The pandemic has forced almost all businesses to shift to online work setups. This has been a continuous struggle as it affects the team’s dynamic, the business’s growth, and even the individuals’ welfare. In this episode, serial entrepreneur, published author, and board advisor Yosh Eisbart shares his experience in the online setup and how he found a way to successfully collaborate with remote teams. Join us in learning how to effectively increase the team dynamic both offline and online!
Let’s think for a minute about the history of work. There have been times in the past that have been very disruptive, like the industrial revolution, a time that changed the way people work. More recently, the technical revolution. In both instances, when people embraced how these changes would transform their businesses instead of fighting against it, they thrived and the others did not. I believe that we are on the front lines of the people’s revolution, which is going to require us as leaders to be extremely focused on our people and be very flexible because people are complex. They cannot be systematized. A system-based people agenda is no longer going to fly in this new phase of work.
Our guest, Yosh Eisbart, has seen this coming and has already started to adapt. He’s a serial entrepreneur who has had a great exit and is the CEO and Co-founder of Fulfilld, which is a SaaS-based warehouse management system that is an all-in-one platform for hardware and software, providing real-time insight into how the warehouse operates.
He as the leader is a master of adaptation, flexibility and figuring out how to be the leader who creates an environment where people thrive. He has countless examples of times he had to turn the corner and adapt. As I’ve gotten to know him, I’m so inspired by him in so many ways. Yosh Eisbart, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Kendra. Thank you so much for having me. You’re far too kind.
Tell us a little bit about the history between NIMBL and Fulfilld. Give us a little bit of that journey because I want to tie it into the story of how you’ve maybe transformed things a bit with your people.
First and foremost so much of leadership is based upon those that you surround yourself with. My journey is inexplicably intertwined with my cofounder, Michael Pytel. We’ve been together since 2005. The previous company to Fulfilld, we started cofounding together in 2009. We’ve been married for many years and our stories are very much the same.
Briefly, in 2009, Michael and I self-funded and bootstrapped an enterprise software and services company called NIMBL and it’s based here in Denver, Colorado. It was just the two of us. We both came from enterprise software experience. Michael is more from a technical side and me from a technical engineering background but more on the people and sales side. It’s similar to what we’re doing with Fulfilld. In the midst of another major disruption, this being like the tail end of COVID, back in 2009, we were right in the midst of the Great Recession. I have a lot of experience in starting businesses in awesome entrepreneurial times because these are great times to be able to take higher risks and be more disruptive.
In 2009, we started the company. It was just the two of us. We focused on companies of scale enterprise level helping them do digital transformation within their enterprise or software stack and that included reselling enterprise software, primarily a product called SAP and implementing that software building out a 24×7 365 production support mechanism for their business-critical applications.
What we would do often is that a customer, whether a Nestle, Pepsi, Cintas or a whole list of companies that folks may not have heard of, we would build bespoke complimentary warehouse management solutions that also included hardware. What we never did back in NIMBL days is brought that IP to market and that’s what we’re doing now. Our story of Fulfilld is not a bit but it’s an evolution of what we did in our past life and we’re having another go at it.
I understand that when you exited, you had about 300 employees, is that right?
In North America, yes.
You were self-funded, which we are self-funded as well. We don’t even have a line of credit with a bank. It’s like, “If we can’t make it work with customer money then maybe it isn’t real.” You are VC-backed, as I understand. How many employees do you have?
We’re tiny. We’re sixteen full-time employees, as we speak.
Congratulations. How’s that difference been for you? Not only a services-based business and a software-based business but that funding model is different. Everything about your leadership had to change, I imagine.
I don’t know how much leadership had to change. In our past company, which was from 2009 to 2020 and they’re still around and doing great, I would hope to think that we grew as leaders in regards to how we approached people, culture and talent and the cultivation of that talent. I would hope that what we’re doing at Fulfilld is leveraging the lessons learned that we had in the past go round, not only the good but probably learning more so from what we did wrong in our last life. I wouldn’t say our leadership has been that much different. It’s that we’ve been able to stand on the experience we had previously.
Tell us a little bit about some of the things that you do differently between NIMBL and Fulfilld as a leader. How did you grow?
First off, in our last company, it was Michael and me. We were 50/50. We took no external funding. None of the folks as part of our company had any equity in it. We decided from day one that with Fulfilld, we wanted and needed to have everybody not just have an emotional stake but a literal stake in the success of the company. We’d gotten different consulting, recommendations or mentorship from different folks on either side saying, “Give equity. Don’t give equity.”
We knew that we wanted to make sure that down from the junior developer up to the head of product everyone was going to have a stake in it. There are two reasons for that. One, we were swinging for the fences in our last company when we exited to a publicly traded European competitor. It was a good exit but it wasn’t an amazing exit. We want everyone to have a stake in it. We want everyone to have this ownership thinking mentality.
Outside of the aspirational piece or the goodwill component of that, it’s good business. It’s smart to have every one of our teammates have real ownership in the company, independent of their level of experience. I’m an old man and we’ve got some youngins that are dynamite. Everyone from the most junior developer to the most senior architect has a literal equity stake in the company. That was something very different that we decided we wanted to do this go-round.
Have you seen the results that you expected them to be in terms of that stake then?
To be honest with you, I don’t know if it has made that much of a difference. We’ve been very conscious of the type of DNA that we wanted to bring in. All these folks, hand and heart, without exception and are fully emotionally invested. Maybe in some of the recruitment, the concept of an equity stake was decision-making but we were so focused on hiring the right DNA. We worked hard at it and we were lucky in having many options that all these folks want to be here. They want to be part of a startup and a company that has an ethos of, “Everyone has a true seat at the table. Everyone has their voice to be heard.” It’s a collaborative environment. They all signed up for it and they’ve continued to sign up for it.
We want everyone here to be millionaires. Compensation as you can appreciate is an important component but there’s so much more, especially in a job market where talent is at a premium for employers in terms of finding the right talent that compensation is a checkbox. Folks feel like they’re paid fairly and paid well, which we think we are. It’s the feedback we’ve been getting. It’s more of the less financial-related components that make up a person’s belonging and commitment to the company.
McKinsey dropped a study over the summer. They studied 16,000 people worldwide as to why they quit their job. Out of the top 5 reasons, 4 had cost no money. The second reason people did leave was a total compensation package, which I’ve been anecdotally collecting this data since I started this business several years ago.
Compensation has never come up as a top item until 2021 because of all the economic factors though but everything else, it’s like meaningful work, inspiring leaders, feeling like they have a career path and not burning out. It’s things we have control over as a leader. Knowing that you’ve got ways to make a culture work outside of compensation. Your equity offer is part of your value proposition in the recruiting effort but it’s your values, systems and the DNA that’s keeping people there.
It’s a super good point. There’s the old adage that can get stretched to something greater where people don’t quit companies, they quit managers. People don’t quit the compensation, they quit the company based on their feeling of self-worth, value, contribution and respect. It resonates 100%.People don't quit companies. They quit managers. Click To Tweet
Are you guys all in the office? Are you remote? What are some of the DNA you bring in and look for?
When we started bringing on people, it was at the beginning of 2021. That was still within the throes of COVID and virtual work. We are working virtually. Alluding to my age, I always was a manager who was very much about butts in seats. I felt that maybe this was generational or the folks I had worked with in the past but I was very keen on ensuring that we had folks within the office and that was a bit of a blind spot.
I feel it’s important to have opportunities for teammates to be in the same physical space because magic does happen when you’re around a whiteboard. Our team has been in essence virtual since inception but what’s been interesting is that our teammates have been asking to be more and more face-to-face. Some of them have proposed and we’ve done it where some of the teams are able to rent out Airbnbs in different parts of the planet. Whether it was a handful or ten would all congregate for a period of time and the company would pay for it.It's important to have opportunities for teammates to be in the same physical space because magic does happen when you're around the whiteboard. Click To Tweet
Sometimes we weren’t even aware. Sometimes they happen to do it on their own and say, “I’m going to be in Columbia.” They’ve got the ability to do that. “Make sure we got good Wi-Fi. Who wants to join me?” They’ve done that. In other cases that have been brought up, we’ve rented out an Airbnb in Breckenridge. To answer your question, we are virtual by definition and have aspirations to have some type of physical space when we’re able. Also, being a startup and if we’re able to be productive, be able to continue to build culture and save money as a startup, it makes some sense in the stage where we are.
When I opened up my business, I wanted a lot of flexibility but I also loved being with people. We had an office but we had core hours and then flexible hours. It’s how I started it years ago before COVID was even thought of. Our core hours were Thursday morning. “Come to the office Thursday morning as a team.” People would come in and out over the week and have customer meetings and do various things like that. I had done an analysis of how much money I was spending on an office space compared to how much use it was getting. It’s an expense I don’t want to think about.
You were ahead of the curve in that experience. Did you feel as if there was any loss of productivity because of that model?
Never because I always have treated people like adults. We’re very clear on our goals and then I don’t care when the work gets done or how it gets done except under our boundaries, which are to do what you need to do to take care of your life, that’s our family-first value and the second one gets results beyond expectations, care for people and we don’t accept jerks and a couple of others as well.
We have those defined as our DNA and hire for that and fire against it and everything. It’s made it so easy. By giving people that much flexibility and not micromanaging their hours at all, they get an enormous amount of work done. I’ve seen incredible productivity with this model. That’s why I’ve always been like, “Why aren’t more people doing it? I see the results of it.” I even look at myself. I get so much done in 35 to 40 hours a week because I have 35 to 40 hours a week I want to give and then the rest of the time I want to be with my family. I hustle in that timeline. I work more than that when I need to but I don’t want to do that every week. I want balance. That has worked well.
That’s one blind spot you had and I appreciate you saying that because we all do have those. This people revolution that we’re starting to see is going to require us to be flexible and question everything. Looking ahead or thinking now, what’s a belief you have that you’re starting to feel is the edge of a blind spot that you’re challenging?
Maybe this is going against what we had spoken about but one of the things that we want to start doing and it’s important for us because we’re so virtual that we do need to start having some more office hours or opportunities for the team to connect on a more regular basis. What I’m also hearing, not just within our company but within colleagues’ companies especially some of the folks that are newer to the workforce or right out of school are asking for more FaceTime with folks, whether it’s FaceTime with colleagues or managers. Much mentorship can happen in the non-program moments. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it over Zoom but we all know how fatigued we are from web meetings and constantly being on, which is not natural.
Beyond the quarterly get-togethers that we already have programmed, it will benefit us as we get to our next funding round or if not sooner when we can afford it that we do plan a flag somewhere where we have an office and folks can come in when they want and start scheduling maybe 1 or 2 days a week which the team’s asking that we have an opportunity to get together. That’s important. As humans, we require a connection. It can’t be always about the release schedule or customer. This can happen over Zoom but also face-to-face with somebody and connect face-to-face.
I feel that way too. I have felt some of that remote fatigue where I start noticing myself feeling like I want to be with people. Luckily, my team is all local so we can come together as a team. We are doing that once a month because it’s possible. We don’t have an office space. We’re renting an office evolution, WeWork-type place and that makes it easy and cheap.
I’ve also thought long-term. The model we originally had worked well, which is to have those core hours but then have flexible hours where people can take care of their life. I’m recommending that to companies because I’m seeing people do this hybrid environment. It’s not ill-intentioned but it’s not working. My husband’s company is like, “You come in two days a week,” but then he’ll show up on Tuesday and Thursday and nobody’s there.
That’s not solving the problem. We want to collaborate and interact. It does need to be Tuesday and Wednesday and everybody comes in, that idea of the core hours versus flexible hours. That feels like something that would work well. We’ll have to adapt and see. It sounds like you’re going to continue to grow. When you think about the next round of growth for yourself, what are you seeing coming down for that? What are the plans for Fulfilld?
We want to grow. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Especially as a startup, whether it’s trying to acquire talent, folks also want to be part of a winner so that’s super important. We closed our first price round. We had raised money previously. We closed our C round which is great. It’s super exciting. There are amazing investors and folks around the table.If you aren't growing, you are dying. Click To Tweet
All of our previous investors invested again. They all did their pro rata to maintain their percentage ownership. Plus, we had a brand-new investor out of the Midwest called Heartland Ventures who has been phenomenal where they have been a true partner in helping us with customer acquisition, which is in my experience a bit rare in the venture capital space. A lot of it is more about the capital and less about the doing. Money is important, don’t get me wrong.
Our plan over the near term is to continue to execute the plan that we’ve put in place over the last few years like rolling out our product, gaining more customers, building out the extended pipeline, turning those at the top of the funnel into conversions at the bottom of the funnel and everywhere in between in a path towards having that reoccurring revenue metric that positions us strongly for series A.
The series A when we’re going to bring in some significant money, that’s when we move from 20 to 50 people. The main difference which is not remotely prophetic and super obvious is that when you’re building a product-based company, it is very different than when you’re more services-centric. Building a global multilingual SOC 2 Type 2 complex, AI-ML location-aware platform that integrates with ERP and other connected devices requires a lot of smart people to build some very complex software.
The team is cranking away and putting in all hours of the night for it to go live that we have planned in two weeks for a major globally recognized name brand. When that’s successful, then we’re going to continue to roll it out to the 129 other warehouses they have in North America. In summary, we want to continue to execute a plan. If over a period of time we can afford it and be opportunistic in bringing on additional dynamite talent, we will but the real push for new teammates is going to be a bit in the future.
What kinds of people would you be looking for do you think at that point?
We’re a team of sixteen. Fourteen of our folks are engineers and then myself and one other fella, Dan Jackson. We are focused on sales, marketing, biz dev, partnership channel and those types of things. We’re going to continue to need additional rockstar engineers. As we want to focus more on scaling our sales and marketing engine, we’re going to need to bring on some account executives as well as some strong marketing folks who have great SaaS-based marketing expertise.
Eventually, probably post-series A, we’re going to need some C-level folks. As we did several years ago, I’m sending out invoices to customers. I’m using QuickBooks. Michael is in Insperity and using our PEO as our payroll platform, health benefits and 401(K) contribution. Our objective is to bring in folks that specialize in this stuff and can help us get better at a senior leadership perspective and then delegate.
When that time comes, hopefully, you can use this interview to tell people what a great place it is to work. It’ll be a place where several people are going to thrive. I’m excited to see that happen in the future for you. Yosh, thank you so much for your time. I so appreciate this conversation. I hope we can build a friendship around this because I want to continue to see how you’re doing.
Thank you for your time and for allowing me to share a bit about Fulfilld and all the stuff that we’re doing there.
About Yosh Eisbart
Fulfilld CEO / Co-Founder. Former NIMBL CEO / Co-Founder (acquired in 2018). Board Member. Author. YPO. Colorado proud husband & father of four. Recovering D&D 4th Level Orc.