Episode 125: Business Growth Strategies: On Leadership, Hiring, And Culture With Dan McGaw
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Part of growing a business is knowing when to hand over the reins, especially when letting go of a leadership position. You have to know how to transition out of your business and to do it properly. This episode’s guest is an expert in this, having done it multiple times as he moves from one business to another. Award-winning entrepreneur and speaker Dan McGaw joins Brett Gilliland to share with us the lessons that stood out to him in his career on growing a business beyond the expertise and experience of a founder. He dives deep into the importance of consistency, properly delegating roles to your people, and having observable indicators to measure someone on, especially when hiring. What is more, Dan also shares with us how he further helps companies with McGaw.io, an analytics and marketing technology consultancy, and SaaS platform, UTM.io.
I’m thrilled to be able to introduce you to Dan McGaw. Dan is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, and CEO of McGaw.io, which is an analytics and marketing technology consultancy. He also runs a SaaS platform called UTM.io. I’ll have him explain both of those things. Before I do, I want to share that Dan has been a mentor. He’s in the 500 Startups Mentor program. He lives and operates out of Orlando. He’s got a couple of awesome French bulldogs, three sons, and an amazing wife in Orlando, Florida. Dan, welcome to our show. Please, tell us a little bit about your businesses. I want to hear about McGaw and UTM. Give our audience a feel for who you are and what you’re doing.
Thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to being able to do this. I’m a born entrepreneur. I’ve been starting companies since the ripe age of thirteen. I naturally am always trying to start other companies. I am the CEO of McGaw.io, which is a revenue infrastructure and marketing infrastructure consulting company where we help companies choose tools, integrate tools, operate those tools, and then ultimately grow their business and leverage their tech stack. On the flip side of that, one of the things that we get an opportunity to see at McGaw.io is a lot of analytical problems and problems customers face. We tend to create products to help solve those problems they have.
When we started this company seven years ago, quickly after that, we notice that a lot of companies have a hard time using UTMs to track their campaigns, especially when they’re on a large team. We built another product, which at the time earlier is called the Effin Amazing UTM Builder. However, it was rebranded to UTM.io about four years ago. Now, that’s its own brand where it helps companies ultimately create campaign tracking codes at scale across hundreds of users, and then effectively make their campaign links for tracking all their campaigns. Our customers over there are big multibillion-dollar and multinational companies. We do have an amazing free product so anybody can use it. That being said, our ideal customer profile is typically a large multinational company or has many different locations, even franchises and cases like that fit into that mold.
None in our audience are going to fit into the large multinational companies, but some of them might be in the multilocation spot that you talked about. Whether or not they are an ideal fit for anything that you do, we appreciate you taking the time to be here with us because you have a lot of growth lessons that all of them can benefit from. Our goal is to figure out how we share some of the amazing experiences you’ve had in twenty years plus in this space in the twenty-plus minutes that we had together. That’s the trick.
Thinking back to some of the companies that you’ve grown past that million-dollar mark especially if you’ve grown them to the multimillion-dollar stage and even the eight figures, what are some of the things that stand out to you as lessons you had to learn about growing a business beyond the expertise or the experience of you as the founder. There’s a transition there that a lot of business owners have to make. It sounds like you’ve done this multiple times. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as you’ve made that transition?
It’s a hard time to transition yourself out of the business especially when you’re an operator like myself. The thing that you always struggle with as an entrepreneur and as a CEO is you’re focused mainly on consistency. You’re trying to be consistent with things to grow the business. The biggest thing you have to worry about as you start to hand those reins off to other people is how do you make sure that that consistency or quality of play is also kept up with. The biggest thing about making that process successful when you’re trying to leave the company is giving people good job descriptions, making sure that people understand what their objectives are, as well as giving them proper training.
If you are trying to migrate yourself out of the company and replace yourself, you got to make sure that you understand what your job description is, and then how are you going to separate that job description into multiple roles, and then how are you going to give them the appropriate observable indicators, which are typically the metrics that you’re going to measure people on. At the end of the day, if you can’t measure people, you can’t manage them. If you don’t have metrics at which they know what they’re trying to accomplish, then you have no proper way to manage them. Where a lot of CEOs and a lot of founders go wrong is they hire people and then they’re like, “I’ll give them feedback.” The problem is you can give them feedback, then it becomes a pissing match of you versus them.
That’s not a good healthy conversation to have. Going back to the metrics and the observable indicators, it makes it so it’s no longer me versus you or my opinion versus your opinion. We’re either hitting our goals or we’re not. You want something separate from those two to make sure that you can push on those people. If you are trying to graduate from your business and become a chairman or a founder of a company compared to the CEO, you’ve got to have the proper ways to manage people. Usually, that comes down to the metrics.
Even if you’re not trying to get out of the company, a lot of business owners struggle to fully move into a CEO seat because they’re holding off onto too many of the day-to-day things that have to get done. I love what you’re saying. Let’s talk a little bit more about those metrics for people. If you hire somebody in to do a job and you hire them based on a job title and a laundry list of responsibilities, that’s not enough clarity for them to own something and know if they’re doing it. I love the concept you’re bringing up. Is there a way to get a little more practical with maybe an example or things you’ve learned about getting clarity with people on those roles, and what ownership you’re giving to someone?
The job description is massively important. A lot of companies fail when they write job descriptions. In our company, one of the things we have to focus on is we hire very experienced marketers and business people that are previously have been a consultant. They’re coming in to give other CEOs or CMOs advice and tips on how to run their businesses. The only way to be able to do that effectively is to have a good job description. Their job description tells you what the required skills you need to have for the role, what responsibilities, as well as what the benefits are. In every one of our job descriptions, there is a long job description written out which explains what success looks like for your first six months.
What are you going to do in your first 30 days? What are you going to do in your first 90? What are you going to do in your first six months? What this does is forces the person who is hiring to make sure they have a plan for that person. That’s usually what screws all this up. We just hire somebody because we have a need, but we never think about what it is going to take to make them successful. What are the metrics they’re going to need to do to make them successful? If they’re successful, how do they make me successful?What screws growth is that we just hire somebody because we have a need. We never think about what it is going to take to make them successful. Click To Tweet
That job description is critical. Most people wing it. You should have their first 6 months, first 30, first 90, and first 180 written out. That way, you can onboard them appropriately, but also make sure in that job description, you have what their observable indicators are, as well as when they need to hit those observable indicators. There’s a great book by Geoff Smart which is called Who which is all about hiring the top grader process. We took a lot of learnings out of that on our hiring programs. We made a lot of changes from him or his book. It’s important to be aligned before you ever hire somebody because if you wait until after they’re hired and then you try to align, you’re only going to waste money because you’re going to lose a good candidate that should be in a different role.
You said many things in that space, but I want to circle back to the one you said earlier, which is when you don’t have those measurable indicators or observable indicators or metrics or KPIs or whatever you end up calling them, then it is a matter of opinion. We’re going to have maybe differences of opinion about how well the performance is happening. I like to assume most people are good people and they want to do good work. I imagine you see them that way as well. It’s not a matter of whether is this a good person who does good work. It’s the lack of clarity that usually messes all this up.
I love how you’re pushing on the clarity. What would you say to somebody who says, “What do you mean I got to spell it all out for six months? I’m hiring somebody who should know what they need to do. Why do I have to get this much clarity? I’m taking all the autonomy out of it.” How would you respond to somebody thinking that way about the level of specificity that you’re talking about?
This is funny because I’ve learned through failure so much in regard to this. Hiring VPs, “They’re supposed to be VPs. They’re supposed to tell me what to do.” That assumption is pretty flawed. At the end of the day, people don’t know what they’re supposed to do unless you tell them in many cases. There’s a reason why they’re an employee and we’re a CEO or a founder. That’s because, at the end of the day, they’re looking for somebody to help lead them while they can also help lead other people. If you’re not leading them, then it does make it difficult for them to know where they’re going. One thing that I know that we have struggled with here is trying to keep the alignment of our team as we’ve grown.
We’ve been very lucky over the last 90 days. We doubled the team. The 90 days before that, we doubled the team as well. Over the last 120 days, we doubled our revenue on a monthly basis. It can be hard as you’re growing quickly to keep everybody aligned. For 2022, one of my core objectives by the end of the year, I need to have OKRs rolled out for the entire team, so Objectives and Key Results for everybody to understand. I have my OKRs, and then they choose their OKRs that roll up to mine. No matter who you hire, if you don’t have a good job description for them, you don’t have good objectives outlined for them, and they don’t understand what their metrics are, they don’t know where they’re going. It’s similar to driving a car but not being allowed to use your hands and not being allowed to use your eyes.
You have to make sure that you give them direction. Once you give them that direction, autonomy comes from them making their own decisions. You’re not micromanaging them. They need to know where the ditches are. There’s an old Irish phrase, “When you’re drunk and driving, keep it between the ditches.” If you don’t help them understand where the ditches are, they’re never going to be able to understand where they’re headed. You do have to provide them with deep specificity in regard to this stuff. I’m not telling you to write a sixteen-page monologue. Our job description is still able to fit on two and a half pieces of paper. It’s not crazy. However, it gives everybody good clarity. I’ll use my VP of sales as an example.Once you give your people that direction, autonomy comes from them making their own decisions. Click To Tweet
Asa, an amazing VP of sales comes to us from multiple other amazing companies. Asa has a well-written job description. Three months in, Asa was missing some of his observable indicators. We went back to his job description. We sat down and highlighted things in red, which were bad, things in yellow, which were cautious, and things in green, which we felt we accomplished. I was able to say to Asa, “This is where we have to work. This is where we need your attention.” Within a matter of a few weeks, all the things in red had been moved to yellow, and all the things in yellow had been moved to green.
This is one of the reasons why we’re so successful with our sales division here because that job description gave us each a way to align and then have a contract under “This is what we’re all accomplishing.” When it’s not being hit, I have something to point back to and say, “You agreed to this.” I can strike that out or I can emphasize something. It is extremely important. You can’t expect people to guide you. They’re not the founder or CEO. It’s your job to lead them.
Let’s say you have super-capable VPs across every function. Even if they’re leaders who could lead that function on their own, if they’re all going in different directions, that’s not a unified team taking targeted coordinated action. Our job is to set the vision, build the team to go accomplish it, and make sure that we have enough fuel to go make it happen. Those are our main jobs as a leader. Everything you’re saying is spot on in my opinion.
I love that you’re talking about let’s help them be clear about what success looks like. I’ve heard many analogies around this, but the keeping it between the ditches, that’s the first time I’ve heard that one. Whether you give them some borders or some guard guardrails or you tell them where the ditches are, fine. Let them operate between the ditches, but they got to know where the danger lies. More importantly, what success looks like and how we’re going to measure it. Thank you for sharing all that great practical experience about how to keep things clear with team members.
Let’s shift topics for a minute. Something you said has caught my attention. I’m sure it caught others’ attention. Doubling your revenue in the past 120 days. Doubling your team over the last month after month. That’s serious growth. What considerations for you as the business owner are you trying to make sure stay in place or that you stay ahead of to enable that growth? Growth is great but it’s not always easy to handle. It can be painful too. What are some of the things you’re doing to be intentional about keeping up with the growth?
Growth is great but growth also sucks. I will not deny it. I am slightly burnt out right now and I want to take a vacation, but I can’t because we’re growing fast. Growth can be fun but we’re in a service-based business as a consulting company. The number one thing that we are focused on is maintaining quality. To maintain quality, we have to have good training. We have designed a specific training process that enables the leaders of our teams to be able to train their teams, and then their teams to train the people below them. We have a huge emphasis on creating standard operating procedures just around about everything. That’s something that we put into play a year and a half ago.
We use a product called Guru which is a Chrome extension where we have our wiki and our knowledge base. People can search for things directly from that Chrome extension so they can look wherever they are. It has got checklists and everything in it. I have to say training and onboarding are the biggest things because we want to maintain quality. The big difference between us and a lot of our competitors in the space is that we are hyper-vigilant about having it. Every experience you have is the same.
Meanwhile, the problem may be different. I’ll look at one client. We have ServiceTitan, which is a large multibillion-dollar software for the trades. If you’re an HVAC or a plumber or anything, you use that tool to run your business. It’s completely different from another company called ByHeart, which is a baby formula company. They’re making baby formula. However, the experience that they get working with us should be exactly the same. They should have the same hospitality as all of our team members. They should have the same note-taking, project management, and theory in regard to analytics and marketing operations.
That’s something that we have to focus heavily on in our training program. How do we train that? How do we get people into the culture? How do we get people going? Training is a huge part of that. The second part that I’m most worried about is keeping our company culture. Our company mission and our company culture are extremely important. I can say this, we would not be growing at the rate that we are now if it was not for the culture that we created and cultivated a few years ago. Three years ago and before, our culture was crap. We were well respected, but we were not growing at the rate that we needed to. We were not aligned.
Once we set the stake in the ground and chose our mission, chose our culture, and built that into our company process, no longer is it a pissing match between me and somebody else. We can simply say, “That’s not using hospitality to earn trust.” They immediately go, “You’re 100% right. That’s one of our values. We’ve got to change this.” Training and culture go hand in hand. Pete Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is the thing that you have to build into that training program as well.
You’re singing music to my ears right now. You probably haven’t heard my previous episodes with guests, but I’m usually asking the questions to tease out the role of values and culture and stuff like that. You went right to it. It’s fascinating to me that somebody in your seat, somebody with twenty-plus years of experience in lots of growth companies will be at this place and say, “For us to achieve the growth that we have, it comes down to obviously hiring the right people, but onboarding and training them for success and maintaining our culture.” That’s what you said.
You didn’t say anything about getting the next sale or increasing our site traffic. I know all that stuff is important, but to enable growth, you pointed to consistency and delivery that we’re going to do through training and onboarding our people, and making sure we keep this amazing culture we’ve created. That’s pretty powerful for you to share those things unsolicitedly. You said your culture wasn’t great a few years ago. How did you start to make changes? Some people are at a place where you were a few years ago and they’re saying, “We don’t do that well. Maybe I’ll never do that well. Maybe I can’t do that well.” Give them some thoughts about the steps they can take to start doing that.
I read this book called Culture Wins, which was a good book for me to understand how to put these things into play. That book helped me understand the way that other companies use their culture and interwork with their day-to-day operations. That was something that was helpful for me. That book helped me push forward. There were multiple books that I read that helped me better understand what I needed to change about not only myself but as well as about the culture here to make it a successful organization.
There’s the book, Principles, by Ray Dalio. Ray is the most successful hedge fund manager in the world, with $160 billion in assets under management. One of the problems that Ray was running into as he was trying to get people to follow the Bridgewater Associates process is there were no principles. It was Ray’s opinion. You have to change that from this isn’t the CEO’s opinion. This is a part of the company. By creating your values or your company principles, it changes the direction. We have values, which are our top five, and then we have our principles, which are the ones underneath that or the things that we believe in.
The thing that I had to take into focus so much is that we’ve had these values for a long time probably 5 or 6 years, but we didn’t live them in work. I sure as hell did not live them. I was not the most effective leader and manager. I didn’t live by our values. When I’m not living by the company values, it means nobody else is going to. There was some failure that we had that led to me having to look within and be able to say, “I’m the problem here.” I made a mission to fix that. Fortunately, we did. I read a lot of amazing books that helped me get there. Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday. His other book, Stillness is the Key, is also a good book that helped me better understand leadership and things like that around different ways to manage the business.When I'm not living by the company values, it means nobody else is going to. Click To Tweet
I don’t want to tell a company that if you don’t have value, you can’t be successful. If you don’t have a company culture, you can’t be successful. If you don’t have it, you’re going to struggle. I was the Head of Marketing at Kissmetrics, one of the pioneers in marketing analytics. When I got to that company, we had a poster on the wall that said what our company values were. It was not mixed into anything that we did. It was nothing. It was never brought up. It was not into anything. It was just some stupid poster.
The number one reason why Kissmetrics failed was bad culture, bad leadership, and bad teamwork. If all those things would have been fixed, we would still be the number one analytics provider for marketing analytics, but we couldn’t get that right, which meant nobody was doing anything collectively. We’re all running in ten different directions, which is going back to what you had talked about earlier. If you have bad leadership and they’re not setting good metrics, you’re running in all different directions. It doesn’t help anybody.
Nobody can see my shirt but my shirt says, “The best leaders build the best businesses.” “The best businesses win,” is what it says on the back. Do you agree with that statement?
Yeah. I’m still working on my leadership every single day. I was lucky to start a company when I was thirteen years old. That company was somewhat successful. I’ve gone through multiple other companies, but I was never a great leader. I still don’t think I’m a great leader. I don’t know if I ever will think I’m a great leader. My goal is to become a great leader. I’ll never be the one who can say that about myself. Hopefully, other people one day will say that. If you’re not a great leader, you’re not going to build a great business.
I could keep talking to you about this forever but we need to go ahead and wrap it up. Your thoughts about the enabling role of culture that takes it out of the domain or the expertise or the singular responsibility of the leader to maintain a vision or a culture by him or herself, to one of now the business has its own identity. There is a set of values. There is a way of thinking. There is a way of doing and being that is separate from any one individual leader. When you start to make that transition, that’s game-changing. It enables you to do stuff that you couldn’t do otherwise.
I appreciate you sharing your own journey through some of those growth stages as a leader. I love that you said, “It’s not like I’ve arrived as a leader.” It is a journey and you’re working on it now. The best time to plant a shade tree was two years ago, and the next best time is now. You’re working on it now. At some point, you’ll have this great shade tree called leadership and people will find refuge under that shade tree and go, “Isn’t this a great shade tree?” You’ll feel like maybe some of that journey has been worthwhile for you.
I’m planting shade trees everywhere.
You have to because your business is growing fast. Who are going to be the leaders of tomorrow or the next quarter? The ones that you have now need to be grown into that, or you’re going to keep bringing in people from the outside, which puts your culture at risk if you do it too much. How do people learn more about Dan McGaw or McGaw.io? Where do people go to learn about you, connect with you, and do all that stuff?
The best thing I tell people to do is go to LinkedIn and look up Dan McGaw. You’ll find me there. I always have the hiring badge on my profile. I’m most active there. Please, chime into the conversation. I’m always posting something. I’m always trying to engage in something. I’m always happy to answer questions. Always feel free to shoot me a message and do that. If you’re interested in learning more about how to set up your tech stack and how to build your company into the future, go to McGaw.io. You’ll be able to find all the free resources we have on our website to help you out.
You mentioned a book or a resource that people could go to. Why don’t you go ahead and share about that and then we’ll wrap?
I wrote a book called Build Cool Shit. It’s the modern blueprint to building your tech stack for your business so you can grow it. It’s featuring a case study from a couple of clients on how we grew their businesses by rewiring their tech stack. I would love to give everybody a free copy. All you have to do is pull out your cell phone, go to your text messages, and you’re going to text this phone number. It’s (415) 915-9011. Text the word MARTECH to that number and it will collect all of your information. I’ll ship you a free copy directly to your house if you’re in the United States. If you’re not in the United States, we’ll send you a PDF to your inbox.
Thank you for the generous offer for folks. More than the book that you offered to give, I appreciate the insights into your own real and personal journey as you’ve grown amazing companies, including the one that you’re running now. Thanks again for being a guest, Dan.
It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
Please, share, like, review, and do all those things to make sure that all possible seven-figure business owners that you know can check this interview that I had with Dan. We aim to help as many seven-figure business owners as possible receive the ideas and practical experience from our guests that will help them in their own growth journey. We’ll see you next time in the next episode.
- Culture Wins
- Ego Is The Enemy
- Stillness is the Key
- Dan McGaw – LinkedIn
- Build Cool Shit
About Dan McGaw
In addition, Dan also finds time to be a 500 Startups Mentor and has previously started the first business accelerator in Orlando.
He’s also a thought leader in the MarTech world and a CXL instructor on the topic. Having spoken at the leading Marketing conferences and online events, including Traction Conf and Forget The Funnel, his expertise lies in helping businesses extract and interpret the right data to grow their revenue exponentially.
Dan previously served as the Head of Marketing at Kissmetrics and in the past he’s worked as a CMO consultant for a number of high-growth companies, implementing tools, offering support, and analyzing data.
In 2015, Dan was selected to be a United States Ambassador of Entrepreneurship by the United States Department of State, where he had the privilege to advise the government, universities, and private corporations on how to build entrepreneur ecosystems. He even flew out to Mexico to be an entrepreneur ambassador for Tijuana and Mexicali!
Dan lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife, 3 sons and two French Bulldogs. He’s a keen runner and a self-made millionaire who grew up in the ghetto, fought his way out, and is very grateful for the hardships he had in life as it taught him the persistence and grit required to succeed today.
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