Travis Peters | Crain's Austin

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Travis Peters

Background:  

Ranksharks is a full service, digital marketing agency serving small to medium sized businesses. With offices in Austin and Los Angeles, the company has worked with over 3,000 businesses across the nation.

The Mistake:

I stepped away from the company at an early stage.

In the second year that Ranksharks was in business, we had doubled our growth from our first year when we had hit a bit more than $2 million in gross profits and were doing really well. We had a 30 to 35-person team and had scaled really quickly with a solid management team in place. Everything was running smoothly and I felt my role was beginning to get smaller. The company was running itself and it felt like everything would continue to go that way.

I was young, and a distracted entrepreneur. I had a million and one different ideas of what I wanted to do. And here I finally had a little cash to make my ideas come to fruition so I started two other companies that took much of my focus away from Ranksharks. I started to rely more on management and my team and coming to work two times a week. I eventually felt really separated from my own company, and after one year of that, I felt like I didn’t know my own employees. This caused a ton of problems.

I ended up selling one of those other companies in about a year and starting coming back to the office more. I realized that revenue was back down to year one levels. All that growth was completely reversed and we were back to square one. We also had some issues with some of the employees and in general, there was a very low morale. The general consensus among them was that the company was terrible and no one liked working here. By the third year, we had lost three-fourths of the staff in a matter of three to four months. Most of them weren’t good exits, and I blame myself for letting morale get to that point. Once you have a few people that think the company is terrible, the energy spreads really quickly.

We also lost customers. Sales and client retention were down. Nobody was as interested as the first or second year when I was in there every day, part of the team meetings and focused on the culture and employees. They really gave back and wanted to grow the company with me. It wasn’t me against them, or vice versa. It was everybody working toward one goal.

But all that changed really quickly when they saw less of me. Also, I think I was a bit too transparent with my success with the other ventures and some of them had a little bit of anger toward that, I think. Here was a bunch of people working hard toward something and see me lose interest and focus on being successful at doing something else.

I felt like I didn’t know my own employees. This caused a ton of problems.

The Lesson:

At first I ignored it and blamed the employees and thought they must all be wrong and out to get me. But then I came to the conclusion that I needed to change something, and that was me. Once I did that, in our third year of business, then things got better again.

I sold both of the other companies. We had lost some of our staff and then we let go of some others. I wanted to get rid of all that negative energy. We set about re-hiring with an employee-centered focus, and looking for people who wanted to grow with our team. I created more of a work-life balance. So many employees weren’t happy because they were working a lot and not able to even take vacations.

So I created unlimited time off with paid vacations and added really good health insurance plans. I made the offices really employee-focused. We do yoga once a week, meditation every day, and have unlimited soft drinks, beer, wine, snacks and chips in the office at all times. In Austin, we have a full kitchen because we want people to feel at home and comfortable.

I've also made an effort to be more present and get more involved with meetings. I’m letting everyone know I’m here with them, helping the company get to the next level. We discuss issues and concerns in our daily meetings.

As a result of all these changes, we’re back to growing and I expect we’ll do about $5 million in revenue this year – which is pretty much double what we did right before all this happened. The energy is better, morale is back and we’re getting very positive feedback. The company has done a complete 180 from where it was three years ago. We learned a major lesson that could have put us out of business, but thankfully, did not.

 

Follow RankSharks on Twitter at @RankSharks.

Pictured is Travis Peters. | Photo courtesy of RankSharks. 

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