“I’m pretty concerned about the state of the world’s environment right now. People, aided by a large population and technology, are operating on an unprecedented scale — and having an unprecedented impact on the planet. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to keep more large tracts of land in their natural condition. Also, I’d look to help the existing momentum towards wind and solar power to replace carbon based energy sources around the world to slow or stop the impact of climate change.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Benson, CEO and founder of Badger Maps, the #1 route planner for field salespeople in the Apple App store. After receiving his MBA from Stanford, Steve’s career has been in outside sales with companies like IBM, Autonomy, and Google — becoming Google Enterprise’s Top Performing Salesperson in the World in 2009. In 2012 Steve founded Badger Maps to help field salespeople be more successful. He was named as one of the Top 40 Most Inspiring Leaders in Sales Management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started Badger Maps in 2012 because I was frustrated by having a problem no one was solving when I was working in field sales. I knew a lot of other people had the same problem, and I believed it could be solved with software. The way I got into that position was that my career has been spent in field sales, and so I understood the challenges faced by field sales people first hand. When working on the Google Maps team, I got to know how powerful mobile mapping could be, and had experience with the types of solutions and apps that mobile was capable of enabling.
I knew I could improve my performance at my job as a field sales rep if I could combine my customer data with a mobile mapping system, and I could envision a solution that could schedule and plan my time selling in the field more efficiently.
The problem of combining a map, a routing algorithm, a calendar, and a salesperson’s customer data had been a problem that salespeople have had for hundreds of years. But the reason it hadn’t been solved before was because you needed computer based mapping, computer based calendar capabilities, internet connectivity on a mobile device, the ability for a computer to interact with the salesperson’s customer database, and a mobile device that could serve as the platform to do this in real time.
In 2011, all these things were coming together, and I was uniquely positioned to solve this problem of field salespeople, given my background in sales and working on the Google Maps team.
When I started Badger Maps, there were only 2 people at the company, and we were trying to decide whether we should work from the kitchen table or get some office space. We got some shared office space so that we could have a distraction free environment to work in. Eventually we got our own space, which was a backroom of a dentist office. In terms of the good bad and the ugly, this was the ugly.
We brought more and more people on board and have been growing a lot in the last years, opening offices in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Spain and the Philippines. There has been so much professional and personal growth within our team and I’m very thankful to be a part of it and witness the great development and growth of my employees and the business.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Before we could afford our own place, we got a sublet in an office where the landlord also worked in. He’d be best described as ‘super creepy’ and ‘vampire-like’, and would hang out and kind of slink around leering at people. We shared a bathroom with him and late at night if someone was in the bathroom, he’d just stand outside the door, silently listening. You could see the shadows of his shoes under the door. The team was pretty creeped out, and we eventually instituted a policy that no one would work at the office alone. We got out of there as fast as we could — it was great motivation to get revenue up!
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
A large team works on a lot of different projects simultaneously, so clear organization and structure is key to work effectively. First, it’s important that everyone knows what direction the organization is headed, what the short and long-term goals are and why. Then you need to break up the various bigger initiatives into subsets of tasks and smaller projects within the team.
For each task or project, you should have one person that is responsible. Not 3 people, not the whole team, but one person. That person in turn can coordinate the team of people working on their particular project. It’s important to have that accountability in a large team to keep things moving effectively.
An organizational system, which can be a simple Google doc or a tool like Trello or Asana, is a great way to keep track of everyone’s tasks and projects, their progress and results.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
The biggest challenge that managers face with managing a global team is creating a great company culture that keeps everyone engaged and motivated.
It’s hard to have a satisfying culture with a dispersed workforce because people are evolved to socialize in person to build trust and relationships. At Badger, our teams are spread across 3 continents and we have to put a lot of effort into building and maintaining a cohesive culture. One key thing we’re doing is making sure that people from different offices truly get to know one another.
When we opened up an office in Spain, one of the original team members moved there. We also give employees from the San Francisco office the option to live and work in Spain for 5 weeks at a time. That way everyone knows each other and had worked in close proximity (and besides who doesn’t want to go to Spain). We bought a condo in Spain for them to stay at, and have people overlap in their stay so someone who is on their last week can show the person on their first week around town and make it an easy transition.
When we opened up an office in Salt Lake City, one of the original four team members also moved there to start the team. We also send people from the home office out to SLC when we have a new hire, for training and just to get to know each other better.
Another trick we have used to foster a great culture is keeping the same ‘office hobby’ across all global offices. All of the Badger offices have a Foosball table that people enjoy playing — often in a highly competitive manner. Foosball is a really inclusive activity anyone can have fun playing regardless of background, gender or physical ability, while many office activities tend to feel more exclusive or only some people are comfortable with them. When people visit different offices, they all have this shared hobby in common and it strengthens the team culture.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Encouraging autonomy is crucial to helping your employees grow and thrive. This might seem a bit unusual but at Badger, everyone, down to interns, is encouraged to join whatever projects they’re most interested at, or even lead projects. We have a lot of things that we have to get done, and I basically let people gravitate towards the areas they’re passionate about and want to contribute to.
Every Monday we have a full team meeting for 15 minutes, and everyone who is running a project updates the group on where things are at and ask people for help where needed. People then join the projects they want to join, even if it’s outside their job description. If an engineer or an engineering intern wants to get involved in a marketing project, they’re encouraged to do so. If a salesperson or sales intern wants to get involved in a QA project, same thing.
Getting people to work in and understand different parts of the organization is not only good for your employees development but also good for the company. Autonomy gives people the experiences that build their empathy for other departments and roles, and helps the whole company function better.
This approach has worked very well for us and helped us increase motivation, productivity and improve communication across different areas of the business. I would highly recommend it to other CEO’s and founders.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
To retain great talent you need to build a culture and business that people are really excited to work at. You have to create an environment where everybody feels welcomed and appreciated, and is happy with their position and career development.
Culture is an important concept because it makes or breaks the success of an organization. It can make a company great to work for or it can make it a chore to show up for work. Culture is hard to put your finger on, but if all the people who work at a company seem to have something in common, function as one unit, and seem to all be on the same team, then they probably have a strong culture.
You can try to gloss over a crappy work environment with higher pay and perks, but as you said, ultimately, people leave their jobs because their manager is bad or because the company has a crappy culture that sucks the life out of them. But it’s hard to fake, you have to have an authentic, genuinely awesome place to work, or your best employees will go somewhere else that does.
Training and coaching your team and helping each individual reach their full career potential is also key to retaining talent. I teach my employees two things: the strategy and direction of the business and the set of skills they need to be successful. The goal is to give them the information and knowledge they need to thrive in their role and help them develop through regular training, feedback, and one-on-one meetings.
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)
– Leaders need to understand that people are looking for more than a high salary and therefore set the right incentives. Most people want to be challenged, grow, learn and have a fulfilling career. Providing development opportunities is a great way to increase employee happiness, motivation and productivity. Invest in your employees and keep them happy by making sure they’re being adequately challenged in their role and satisfied with their career development.
I’m having a ton of fun helping people be their best in their career, and there has been so much personal and professional growth in the team at Badger over the last few years. We have taught people how to do better at their job, find the right fit for them in the organization and help them progress towards the role they ultimately want.
– Establishing a great culture is key to successfully leading and inspiring a team. Define your culture, write down the norms and values and share it with your team. Then manage according to these desired behaviours. This builds the framework within which your team can work in their own way and be creative.
I believe that giving autonomy and providing flexibility are key to inspiring your employees and driving innovation. These two things are very important values that define our culture at Badger. For example, we had one employee in Marketing who had a great idea about how we could improve our Sales training for new employees. He took on the project and set up a whole sales onboarding and training process based on his own ideas and insights from the sales team. It was a great success and brought the different teams closer together.
– Showing appreciation on a regular basis and recognizing your team members for their work is something many leaders neglect and should do more consciously. It creates a better work environment, increases employee happiness, and helps you build a strong team.
One thing we do in our office is that we all set aside some time at the end of the day every Friday to ‘give props’. Anyone on the team can give ‘props’ to anyone else on the team, which fosters an atmosphere of appreciation, respect and teamwork. It’s a time to recognize coworkers for their accomplishments and contributions that week in front of the group and show them respect for working hard and having done something great. This might be that they’ve handled a difficult customer well, brought in a big deal or wrapped up a project successfully.
Making this part of our culture has helped us establish a strong community and positive environment where people enjoy working together and feel welcomed.
– It’s also important to motivate your team by letting them know that you care about them, their career, and their future. You need to know what your employees goals are, align their career accordingly and keep them motivated and engaged by enabling them to reach those goals. As the CEO, I regularly meet with my employees to make sure they’re being challenged in their role and happy with their career development. Your job as a manager is to motivate your team to perform at their best and do everything you can to help each individual reach their full potential.
– To have all team members work towards a common goal and achieve greater results, make sure that everyone understands the big picture and knows what they’re working toward. Employees should be able to connect their success back to the success of the company. As the manager, it’s your job to show them that they’re part of something bigger than themselves and help them understand and identify with your mission and long-term goals.
At Badger, we have a dedicated meeting for that every Friday afternoon, our ‘TGIF’ (Thank Goodness It’s Friday) session. We openly discuss what is going on with the company overall and what major events happened in the past week. I communicate anything from positive or negative news and updates to strategic or financial issues. We are a very transparent business, and no topic is really off limits in these meetings. Depending on how transparent an organization is, this can be a really effective way to regularly have a conversation with all your employees and make sure everyone is on the same page and understands the common goal.
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’m pretty concerned about the state of the world’s environment right now. People, aided by a large population and technology, are operating on an unprecedented scale — and having an unprecedented impact on the planet. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to keep more large tracts of land in their natural condition. Also, I’d look to help the existing momentum towards wind and solar power to replace carbon based energy sources around the world to slow or stop the impact of climate change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of will.” — Vince Lombardi
This is my favorite quote because I think that you need to have ‘grit’ and perseverance to be an entrepreneur and that you can achieve great success if you work hard. People less often fail because they weren’t smart enough, and more often fail from not trying hard enough. There are a million challenges you have to face and you just have to pound your way through them. When I run into a problem, I wrap my head around it and find a strategy for attacking it. Then I grab one or two people on my team to attack it with me.
Originally published at medium.com