5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Team, With John Sampogna, CEO of Wondersauce

“I always encourage people that want to start a business to go for it. There’s no class, book, or ‘mentor’ that is going to outline all of…

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“I always encourage people that want to start a business to go for it. There’s no class, book, or ‘mentor’ that is going to outline all of the steps. Spend less time thinking, planning, and stressing and more time doing. Take the risk. If you fail, it’s not the end of the world and your failure will serve as a great lesson.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing John Sampogna, co-founder and CEO of Wondersauce, a digitally led ad agency focused on the touchpoints that matter most today.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I grew up playing music and originally wanted to work in the industry doing A&R and scouting talent. After I got a quick glimpse into that world, I realized my naive perception of the industry was very much that — a perception. From there, I stumbled into the agency world taking a job as the assistant to the CEO at a large digital agency. From there, I held a bunch of different roles before eventually co-founding Wondersauce with good friends.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One time, early on in starting Wondersauce, I was going from meeting to meeting all day long. I wound up sitting down with someone whom I didn’t get the chance to research prior to meeting them. We ended up having one of the most engaging and thoughtful conversations of my career. This person ended up being a very prominent figure and had I researched them prior, I probably wouldn’t have been so confident in the room. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do your due diligence, but it taught me to approach every person I’m meeting with the same amount of confidence.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Managing large teams is a delicate balance between accountability and respect across the teams. It’s critical to understand who specifically is owning what, and to ensure everyone is aware of what they’re responsible for.

What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?

Time management and focus are the most difficult things to deal with across different geographical locations. We have offices in New York, Columbus, LA, London and are currently expanding to Asia which requires me and my teams to be on top of our game almost all hours of the day. We were recently pitching a client in Shanghai and were sometimes having calls at 6AM and 11PM EST. It’s not easy after a long day, but it’s necessary when you want to expand to in to the global market. I have found it helpful to have shorter and more frequent checks-ins in addition to building feedback loops and reporting into your business operations. That way, if you don’t have the appropriate time to connect, you have accurate data coming in on a regular basis.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Spend time getting to know the people you rely on the most. It’s essential that you understand what makes them tick, their career aspirations, what they like/dislike, etc. Attracting and retaining talent is everything. Without a common understanding of that person you have very little chance of competing in this job market. I want my employees to share the passion I have for our company and our projects.

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about getting to know your employees. When they begin treating their work as “just a job” it turns in to a real problem. We work long hours and sometimes deal with difficult clients — we need them to enjoy what they’re doing and find the job rewarding, or what’s the point?

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

a. Understand the personalities of your team members. At Wondersauce, we’ve had amazing success stories of individuals scaling within our system and taking on leadership roles. It’s because we understood their aspirations and core skill set that allowed them to rise quickly within the company.

b. Instill a sense of accountability on every project. When we’re onboarding and training new producers at Wondersauce we reference a set of core principles for the company. One of these principles is best expressed by an old Yankess World Series video where Derek Jeter, as the captain of the team, was aware of everything going on around him, and in a moment where he knew a play wasn’t going to go as planned, he put himself in a position to make that play for his team. It wasn’t necessarily his job to get that done, but he saw that no one else was going to do it so he took it upon himself to make it happen.

c. Set and definite the tonality with which you engage with your clients. Your team will follow suit. I like to showcase enthusiasm and optimism in every client relationship. I purposely go out of my way to be excitable and I hope it inspires and encourages our team to treat clients with the same degree of excitement, as that leads to good ideas and happy clients. We have the unique opportunity to see inside so many different business — what’s not to be excited about?

d. Feedback and constant self-reflection is key. Be as critical on yourself as you are with your team. There is always room for improvement, especially as the CEO. Key members of our leadership team hold me to a high standard. It’s important to be open about what you’re working on from a professional development standpoint. When I’m not moving forward towards those goals, I expect people to speak up. No one’s perfect and I think development is a real team effort.

e. We put a lot of diligence into comprehensive performance reviews that outline the good, the bad, and everything in between. We’re always trying to get better at this and it’s a constantly evolving process, but giving your team members unbiased and cross disciplinarily feedback is essential. I look at how other companies handle performance reviews and try to get better ourselves. Early on at Wondersauce the partners built out a template for performance reviews that existed for a few years, but then a few of our directors took it upon themselves to do some research how other companies were doing reviews. They completely revamped our process and it’s been more effective ever since.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

I always encourage people that want to start a business to go for it. There’s no class, book, or ‘mentor’ that is going to outline all of the steps. Spend less time thinking, planning, and stressing and more time doing. Take the risk. If you fail, it’s not the end of the world and your failure will serve as a great lesson.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” It’s a Hunter S Thompson quote…Business is hard and the world of advertising is absolutely insane. It’s never easy and if it is, you’re probably overlooking something devastating. You don’t need to focus on everything — you have to find the stuff that aligns with your vision and your goals and do it to the best of your ability.

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