Advice from the happiest company in the cloud.
Mark Richards, Founder and CEO of makepositive, speaks with Rip Gerber, Vlocity CMO and Head of Alliances, on how to make happiness a competitive advantage.
This summer, in the hectic days leading up to the biggest Dreamforce in history, I caught up with makepositive Founder and CEO, Mark Richards. In the entire Salesforce ecosystem, makepositive is positively one of the most cherished – and satisfied – partners. We’ve been working with the makepositive teams this year, and I was curious: why are all of Mark’s consultants always so happy?
Rip: Mark, thank you for taking time to be with us today. Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you start makepositive?
Mark: The idea of starting a new firm came while I was a consultant at PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers). PwC was a terrific place for me. I was working with great people on great projects for great customers, but I felt a growing disconnect between our consultants and the leadership of the firm. It’s a classic growth and scale issue, especially in professional services firms. One night, while having a curry with some peers who were telling similar stories about how engaged the leadership were, it hit me. Could you build a firm where the ethos was about putting the consultant first? Well, we finished our curry, and I never chatted about it again.
Rip: But it came up again, right?
Mark: Yes. Out of the blue, I received a phone call from Convergys. Somebody from that curry dinner party was getting the word out. Convergys wanted to talk about a project, and I hadn’t even started the firm yet.
Rip: So you sold your first deal before you started the company?
Mark: That’s how it started, by a customer. I left PwC right before the IBM merger. A few of my colleagues joined me, and we started a company. We called ourselves expw. We were a ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ culture. We had 10 consultants within a year.
Rip: What was the genesis of naming the company makepositive?
Mark: I really wanted to project outwardly the feeling that we all cherished internally. The most important job of a leader is to help others find their own happiness. Our team was harnessing and promoting a profound level of happiness in their work, as individuals and as a team. This was resulting in happy clients. We were making everyone feel positive. So I changed the name to makepositive. It's quite an unusual name. Many people think we're a charity. But it projects how we feel.
Rip: Let’s talk about your relationship with Salesforce. You hold a unique, special place in Tyler Prince’s ecosystem.
Mark: In the early days, from about 2007 to 2010, we were very focused on Siebel, i.e. large teams doing big Siebel implementations. Then I noticed the Siebel pipeline was dropping. Something big was afoot. I put some of my people through Salesforce training, which 6 years ago was a very bold move. Then it took another year to build relationships with the Salesforce account executives, so that we could win projects together. It sounds like a no-brainer now, but 6 years ago, we took an enormous risk pivoting our focus to the Salesforce platform. In less than 12 months, we stopped doing Siebel work and started building and experimenting on the Salesforce platform.
Rip: Looks like that bet paid off.
Mark: Today we are 100% focused on the Salesforce platform, implementing all the clouds: Sales, Service, Platform, Communities, and Marketing. Salesforce is an amazing platform and partner.
Rip: Sounds like you are very happy about Salesforce.
Mark: Like Vlocity, we are delighted to be working so closely with Salesforce. So yes I am happy. Happiness is so important in partners too, and in building a sustainable culture.
Rip: How do you measure happiness? What metrics could I use to measure my company’s “Happiness Quotient”?
Mark: The most obvious metric starts with your people. If your people are happy, they don’t leave. makepositive has a market leading staff turnover rate in the Salesforce ecosystem. We are far below all industry averages on staff turnover, which is remarkable in such a hot market like cloud today.
Rip: Any other ‘happiness metrics’?
Mark: Staff turnover is an outbound metric. Team happiness can also be measured by an inbound metric: what percentage of the job applicants do you ultimately hire? At makepositive, that percentage is less than 1%. So many people want to work here, and once they join, they don’t want to leave. That’s because they are happy. And, a significant percentage of the new hires are friends of people that work here. That's also testament to providing a great employee experience.
Rip: You mentioned how important happy customers are to your overall equation. Do you have similar metrics on the customer satisfaction side?
Mark: Check out our AppExchange reviews. We recently jumped from a 9.3 to 10 (out of 10). We are all immensely proud of this. Happiness is a competitive advantage here.
Rip: What advice you give to someone wanting to build more happiness into their organization? That is, what does it take to build a truly happy culture?
Mark: The number one skill for a leader is the ability to listen, which means you are engaged with everybody. I prefer a flat structure to a lot of hierarchy, because this provides more access to engaging and listening to everyone in the company. As a leader, my job includes promoting -- and living -- the message that you can talk to anyone in this business about anything at anytime. That openness and empathy are core values.
Rip: The challenge then, is balancing the need to listen with the need to digest everything you're hearing and make decisions.
Mark: Something I do that helps is this: as soon as someone comes into the business, I make sure I get to know them, take the time to understand what's going to make them tick. That is an invaluable part to building a happy culture. And it makes everyone who works here feel valued. So my advice is to take the time to get to know everyone in your company, listen always to customers, to partners, to the team, and make decisions accordingly.
Rip: What are you hearing these days about Industry Cloud?
Mark: To me, Industry Cloud is Vlocity. What attracted me initially to Vlocity is the team. Not only did we know the team from prior lives, we already had a huge amount of respect for their depth and breadth of experience. And everyone we’ve met at Vlocity has been terrific. They are helping us ‘verticalize’ our business as Salesforce moves to an industry vertical market approach. Vlocity is a great partner for our tribe.
Rip: I haven’t heard any partner say it quite like that, that Vlocity has become part of their tribe. That’s an interesting concept.
Mark: I’ve been reading a book called Tribes, by Seth Godin. I am a big fan of his writings. His Tribes book was a turning point for me. (Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin, 2008). Tribes thrive when there is a common goal and effective communication. I admire the activism Seth is trying to inspire in people.
Rip: Mark, thank you so much for your time and your thoughts on curry dinners, happiness and tribes. If we could end here with just one thought about makepositive and how you’ve built such a successful firm, what would it be?
Mark: Karma.Treat people how you want to be treated, and the world is a better place.
Chief Marketing & Innovation Officer
Rip Gerber has 25 years’ experience inspiring and leading great people to build disruptive, market-leading companies, raising over $500M in venture and IPO funds that have delivered a collective 5x return on invested capital. He currently serves as Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer of Vlocity, Inc. where he leads all go-to-market activities, brand strategy, and global business development. Gerber has helped propel Vlocity as the fastest-growing Salesforce partner (out of 5,000) for four years in a row.
Rip is also an international best-selling author and accomplished musician. Throughout his career he has driven a dual agenda of ‘pragmatic creativity’ and ‘warp-speed innovation’ in the enterprise software, mobile, and Software-as-a-Service industries, where he has served in CEO, GM, Board Director and CMO roles for several venture-backed and seed-to-IPO companies. He started his career at the CIA and has served in management roles at Firestone, American Express, Nokia, Publicis, as well as founding and selling several tech companies including @once, Commtouch and Locaid. He has a biochemical engineering degree from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Harvard University.