Process Can Drive Outcomes


Andrew Wallace
Andrew Wallace

Senior Director, Product Management

Episode notes

How to create a workable strategy with a less defined product

How do you define a product to an organization that thinks of its product as operations or food? It is a hard task to create and work with two very different frameworks efficiently.

Andrew joined Chef’s Plate as their first director of product and had to quickly learn and execute an improvising strategy around technology backlog and frontend. He shares how tried to illustrate the impact of major decisions on everything else at Chef’s Plate and help make better decisions.

Listen in to learn the importance of identifying risks in the business and realize that they’re just part of your day to day business activities. You will also learn why issues should not be a bad thing but rather a wake-up call and a measure of performance.

“We’d start with customer success very intentionally; we solved a lot of problems for them using technology so we’d offer and be the support basically.” – Andrew Wallace (34:51)

What you will learn in this episode

  • (0:31) Intro
  • (2:28) Andrew explains the differences in his experiences at both Chef’s Plate and SmileBack
  • (6:48) The challenges he and his team experienced when he went in as director of product management at Chef’s Plate which was not his scene
  • (10:37) How he defined product to a company that thought their product was operations or food
  • (13:33) How to make the waterfall cycle and agile frameworks work together efficiently
  • (17:54) The strategy they used to optimize around improving the technology in the backlog and used the information on the frontend to improve it
  • (22:11) The challenges of key metrics that caused misalignment of people and how it led to cultural ramifications
  • (26:31) How he tried to illustrate the opportunity cost - the impact of major decisions on everything else and help make better decisions
  • (31:00) Andrew explains who was interested in acquiring Chef’s Plate before HelloFresh came into the picture
  • (34:44) The amazing customer relationship they had built and how that helped with feedback and creating a system that identified issues
  • (38:51) The tips to manage highly passionate team members through the successes and challenges
  • (41:20) Advice that Andrew would tell his younger self
  • (42:59) The mission of Chef’s Plate of just to make it work plus SmileBack’s simple dream
  • (42:59) Chef’s Plate mission of ‘just making it work’ plus SmileBack’s simple dream

The full transcript

Andrew (00:00): We don't really have a dream, per se, or maybe this is a dream. We're very pragmatic. Again, the study anything is that we do a very specific thing. We do it really well. We're very tight with our customers. Like we have 800, who we talked to like kind of regularly, Our dream is just to continue to deliver a really good product that's really useful for this really small, specific segment.

Jenny (03:31): Hi, and welcome to dreams with deadlines, a podcast where you'll hear real stories of trials and victories in business. I'm Jenny Herold, Chief Product Officer of gtmhub. Gtmhub is the world's most powerful platform for objectives and key results for. In concept OKRs are easy to understand, but challenging to execute. Until now. Check us out at quantive.com to learn more. Joining me today is Andrew Wallace. He's the Managing Director and CPO of smile back. Smile back is a simple to use customer satisfaction platform that is deep on insights. Previously, he was the Director of Product Management at chef's plate, and chef's plate was acquired by the German meal company HelloFresh in 2018.

Today, you'll hear Andrew’s thoughts on the importance of knowing and having a shared vision. How chef's plate plan to exit with a certain buyer in mind, who ended up not being the buyer in the end. How sometimes the business needs to build unique technology inhouse. Why simple dreams are good.  and what Andrew has learned from his experience at chef's plate and transferred to smile back and more. Let's jump in. It's a really nice day in Berlin, the weather's insane. It's unfair, really wonderful. Thank you so much. Something that I learned about Andrew is that he likes to talk with his hands, and he wears jewelry.

If you hear that, it's the mic is awesome and he's getting really excited. Hopefully you enjoy that bit too. Let's get started. Previously, you were the Director of Product Management at chef's plate and now the CPO at smile back. What's that journey been like for you?

Andrew (02:27): Interesting, I guess as any transition is. So, Chef's Plate was a unique experience in that it was like the first to market with meal kit delivery in Canada. We had a really strong first mover advantage there. But the leadership was very gritty, which was great, but also very young. Some of the strategic decisions, we talked about this, when they hired me, the business already existed for four years before they even hired a director of product. Before they hired anyone in product, which was a strategic mistake in terms of hiring. There were a lot of issues that on the product and technology side that we had to address extremely quickly.

They'd actually tried to hire me two years earlier. I didn't want the job at that point. Then I took it as they're moving into your four. There it was clear that acquisition was the goal. It was never explicitly stated. But that was the exit event. That was the inevitability especially with HelloFresh, moving more and more into the Canadian market and just becoming a global, I guess, like juggernaut in space. At the time when I came on HelloFresh was in 12 Different countries 11, of which it was the number one meal kit delivery company. It had just surpassed Blue Apron in the US at that point. We were actually the only Canada was the only territory where they weren't number one.

They were really aggressively moving in Canada because they wanted that. Number one, the market was obviously feasible given Canada's population and the vast scope in terms of landmass of the country. I was always surprised that it worked, right if you don't have a lot of big metropolitan hubs near one another. The cost of moving food, especially in a lot of the (inaudible 4:18) are unforgiving, is very high. They were aggressively pushing in the market. We were trying to defend against that. Obviously we were not funded by Rocket Internet, they were. A lot of it was how do we defend our income position, from marketing perspective without the same amount of dollars and expertise that HelloFresh has, and from a technology position without those funds to really scale up whether you help attack as a team of 200 engineers. I had a team of 12.

There was a very interesting position to be in and one that I think there's only one outcome, is that we are not going to last. We were not at quite a profitability yet. It was a bloodbath. It was money, money, money, money. To answer your question, that was a very different experience and largely informed my personal decision, when I decided to move to smile back because smile back come to Berlin instead of in Toronto, so very different scene, as you would know, being here as well, just in terms of the market for technology, and the market for resources, build technology.

I was interested in that, smile back the company I'm at now it's a bootstrap company, its own largely by the two founders. Then there's five of us. Me and my now business partner and our CEO in the US, who owned it and basically make up the leadership team and decisions. It's a very different market than meal kits. What I wanted was to do something different to do something where sort of 10 axing 20 axing the business wasn't the goal. Where I felt like the product I was building was very useful, rather than making decisions based on the utility to the market and my customer, rather than trying to prove, I guess, the business case of a category, which was very much what we were doing. Which was interesting, super, super interesting,

But I quite liked it. The journey was one of focusing at this point in my life on the things that are interesting to me less than the things that would more constitute, like success in a grant or business sense.

Jenny (06:24): Previously then at chef's plate, Chef’s Plate, it was clear to you that the goal was to exit. It was a finite game. You had then tried to wrangle an entire team that had no product management in it. Can you describe what that looked like in that what you inherited? Then what happened after?

Andrew (06:46): That's a good question. It was pretty interesting environment. For that reason, from one the technology had gone to the place was, and the interface with the customer was at that point, just a web app. It was a website. Most of the technology resources were going towards the operational technologies, so internal technologies, so we had something called ops manager, we had something called production assistant, and we had something called club server. We had actually quite a, I would say, a modern tech stack in the sense that our DB was Mongo, all of our apps are built in React, it was pretty cool. I'd never been in such a kind of like, modern, exciting tech stack. I'd obviously used all those technologies as a consultant before. But so that was interesting in and of itself, you know, it's a non SQL database, right?

That created certain things in the business. Then more broadly, in the business, there was a real lack of understanding even of what product management is, because product was in the business's mind a culinary function. When they talked about product, they meant food. Typically, when we talk about product in the US, right, and it was actually, for a internet based business that couldn't exist without the internet, that was a startup, it was not tech savvy at all. They're very much an operational culture in the facilities. Then there was a culinary culture, and the kitchen and procurement. Culinary and operations have worked so well together. But yeah, it's kind of much more of a manufacturing mindset and distribution mindset, which is very different than from what I do.

No one even understood when I came to the organization, who was on my team, what product management was. I think that was actually the first challenge. The people that hired me, were very much aware of this. They sort of said, your job is not only to do the function, but to bring the function to the organization have everyone buy into the idea that this is useful. It was a much broader role I guess in some senses, then product management is normally but it often can be, I can hear my brains clanking. That was number one. That was challenge number one. Then challenge number two is that my boss, the CTO had done all of the product management and design. We actually didn't ever have a UX designer, there was only a marketing creative graphic designer until the acquisition by HelloFresh.

But we didn't have Cubase. We're missing a lot of pieces when I got there and four years in $50 million business. I think, in a lot of ways, probably pretty surprising. My actual first step had nothing to do with my teams. I was put on like the larger senior leadership team, and played a very active role in trying to have the entire organization understand what product does, how it brings everybody together. Also just how process can drive outcomes. Because we had and I think this is probably true of many businesses, especially startups. We were starting a lot of things and never finishing them, or taking on projects across the organization that had dependencies on other departments in the organization. No one thought to talk about them and identify them early and mitigate risk. That was pretty challenging, especially when you have operations on a facility Florida, this was really interesting for me, because I never experienced that.

I mean, technology can get burned in terms of downstream from marketing decisions, operations can get burned even worse, right? They're not agile, they can't just kind of change things on the fly or break their momentum. You know, these are million-dollar machines that are pushing food, they don't come back the next day.

Jenny (10:27): How did you wrangle that then? You had to define what product was. How did you define what product was to an organization that thought product was operations?

Andrew (1036): It was food. Because I've been a consultant before, this wasn't really new to me, it felt the same. I felt like I was being dropped into an organization, I just had to really quickly get traction. My approach then has always been just figure out some small problem, I can solve for someone, whether it's a problem that necessarily is within my remit or not to demonstrate value. I immediately started with marketing. I knew that they had a very big (inaudible 11:11) marketing, but like a cornerstone campaign for the year. This is the big campaign we're doing this year. They needed help in terms of because they weren't technical, they didn't really know.

They're more CPG, marketers. They never worked with E commerce in the same way. So I was helping them understand user flows in terms of someone seeing asset in the markets and ad, what do they expect? What do they want? Where do they go next, or landing page. Then from a landing page, we need to collect their email. Email when you do this, and sort of walk through a customer journey like that on the internet. That was really cool. Because I learned a lot about the marketing side of the business, I learned a lot about who our customer was, it was a good way for me to learn some shit, while also providing some value to another team who had never worked with the product person before.

I think that was pretty effective. Then the next thing was, okay, how can I get culinary on board? Because they're probably feeling threatened by they have the title product, I have the title product, what do I do? I was trying to understand from a process standpoint, because they make recipes. The recipes from a technology lens are data, right, and we need to get that data. We need it to be structured, we need to be in a format, we need to get it on the internet, so that our customers can look at the recipe and go, oh, I want to eat that. I'm going to buy that bag this week. They had a really messy very manual very like writing things down process, which I was only aware of, because yeah, we have a lot of issues in terms of the data would be changing or be overwritten or want to be handed to us. We'd always have to like redo it and restructure it and get into the format we need it to display consistently on the website.

In the backend things that operations were using for they're putting ingredients in the back. There's so many downstream dependencies on this, from the culinary team saying, this is what the recipe looks like this what needs to be in it operation of procurement, getting those ingredients, operation, putting them in the bags of get him into the facility, and then that'd be delivered to the end user.

Jenny (13:15): This really is waterfall it has to be by default. Then how did you all at the executive level, organize this on top of knowing that you need to be able to present something for the end user so that they can click the button, and all of that waterfall make sense. What processes did you need to put in place? How did you go about that?

Andrew (13:36): That's exactly right. There was two ways of doing things in the organization. There was one that was waterfall and it should be waterfall, and there is one that's agile and should be agile. Those two things working together is very difficult. Because you're in two different mindsets. Both of these things are happening concurrently. Each has dependencies on the other. I mean, it makes sense when you're in it in the sense that the process I described is very waterfall. Yes, that was waterfall, so technology would need to work in a waterfall cycle and with the teams on that, because we were the least important piece there. Of course, we were critical for in terms of the user making their selections up front, but we could play into a waterfall framework there.

Then in terms of delivering code, because that waterfall process actually had there's no code involved. It was just recipes that were data. We were just updating a database. We weren't delivering feature functionality, actual code. Then our code was delivered in an agile framework. But that meant to that as a product person, I had to manage a waterfall process with the other teams and agile process for my teams. I had to manage products that were customer facing b2b, and where the bulk of my team was working because this was the most important product in certain sentences was ops manager.

Which is with waterfall stakeholders who work on facility floors. We're trying to incrementally improve this technology that we've built from scratch, to make it better and better for them as processes are changing. In some ways, that's easier. Because I knew exactly what they would be doing. It was just how do I build a roadmap to make this optimal. But at the same time, I'm having to constantly teach them, oh, we've updated this feature, so now you do it this way. We have this feature now do it this way. They're used to just things always being the same. I was like, it's better for you trust me, it's better for you. It's going to make everything more efficient, we're going to drive down our costs. But now you have to learn something new every two weeks every month.

Jenny (15:41): So really, you had stakeholders internally and externally to explain what the products you were building, were going to help them do whatever they were doing better, whether it was, I'm going to buy stuff that's healthy, that's going to make my life more convenient. Oh, by the way, you have internal processes. We're going to just make that a lot easier for you. But you got to learn how to do it.

Andrew (16:00): Yeah. You have a b2b and b2c. B2c is the business and business and b2b is the teams. Typically, you would just buy an ERP or something like this off the shelf technology. But the nature and our CTO had a very specific philosophy on this was that for whatever is unique to the business, you need to have unique technology. There's so many things unique about the meal kit delivery business, right, is that it's just in time, we have no inventory, we can't have inventory, we change our merchandising every week, if you think about the menu of the merchandise. We're constantly changing the merchandise, liquidating our inventory, bringing in new inventory, re merchandising, right, and we're doing this all in real time effectively.

It's super interesting. But it also means there's no technology that meets it. This without the help of Hello fresh data, very similar, their trajectory was the same in terms of they had to build all this operational technology from scratch. As a product person, you really had to learn a lot about these different business units. They obviously can't be expert in everyone else's business unit, but you have to know enough to be effective to help them because they're not necessarily super technical. They're not thinking about it in this way. We really have to have really good meetings where I would understand their problem and how their processes work so that I could solve it with technology, because the only way we're going to be profitable was driving down a marketing cost driving operational costs.

Jenny (17:29): Really the lesson here was whatever it is your core competency, make sure that you pay really close attention to it. You probably want to keep that kind of power in house rather than outsource.

Andrew (17:41): We had to in that case, I think it's very unique business with very unique technology.

Jenny (17:46): Yes, totally makes sense. But there are things then kind of connecting here, you had a lot of moving parts. How do you describe that product strategy?

Andrew (17:56): Yeah, so that was hard. Because how do I make a decision between building something for the b2c tech stack or the b2b. One is driving the business forward in terms of delivering value to the user, one's driving the business forward in terms of operational efficiency, in terms of driving down costs, and is also in an indirect way, making the user experience better, because what that end user cares more about, than a good experience on the website, is that their food gets them on time and intact. The better our operational technologies, the fewer orders, we have that go wrong, and that was a key metric for the business was I can't remember what the percentage was of perfect orders, we call them which meant they're delivered on time, to the right location, and all the food was perfectly intact.

Optimizing across that with one product person, one technical product person, and a back end team and a front end team. Not small team, but still 12 engineers is not so much. It was eight, and then plus Director of Engineering, DevOps, me and CTO. My approach was to have a optimizations stream that was for the Ox technologies. There's one incident but we'll move that out. We didn't need projects, right? We didn't need massive new deliveries of features and functionality. We needed to incrementally improve the technologies and chip away every weekend, a couple percent a couple points. That was a for the most part finite amount of resources. Every sprint, we do this much incremental optimization on the, let's call it back of house stuff. Then on the front end, we would take marketing needs existing customer needs, new features and functionality and all that would have to be taken in the backlog and prioritized.

Then you look at the business, we actually had four (inaudible 20:00) retention, which is surprising. Retention is very, very bad in that and relative to other businesses. We were bad, but relative to our competitors, we were very good. We focus very much on one top of funnel. So how can we optimize the first purchase first box, and then the second box, getting them to that second box was key. Those are like the two key metrics, order the first box, which is the funnel, and then from the time they make that first order to the time they're going to get the menu for the second order, these are two different strategies. We focus on that. Then mobile, we didn't have a mobile app.

Jenny (20:39): Oh, really? In those four years that wasn't part of the strategy for the business?

Andrew (20:44): So the CTO always wanted that, he had a hard time getting buy in on it. And they didn't have someone who could do it. They had no engineering COBOL experience. They had no one in the organization who worked on a mobile app in any way. I think they were quite scared of it. I built quite a few are almost exclusively as a consultant, actually. That was the big project. From all the strategic work I did in research, everything suggested that, especially if we wanted to increase the retention piece, even though that was already pretty good. Just from a pure marketing standpoint, I can't remember what our marketing person called it, but a much more like, dating model approach where we could then with a landing page to have someone land there, instead of saying sign up. Now we could say download our app. And then they could look through the menus, they could cook from the recipes on a weekly basis and eventually order. There was an acquisition played with that as well.

All the research suggests that this would improve our business, it did dramatically. Our second order rate was increased by like 100%. It was a smaller user population, but they were way better customers than on the website. So that was, yeah, super interesting.

Jenny (22:02): When you were thinking through how to ensure everyone was focusing on the right metrics, it sounds like you've kind of talked through it. But can you concretely talk through like, what was the Northstar metric?

Andrew (22:14): This is where things kind of didn't work out. We're back now, as a lesson learned from that having this framework for the key metrics of the business, that are socialized. Everyone is committed to, everyone understands. Everyone knows them. Everyone knows how they all relate to one another. This was a big challenge to just wait. I attribute that honestly, to the immaturity of the founders, because it was their first business, they were young, and they like to keep a lot of their cards very close to their chest. There's only a few people in the business. There's one of them, who actually had access to all the business data, could see all the numbers and knew roughly what from kind of marketing, the highest level of financial strategy we were trying to do.

There's a lot of disconnect. We had a clear idea and made it very simple as I described it, in terms of the product strategy, and those really simple metrics of first box, second box, total boxes shipped. Then on the customer success side, we had a customer success, because they would find out but basically, all of the operational metrics came to that perfect box rate. Whatever it was, it was 95% of boxes shipped for perfect boxes, and then ops and procurement were responsible for margin. That created a lot of issues, though, because you had these massive disconnects, where procurement is trying through volume or through whatever to drive down the cost of the purchases. Operations is trying to become more efficient. And also through scale at the facilities and the distribution, culinary and marketing.

They're thinking only of what sells. You'd have this, we call it menu mix, where we had metrics for how much it should cost per plate. Marketing would be like, well, if we did this, we're going to drive up the orders. But then you'd have a cost of your 40% of the price on the food, or our metric was 25. Culinary goes well, I wanna cook this way, right? Because they're chefs. They're driving the price up, too. You had these fights constantly.

Jenny (24:31): There's these different needs or wants, right? Yeah. So then how do you get everyone aligned?

Andrew (24:37): I don't know. We never did. They have a lot of fighting. I think it was challenging because the COO was responsible for culinary procurement, and operations, and customer success. I think he was pretty good at negotiating that. He was very good. The CEO was much more focused on the marketing side. He was the type of leader he knew the space very well. He would sometimes rule by Fiat by eating and commenting on something and say, no, I want to do it this way, find the margin somewhere else, we're doing this dish. That would cause a lot, especially because of the weekly chair to the business that causes a lot of problems downstream. Marketing would almost always have a trump card because the CEO, for better or worse, sometimes it was good. Usually it wasn't.

That was really challenging to get people aligned, because there was always this wildcard in the mix, which I think my opinion, even if the wildcard produces good outcomes, and even if it produces good outcomes, more often than not, in terms of sales metrics, I still think it's bad. Because I think unless it produces better outcomes all the time, the larger cultural ramifications, produce that negative, that an operations team is constantly preparing for this wildcard and aware of this wildcard could have, completely changes how they approach their work.

Jenny (26:09): Can you go into that a little bit? Culture is really important. I think we all agree with that. It seems like there was a single person that had both the authority and the power and took it upon themselves to make these really important decisions that had far reaching ramifications that caused people do probably behave differently than they would have otherwise. What happened?

Andrew (26:34): Well, it would create turmoil. I think the hard part was that because this production chain is long, and so something that happens at the top, I don't know what the word is, like the tip of the spear is manifest way downstream. The person to the spear has no idea of these ramifications. It's very hard to illustrate the opportunity costs. That's what I would work on a lot. Trying to illustrate the opportunity cost. I basically created a along with the COO, and the CTO, we created what we call the governance, which was sort of us in the head of innovation. The VP of product innovation was culinary guy. The four of us, created this thing called governance, that met every week that looked at everything from a program management standpoint, it was like a PMO project management office, and tried to see the interdependencies and have a way of quantifying or at minimum illustrating the impact of one decision on everything else.

Because it was a matrix, nothing was discrete. These variables are always in flux all the time. In order to help make better decisions, we need to be able to illustrate not just that decision in isolation. We need to be able to illustrate the ramifications on everything.

Jenny (27:55): How did you do that? Can you describe like what that ended up looking like? Because you've effectively created with this governance group, a set of processes or systems upon which everyone can work, and for you to monitor.

Andrew (28:07): I mean, it was certainly not perfect. It wasn't even great. But it was better than what I would say, which is maybe sometimes the best you can hope for. We knew what BAU looked like. Ever usually people know what BAU looks like. But we're also trying to add these additional pieces to the business. We need to grow, we need to grow the menus, we needed to increase the offering. We had our classic menu, and our family menu. We want to do a 15 Minute Meal menus. This is like quick and easy stuff. We'll do a vegetarian menu. These are big projects that radically change the business and everything about it. Anything like that. Then we have marketing projects that were week to week campaigns. Anything that was outside of BAU you needed a structure needed a project charter, we needed to identify who was involved with the project, what the scope was.

We could never get a budget for some reason. But we're trying to roughly figure out what the budget was. Then anytime there was a change from the projects, or BAU, we can see okay, if that happens, here's how it affects all of these things. If we up the margin on this week's menu mix it affects the business in all these ways. Our procurement team is going to be only focused on this. No one can focus on these other projects. Culinary is going to have to pull in the innovation person who was all working on BAU, because they only have one week to create this brand new menu. That makes sense?

Jenny (29:40): So there was like a forcing function through this governance, for everyone to be it sounds like transparent as much as they could.

Andrew (29:47): For leadership to see the impact of their actions. But it was an attempt, and ostensibly it was to govern those new projects, but obviously risks to the new projects were presented from anything in BAU being treated like a new project. That's risk. We come up here. We started to see, okay, I see what's happening here, we didn't get this thing done against our project. We're checking in, because the risk was that person just couldn't do the work because they got pulled in here. It started to just show more and more visibility. The intention was never to shine the lens on. BAU was is to govern these new projects. But it just kind of worked that way. Because by identifying the rescuer as risks, or just in the day to day management of the business.

Jenny (30:29): Can you define what BAU is?

Andrew (30:32): Business as usual activities. The regular day to day doing the thing that your business does.

Jenny (30:39): So it seems whenever there you have a startup and you know that the exit strategy is that you're going to have an acquisition? Business, as usual, doesn't really cut it. You have to 10x 20x 100x per business. How do you balance this race against the BAU? where you've got the waterfall happening agile happening, because you have two different parts of the business that need to be in the b2c that you were talking.

Andrew (31:04): Then plus this other dimension of what makes us attractive to an acquisition. We have no idea like HelloFresh was not on the radar. That was a surprise. W were looking at our exit strategy, which is focused on grocery. We were looking at big Canadian grocers, who wanted to have the technology. I mean this from both information technologies and a brain like knowledge technology, to be able to add meal kits to their grocery business. Rather than it being a business category, it would be a category within their business. They'd have gone to the grocery store and picking up your groceries and the delivery service. Both of those, if you could get your groceries delivered, you can also get your meal kits delivered.

If you're at the grocery store, and like, what am I going to have for dinner tonight? Oh, yeah, chef plate. Grab it go. Grocers were very interested in this, because it makes a lot of sense. They already have the operational infrastructure in place. All they needed was the knowledge on how to make a product that consumers liked. Our big problem was, yeah, we need to market leads establish the category. We didn't have this massive distribution network or raise, our costs are super high. For them they've got all this stuff, right. They're just putting it together, adding some margin on it and selling to their existing customers. We were in talks with a lot of grocers in Canada. That's where we were focused on. Yes, proving that there was a market. 10x 20x was part of it. But there was also things that would be attractive. That's also where the mobile app was interesting. They could buy us and get mobile technology, which they didn't have for their existing stuff.

They needed the ops, because we built ops manager from scratch that was very appealing. These were technologies, they did not have. These new technologies was an asset to them. We're also building assets. To answer your questions, now, there's this other wrinkle around, okay, we're running a business, we're trying to do projects to improve their business. We're also trying to create these assets that would be shiny, I guess, for a potential acquirer, especially one that's massive, massive, massive. (crosstalk 13:13)

Jenny (33:14): ...explain to the organization. Was it ever?

Andrew (33:16): No, definitely not.

Jenny (33:18): So people were just producing them doing their stuff. Whilst leadership was thinking through all the myriad parts of the business to orchestrate this, keeping themselves in the loop through this governance group to see where the projects would go.

Andrew (33:35): All that I just said was likely the CTO was employee think, number one. We are very close. He's my boss. She was able to give me a lot of insight like this. But there's only a handful of people who were in the loop. I was not one of them only through Thomas did I know that stuff, and then experienced people who just you know, you see, after a while you start to see the signs, you can quickly infer what's going on.

Jenny (33:57): We get asked a lot at gtmhub. What do you do when a team fails to deliver and meet the outcomes you expect? Or what do you do when a team succeeds? Did you have a culture of reflection? Presumably, yes, definitely on the agile part, because it's part of agile methodologies retrospectives. How did you inject that, if at all?

Andrew (34:20): I would say they actually didn't have an agile methodology when I got there. It was just just go. There's no sprints nothing. It was agile, but there's no process no structure, which is really interesting. Starting retros with one of those mechanisms, I honestly don't remember if we ever had anything like that. I think it was just go go go all the time.

Jenny (34:44): How do you keep people motivated? What is motivating these people?

I don't know. I mean, with the tech team, we were important, so we had a lot of leeway. We were very close to the customer. We sat with customer success, very intentionally. We solved a lot of problems for them using technologies. We would just often just be support, basically. We really just looked at, what are our customers saying. We mostly just got excited about helping customers looking at the numbers around longtime customers. This was disconnected from business calls, it was just what made us feel good, and delivering code to production, right. I mean, we took a team, I got to take two and a half engineers and build who never wrote a line of mobile code before, never been on a mobile project, we had no designer.

We just did it together. We built an app in six months. It was pretty good. That was a success, too. Although I wouldn't recommend that for business. Because we're making our own successes. They're not the team successes. Learning from that at smile back, we use a framework. I really like very quickly identifying like almost a project management approach of identifying risks and dealing with them right away. Every department has a weekly meeting, we have a scorecard, which are metrics that are inherited from the company scorecard. We look at that religiously as our metrics for success. We create issues that we spend basically, the whole meeting, the goal is just to identify issues and resolve issues. We're very quick to figure out if something's not going well, because we've figured a system that identifies that for us using numbers.

Then we have a system that we've all bought into that gives us a framework by which we talk about these things. Then we resolve them. We probably are better right now at identifying issues. And talking about those and we aren't celebrating success, although we did at the end of the year look back and when we had a really good year. We grew, revenue grew by over 25%. We achieved all a bunch of things, we didn't achieve these things, but we delivered on more of the projects and goals that we set out. (inaudible 37:08) I think that's good. Although also, I think with the framework, there's a level of equanimity in the sense that we don't think of an issue as a bad thing. We're not as much looking for, okay, things went wrong, this is bad things went right this is good.

Things went wrong. We need to like, come to Jesus, things went right, we need to go have a party. It's just more just kind of get up, go do your thing. Be good soldiers, for lack of a better word. Then it's kind of we know whether we succeeded or failed. The day to day is where this is absolute failure celebration, and whatever the opposite of celebration is. I like that. I honestly don't know if there's more of a craving for bigger moments, positive or negative in the company.

Jenny (38:02): Would it be fair to say then just the intrinsic motivation or gratification of learning, and achieving what it is that you set out to do might very well be enough?

Andrew (38:13): At smile back it seems so. For me personally, most definitely. We also got the culture, you were very upfront about that. We tend to get people who see that and go, Oh, that sounds like something I would like. I'd say that's a typical startup, or a small company. Usually there's much more, because there's such highs and lows. It attracts people who are interested in highs and lows, which is also good. We're just more like steady Eddies.

Jenny (38:41): We've talked about smile back a little bit. You've mentioned that your team is partially distributed to you. How do you manage this? That's probably the hardest of all setups for a business, right?

Andrew (38:56): Yeah, definitely. I think, especially when, sometimes not everyone speaks the same language. I mean, that literally, our business language in the company is English. Yeah, there are some distributed team members who their English is not great. You have two mitigating factors and communication. They're not there. They're in different time zones three, actually, and they don't necessarily speak the same language as the rest of the team. It can be quite hard. I think in this one case, where we're having successes for our engineering team is distributed. The project lead, the team lead is very strong. He's the least technical on the team, but the most process and people oriented and he takes great pride in doing good work. But it works totally works, and it's because he's the right person for it.

I think stand ups are incredibly important. To have a touch point every day. We always made sure to video stand up so we see one another's faces. We have little rituals. I mean, standard is a ritual that we have like, what normal people consider rituals that we do with it too, that are totally organic. We're big Liverpool football fans at the end of every standup we go, you're good and cough. We ll cough. That's because someone couldn't pronounce clap and kept saying cloth. So we just call it the organ hot. So that's fine. We have some distributed team members and other tbusiness units as well. My message segments always stand up is the most important thing. Because you can't just slack it's not good enough just to slack. Then we also go to Ukraine, where the bulk of the distributed team is every other month, and work with them there.

We bring everyone together twice a year. It works more or less. I think, though with  challenges and it also works for us because we're bootstrapped. We're not scaling rapidly, we're growing incrementally. We can deal with issues as they come up. We don't have massive scaling problems. I think these are luxuries in a lot of ways.

Jenny (41:02): Definitely. You've had a very great career. You started not in tech. What did you do prior to tech?

Andrew (41:11): I was a journalist.

Jenny (41:12): When you look back at your career, and all the different hats you've worn. All the things that you've ever done, what are some things that you probably tell a younger Andrew now like here's some advice, man.

Andrew (41:25): Yeah, I would probably say, don't sweat it so much. I tend to be very detail oriented. I can get pretty into the details all the time. I would try to say this to myself right now, too. Yeah, I was even talking to a friend about it last night. Yeah, I've never been good at just seeing things at the high level or working. Just kind of let it ride. I like to take responsibility for every little thing. But it's not optimal I think in a lot of ways, I think, especially when I was a journalist, it's a really cool industry. It's a really hard industry right now, because of all the changes and you're watching the business around you crumble, creates a lot of anxiety. Which made me even more prone to getting really stressed out about like, every little detail. I would definitely say that to me. I mean, this is just from transitioning to tag them by transitions attack. I just like the team element of it.

Journalism's a much more. (crosstalk 42:30) Like the team is what makes it fun. If I had known that, that's what I would have been good at, and that's what I liked doing, I probably would have started doing that a lot earlier. So I'm not sure that's transferable to other people. But that's what this Andrew would say to that Andrew.

Jenny (42:48): You've worked in these two businesses. Now, we've talked about the importance of mission vision strategy, making sure you're executing. What was the dream when you had entered in with Chef's Plate. What was the dream?

Andrew (43:04): I don't know. I think that was part of the problem is that it grew so fast that I'm not sure anyone was quite sure what the vision was. I mean, I think at a certain level, it was proved this thing works. Make this work. First, the market in Canada, certainly one of the first meal care companies and you know, basically just copied Blue Apron in the US and did in Canada, and so make it work. It's not an easy business operation, as we discussed. I really think that was the vision. I think that was maybe okay, year one, year two, and probably was one of the downfalls year three onwards. We needed something more than just making it work because it was working.

Jenny (43:49): Why are we here? Where are we going? Now in smile back is very clear to you?

Andrew (43:56): Yeah, we were talking about this actually, at our end of year. I think it's going to sound funny. I'm a little cagey about saying it. But we don't really have a dream, per se. Or maybe this is a dream, we're very pragmatic. The thing is that we do a very specific thing. We do it really well. We're very tight with our customers. Like we have 800, who we talk to, like kind of regularly, you know, and our dream is just to continue to deliver a really good product that's really useful for this really small, specific segment. This really made me want to come in and do a good job and then go it's a very simple three.

Jenny (44:40): It's a simple dream. Yeah. You know, like, that's okay. Simple dreams are good.  Well, thanks so much for coming in to speak with us today on this podcast. It was great catching up and learned a lot. Hopefully, the folks who are listening in can take away some interesting tidbits also.

Well, that's it for this episode of dreams with deadlines. Thanks for listening. If you liked today's episode, please subscribe and share. Show Notes can be found on quantive.com/radio. If you want to learn more about our products and services, head out to quantive.com. If you have questions that you'd like answered on the show, shoot us an email at [email protected] Tune in next time.

About Our Guest:

Andrew Wallace
Andrew Wallace

Senior Director, Product Management

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Andrew Wallace is the managing director and CPO of SmileBack. It is a simple to use customer satisfaction platform that is deep on insight. He is the previous director of product management at Chef’s Plate which was acquired by the German meal company HelloFresh in 2018.

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