Be Transparent: This is an immediate way to gain trust. At the beginning of Covid, I stood in front of my company and I was honest. I told them that I didn’t know what was going to happen but that I would work as best I could to make sure we came out better on the other side. Transparency goes a long way with colleagues.
Have Financial Discipline: It’s crucial to have the right financial plan in place, especially in challenging times. With a global pandemic at play and an unstable economy, having a strong financial plan can keep a company on track.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Fisher, Chief Executive Officer of Rise Interactive.
Larry is responsible for leading the strategic direction of the business. With over 20 years of experience, his marketing expertise and roots in financial services have played a major role in the explosive growth of Rise as a data-driven agency.
Prior to CEO, Larry was instrumental in developing Rise’s vision as President where he was focused on guiding the revenue-driving departments of the organization such as Account Management, Client Service, Marketing, and Sales. Through his leadership and customer-centric approach, he has helped expand the list of distinguished clients such as Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, ULTA Beauty, Stanley Steemer, and Atkins Nutritionals.
Larry is a board member for the Michael Matters Foundation and Rise Interactive. He graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in Finance. In between travel soccer games and walking their family dog Miley, Larry enjoys spending time with his wife and three kids.
Read Larry’s insights in his Late Night with Larry series on the Rise blog.
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?
When the 2008 crisis hit, I was in the financial industry and was in the midst of launching a new business. Talk about bad timing, right? It was a time marked by immense challenges, uncertainty, and fear of the unknown.
I am the kind of person that likes to try and look at the glass half full (even if it might not be!), and I used this time to learn how to promote my business digitally. That is how I met Jon Morris, the founder of Rise Interactive. I was a trader and knew nothing about digital marketing, but I realized that both industries were grounded in the very same principles of collecting and analyzing data, figuring out what works, and then applying it. As we started having more conversations, I was able to help make introductions for Jon. We were working so well together that Jon asked if I’d like to join him at Rise full time. I saw an opportunity to use the skill set I had cultivated for over 15 years and apply it to a new industry. I took the leap and never looked back.
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?
They say that change can be uncomfortable, and it was. I went from making a very good living as a trader to a new job that was basically putting me at an entry-level salary. On top of that, I had a wife and three young children to care for, so we were living off of my savings from my successful years as a trader.
However, I happen to be a risk taker, and I truly believed that this sacrifice would be well worth it. It was an opportunity to try something new at a fast-growing company, all within a rapidly growing industry. I recognize that most people probably wouldn’t have done what I did and would’ve played it safe. That’s not the kind of person I am. I chose to dive in, head first, and that decision has paid off in so many ways. I’m also so grateful that I had an incredible support system during this time of transition, including my wife who stood by me and served as my advocate and cheerleader every step of the way.
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?
On my first day at Rise, Jon Morris (Rise’s founder) and Howard Diamond (Chief Strategy Officer) brought me along to a client meeting. I sat through the meeting and was floored by the level of sophistication in their conversations. Their deep knowledge and expertise was evident.
On the way back from the meeting, I realized that I had a lot of work to do to meet their level of sophistication. I told Jon and Howard that there was no way I could ever do what they do, but they took the time to teach me everything they knew. And that’s something that has stuck with me — it’s what we aim to do at Rise for each of our colleagues — teach, educate, and inspire.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When I joined the Rise family, we were a family of 10. During our first years of trying to grow and build the business, we asked everyone to memorize the following statement: Rise is going to be the best and biggest digital marketing agency in the world. We may have been small, and it may have been quite a lofty goal, but we had big plans. Fast forward 10 years later, and we still have that grit and tenacity.
We continue to be scrappy, but smart. Data-driven and dedicated to client relationships. We went from 10 people with cardboard dividers between our desks to nearly 300 people strong, but we still act and function with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and success.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think that this is something that you get better at handling as you grow in your career. Ultimately, businesses give employees vacations and time off for a reason. Figure out how to take that time, even if you don’t go anywhere. Find a hobby and pursue it. Covid has been such an incredible challenge, but I look for the silver linings. It has saved me a 2.5 hour commute to and from the office each day. With this savings, I’ve been able to spend more time with my wife and kids than I have in a very long time during the work week. My daughter went off to college this fall, and being able to have meals together every day this past summer was a real gift.
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?
There are two people who really have helped me spread my wings and believe in myself, even during the most difficult times of my career.
The first is Jon Morris, the former CEO of Rise Interactive. As I’ve mentioned, Jon saw something in me and believed in me. He took a tried and true trader and turned me into a digital marketing expert, and that’s no easy feat.
That leads me to my wife. She has always trusted in me and has been the calming voice of reason when I needed it most. I made a decision — and at the time, a very risky one — to jump ship and join a new industry while taking a massive pay cut. We had three small children and an overwhelming amount of responsibility, and she was with me every step of the way. I couldn’t be more grateful or appreciative of her being with me on this journey.
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 experience, great companies emerge through the combination of a bold vision that sets the expectation of greatness, unique traits and characteristics that lead to greatness, and the ability to use data and results to demonstrate both internally and externally that what your company is achieving is remarkable. Without these ingredients, companies cannot make the leap from good to great.
From the beginning, Rise has set out to the biggest and best digital marketing agency in the world. Having this vision and bringing employees along for the ride has been key to our growth. As far as unique traits and characteristics, at Rise we always say two things: there is nothing more important than your direct report, and we only hire the A players. Finally, being the data-obsessed company that we are, we are constantly backing up our success with data and results.
If you have these pieces in place, paired with leaders who aren’t afraid to make the tough decisions, you’re destined for greatness.
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.
These may seem straightforward, but sometimes the simplest things are the most powerful:
- Be Transparent: This is an immediate way to gain trust. At the beginning of Covid, I stood in front of my company and I was honest. I told them that I didn’t know what was going to happen but that I would work as best I could to make sure we came out better on the other side. Transparency goes a long way with colleagues.
- Be a Good Communicator: Make sure you communicate clearly, telling people what you want and need. Progress can’t be made if you don’t communicate what that progress looks like.
- Invest In Your Team: In order to keep and retain your best talent, you need to know what those people care about, both personally and professionally. Find out what matters to them and show genuine interest.
- Be Kind, but Firm: Be a good person and get to know your team, but demand respect as well. A good leader needs to hold everyone, including themselves, accountable.
- Have Financial Discipline: It’s crucial to have the right financial plan in place, especially in challenging times. With a global pandemic at play and an unstable economy, having a strong financial plan can keep a company on track.
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?
Being a purpose driven company gives your colleagues and clients something to rally around. At Rise, our purpose is driven by our promise to clients — that they will work with the most passionate, data-driven, and innovative marketers who care about growing their business together.
Purpose is critical, but so are results. I see the two going hand in hand. At the end of the day, clients come to us to help them grow their business. If we’re providing a remarkable experience and we’re enjoyable to work with but the results aren’t there, we haven’t done our job. And, if the results are there but we’re not bringing passion and enthusiasm to our work, we haven’t done our job.
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”?
Every six months, I ask myself two questions as they relate to my career: Am I enjoying what I am doing AND can I support my family in the way that I want? If I get two yes answers, I keep going. If I get one yes and one no, I have to pause and think about what to do next. And if I get two no’s, I need to make a change. I live by this and it has always guided my career choices.
My career advice for anyone at a standstill is pretty simple: Find the fastest growing company and the fastest growing industry and dive in. If you work hard, the opportunities will fall into your lap.
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?
This year has impacted all of us in different ways. As leaders, it has forced us to make tough decisions and be more authentic and transparent than ever before.
When I stood in front of Rise at the beginning of Covid, I asked them to trust me. And they did. I’m thrilled to say that during this time, we had the fortunate opportunity to go on offense and defense at the same time. We hired people during this very challenging year, and we’re at our highest headcount ever. We made a lot of investments in sales and marketing to make sure our pipeline is strong.
Like I said before, I am a risk taker, and I’ve been taking calculated risks since Covid began, all with the safety and integrity of my company top of mind. We are a direct response marketing agency, and we knew that no matter when businesses turned back “on,” they would need our help. That’s why we built up our team, hired more A players than ever before, and used this challenging time to get our team in the best place possible.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
When Rise was a company of about 100 people, I knew every single person. I knew their families, their lives, their milestones. As the company has grown, that has been increasingly difficult to maintain. I truly believe that a company is just as good as its leader, and it’s important to me to show each and every colleague that I care.
While I’m still working on getting to know our nearly 300 colleagues, I’ve had my assistant put together a binder with information on everyone that I can look at during my down time. While it’s no longer practical for me to know all employees as deeply as I did when we were a smaller company, I am still committed to finding ways to reach out to Risers individually to let them know that I am here for them.
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?
I think the best way to increase conversion rates is to have a true understanding of your target audience and be laser focused on going after that audience. Make sure that your offering, and everything you do, is designed for that audience. Once you get past that initial discovery, it’s all about learning, evolving and the ability to pivot in real time.
We’ve learned a lot about strategy from the clients we’ve won, but we’ve learned just as much, if not more, from those that we’ve lost. We take feedback seriously so we can learn, grow and evolve.
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?
Having a vision and a mission and using that to guide everything you do is critical to becoming a trusted brand. Consistency is key and it’s important to identify what your company does best and then build a brand around that.
Rise Interactive was founded by Jon Morris and is grounded in data — something that Jon learned back at his days at University of Chicago. This has allowed us to build a brand around our key strength: being data-driven marketers. We’ve used this as a core pillar of our identity since day one and haven’t wavered since.
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?
As a business leader, I know that the client always comes first. We make it a priority to talk about client goals first and Rise goals second. Allowing our teams — openly giving them permission — to make decisions that are best for our clients goes a long way.
At our company, we have something we call the Rise Five — it’s the five questions that every person in client services needs to know and be able to answer about their clients. This is a non-negotiable. Every week when we meet with clients, we should be able to answer these questions. If we focus on these, it’s hard not to make progress.
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.
Social media isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a need to have these days. But, it’s not just about signing onto these channels and publishing content just to say you did it. It’s about the value that it provides, as well as the exchange of value to the person on the receiving end. If you’re creating content that others feel is valuable, authentic and honest, you really can’t go wrong.
Personally, I’m less concerned with being in every conversation, and I’m more concerned about using the power of social media to connect with and provide value to clients, prospective clients and other industry movers and shakers.
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 biggest mistake I’ve seen with CEOs and founders is being undercapitalized. If you have to make business decisions that are predominantly influenced by being undercapitalized, then you’re making the wrong decisions.
When you’re a startup and have a tremendous amount of pressure to grow and get things to the next level, being undercapitalized can become the biggest detriment to your success.
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 think my biggest passion is working to diversify the workforce, and that can come in many different forms. As a dad of two daughters who are starting to spread their career wings, empowering and encouraging women is one of many areas of critical importance.
We continually look for ways to invest in diverse Risers and empower them to do amazing things. While we have a lot of work to do in this area, it is something that is very important to me and is a movement that I am proud to champion.
How can our readers further follow you online?
I recently started a new series on the Rise Interactive blog called Late Night with Larry. As my basement has now transformed into my home office, I am often up, late at night, sharing my thoughts about the industry. I’d love for you to come along for the ride — you can read my posts here.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!