Shaun Ritchie | Crain's Utah

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

Shaun Ritchie


Shaun Ritchie is CEO and co-founder of Salt Lake City-based Teem, which offers online "intelligent tools and powerful workplace analytics" to manage "people, places and technology." The company has more than 500 paying customers. Teem is a venture-backed tech startup that numbers Google Ventures, Zetta Venture Partners and Marc Benioff among others as investors. Before Teem, Shaun co-founded Neutron Interactive, an Internet marketing and online lead generation company. He earned his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University, and an MBA at the University of Utah.

The Mistake:

We didn't bring on people who could really execute on the vision we had soon enough.

There's an adage that we talk about in Silicon Valley, where you have to do things that don't scale. I'm very much a proponent of doing things that don't scale first. You've got to figure things out, you know, run analog processes before you automate processes. The mistake really is, we didn't fully understand when to switch from doing things that don't scale into only doing things that scale, and doing only those things that are going to scale.

We didn't really understand or bring on roles like sales operations, like product management processes, and things like dev ops, and even engineering processes until too late, really. I think that actually held us back quite a bit as far as really building our business.

We're able to start approaching our customers or our prospects in ways that are really personal and effective for them.

The Lesson:

We have a director of product now, who we recently hired, who is executing like crazy. It's just amazing to watch the process. The same thing in engineering, the same thing in sales. We were building out a sales team and we were kind of growing a sales team, but everything was still Wild West. It was everyone for himself, figure out, go find customers, go find leads, call them up, see if you can hustle up a deal.

Then as soon as we implemented a real sales operation, once we hired a real sales operations person, which we should've done much earlier, that person was able to really just create a fine-tuned machine very quickly. All of a sudden so many frustrations were gone, so many issues around sales, and quite honestly around our processes where, not having financial processes in place, we were getting deals rejected by finance. Sales was getting deals rejected by finance because we didn't have the right processes in place. Then we ended up not even being able to collect on a couple of bigger deals that we'd done because the process wasn't complete on their end.

We're able to start approaching our customers or our prospects in ways that are really personal and effective for them, rather than just trying to call up somebody, or talk to somebody, or follow up with an inbound lead somewhere and say, "Hey, I understand you're interested in our products, you know, let me sell it to you." We now have real processes and operations to really scale our company on the sales side as well as the product management side.

I think how things have changed is, on the sales side, we're now able to explicitly tell our story to our customers and bring those customers into the fold a lot faster, much faster, and more predictably, meaning we don't have the false starts that we thought we had a deal and we actually didn't have a deal, and they didn't end up paying us for it because we didn't have all the right processes in place. That's one.

On the product management side, what we're able to do now is clearly communicate to our customers and prospects where we're going, what our product specifically solves for them, and they can understand it much more clearly. Our products actually provide our customers with that value so that they can then achieve that value or realize that value much more explicitly.

I'm sleeping much, much better. Now that we have the right people in those places, we're not just trying to frustratingly push our vision forward and not really realizing or achieving that vision. … It's an exciting time in our business.

Follow Shaun Ritchie on Twitter at @shaunjritchie.

Pictured: Shaun Ritchie | Photo courtesy of Teem.


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