Your network is your net worth: A mentor of mine used to say this all the time, and it drove home how important it was to build authentic relationships. So, I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to other CEOs that I admire, participating in mastermind groups, and investing a lot of money to work closely with people that are much further ahead of me in their career.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Ronzio.
Chris is the founder and CEO of Trainual, a leading SaaS company that helps businesses house their knowledge and automate their onboarding and training by documenting every process, policy, and procedure in one simple system. Chris is also the host of the “Process Makes Perfect” podcast, author of “100 Hacks To Improve Your Business,” and Inc. Magazine contributor with a column called “The Process Playbook.” With Trainual, Chris is on a mission to make small business easier by helping business leaders find the time to do more of what they love and providing a way to document and delegate what they do.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I started my first real business when I was 14 years old. It was a video production company that grew nationwide before I sold it at 25. It was during that time of managing 300+ camera operators that I learned why processes and procedures are so integral to a business.
After I sold that company, I began operations consulting and worked with tons of clients who needed their business organized. It was then that I worked with a small team to create the first version of Trainual for my consulting clients to use.
When my clients started wanting to use Trainual more than they wanted to work with me, we knew we were onto something! I stopped consulting and shifted the team’s focus to getting Trainual off the ground.
We launched publicly in 2018 and experienced 500% growth in the first year, grown the tiny team to a team of 42, and closed a Series A funding round for 6.75m dollars.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Trainual disrupts the traditional learning management system and wiki model by creating a new category called the playbook software. Traditional LMS tends to be expensive, robust and caters to enterprise-sized teams. Traditional wiki software doesn’t allow for engagement as employees go through the information.
Trainual is different because, in addition to making documentation and delegation easier, the software also increases employee engagement through marked completions, tests, and forums.
Trainual is an affordable solution that keeps teams aligned by creating one central spot to reference knowledge while streamlining the onboarding and training process when new hires start.
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?
This is a tricky one because mistakes rarely feel funny in the moment, but looking back, there was one week in the first six months of the company when our signups came grinding to a halt.
We were steadily getting 2–3 trials a day, and then all of a sudden they stopped. We thought maybe the ads weren’t working, so we tried switching up the messaging, the creative, the titles — everything, but still no sign-ups.
We thought maybe our website wasn’t converting people anymore, so we tried making different landing pages — still nothing. It turned out that the signup form for the software was broken after a recent release, which we never thought to test. So we learned a lot about QA in that first year!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
The music would start playing long before I finish giving my long list of shout-outs because SO many people have been a part of this journey.
Professionally, the entrepreneurship groups that I’m in, like EO, YEC, StartupAZ, SaaS Academy, Warrior, and Strategic Coach, continue to inspire and educate me on how to be better. There are dozens of podcasts and books that have wiggled their way into my DNA. So much so that I’m not sure where any of my ideas come from, but I know that nothing I come up with is exclusively thanks to me.
Personally, my wife might as well be a board member for how much she has to listen to me talk about business. Trainual’s earliest employees and everyone that reports to me make things happen daily. We couldn’t do what we do without them. My parents were also massively supportive in my early days when I was learning how to set up bank accounts and collect credit cards.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Challenging the status quo and doing things differently is what entrepreneurship is all about. Being disruptive is a good thing when offering something new to the world that simplifies or consolidates existing systems. If your product is making something easier for your customers, then your disruption should be well received. For example, Trainual combines knowledge bases, wikis, Google Docs, and printed manuals into one system, making them more accessible and easy to keep up to date.
On the other hand, a disruption that’s not so great is when the introduction tears down a system but doesn’t offer a great solution.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I’ve received so much good advice over the years. It’s hard to narrow it down. If I had to pick three:
1. Your network is your net worth: A mentor of mine used to say this all the time, and it drove home how important it was to build authentic relationships. So, I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to other CEOs that I admire, participating in mastermind groups, and investing a lot of money to work closely with people that are much further ahead of me in their career.
2. Inspect what you expect: This saying is all about the importance of tracking progress against goals. I’ve always written down my goals on whiteboards and post-it notes around my house and office to keep them top of mind. So we’ve had software dashboards for all of our important metrics from the beginning. We even have a little train station ticker in the office that displays our number of active customers at all times. It keeps us focused on the goals and moving in the right direction.
3. If you believe in your message, back it with money: Before Trainual I never spent anything on marketing. My business grew from word of mouth referrals and outbound hustle. This was a revelation for me. If you truly have something you believe in, and you know it can help others, it’s your responsibility to get the word out and get the most exposure that you can. It made me go all-in on content production, shooting videos, writing blogs, posting on social media, and most importantly, running ads to millions of people per month.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
To generate good, qualified leads, we do the standard things like setting up targeted digital advertising utilizing lookalike audiences from our customer base. But any business can do that and generate decent leads. What we do that sets us apart is always being relatable and human. People don’t like being sold to, so we don’t talk to them like we’re selling.
In our marketing, we relate to personal experiences and emotions through storytelling. We provide free content, support when they need it, and advice where we know we can help. You could say that’s typical top-of-funnel marketing, but it’s more than that. It’s standing out by blending in. It’s being a source of helpfulness and a source of entertainment all at the same time. That’s how you generate good, qualified leads. They’ve bought into the company before they even try your product.
To give you an example, when COVID hit and everyone started working remotely, we knew that most businesses weren’t set up for that. So we created a completely separate website called remote work resources.com with tons of remote work information and policy templates we created to help. No strings attached — no email needed to access.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
In the next 5 years, I want the business playbook to write itself. I want the playbook to be so easy to assemble that there’s no excuse not to have one. We’re working on how we can innovate with things like AI to collect information. Rather than an individual needing to sit down and write everything out, it would be almost as if you had a consultant come into your business to organize who does what.
Imagine if you could have your playbook automatically update based on how somebody’s role changes, or who you have on your team. Because systems and processes are an ever-evolving thing in any business, AI would make it easier to keep everything updated because nothing in the business would need to stop. Business owners would no longer need to spend their own time maintaining the updates, but would still have an always-updated look. That leaves more room to focus on pushing the company forward.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The E-Myth Revisited. That book has been impactful on my journey. Michael E. Gerber’s framework for organizing your business influenced a lot of what I’ve done and continue to teach others to do today. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him on a couple of my projects.
There are a ton of other business books that I’ve loved along the way too. I even created a podcast called Process Makes Perfect where I get to interview a few of the authors.
A little over a year ago, I got into trail running. That’s when I started listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Some of my favorites include Masters of Scale, The GaryVee Audio Experience, Saastr, The Top, and Escape Velocity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Growing up, my dad always told me and my brother to, “Do it now!” Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity or for things to be completely ready — just do it now. Those words have stuck with me ever since, reminding me not to hesitate and not to overthink things.
My brother is Trainual’s CMO and between the two of us, we have no shortage of ideas. And while we don’t try every single one, we work with the team to try most of them, and we see what sticks. If it doesn’t stick, we scrap it or we fix it and try again.
A lot of our success in the business has been a direct result of approaching projects with this mindset.
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. 🙂
This is going to sound biased because it’s what my company does, but if I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t have built this company. If every business had a playbook — one that allowed the owner to spend more time doing what they love because they’re able to document and delegate what they do — more businesses would be able to scale and grow. And we know that when a business can grow, more job opportunities are available.
I’d also like to inspire a movement of leading by letting go of the reigns. I put a lot of trust in my team to take autonomy, be creative, and carry things forward. I think that freedom has allowed us to grow because the team feels empowered to keep hitting goals and keep creating what they want to see — not just what I want to see.
How can our readers follow you online?
Find me on Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter @chrisronzio. I also have a YouTube channel with tons of business advice at youtube.com/chrisronzio.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!