so that they are actually productive. Then people are going to say, “All right, I’m working in a place that may or may not be paying me exactly what I want, but I love what I do.”

Craig Willett:

How do you measure that then? That’s your “why,” that motivates you and that’s your measure of success that people are able to feel that way, but how do you measure that?

Mark Crockett:

Well, it’s actually not going to be that hard.

Craig Willett:

Okay.

Mark Crockett:

Because when somebody comes up with an idea, okay, what’s the promoter score for the people who said, “Okay, I am going to come and help you.” Okay, that’s one piece. Did I get the number right? Did the number end up being right? In any business case, there are like 16 different numbers, so who are getting the numbers right? When people are getting them wrong, how can we guide them to say, “Hey, you failed on this thing and this is why, and now this is what you should be coached on.” And—

Craig Willett:

It’s almost self-improvement at work.

Mark Crockett:

This is exactly what we want it to be.

Craig Willett:

Wow.

Mark Crockett:

Personal tutorial all the time at work.

Craig Willett:

Wow. When you see that work and you shared some experiences where you saw that happen, where people were riding a van and they were very dissatisfied, “I have to go meet.” Then somebody is always late so the van’s waiting for the person that’s late because they slept in, and then it causes discord. That creates some emotional reward that you take with you. Is that what drives you, that emotional satisfaction to see lives changed, where people are happier to work?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah. If this is not what we become, then I will be very disappointed.

Craig Willett:

Okay. Well, that leads me to another question. What led you to the idea to go do this on your own?

Mark Crockett:

Well we’ve been working on this as consultants for about 20 years. It is—I guess a little context, I won’t tell too much but over 70 clients, we have always gotten between 90 and 110% actually implemented.

Craig Willett:

Wow. That’s a pretty good track record.

Mark Crockett:

It’s a pretty good track record.

Craig Willett:

Okay, when you say as consultants, this is a broad term. This is your team of consultants.

Mark Crockett:

That was. Now, the difference between our last version as consultants and now as software is bridging that gap where we bake in all the things that the consultants would have guided and do it much more personally.

Craig Willett:

This could be done with, or without consultants.

Mark Crockett:

I believe we’re going to have consultants who are using this all the time.

Craig Willett:

Okay.

Mark Crockett:

Great, and we’re going to bake all the things that consultants have ever done and do and bake it in and make it more and more personal so that we all become consultants. We all have that capability built in to ourselves. That’s going to take us awhile.

Craig Willett:

Back to the small business case then, or the small business model. Most small business owners don’t feel like they can hire a consultant to do that. That seems out of the budget, they’re plowing everything they can back into their product research or development or inventory or whatever it is that drives their—advertising—whatever drives their sales and their customer satisfaction. They don’t have the time or the ability, so as that’s baked in, is this something that a small business can rely on without a real expensive consultancy agreement?

Mark Crockett:

Absolutely. Thank you for pointing that out exactly. Because if it’s $10 or $20 a month per user, a small business, that’s not a lot of money. It’s not even that much money if it’s 300,000 people. But it’s providing the tools, it’s providing the nudges, it’s providing the wherewithal to go get things done. If they need solving, because sometimes there are really thorny problems, well then this is a good platform for consultants too.

Craig Willett:

Why would I adopt this? Maybe I’m a little bit older and I don’t want a piece of software making decisions for me or nudging me. How is it so smart to be able to ask me some good questions?

Mark Crockett:

This is going to take us a lot of years to get that right. It will take a lot of years.

Craig Willett:

But there’s some basics that are there already.

Mark Crockett:

The basics are already there about how to go through the process and how to get everybody to agree. The basic problem that we see that is ubiquitous is, “Hey, we can all talk about things, but coming to an actual agreement has generally been hard,” and we make that easy.

Craig Willett:

It doesn’t really matter what you’re nudging them to do so long as you’re nudging them to agree on solutions that people can agree across the board?

Mark Crockett:

Right. Because if anybody could say no, well then that means that you don’t actually have an agreement.

Craig Willett:

No, you don’t because somebody starts implementing it. They get three-quarters of the way done. You’ve invested time and effort. Then the person that wants to say no finally sees it and says, “We’re not doing that.” Then everybody’s morale drops and you’ve spent money and it’s wasted.

Mark Crockett:

That’s where we go back to McKinsey and the beef from back then was, and the 50%, is because they’re still making the recommendations instead of each person saying, “I vouch for this number.”

Craig Willett:

It doesn’t really matter what it’s asking me to do so long as it’s asking me to cooperate and we agree on an objective that’s going to benefit the company and his customers.

Mark Crockett:

We are all so aligned that we won’t actually fail.

Craig Willett:

It doesn’t matter that it’s helping me make decisions so long as it’s helping me come to agreement within the organization on a plan of action and allowing that plan to work and measure it.

Mark Crockett:

Yes, and then to be able to do that at scale.

Craig Willett:

That’s really interesting. I like that better than it asking me too many questions because I’m might go, “Hey.”

Mark Crockett:

No—

Craig Willett:

But we can come to an agreement. I like your premise that if we can all agree, it’s not going to get tripped up and we’re all working toward the same objective. I think there’s a lot of organizations that I know including some that I’ve owned where that would have been really beneficial along the way.

Mark Crockett:

I understand.

Craig Willett:

Because it lets you see where their hang-ups are and you can work on those. I like that. What’s the greatest unexpected challenge you had in starting a business? I think you told us about your one in the grocery stores, the tax preparation company, but what about this time around? What was the biggest unexpected thing going from being an employee working for one of the top management consulting firms in the country, certainly in the country if not the world, to now being a business owner and wearing a business owner’s hat? What was unexpected about your day-to-day life or challenges that you didn’t think you’d face?

Mark Crockett:

It’s a really great question. A few come to mind, but I’d say that the most difficult thing that it has been for me is—and I think this is true for a lot of people who have lived in an organization and they think that they know how it works and then I’m going to go replicate it in some other version. I just continually thought I knew the answer.

I’ve been working on this for five prior iterations. I’ve been working on this for 20 years and it’s just so hard to let go of what I thought I knew because now when we’re trying to make it so collaborative, a whole lot of things have to change in the way we think about just the basic structures and how to engage and therefore what team I need. I’ve stubbed my toe a few times.

Craig Willett:

Well, yeah I would imagine we all do when we’re taking on something, but it’s interesting to make that move and jump into business, but it’s how we respond to those challenges. So it sounds to me like you’re trying to get the right team together. Because for you to build this, you have to almost use your own software.

Mark Crockett:

We do. And also to understand in this COVID time. We thought we were going to go off with all these enterprise things and we were going to go to all these big companies and lo and behold last fall, nobody wanted to buy an enterprise software that they hadn’t already used. There’s no market for that

Craig Willett:

No, there’s no ability to train and orient.

Mark Crockett:

I am so glad that that happened to us.

Craig Willett:

Really? It seemed like a lot of people would just go, “Well, bad timing.”

Mark Crockett:

Well, we probably would not have changed our whole reason enough if we had kept on selling the software the way we used to sell it. And instead now—$10 per month, anybody pick it up. Okay, that means that we have to be much closer to the actual user and I think it will make all the difference.

Craig Willett:

And much closer to the actual problem and I think that’s where the greatest change has come. I was going to ask you, did you use a business plan and you answered the question a little bit.

Mark Crockett:

Yeah, and then—

Craig Willett:

You had this enterprise and you have to take a different approach. It’s not very close. But I like that because if you still believe in it and your product or your service makes a difference for people, then you can adapt. I’ve always said this, business plan is an idea and it’s a plan of action, but you learn things along the way and you need to adapt it. It’s not something that’s set in stone.

Mark Crockett:

Sometimes it’s big, huge stones that we need to crunch and sometimes I would say two or three times every other day. “No, that’s not how we should do that, this is how we should do that.”

Craig Willett:

Okay.

Mark Crockett:

Every other day we’re having like, “Yes, this will be easier.”

Craig Willett:

Wow. That’s great. It means you’re spending a lot of time really caring about what happens in the business. What advice would you give someone who’s been thinking about—maybe somebody in your shoes who’s worked for an organization a good part of his life, feels like his or her life and knows what they should do or can do better than what they’ve been experiencing. What advice would you give them about starting a business?

Mark Crockett:

That it’s worth trying because you end up with a different person in yourself.

Craig Willett:

Interesting.

Mark Crockett:

Because even if it doesn’t work out quite the way you wanted, it sets you up for so many interesting experiences and people are very generous I have found. Okay, so you failed once, you failed twice so that means you’re probably about ready to do it well on your third try. I think it’s worth failing a couple of times.

Craig Willett:

Interesting. I like that. And I don’t think we should fear the failure either. I think just jump in and to give it a try especially if you have some industry knowledge, contacts, it’s not that you’re without contacts and resources.

Mark Crockett:

It’s good to have the right people around you and it’s good to have something that people already care about.

Craig Willett:

Well, and that leads to the next thing because starting a business sometimes—especially a software business is going to take some money and some businesses that are totally service-oriented don’t take as much money up-front. The last time you did one, you put some money in, but didn’t expand it big time, you took on venture capital money. How did you finance it this time around?

Mark Crockett:

It’s been all friends and family so far.

Craig Willett:

Your personal investment and then friends and family. I love that. I think one of the keys to business success is when you’ve put it on the line and you go to people who believe in you, they’re a little more understanding as the plan develops versus being unrealistic. I think your first time around that growth trajectory might’ve been unrealistic and that was not imposed. That was not your dream. That was the dream of the investor, right?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah. That was true.

Craig Willett:

I think that’s something key to think about as wanting to start your business, that you’re careful—the type of money and what expectations are placed with that money. But what does it do with knowing that you have your friends’ and your family’s money on the line too though?

Mark Crockett:

Well, let’s just say that my incredible and knowledgeable father, he asks a lot of questions and they’re really good and all the other people that are around us. It’s nice to know that somebody is on your side, that they’re aligned with you and what we’re trying consciously is to find a lot of friends who have specific knowledge that we aren’t quite as knowledgeable about. Getting really great advisors. People who have seen and done before and try to help us be a little smarter than we otherwise would be.

Craig Willett:

I think that’s great. That’s a great philosophy and I think that’s one of the keys to success. Because you’re going to have to attract a lot of talent to hit these ambitious goals that you have. It’s nice that you’re able to do it with employees, but it’s also nice you’re able to do it with key advisors or with those who are helping you fund your business. Where they’re not necessarily making the decisions but they have ideas.

Mark Crockett:

They do.

Craig Willett:

Or at least they ask the right questions, which is your way of having an idea.

Mark Crockett:

Fair enough.

Craig Willett:

Well, how do you create a culture in the workplace that is consistent with what your software is trying to do?

Mark Crockett:

It’s probably—give people tools and let them act for themselves.

Craig Willett:

Easy to say, hard to do.

Mark Crockett:

It is. Especially because some of us have more context than others. What I’m trying to learn how to do better is to say, “Here is what we’re trying to do at a big level.” This is a flow that needs to work within this context. Here are some of the things that we know don’t work. We’ve tried. But we still need to get to this spot. How can you help us get to this spot in a simpler, easier, friendlier way?

Craig Willett:

You take your experience, you share that, but you allow them to come up with a solution, but not make the same mistake that you’ve made twice.

Mark Crockett:

Or four times.

Craig Willett:

Okay, what else do you do to engender that cooperation at work? Because this is unusual. Usually we see top-heavy management or management with the ideas and they send the directions down and it tends to be task-oriented task flow and you’re turning that on its ear and you’re saying, “Hey, the people closest to the customer should be the ones to come up with the ideas and we should listen as it goes up as this distills into a solution that benefits everyone.

Mark Crockett:

I’d say that in companies, that’s what we want and in our company, there are a bunch of things that we have learned what does work and doesn’t work. Well, there are millions of things that we haven’t yet, but there are some frameworks, some principles that we know and we’ve tried for a long time. We start with that framework.

These are the things that we know, these are the things that we don’t know and within organizations, I think that’s what we would hope for as well. That we provide them a framework to say, “Okay, what are the things that we know? What do we not know and who do we need to involve so that people will say, “Yes,” and go along. Is that responsive?

Craig Willett:

Yeah, I think so. I think that is responsive. The other thing I can’t help, but think about when you had this high level of success—at 90% plus success rate in your consulting engagement so to speak, how do you take that success and in the process of doing that, were there ever solutions that companies came up with that you didn’t think would work, but surprised you?

Mark Crockett:

I should say yes, but after a while it just stopped being surprising.

Craig Willett:

Really?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah. Well—

Craig Willett:

Because you take the philosophy of, I’m not there to say what I would do. I’m there to ask the right questions to see what’s right for the organization to do?

Mark Crockett:

Well, in our largest example, we’ve worked with companies that were $40 million in revenue and billions and billions, and our biggest example, they literally green-lit 230,000 separate ideas.

Craig Willett:

Wow. That’s a lot.

Mark Crockett:

That’s a lot.

Craig Willett:

They were all successful?

Mark Crockett:

Well, they got much more than they thought that they were going to get on a value basis.

Craig Willett:

That seems overwhelming to me as a—

Mark Crockett

Well, they also had 255,000 employees, so it’s a little bit less than one idea per person. Okay.

Craig Willett:

That’s interesting. I guess from you as an outsider to be able to say, “I know what’s best.” You look and see and allow them to have that flexibility.

Mark Crockett:

But you think of any organization, whether big or small, and let’s say you have five people that are working on some things together, what are the odds that within a year, that those five people aren’t going to come up with five things to make it better? And then it’s just scale. That’s the process of going through it, getting everybody to agree, making sure that the numbers are correct. Okay, five people, that five people exists in any organization, large or small.

Craig Willett:

That’s true. I like that idea. I really like what you’ve done. I’m curious of all—and you’ve admitted to making mistakes and learning from errors and I think that’s important as you build an organization or a company to understand that you’re not always going to get it right. What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?

Mark Crockett:

Well, the list is long.

Craig Willett:

Well, they all can’t be the greatest.

Mark Crockett:

The greatest failure. I don’t know if this is the greatest failure in business for me, but I suppose it might’ve been the tax one, in that we may have given up too soon.

Craig Willett:

Really?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah, maybe so.

Craig Willett:

What makes you believe that maybe you gave up too early.

Mark Crockett:

Well it wasn’t the wrong answer. We sold it to H and R block. We got all of our money back.

Craig Willett:

Okay, so it somewhat worked.

Mark Crockett:

Well, yeah but then they shut it down.

Craig Willett:

Really?

Mark Crockett:

They were just trying to make competitors go away.

Craig Willett:

Okay. Because I’ve seen them locate right next to grocery stores.

Mark Crockett:

Which is probably—except that it did actually work inside the store because you only needed to be there for two months and then you could go, so it was cheaper.

Craig Willett:

Interesting.

Mark Crockett:

But I don’t know. If we hadn’t run out of money—And so maybe we should have tried a little harder. Bootstrap it a little bit more.

Craig Willett:

So the lesson learned is this time don’t give up so easily?

Mark Crockett:

Yeah, and this one matters a lot more to me so I think we’re going to be in it for a while.

Craig Willett:

Let’s talk about that because I really take that this is really a mission-driven experience for you. This is something that you really believe in and you really want to make a difference to as many lives as you can. Where does that come from?

Most people would sit here—a lot of people would say, “Hey, if you’re interviewing somebody about starting a business, they’re going to talk about their exit, how much money they put in it, what return they’re going to get for their investors.” You’re after something different I take it, so help me understand what that is and what motivates that?

Mark Crockett:

All right. Fair questions. Fair questions and I guess I should start at the beginning. When we started this effort, we said we were going to turn this whole thing over to the Lord and I don’t know if that means anything to other people and I don’t need it to mean that but it means that we’re not in this for the money. It’s going to generate billions of dollars, but it’s not why we’re here.

We’re here because people need to feel like they are agents unto themselves in the world. That they can go out and find friends and have a way to actually interact and go get cool stuff done and if they do that, they’re just going to be happier. And they’re going to find even more interesting things to go do because they now know how to do it.

Craig Willett:

Wow, so you’re allowing—I love this and I think we started with this and I’m glad we end with it too, but it’s really interesting that you allow people to all of a sudden find that they have talents, abilities, and they just need to tweak a little bit and other people care about what they think and that my idea really made a difference.

Mark Crockett:

I can be recognized.

Craig Willett:

All of a sudden, I don’t feel like nobody cares about me.

Mark Crockett:

There’s also this other little interesting thing that goes on which is, people have labels put on themselves by others and by ourselves.

Craig Willett:

We do it to ourselves all the time.

Mark Crockett:

We do it all the time and if we could just start peeling these off, and if you think of diversity in the workplace—okay, now nobody’s going to know, all of that data will be split apart and they’ll know exactly who did, but they don’t know whether or not this person is black, white or yellow.

Craig Willett:

That’s interesting.

Mark Crockett:

We want people to all be able to access the same experience.

Craig Willett:

Well, I’m glad I interviewed you today because I’ve been toying with the thought my whole life of, “Why did I own a business and have employees when I feel like being an employee can be like being a slave.” And you now take that to empower it in a way I’ve never really ever envisioned. I’ve tried to give people realm of authority and freedom to operate and come up with their ideas and use their talents and abilities and try to recognize that.

But I have to admit I’m not necessarily the best at it, but I like your philosophy. And if you have something that helps do that, then you take away my whole idea because there’s days I want to go on my podcast and say, “Why do you even have a job? Why work for somebody else?” But I realize that doesn’t work either because companies need good employees.

Mark Crockett:

They do.

Craig Willett:

As well. But they need to recognize them and they need to empower them. Is there a reason why it’s Agreed and not Empower?

Mark Crockett:

Well, I’ll tell you a slightly different word instead of “empower.”

Craig Willett:

Okay.

Mark Crockett:

When we were still trapped in our own old mindset—and it’s hard to break out of those. I still struggle. But our name actually right now, our legal name is still Decide Software. Could there be anything more antithetical to our mission than that name. We thought we were going to be doing a decision-making thing. You can all make decisions.

And we sat one day and had the biggest laughing fest that I had experienced in my whole life. We just laughed and we laughed and we laughed like, “This is exactly the opposite of everything we want to do. We don’t want to make decisions for you. We want you to come to agreements.” And so I cheated a little bit by sidestepping, but I think it’s really about coming to agreements.

Craig Willett:

No, but I think that’s really what it’s all about. If we can agree on a solution and work toward the common solution, then we’re working together, not against each other. But when we have decisions made, sometimes we’re asked to buy-in on the decision, that’s different than having an initiate from you.

Mark Crockett:

That is the nemesis of all of these consultants and the work that people do. It’s always somebody who wasn’t consulted or who felt pressured or they changed the number after he signed off the name. It has to all go in sequence and what we really need to know that is going to work, is that all of those stakeholders say, “Yes.”

Craig Willett:

Before moving on.

Mark Crockett:

Before moving on, otherwise they can always back out.

Craig Willett:

Great. Well, I’m excited to follow this and see where it goes. What a great concept. But it’s a concept that goes beyond just dollars and cents and you’re right. It can be a huge number in business, but those only happen when you’re really making a difference and people are benefiting from your product, your service and your ideas. I’m anxious to see because this has the ability to change a lot of workplaces, large and small.

Mark Crockett:

It really has.

Craig Willett:

That’s an ambitious endeavor so I wish you well in that.

Mark Crockett:

Well, thank you.

Craig Willett:

I really appreciate you taking the time today. I’m honored.

Mark Crockett:

It was great fun. Thank you.

Craig Willett:

It was good to have you here and I appreciate your candid nature to be able to be open about your prior experiences and your career experiences and the successes that you’ve experienced. And based on your track record, if you had 90 to 110% achievement in the areas that you’re responsible for, I look for great things from Agreed Software.

Mark Crockett:

Maybe so.

Craig Willett:

Let’s hope. This is Craig Willett, The Biz Sherpa. Thanks for joining me today in the Sherpa’s Cave with Mark Crockett. I think—we’ll put a link to his website. I think you’ll like to go see some of the cool things that he’s doing.

Speaker 1:

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