Begin with the end in mind. You need to be able to visualize what you want to create to be great so your brain can start working towards your end goal of greatness. Your brain is a powerful tool. I’m on my second vision board, everything on my first vision board for Straight Up Growth came true.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Evan J. Kesner, CEO, and Co-Founder of Straight Up Growth. Evan believes in helping good people grow online businesses and his Amazon Growth Agency generated over 500MM dollars in Amazon sales.
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 grew up in New York surrounded by a family that inspired me. I always looked up to my dad for being his own boss and knew that was the path for me. After getting my Masters at NYU Stern and co-founding a 7-figure business, and moving across the country to San Diego, I knew I was ready to break out of my comfort zone and into a space that excited me!
It’s kind of funny, I met my partner Daniel Tejada at an “Opt-Out Life Party” in San Diego for aspiring entrepreneurs. We ended up getting drinks at June Shine, he had the idea, I had the team ready to go and we decided you know what, let’s do it.
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?
Well, the first few months were a bit nerve-racking, we felt we were on the right track, but with no sales and just myself focused on Straight Up Growth full-time it was a bit scary. The drive comes from belief in myself, our vision, and little wins along the way. In my previous business I pitched 34 deals and struck out 34 times before hitting a winner for 35,000 dollars then growing to 1.5M dollars in 14 months, so I just keep cracking on. Strangely our first two deals for Straight Up Growth closed on the same day and it’s been all growth for us and our customers ever since.
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?
The funniest mistake was thinking we were going to meet the majority of our clients at conferences before COVID-19 hit. I had tickets to Prosper Show, Expo West and every other conference under the sun before COVID-19 rained on that parade. We learned we had to pivot hard and fast to survive.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company has let one client go. Their sales on Amazon went up from 150,000 dollars to 220,000 dollars in 4 months. However, they struggled to keep up with their inventory and pay us on time. Other than that, we have a 100% client retention rate because all our client’s sales are growing constantly.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Sleep, meditate twice per day for 20 minutes, try to stop drinking coffee and beverages that make you dehydrated. I also do Cryotherapy, surround myself with plants, and do my best to get to nature and the beach on a weekly basis. Protect your recharge time. Your performance will improve, good things will come to you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Having a coach and mentor helps quite a bit. Right now, Richard Carlson of Focus Dynamics is my leadership coach and Steve Little of Zero Limits Ventures is helping with our business planning. Both Richard and Steve are providing incredible guidance that I am eternally grateful for.
Before I started Straight Up Growth I did a total reset, it wasn’t easy. I went from no options to too many options. Through luck, self-realization exercises, and Richard’s guidance I was able to put myself in the right position to co-found Straight Up Growth. I call Richard Carlson, my Mr. Miyagi without him there would be no Karate Kid ☺
I mentor at SDSU’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center because I believe strongly in helping student entrepreneurs succeed.
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 by 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?
I believe good and great companies can be any size, from one person to hundreds of thousands so let’s put that to the side for a moment.
A good company is one that does what it says it’s going to do. In the age of Netflix and Amazon with instant gratification, anything less is a recipe for disaster. Overall, the average customer and worker at a good company are satisfied.
A great company constantly exceeds your expectations whether you’re a customer, top-level executive, or the lowest employee on the totem pole.
A great company delights you, by doing a good job and also more importantly makes you feel good. Signs of a great company are high levels of customer loyalty, brand advocates, smiling employees, and growth.
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.
- Begin with the end in mind. You need to be able to visualize what you want to create to be great so your brain can start working towards your end goal of greatness. Your brain is a powerful tool. I’m on my second vision board, everything on my first vision board for Straight Up Growth came true.
- Take care of yourself, if you’re in a good state of mind and health you’re much more able to lead. It’s much easier to lead a great company with the right people in your corner, it starts with you.
- Take care of your team, if your team believes in you and your mission and your team will get your back. It takes a village to build a great company.
- You need to be an expert in your field. Your expertise in your subject matter is what sets your company apart. If you’re just average at what you do, you’re fighting an uphill battle (unless you’re selling a commodity). Your use of expert knowledge and processes informed by that knowledge enable your customers to have more success. You need this from the beginning because it will provide you with a better reputation from the get-go.
- When things get good, stay humble. Remember you aren’t Steve Jobs. Your company most likely hasn’t invented the iPhone. You’ve got great customers and you’re starting to make good money now that you’re a good company, but you aren’t god’s gift to earth. It takes a village, your team is critical. You need to stay humble, treat people with respect. Yourself, your family, your friends, your team, your customers are all critical components of your success. Don’t forget that. Stay humble.
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?
Steve Little who has been an incredible mentor to Straight Up Growth has founded and grown 6 successful startups of his own to private 9-figure acquisitions. He shared this with me.
“Company Observation: Culture & Impact Mission
In an in-depth study about the relationships between workplace culture and workers, professors at the University of Iowa revealed that there are a number of key benefits to having a good cultural fit between employee and employer. These benefits include but are not limited to:
Satisfaction: The study showed that satisfaction is one of the most immediate benefits of an employee who fits well culturally at a company. If an employee finds their environment to be satisfactory, they are going to be happier working in that environment.
Increased Performance: That happiness is likely to lead to several motivators for the employee. Because they fit well, they’re likely to be more confident in their work and strive to work harder and achieve more. Because of a good fit, the employee will have an increase in his or her work performance, benefiting the company and the employee.
Reduced Stress: A big problem with a poor cultural fit at work is stress, affecting a number of areas in the employee’s life — from work performance to socializing with other employees. A good cultural fit means the employee will be less stressed at work, likely to reduce poor performance and turnover.
Reduced Attrition: If an employee is happy and fits where he or she is, they’re going to be less likely to want to change that. Finding candidates who will fit the culture of the workforce isn’t just ensuring that the candidate will just work hard — it likely means they’ll continue working hard and remaining committed to the company, with less motivation to leave.
Commitment to Company: Above all else, if an employee fits culturally to the company, he or she will identify that as part of their company experience. Therefore, they are more likely to remain committed to a company because they fit so well.
In addition, the payoff for investing in assessing candidates for cultural fit with your company will deliver candidates who remain happier at work, dramatically reduces turnover, significantly increases performance.
Aside from a myriad of other benefits, these factors alone significantly reduce risk and directly increase the value of the business.
Impact Mission: Nothing is more unifying for an organization than a shared impact mission. It provides a guiding star for the achievement of the kind of success that really matters to people. Whether it’s housing the homeless in an impoverished nation or contributing to the environmental clean-up of the oceans, a mission that is shared amongst all employees provides the foundation for a generative, productive, and satisfying employment experience that further amplifies the benefits listed above and directly improves company valuation.
Socializing the company’s commitment to an impact mission throughout your customers and partners creates a powerful brand association with the mission. Customers and partners tend to ‘buy-in’ to the companies commitment to the mission. This strongly influences a favorable opinion of the company and directly impacts the proclivity to directly or indirectly influence the purchase of more products.
In a recent study published by Goldman Sachs, they concluded:
“We believe excellence is a habit and that companies with superior environmental, cultural and social management initiatives are more successful in operating profits and are inherently more valuable in their respective market than others without them”
Even a vague Higher Purpose helped to propel the Firms of Endearment to outperform the S&P 500 by 14 to 1. A study authored by the former Korn Ferry partner, Elaine Dinos (see summary below) also found that consumer companies with a strong commitment to purpose outperform their sector peers by healthy margins:
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”?
Boosting growth is easy in the Amazon space if you know what you are doing. Most of our clients were wasting more than 50% of their Amazon ad spend before working with Straight Up Growth because Amazon’s reporting is difficult to navigate. We regularly work with business leaders that need to drive growth and come up with solutions. As an example a 15M dollars wellness company we work with just launched a net new product from 0 to 342,000 dollars in the last 45 months.
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?
Consistency in the effort is the key. It’s important to stop and think, sometimes a pivot is needed. We had to completely pivot our go-to-market strategy to online. Leverage the relationships that you’ve invested your time, effort, and energy to pull you up if you need a growth boost.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The team you create and team morale is by far the most underrated lever you can use to grow your business. If you want to grow your business beyond yourself, your team and driving online sales are two of the key ingredients.
Team and driving online sales are two of the most important things to our business and a major part of Nextiva’s success, a 9-figure company where I had the pleasure of working prior to Straight Up Growth.
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?
The increasing conversion rate on Amazon is a combination of a few factors. Visits to your listing, sales, reviews, low returns increase your sales ranks, and the chance of converting a visitor into a sale. Amazon does not differentiate if your visit comes from an advertisement or organically, this plays into the ranking strategies we leverage for clients.
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?
Our way to increase conversions in our business is by driving the most Amazon sales revenue companies have ever had on Amazon consistently. That leads to referrals that convert at an incredibly high rate. We hire top talent and invest heavily in training before our team ever place an ad with Straight Up Growth. Our expertise and being fun to work with are our secrets to generating a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand.
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?
Customer Experience starts top down. It’s an attitude and commitment to success from the get-go, it starts with the CEO/founding team/leadership team.
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 a reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Social media can be a major way for eCommerce companies to stand out. Generating an Instagram following for a visually pleasing product can accelerate your growth. I’m not particularly worried about the misuse of social media at Straight Up Growth. Our company loves LinkedIn, post regularly and our content gets a lot of love from our customers, supporters, friends, and colleagues. Consistently paying attention to LinkedIn has enabled me to have 15,000+ connections and growing.
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?
The most common mistake I see is not going to market fast enough. In my first business, I had 1,000,000 dollars in revenue by the time other “founders” around me when I started with better ideas were still trying to perfect their idea. Many of whom never sold anything, gave up, and went back to work for someone else.
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. 🙂
Mental health is key. Meditation has helped me tremendously to focus, reduce stress, and be kinder to others. I’d love to see more people taking care of themselves and others, then the rest will fall into place.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Straightupgrowth.com and my personal LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/evankesner/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!