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Lars Helgeson: “Every company benefits from digital transformation”

Every company benefits from digital transformation. I can’t think of a single industry that’s better served doing things the “old school” way of pen and paper, or isolated siloed software. People are naturally resistant to change, and learning new things can be challenging, but the end result will be worth it if you transform using […]

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Every company benefits from digital transformation. I can’t think of a single industry that’s better served doing things the “old school” way of pen and paper, or isolated siloed software. People are naturally resistant to change, and learning new things can be challenging, but the end result will be worth it if you transform using the right tools for the job.


As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lars Helgeson.

The story of Helgeson’s business starts back in 1997, when he walked into a bookstore to get a better understanding of the Internet. At the time, he was in the Air Force, and knew he didn’t want to work for a huge organization and be a cog in a massive, bureaucratic machine.

He picked up a book called “Teach Yourself CGI Programming In A Week”, and proceeded to power through basic programs built in a language called Perl. From there, Helgeson worked with the man who would become his business partner for the next 15 years to build a searchable database of fine art. That company eventually folded, but the lessons they learned took them to our next ventures.

Not every idea we had came to fruition, but each try brought them closer to the platform that evolved into GreenRope, his flagship CRM and marketing automation platform. In 2008, Lars had the idea to create a platform from scratch that would address the real needs of businesses — integrating information together in a useful, actionable way. That idea is what fueled the development of GreenRope.


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?

GreenRope started as a next generation platform built off of CoolerEmail, the email marketing platform I built in 2000. While that first platform was good at sending emails, the more I found out about our customers, the more I saw that the real problem businesses face relates to understanding information and integrating it together. Starting over with the CRM as the heart of the system, I designed an architecture that was intentionally flexible and open, able to pull together a wide array of functions into the CRM. GreenRope integrates what we learned about email marketing with other related technologies like SMS, voice, websites, analytics, calendaring, surveys, project management, learning management, knowledge management, and combines them with automation and personalization across all of those channels and interaction points.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

In my first business, CoolerEmail, I was a startup with not much personal experience with business. I didn’t realize that people would try to take advantage of a platform. One of our first users was a guy who had a big list of purchased email addresses, and I trusted him when he said he had permission to email them. One of those recipients was very angry about having received an email from our client and decided to call the number on our website, which happened to be my personal phone. I remember coming home and playing the message on my answering machine (yes, it was a long time ago), and hearing some guy call me a terrorist and hoping I’d die a slow horrible death. I learned two important lessons: 1) don’t blindly trust customers to be honest about their email lists, and 2) don’t put your personal phone number on your website.

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?

I think the biggest predictor of success in anything is attitude, and attitude is heavily influenced by the support of those around us. I can attribute much of my success to my Mom, who was tirelessly supportive of me when I started my business and would make me dinners on nights when I was just scraping by to pay rent and didn’t have time to cook a meal. She’d listen to me share my stories, even if she didn’t fully grasp the technical aspects of what I was talking about. Through it all, she believed in me, and to this day, I still work to make her proud. Unfortunately, she passed away 8 years ago, but I always remember those who have supported me through the difficult times.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There wasn’t a particular book or podcast, but I have seen several interviews with Elon Musk who always explains entrepreneurship in poignant ways that resonate with me. I’ll never forget one interview where he said that being an entrepreneur is like chewing on glass and staring into the abyss. Knowing that someone who is so successful feels the same way as I do is comforting in a way. When I don’t feel like I have all the answers (which is often), I’m reminded that much of the business owner’s journey is filled with the risk-reward tradeoff and dealing with problems that most people never see.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

The purpose of GreenRope is simple — to help businesses and NPOs grow and operate more efficiently through an integrated approach to sales, marketing, and customer service. We work tirelessly to help our customers, continually improving on our software and investing personal time in educating and helping our clients. I want to leave my mark on this planet as someone who was able to serve others’ businesses and missions in a way that helped them attain their goals. We have thousands of clients who we have helped, and I foresee us helped many more.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We just launched our integration with Zoom. It streamlines and automates the integration between GreenRope and Zoom. Webinars and meetings automatically synch up with our events management system, allowing for easier automation, filtering, and personalization of the customer experience. Recently both Gene Marks and Laurie McCabe wrote articles on our level of integration, highlighting our native integrations with Stripe and Zoom. Considering most events are online nowadays, it’s more important than ever to help people streamline their virtual event outreach and follow ups.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is about centralizing the way a company operates so that everything is easily accessible and able to be automated through software. Once information is centralized, business processes are documented, repeatable parts of the organization and its culture. This then allows for automation and better personalization through the use of that software, which will in turn increase the company’s efficiency and improve both the top and bottom line. Decisions are based on data, not just intuition, and customers are better served.

On a practical level, the core of digital transformation lies in the CRM and for manufacturing companies, the ERP. The relationships which drive the business are all managed by these software tools, and for the transformation to work, everything must be tightly integrated. This means the CRM is able to instantly and automatically provide visibility into sales, marketing, customer service, events, internal and external projects, client and employee onboarding and training, and more.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Every company benefits from digital transformation. I can’t think of a single industry that’s better served doing things the “old school” way of pen and paper, or isolated siloed software. People are naturally resistant to change, and learning new things can be challenging, but the end result will be worth it if you transform using the right tools for the job.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

We help companies and NPOs every day with digital transformation. It is the core of what GreenRope does, integrating disparate platforms into a single, unified system. For example, during the pandemic, one of our customers Evolve, completely pivoted their business model. They originally sold and taught in-person classes to salon student. Of course, with the pandemic, in-person classes were no longer an option. They used GreenRope to offer all of their courses online using our Learning Management tool. Instead of having to suffer through the loss of business, they turned this challenge into an opportunity for successful digital transformation.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Digital transformation will have a wide range of difficulty for different businesses. The biggest challenge is often personnel who are unwilling to change or learn something new. People who build empires in companies and are afraid of a unified platform removing their power as gatekeeper over the things they do. This is why digital transformation has to come from the top, both as a corporate strategy and as an exercise in leadership. Once an organization understands the “why”, they can work on the “how”. Sometimes it will mean getting rid of old systems and learning new software, something that everyone will have to support. Leadership has to have the courage to remove people who are unwilling to go along with the transformation.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

5 ways to take digital transformation to the next level:

  • Work with your sales, marketing, and customer service teams to develop customer journey maps for your major market segments
  • Invest in an integrated CRM and marketing automation platform that supports your new journey maps
  • Work with your sales and marketing teams to develop end-to-end tracking of leads and customers, including realtime customer acquisition cost (CAC) and marketing ROI calculations
  • Develop marketing automation sequences to engage with leads and track where and why they leave your sales funnels
  • Get your customer service team to use an integrated ticketing and chat platform to provide useful information to your sales and marketing teams

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Developing a culture of innovation is about supporting creative ideas and giving people the space to run with them. Let employees experiment with new ways of doing things, and hold them accountable for the success of their programs.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “No matter where you go, there you are.” It’s a quote from an old science fiction cult classic called “Buckaroo Banzai”, and even though they make fun of it for being pseudo philosophical, it is true in that who we are follows us. We can try to run from our problems, but who we are will always stay with us, so we might as well work on ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow along on our blog at https://www.greenrope.com/blog , on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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