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Matt Rosen of Allata: “Having the right people will make or break a business”

People — Having the right people will make or break a business. Vital is the leadership team of the company and making sure that they have the same values. I started the firm with some of the wrong people in leadership positions. This could have easily sunk my company had things worked out differently. I have found […]

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People — Having the right people will make or break a business. Vital is the leadership team of the company and making sure that they have the same values. I started the firm with some of the wrong people in leadership positions. This could have easily sunk my company had things worked out differently. I have found it best to hire slowly and fire quickly if someone is not a good fit for the organization. Once you have the right people make sure you take care of them, show them a growth path, and incent the right behaviors that align with the company’s objectives.


As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Rosen, Founder and CEO of Allata.

Allata is a fast-growth consulting firm based in Dallas and has been in the Top 100 of the Inc 5000 two years in a row. Matt has spent the last 21 years building high-performance teams and consulting organizations in Texas. Before starting Allata in 2016, he served as a Vice President at Pariveda for seven years, where he built long-lasting relationships with enterprise clients and oversaw the successful delivery of many complex engagements. Matt co-founded the DFW IT Roundtable, a group of high integrity IT professionals who serve many clients and non-profit organizations in DFW. Matt is a father of two beautiful girls, loves competing in triathlons, and travels to fun and interesting places with his wife whenever they can sneak away.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I originally started my career in the document management industry in the late 90s only to realize most business forms were moving to large ERP systems and that I needed to be in technical sales. I started my consulting career in 2000 during the dotcom boom for a company establishing the first eCommerce presence for many large companies. I worked my way up from an inside sales representative to running an office in a short time. I fell in love with the consulting business as a firm can always pivot into new industry segments, technology domains and continually reinvent itself. The number of challenges to help organizations is almost limitless. Then add the pace of technology change, and that’s exciting to me.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

In 2014, I left a very stable VP level role with a large consulting firm called Pariveda, which I helped build from 10M dollars — 100M dollars. At this point in my life, I wanted to take some risk for potential upside, which was not possible at Pariveda. I spent the next 1.5 years helping a start-up real estate asset management software and consulting firm get off the ground. The firm was very successful in the first year; however, the majority owner and I had very different values on how to run a company and treat employees. The software company was growing fast and losing money, so I tried to convince the owner to take on funding. Instead of a collaborative discussion, the owner scolded me like a 6-year-old child. At that moment, I knew I had to stop building companies for other people and build one for myself guided by my values. I started Allata in the middle of 2016 and never looked back.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In starting a new business venture most founders tend to make many mistakes. I had to think hard about this question as most early mistakes were painful stories not funny ones. When I first started Allata, I probably took on too much personally vs. hiring folks to take on certain responsibilities. Initially I had full responsibility for sales, marketing, recruiting, client delivery, operations, IT, HR, and accounts payable/receivable, and most importantly client coffee delivery. There was not enough time in the day for all the jobs Allata required and I didn’t hire any full-time employees for the first year. I was working around the clock and spending time on things I’m awful at including administering Office 365 and creating invoices. I definitely was not playing to my strengths. I realized that as we went from 1 to 6 clients in the first year, I could no longer scale and began hiring full-time employees to begin to take on this responsibility. Had I moved forward on more full-time hires earlier, I would have had more time to focus on growth.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Allata has a simple mantra — Family first, our clients are king, we take great care of our people. Our mantra is clear, and thoughtful and we encourage all employees to live by it and want our clients to feel it.

Our charter client, the Freeman Companies, is the world’s leading live event and brand experience company. They enable their clients to create and deliver immersive experiences for audiences around the world. The impact of COVID-19 has left the live event industry at a standstill, but Freeman used the pandemic as a catalyst to accelerate their vision for a digital experience. We were proud to help Freeman create a live digital experience that would supply the same sense of engagement and closeness as previously done at in-person events, virtually. In eight short weeks, we helped Freeman successfully launch their custom digital event experience, allowing them to pivot their business from physical events hosted in facilities with live interaction to a true digital event hosted entirely online. I’m especially proud of the team of Allatians that worked tirelessly on this project to make Freeman successful. Case study linked here — https://www.allata.com/case-studies/freeman-company

One of our employees had a very sick daughter, and he was out of personal time off and was going to have to take a leave of absence. Without any prompting by the executive team, the Allatians in his office came to leadership asking if they could pool their personal time to allow him paid time off with his daughter. This was a great example of our team living the firm’s values, and that employee will be forever grateful to his peers.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Consulting can be a grind, as you are only as good as your last meeting, pitch deck, deliverable, and line of code. Clients pay a premium for our service, and we are always on stage. To keep up with this demand, I recommend taking time off whenever possible. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a week-long trip, you need to unplug. I only check emails once a day when I’m out of the office and only answer when critical. I would suggest not checking them at all; however, I can’t help myself.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have to give credit to my wife, Stephanie. Without her love and support, I would not be where I am today. She held me back from starting my own company when I wanted to do it for the money and pushed me forward when I clearly understood my own why. She financially supported us during the start-up phase and continues to provide advice and encouragement.

The best boss and mentor I had was a leader named Hector Martinez. He was hard on me during a time of professional immaturity in my career. I got thrown off a client engagement, which he had sold, and he almost fired me. Luckily, he decided he wanted me on his team and would provide the coaching I needed to succeed. Hector taught me how to deliver hard messages with confidence and manage difficult situations with clients.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Referencing Jim Collins famous book Good to Great he states, ‘good is the enemy of great’. There are many good companies out there, and they never aspire for more. Good companies will generally check all the boxes and get the job done; however, their employees may only be marginally engaged, and clients satisfied yet not loyal. There are lots of good companies, and very few make it to great.

Great companies are organizations where employees are highly empowered and engaged. These engaged employees deliver excellent service to their customers. Customers become raving fans for the great company, and the virtuous cycle continues. Great companies regularly outperform good companies by an exponential margin.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

People — Having the right people will make or break a business. Vital is the leadership team of the company and making sure that they have the same values. I started the firm with some of the wrong people in leadership positions. This could have easily sunk my company had things worked out differently. I have found it best to hire slowly and fire quickly if someone is not a good fit for the organization. Once you have the right people make sure you take care of them, show them a growth path, and incent the right behaviors that align with the company’s objectives.

Clear Objectives — I have found what is written down gets done. We have clear targets for revenue, margin, utilization, new client acquisition, and people growth. We communicate these objectives every month to the entire company and review them weekly as a leadership team. I do not allow for any ambiguity in what we are trying to achieve. Even when the pandemic hit and things looked bleak at first, we quickly reset our expectations and worked as a team to exceed them. I worked for a ‘good’ firm in the early 2000s, where everything the leadership stated was very nuanced and often was contradictory to a message sent previously. As a result, this organization failed quickly when tough times hit during the dot-com crash as we did not have a clear plan forward, and leadership did not work together to manage the crisis.

Focus on core business — While building a company, it’s easy to get distracted away from what you do best. I have seen many ‘good’ business leaders try and go too many directions at once, throwing a bunch of crap against the wall and seeing what sticks. I worked for several professional services firms that tried to be software companies simultaneously, and it just doesn’t work. The business models are entirely different and can’t co-exist successfully within the same company walls. At Allata, we have focused on the custom application development and data space within the clients we serve. We get asked to do things outside of our wheelhouse, and unless they complement the skills we already have, we turn the business away or introduce a partner firm.

Strong Decision Making — Nothing will kill a good company quicker than indecision. I have found it’s much better to make a decision, even if it’s the wrong one, and move forward. The most dangerous speed on a highway is zero, and it’s the same in the business world. Many ‘good’ business leaders want to have as much data as possible before making a decision, and their teams hang in limbo and often do nothing while they wait for the leader.

A relentless pursuit of customer success — Customers are the lifeblood of every organization, and without them, the organization will cease to exist. My favorite quote on this topic is from the great Sam Walton simply stated, “There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Many ‘good’ organizations lose focus on this point, and some even outsource their customer facing sales and support staff. Some have pushed these functions offshore, only to bring them right back due to customer complaints. As stated in our mantra — “Clients are King” we remind ourselves daily of our customer’s importance. Truly great companies focus on their customers and make the relationships as strong as possible.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Many organizations have missions, visions, and values published on a website or the wall in an office. Publishing your values and living them are entirely different things. Many leaders make promises or are faced with tough decisions that challenge these values. The truly great leaders use these values as a north star for their decision making and do not waver from them.

During my career, I have worked for some incredible, inspiring leaders whom I’m proud to call my mentors. I contribute much of my success from what I learned from these individuals, even if feedback from them was often tough and critical. Under their leadership, these organizations thrived. I have also seen how destructive, poor leadership and lack of values are to an organization. Some of the best leadership experience I received was learning how not to lead from several CEOs I worked with. When faced with a tough decision, I ask what would one of those poor leaders do, and I often do the opposite, and things work out very well for the firm.

At Allata, our leadership team leads based on our core values. If it’s client interactions, situations with employees, or back-office operations, there are tough decisions to be made. As a firm, we reference our values daily to make these decisions. Our value system allows us to move forward decisively and not overanalyze decisions. Lack of decision drives inaction and standing in limbo is the most dangerous place for an organization.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Businesses often hit a point where they plateau if there is not a focus on growth and expansion. There are a couple of ways to address this challenge. One quick way to boost growth is to look at a competitor’s strategic acquisition or a new business line. Another option is to evaluate the current product/service offering and see if there are ancillary products and services to sell to existing clients. Depending on the business situation, these options may or may not make sense. If growth needs to be completely organic, look at a digital marketing strategy and sales messaging. The current offerings may need to be repositioned to continue to grow. There is usually no silver bullet; however, some combination of these options should provide uplift.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

The pandemic has tested many organizations’ ability to grow and be profitable in the last 12 months. A key to financial stability is to have a cash reserve and access to credit lines that could sustain the company for 6–12 months. When the pandemic hit, we had a 6-month cushion assuming no revenue.

Growing in a tough economy takes much effort, and it helps to be well-diversified from a customer base. For Allata, we lost a few clients as the pandemic decimated their business; however other clients did well and accelerated spending. Tough times are an excellent time to re-evaluate expenses and see what areas can be reduced; travel and expenses were easy for us to reduce drastically.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

People are a company’s most important asset. This is particularly true in the consulting business where people, and their deliverables are my product. Ensuring sure they have a growth plan and proper mentoring is critical, however, incredibly time-consuming. We have a growth framework at Allata which guides the growth of all of our consultants. The framework clearly outlines the requirements to move from one level to the next within our firm. Each consultant is given a mentor who guides them through their career and writes semi-annual reviews. Semi-annual reviews incorporate feedback from peers as well as clients. Twice a year, our management goes through every consultant review and determines whether a merit raise, or promotion is in order. This process takes close to 2 weeks and occurs twice a year. We spend quite a bit of time ensuring our people are getting the right feedback and mentoring to grow their careers.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Conversion rates vary by industry; however, I’ll address the professional services space I understand the best. The best way to increase conversion rates is to make sure you fill the pipeline with the right deals and qualify prospects upfront. It often takes the same amount of time and effort to close a 50k dollars project as it does a 500k dollars one. Make sure you invest time in the right deals and be the first to walk when a deal is not a good fit. There are always two winners in a competitive deal or RFP — the actual winner and the one who walks away first and doesn’t waste precious time and resources in the pursuit.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Becoming a beloved brand takes a lot of time and effort. A great way to start is by building an excellent reputation. The first step is always doing what you say you will do and doing it with quality. The second step is to continue to deliver a similar or higher level of service. Last, once you have established a good reputation with a client, ask for referrals to their family and friends. Remember, no matter how long you have had the account, it takes years to build a great customer relationship and seconds to destroy one.

Make sure your employees know how important customer relationships are to the organization. We review our clients and successes with our entire company once a month at our town hall. Our mantra of Clients are King is something we expect each Allatian to live each day as they do their work.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Underpromise, overdeliver. Remember what’s important to your clients through active listening. Solve problems for your clients that they don’t even realize they have.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Social media is a tricky medium as most businesses need to have a presence however little control of who likes and comments. There must be a person within the organization that owns these social channels and both posts and moderates. We use LinkedIn and Facebook to communicate with clients, prospective clients, and potential recruits. We keep our posts very focused, celebrating an employee or client’s success, sharing some thought leadership, or posting relevant company news. We stay away from anything politically charged and encourage our employees to do the same.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

One of the most common mistakes I’ve watched is CEOs who are too involved in their companies’ daily operations. Most CEOS have a center in which they comfortably operate. Whether in the sales, finance, delivery, engineering domains, the CEO can and will become the bottleneck. For me, it’s been in the sales domain. It has taken me a while to let go and let others sell without my involvement. They must set clear goals and recognize that others’ paths may not be the same as their own. They must set clear goals and recognize the path that others take may will likely not be the same as their own. There must also be room for learning and failure. If the CEO steps in, the team will feel disempowered and will eventually disengage, continuing to leave the bottleneck to growth in place.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The world is changing very quickly, and many people are not learning the problem-solving and critical thinking skills needed in the decades to come. I would like to see many more people educated in software development, data analysis, and machine learning concepts. This should be part of the early curriculum; reading, writing, and math and taught throughout school. As the information age accelerates, those who don’t learn some basic technology skills and understanding will be left behind.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Matt Rosen — https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattrosen/

Allata

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/allata/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Allata15

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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