In this episode of The Staffing Show, I interview Martin Payne, the new CEO of TextUs, about what brought him to the growing business texting platform, what it takes to lead growth stage companies, and how he copes and adapts during the pandemic. Martin shares his thoughts on doing the right thing, meditating and eating well to lead better, and following your mom’s advice.
Caitlin: Welcome to The Staffing Show, I’m here today with Martin Payne, who’s the new CEO of TextUs. Martin is an experienced leader of growth stage companies. Prior to coming to TextUs, he was at Mersive Technologies, where he helped the company achieve industry-leading growth in the wireless collaboration market by overseeing marketing, inside sales, account management, and customer support. Prior to that, Martin was COO of GutCheck, a technology-based provider of agile consumer insights and analytics used by global 2000 companies to optimize product innovation and marketing communications. Thanks for joining us today, Martin.
Martin: Thanks for having me, Caitlin.
Caitlin: So just to start us off, what brought you to TextUs? What made you make the switch over to the staffing tech world?
Martin: A few things. One is the texting just as a communication medium, I just think has so much promise going forward to make communications with employees, with prospects, with customers, a lot more conversational, a lot more human. I just think it’s a much more authentic medium, and it’s just a natural evolution from, I think, getting an email or something that’s a bit more, I’ll call it, transactional or impersonal, migrating the conversation to texting, which is much more personal.
And we’re really only in the first or second inning of the development of texting as a communication medium between businesses and consumers. I think the technology bolsters a lot of promise, and there’s a lot of running room in front of it.
Two, is just the company itself. The people at the company, I think share a very team-first ethos. They’re in it for themselves as a team, but I think they’re also in it for the customers, which, that’s the group that I want to be a part of, that’s the team, I want to be a part of.
And the other part about the company, too, is they’ve just built a terrific product to achieve the level of a success that the company’s achieved with the amount of capital raised. They’ve just been very effective to date. So I really consider myself fortunate to have landed in this spot that really I wasn’t looking for, it came my way, and I feel really fortunate to have landed in a spot where we’ve got a great market to be in and a really strong company in terms of people and product within that space.
Caitlin: Absolutely. We at StaffingHub have seen TextUs grow insanely over the past four years, as we’ve moved into a space where texting is no longer an option, especially for staffing. You have fresh eyes into the TextUs team and to the product — I’m wondering where you locate the secret to TextUs success, or what do you think sets them apart as a market leader in this space?
Martin: I think the company goes the extra mile. I think in a competitive space like texting software, I do think it’s a game of inches. And I think when you pick your spots where you give that extra effort, it gets you a disproportionate amount of success with your customers and with your partners. And I think that’s what the company has done.
When you look at the product that the company has built, there was nothing that compelled the company or made the company develop the next platform. But I think the company felt like it was the right thing to do by their customers to build a platform that just gives them a few of these extra features that add more value, that add more to the texting conversation than what they had before.
So, I think it’s that competitive spirit and that willingness to go the extra mile to do something that is extraordinary for your customers and for your company.
Caitlin: Given your background, you seem to share in that competitive spirit too. And you, as a leader, are really laser-focused on growth and an expert in keeping your teams focused on the actions that really make bottom-line differences for companies, both at TextUs and in your past. And so, for those companies out there listening who are just on that cusp of breaking through to their growth goals, what advice do you have for them as someone who’s been there and moved people through those phases that seem like we’re never going to break through, we’re never going to get there. What advice do you have for them?
Martin: I would say, do the right thing.
Do the right thing by your employees because, if you hire well and treat your employees well, they’re going to treat their customers well.
If you treat your customers well and do right by them, they’re going to tell their friends. Well, one, they’re going to come back and buy some more stuff from you, but then they’re going to tell their friends.
If your customers are doing that, then your shareholders, who actually took the original risk of establishing the company, they’re going to feel like the trust and the risk that they took on behalf of the company was well justified.
It just creates this really nice virtuous circle. And if you stay focused on those relationships, and you really are intentional about those relationships, particularly in that sequence, you end up building a great company.
And at the end of the day, it’s hard to predict when exactly that’s going to come, it’s going to be hard to avoid bumps in the road. They’ll feel like bumps.
I think that virtuous circle is so powerful that you’re going to get there at the end of the day.
It’ll probably come faster in more unexpected fashion, but you will get there. It’ll be the other things that you can’t predict like overall market adoption or market growth rate. It’s very tough to predict that.
But if you’re doing the right thing, the success is going to come. You just don’t know exactly when and exactly what shape, but you will get there.
Caitlin: And how do you juggle or how do you define doing the right thing? Or how do you make sure doing the right thing makes sense for all your constituents and the bottom line?
Martin: Yeah, because usually the constituents know what the right thing is, actually more often than I do.
I think in a lot of ways, I mean, there’re certain fundamentals where, okay, I think I do know the right answer. I know what healthy teamwork looks like. I know what functional human relationships look like and human communications look like versus dysfunctional. So, I think there, I can be a contributor there.
There’s certain other boundaries too that I think we just have to accept. There are just certain financial constraints that the company has and it’s a reality. It’s like a family, listen, you’ve got a budget that you’ve got to live by, right? And it’s not really a choice variable, you just try to do the best within the constraints you’ve been given.
But I think outside of things like that, I do think the best information resides throughout the company.
My tactic has always been to involve the company in defining what right looks like for the employees, for the customers.
I probably have more say in terms of, hey, this is what I think is right by the shareholders, I tend to have more conversations with them. And then, I believe in involving people in that process. So, they typically will have better information, but at the end of the day, they’ve also got to carry it out, whatever we deem as being right, right strategy, right plan of attack. They’ve got to go execute that anyway. So if they’re involved in defining it because they know better, and then they’ve got to execute it, I think we end up more often than not in a better spot than if the executive team comes down with the tablet, so to speak. So, it’s a more democratic view, I think of defining what that is.
Caitlin: Yeah. And maybe this is related, because I wanted to talk a little about how you define your leadership style. I mean, it is related. It sounds like you’re not an old-school, top-down leader. It sounds like you’re looking for answers from within your team or organically or democratically, but can you talk a little bit more about that?
Martin: Yeah, definitely. No, I do truly believe that the best strategy and the best execution come from all parts of the company coming together to, I think define those. I do believe though that, and where I am old-school is really in the values, I guess.
I do believe that there are some values that are absolutely timeless. I think actually involving people, diversity of opinion and of thought, that to a large degree, I think is why I like to bring people throughout the organization into defining what is right and what is strategic. And other values as well like, don’t point the finger, it’s your teammate, right? Figure out how to solve the problems or challenges with your teammates.
And so, I think getting those things and being very intentional about what those values and those norms are, so that you can live by them, that’s a very important step in defining what is right in terms of employee behavior and treatment of one another. And to a large degree as well, employee treatment of customers. Another example would be working through like right now, we’re working through the process of defining product strategy, what does it mean to have a product strategy? And that’s really a journey of, an iterative journey of identifying what markets do you want to go after? What are the markets that are attractive that we can win at that we’re uniquely suited to win in? What are the products that we can develop that will allow us to win in those markets? So being very intentional about that, but then also getting feedback throughout the company on whether they think that’s the right thing to do or not. So that’s culture, that’s product strategy.
I’d say the other area has been in the area of go-to-market. So identifying the go-to-market strategy, which would include the processes that you use in sales and marketing to effectively win your fair share of the market. An example that I’ll bring to light is, we had a two day offsite, where we sat back and I think took a very honest look at how we were doing as a collective go-to-market team. We identified where we were strong, where we weren’t. And in those areas where we had gaps, we formulated a strategy around and have been executing it.
One area was a change in sales comp plans, and those are always dicey. And so, we took what we thought was a good comp plan, socialized it among various members of the team to get their feedback. This was a process that probably took us about two months, but I think we got to a really good place. And the sales team was bought in and I think it’s going to produce some results for us. So, that’s product go to market and culture, but hopefully there’s enough meat there that tells you how I go about at least, getting the company’s input in buying in each of those areas.
Caitlin: It sounds like transparency and not being cagey about how decisions are being made is a big part of what links all three of those categories and-
Martin: Yeah, for sure.
Caitlin: So, you laid out how it works when it’s working. But I know we all learn really well from our failures and mistakes. So, I’m wondering if you have a favorite failure that set you up for later success.
Martin: Yeah, there’s one, particularly painful one, but. So this one here was just a lesson for me.
It’s almost like following your mom’s advice. I love my mom dearly, but I didn’t follow everything she said, but more often than not, she was right. I would remember those moments when something came back to bite and I was like, oh yeah, my mom was right on that.
Well, it’s the equivalent of that over in the business world where there was one mistake where I didn’t have the proper … I really didn’t drive home the fact that, hey, we’ve got an HR policy for this, right, because when things get busy, you can get lazy with certain things. There was an HR policy that we should have gotten out there that we didn’t.
And then I come to find later that there was a really bad actor on the executive team. And, it’s just really, really bad behavior, not just of an executive, but I think of any person in the workplace. I learned that this guy had gone unchecked for months, for months. It was horrible. And I just think that had the policy been out there and communicated, and it was really clear to everybody that we just don’t tolerate behavior like this, then I think those months may have turned into weeks, maybe even days. And people would’ve been like, hey, yeah, he’s an executive of the company, but you said Martin that we don’t tolerate this, so I’m letting you know.
So, in my professional career, that was probably the most regrettable mistake that I’ve made. So, the lesson for me is there’re certain underpinnings that have just got to be in place in companies to make sure that the fabric of the company stays just tight together, that you’ve put in place things where you can self-correct and if there are bad actors, you can flag them right away and get them out of there. And so, yeah, that was mine. And it haunts me a bit, but it also reminds me to not be reactive and lackadaisical when it comes to stuff like that.
Caitlin: Those are the ones that we learn the best from, right? The ones that hurt the first time we learned them. We won’t do that one again.
Martin: Yeah, it’s years in the rear-view mirror and it still stings.
Caitlin: Yeah. And it sounds like it’s helped to make you not just a leader that creates this virtuous circle, like you said, but really to articulate that, that is part of the culture for every company.
Caitlin: That makes a lot of sense. Maybe this is related maybe not, but in the last few years, what new belief or behavior or habit do you think has most improved your life?
Martin: I think eating better has. Yeah, I think so.
What I’ve noticed with eating better is my energy levels are higher, and I’ve noticed that when my energy levels are higher, I’m just more patient and more kind for longer periods of time.
So, that for me, I’ve really tried to be intentional about it during COVID, because I was worried that working from home, I was just going to raid the pantry all day long. And so, I changed up my routine and it’s really helped. And yeah, I just think, I’m just a better version of myself interpersonally because of that.
Caitlin: That’s interesting, because it really highlights how much those decisions that you make off the Zoom calls, outside of the meetings are really foundational for everything else.
Caitlin: Are there any, this is shifting gears a little bit, but are there any bad recommendations that you hear in your profession or from thought leaders that in your experience just don’t hold water, like business adages that people use all the time that you’re like, that’s not the way the world works?
Martin: That’s a really good question and I know there are some. I’m a little argumentative to begin with, so I absolutely know that there are some where I’m like, that’s bullshit.
I’m struggling at the moment for a specific one, but I think I’ll give you a general one and hopefully a more specific one, a specific entertaining one comes to mind. But I think the more general one is, folks out there that have a pretty prescriptive recommendation. And the implication is that this recommendation applies to the vast majority of situations out there, and I just don’t believe that’s the case.
It’s similar to an individual, it’s like, hey, everyone’s got a story.
Before you determine whether that action was good, bad, right, wrong or indifferent, I think you got to understand the story behind the person, understand the context and the intent.
And I think the same is true with businesses. I think businesses, you have groups of people that do things for a certain reason, and there’s usually a pretty important backstory to that, that you’ve got to understand before you come in and make any decisions about changing things, because you actually might end up changing something that was actually working quite well had you understood the context better. Because it doesn’t fit your pattern, if you will, your preconceived pattern of what you think is good, you can make an uninformed decision.
So, that’s what I’ve tried to do here at TextUs is really look, listen, learn, and make decisions that are as informed as possible, based on the company’s backstory, but then also informed by some other experience that I’ve got here that I brought with me as well.
Caitlin: Well, that’s a great answer because it’s a meta answer that points to the problem with business advice or all these articles on five things you have to do to succeed in business or how to do X. It points to the fact that a lot of adages bring up the least common denominator or are impossible to apply in every situation, so there’s so much. I think a lot of our thought leadership right now, there is this tendency to not personalize this information or not think about the intricacies in order to position yourself as an expert. So it’s interesting to think about that in and of itself being the problem with business adages, so great, that’s what I’m saying.
Martin: Yeah. Okay, here’s one I just thought of that’s a little more specific: time heals all wounds.
Caitlin: That’s a good one.
Martin: It is. It heals some, but it doesn’t heal all of them. I mean, my goodness, you can just take a look at the socioeconomic situation around us. It’s like, you know what? It’s been a lot of time that’s gone on from the original infraction or infractions and now.
Caitlin: Yeah. The only way that can be true is if you zoom out, what’s the time limit on time healing all wounds? 400 years?
Martin: I know. I know. Yeah. So, sometimes it does, but I think if you assess the situation, some situations actually require some intervention.
Caitlin: Yeah. And when you’ve lost your focus temporarily, or you’re feeling overwhelmed as we all often do these days, what works for you to get you back on track? Or what do you do when you lose focus?
I meditate and I pray.
I take a step back and I ground myself in what it is I’m trying to achieve as a human. And then, that’s home base for me.
Then I start to connect the dots again from that place of personal mission and purpose.
And then from there I can start to prioritize the stuff that is most important and meaningful in my personal life and my professional life, which it actually gets fairly hard to distinguish between those two, the older I get.
I find that the business world, it becomes pretty personal for me. So yeah, that’s really what I use as my signal to noise filter and just reorient myself around what’s really important for business, for personal life. And then, I can focus time and energy on the stuff that’s most important and I can say no, or not now to the stuff that can wait.
Caitlin: We’re big fans of meditation here at StaffingHub. There’s a certain steadiness and thoughtfulness in people who are regular practitioners, I think, and I thought maybe you were a meditator, so thanks for that confirmation.
Martin: Yeah, you definitely pegged me, and well and likewise for you guys. No wonder you guys-
Caitlin: It’s definitely the single biggest game changer for us in terms of filtering out the noise, especially for Dave and I, is meditation 100%.
Martin: It’s no wonder you guys, you’ve got grace under fire.
Caitlin: Thank you, we try. You got to practice that, you got to practice that. That’s the only way to-
Martin: Oh you do. It’s like a muscle, right?
Martin: It’s like [crosstalk] muscle, it’s like you’ve got to give it a workout.
Caitlin: Yeah, yeah. And it atrophies so quick, you go three days without it. It’s like, where’s up? [inaudible] yourself.
Martin: Totally, yeah.
Caitlin: Well, that’s great to hear. So zooming back in to TextUs, and in the day to day where we have to keep our cool, the business of it. So, you tend to have pretty good idea of where technology is going, an instinct for that. What do you see as the future of staffing technology or where do you see us going as you look down the line?
Martin: I think the staffing industry is also in the very early innings of being able to use technology in a way that’s just going to allow them to take the candidates and identify, well, be able to identify the candidates that are just going to fit in this job for this company better than ever before. I just think technology is going to be deployed to allow recruiters and staffers to be able to do that and I do think it’s going to be a game changer. It’ll be a game changer on behalf of the candidates themselves, the staff, but also the clients. Yeah, we’ll just be able to find fit, just the right fit for a higher percentage of placements in less time.
Caitlin: Yeah, and that all, I agree, and that seems like it will filter out a lot of busy work for recruiters and for teams. And just, it’ll be the thing that clear space to build relationships rather than-
Caitlin: The minutia of source, of-
Can you imagine how significant of an impact you could make on the workforce and society at large, if you can improve, call it the fit rate, the placement rate as measured by fit by 10% of the employees that you’re trying to place? I mean, that would make a big difference in a lot of lives.
Caitlin: Yeah. And this may, I mean, I think this is related, but, and what do you see on the horizon for TextUs?
Martin: I think we can play a role in having that impact on staffing and recruiting. I think we can leverage the conversations that folks use us for in a way that’s respecting the privacy of all involved. I think we can discern insights and learnings from those conversations to, for example, recommend ways that people at recruiting and staffing firms can have better conversations with their folks or recommend placing them in positions that might be a better fit just to start with the recommendation on what might be a better fit on a statistical or probabilistic basis, right up front to give folks a headstart in terms of those conversations.
And, I think that’s something that we can certainly do there. I think the other area where we can help too, is in extending the conversation past just texting. Texting is probably going to be the dominant mode of communications, I think for these candidates most of the time, but they live and communicate in other channels as well, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, email every now and then. And so, why not incorporate some of those communication channels into the conversation because the conversation does span different channels.
Caitlin: Yeah, it seems more and more everyone is on all channels and that anytime you’re focusing on a single channel, you’re cutting yourself off.
Martin: Yeah, exactly.
Caitlin: Denying your reach. We’ve touched on this a little bit in this conversation, but we’re in very strange times right now, obviously, unprecedented, as everyone says now. What has been the most helpful for you in leading the TextUs team through this insane year that we call 2020?
Martin: I think just being honest with people, number one. Not blowing sunshine in dark places. Being very real, but also, I think developing a way for us to, I think, move through the headwinds in a way that gives people confidence. It’s like, okay, yeah, we can make it through and we can actually come out stronger.
Caitlin: Well, that’s a perfect place to end. And that’s what I hope for all of us is to come out stronger on the other side, so.
Martin: Yeah, totally.
Caitlin: Thank you for that, and thank you for joining us today. This was-
Martin: Well, thanks for having me, Caitlin. It’s always a pleasure hanging out and chatting with you.