Company Culture — Many business leaders are often so set on perfecting the product or service, they forget about how imperative company culture is to their success. When company culture is prioritized, excellent customer service, employee retention and a positive bottom line will always follow.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great,” I had the pleasure of interviewing James Whitaker, a serial entrepreneur and Founder of CueRide an app-based company working to ensure drivers receive a fair commission within the rideshare industry.
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 began working at the age of fifteen, quickly learning the value of a dollar and contributing to the world. I also knew I didn’t want to work for anyone else. Recognizing I had an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age, I always thought about building something of my own and creating a legacy for myself. In my early adult life, I started a landscaping business. My father passed away, leaving me his remaining real estate investments, and my mother suggested I use the home’s equity to invest in my own business. However, something happened before I pulled the trigger on this idea. My mother’s friend, a real estate loan investor, advised there was more financial opportunity in selling the home attached to the land than landscaping the property. I shadowed him for a while and eventually started my own business buying and selling real estate. I became interested in helping people purchase real estate and ultimately made my first million at 25.
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?
Entrepreneurship may seem like an easy decision at the beginning, especially if it’s what you set your sights on at a young age, However, maintaining the focus and drive to sustain your business and those who work for you is difficult but worth it. Any entrepreneur will tell you that hard times happen frequently, and learning how to navigate those obstacles is ultimately what makes you successful. One of the most challenging points of my entrepreneurial journey was having enough capital to sustain my business while generating revenue in the early phase. I believe everyone considers giving up due to an obstacle based on human nature alone. However, what kept me going during hard times and what keeps me motivated to this day is my family. My upbringing was not easy, and my goal is to create a bright future for my children. Entrepreneurship, for me, is about building a legacy that my family can be proud of. My family is my ultimate drive when it comes to success.
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?
For the longest time, I believed that as a business owner, I was always right. Whether you are a business owner or you patron a business, many people would find this absurd. However, I believed I had all of the answers. Over time, I learned customer feedback provides you with the ability to grow your business and enhance your operations. Without feedback, you cannot grow in your industry or as a leader. I believe, subconsciously, I feared criticism. I think it’s something many entrepreneurs fear but shy away from sharing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I started CueRide because I genuinely believe the rideshare model is beyond broken. Currently, popular rideshare companies take 35% of a driver’s profits from each ride, leaving drivers to work longer hours to make more. I don’t believe there is a place for this model anymore. Our company stands out from other companies because we are focused on putting 100% of the driver’s earnings back into their pockets. We’re not in a rush to grow the company where we lose control. We are working at a pace to grow the business sustainably.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a kid, my mom would say, “James, Rome wasn’t built in a day.” We live in an instant gratification culture, desiring everything to be done yesterday. When you rush, you don’t have time to think things through. I’ve seen this happen so many times, and quite honestly, I’ve experienced it. Many companies will roll out a product to remain relevant, and I’ve learned that I don’t want to work in that manner. Any business endeavor I am currently pursuing, or looking to launch, will be approached with ease, intention and the knowledge that all great things take time.
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?
Two men were extremely instrumental in my growth both as an entrepreneur and individual. Judge Donald Coleman is a critical factor in my life and taught me the importance of giving back to your community, regardless of where you come from. He taught me to stay positive and maintain a philanthropic attitude with everything I do. He also taught me about the power of manifestation and what it meant to think positively and build wealth in your mind before it (money) landed in your bank account.
I also have another person who was pivotal in my success; my mentor, Dr. Willie Thornton. Dr. Thornton taught me a lot about integrity, character, and having a spirit of excellence. No matter your circumstance or whether (or not) you belong in the room, you walk into every situation prepared and always with a spirit of excellence.
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?
In my opinion, a good company is a company that has become complacent with getting by in the market. Some companies can rest on the laurels of what they’ve established and simply coast along. While coasting is not necessarily a bad thing, it is what keeps a company from experiencing greatness. Great companies have a vision for the future and are always looking five to ten years ahead. Because of this mindset, great companies are early adopters of new processes and systems, and most importantly, take risks.
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.
- Priorities -There must be a continued focus on what is relevant and also what is most important to and for your business — currently and in the future.
- Principals — Always ask yourself, “what is our core operating system?” “How does this fit into our business model?” When you are operating on your core principles, it makes decision making — in any capacity — much more comfortable as a leader.
- Practice — This goes back to creating an environment of excellence through habit in all that you do. When you operate from excellence, you will create your best work and also receive the best outputs from your team every single time.
- Company Culture — Many business leaders are often so set on perfecting the product or service, they forget about how imperative company culture is to their success. When company culture is prioritized, excellent customer service, employee retention and a positive bottom line will always follow.
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?
I believe your passion should fuel your business ventures. If more companies operated from a place of passion and with a purpose-driven mindset, every day would feel more rewarding.
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”?
There was a time when I plateaued in business and felt as if my business could not grow any further. Honestly, I hit a wall, and it was then I realized I needed to search outward for help in the form of a consultant to think differently about my business. I was able to take my business in a better direction and truly learned that only iron sharpens iron. A sign of a true leader means knowing when to ask for help.
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?
Even with the challenging year that has been 2020, it’s essential for business leaders to lean into their team more than ever before. This is the epitome of not losing steam during turbulent times. The team you have in place will determine if you sink or swim during feast and famine in your business. The right team can re-adjust and operate in a lean capacity to help you weather any storm.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Being your own boss is not easy. You don’t have “set work hours,” and you can easily work well over 40 hours during the week. When you are running a company, intention and time management are essential.
When knowing how and where to spend time, you can make better, informed decisions that positively impact the business. Secondly, people often underestimate the power of a good employee. Great team members are hard to find, especially an employee who feels just as vested in your company as you are. They are your brand champion and can run the business just as well as you can, if needed. When you find an employee like this, hold on to them and treat them well. They are worth their weight in gold.
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?
One of the “strategies” I’ve always practiced is to allow the product to sell itself and never become desperate for the sale. Period.
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?
I believe consistency, reviews and customer experience are proof of social good for any business. Great customer testimonials is the type of feedback; even great messaging can’t compete. When a brand loyalist, supporter or customer is singing your praises, others interested in your product will show up to watch, listen and buy every time. To do this, brands must consistently show up (i.e., with great branding, photography, excellent customer service, engagement, etc.) and create a great experience that converts.
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?
It is vital to treat every customer like they are the only ones that matter. Our customer service agents deliver an exceptional experience because customers will always remember how they are treated just as much as they will remember the product or service they purchased. Even as a founder, I make it my duty to ensure our customer service is 100% in everything we do.
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.
Because of social media, reputational risk for businesses has been exacerbated — especially those that cater to consumers. Negative messages from unsatisfied customers can easily go viral, which if not addressed appropriately, can be detrimental to any business. To minimize risk, I believe it starts at the heart of ensuring a seamless and transparent customer experience where the customer shouldn’t have to question a brand’s reputation. Social media should be a channel of opportunity, where customers tout their loyalty to a brand, not expose in a negative light.
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 CEOs make is that they start their business, put a few people in place and then kick their feet up. No one knows your business like you, so when you start as the leader of a company, you have to give your brand your full attention. This means getting in the trenches with your team and showing you care.
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. 🙂
I believe I am creating a movement with my company CueRide. When we set out on this journey, our goal was to provide a sense of community within the rideshare industry. There is ample opportunity to leverage ridesharing for your entrepreneurial endeavors and take ownership in a company about putting control into the drivers’ hands. We’re excited for what’s to come with the brand.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find my company CueRide on Twitter and Instagram @CueRide.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!