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The CEO Mindset Needed for Scale

Mary Grothe July 14 2021



Meet Guest, Bob Paulsen

Bob leads the PlayerLync team as President and CEO. As a multi-company Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, Bob prides himself in building great teams to capitalize on new market opportunities. His business acumen, management, and sales skills have positioned Bob as a standout technology leader with 20 years of experience building companies from their inception to industry leadership.


Don't Have Time to Listen, Read The Full Transcription.

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Mary Grothe: Welcome to the House of Revenue®. I'm Mary Grothe, Founder and CEO. I love scaling companies to their first 5 million, then 10, 15, and 20. If you've reached a revenue plateau and aren't sure how to get past it, you're in the right place. Listen in as we interview CEOs and solve their most pressing revenue challenges. If you want to be on our show or want to learn more, connect with us at

A lot of our conversations on this show get so tactical in scaling revenue. And we're breaking down step by step with process and methodology, whether it's marketing sales, or customer success, even digging into revenue operations and tech stacks. Today, we have a bit of a different focus. I've really felt it weighing on me that whereas so much of what we do, and what we talk about on this show is very strategic and talks more about the tactical execution, great for taking notes while listening to the show implementing it into your business. Sometimes we have to just take a step back and realize that as CEOs and executives, if we don't have the right mindset, and you've heard it, like, I feel like I've heard it everywhere, do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? Like, okay, great. It makes beautiful visuals so many people have created that infographic, put it on social media. But what does that actually mean, for a CEO to have a growth mindset? There are so many different components of that and there are also just lessons learned.

I think there's only so much you can learn in school in an MBA. There's only so much you can learn as your first time as a CEO and entrepreneur. But when you get to that second, or third, or fourth, or fifth or sixth or seventh venture, you start to notice some common themes and you start to do things much differently. And then your path to success happens typically a lot faster. Today, we have Bob Paulsen, he's the CEO at PlayerLync. He's joined us, I met Bob and in our initial conversation, we just hit it off. I'm like, okay, so this is somebody that I want to have in my life, someone as co-CEO here, CEO to CEO, there was so much mindshare and exciting conversation when we first met. I thought this is somebody that I think can bring a significant amount of value, no pressure.

He's here with us today. We are going to talk about more of the CEO mindset. And what are some of the ways that you can implement more strategy when it comes to working with your people in your teams, things, you may not have thought of ways to set your culture and best practices within the organization. These are tried and true practices. He has had two wildly successful ventures, real big ones that have run in that seven-year-plus stretch as well as several other entrepreneurial activities and other entities that he has been a part of. Bob, welcome to the show.

Bob Paulsen: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Mary Grothe: So let's hear your story. I want to hear pre-PlayerLync about you and then I want to hear what you're doing with PlayerLync.

Bob Paulsen: Sure, you've got it. Well, Wisconsin originally, came out here to Colorado about 25 years ago already. And I'm a sales guy at heart, I've always thought sales is the best path to start a company because if you can't get somebody to change and buy your solution, you're not gonna be able to support all the other people that need to jump on board. So my background in sales started with selling phone systems. Long ago back before even Voice over IP was around. When that technology emerged with voice-over IP, actually came up with a concept of a hosted phone system back in the mid to late 90s. And, ended up creating a company called unity business networks that was all about sharing in a hosted phone system, incorporating local phone service, internet long distance, and access to this great phone system and all the support services that typically only large companies could afford.

We brought it down to small and midsize businesses as well as some large customers that worked out pretty well. That grew and we had an unbelievable culture the name unity was spot on with everything that that was about what we did, sharing these technologies and sharing an experience for our team that was unlike anything any of us have ever had, and maybe we'll ever have that ended up becoming the business division of a company called Vonage if you're familiar with that voice over IP player and then this company emerges This is an opportunity that with PlayerLync that really stemmed from our both our technology acumen our business acumen and listening. We listen to a few different actually professional sports teams back in the day. Broncos lead the way on the discussion around the challenges that they were facing with these new devices called iPads at the time, right?

They were fairly new in the early 2000s, I'm sorry, in 2010, 11 timeframes, and they wanted to figure out a way to move around playbooks changing game film, practice video. And we knew how to make the content move over networks like nobody's business because we build phone companies. So true. We came up with a better mousetrap and, and actually help them figure out how do you move massive amounts of content seamlessly to a mobile workforce, so that they can learn to their job, etc. Anyways, fast forward, we now have customers, we've expanded into multiple markets and verticals, from the restaurant, retail, hospitality, energy companies. So Starbucks to Paul lay our customers Southern Company gas. And now our recent expansion push is into third-party logistics, with FedEx joining as a new customer. And before Yeah, so we've got a good thing going again.

Mary Grothe: Yeah, congrats on that Starbucks, one of your clients, were you a part of helping to solve that problem that they had when they had to shut down the company that talks about that, and how quick you're able to deliver a solution there?

Bob Paulsen: Well, you know, our speed to deployment is certainly an important factor in a situation like that, if you remember, it sounds like you do. That was a pretty impactful event for the whole world. Yes, it was the gentleman who was being told that he couldn't use the bathroom. And they went and Starbucks in, in standard form for them, took an unbelievably appropriate approach and said, We are going to go through training for 175,000 people, right racial bias training, and they really didn't have a platform that allowed that to happen. So, fortunately, we've got a great partnership with Apple. And, and they helped, we were already in some discussions. But that did help.

We were within 30 days, able to deploy 27,000 iPads across. I think it was about 9000 locations, for 175,000 people. Then all this unbelievable content, tons of video content, documents, e-learning, courses, checklists, forums, you name it also at the frontline knew exactly how to react. The most important thing that stood out to me. I've talked to a number of managers, when I go into a Starbucks, I asked them if they were a part of that. And so many of them said that was one of the most bonding days that they've ever had. And if you think about everybody stopping what they're doing, having this exact same experience, knowing how much their company cares, and learning and being a better not only a better employee but a better person. It was a treat to be a part of that.

Mary Grothe: Truly remarkable how you've set within your own company, the ability to tackle that and respond as quickly as you did as well, which I think is really remarkable that you've built the company to be able to perform at that level. So, player link, this is your current company, that you're leading the charge, you've built a brilliant team. And you're in this pace of scale. Right now, there were some challenges that COVID presented because you were working so heavily in the restaurant retail, and hospitality industries that were impacted greatly. But you've done a tremendous job working through that 2021 is predicted to be a very strong year for you. I've had an opportunity to meet several people on your revenue team. You've identified and created a great space for some pretty amazing talent. So, hats off to you on that.

In our pre-show conversation, you're attributing a lot of the success, especially in how people operate within your culture and at the company to not have any surprises. And I want to talk about that. Because as I am scaling house, a revenue, this was a big understanding for me at coach actually helped me identify, we CEOs, we get triggered. And then we can be a firefighter. And I didn't want to be the firefighter anymore. And what I was trying to do was solve the surface problem, which is I don't want to be brought into all these scenarios to have to put out fires. It's not the best use of my time and also emotionally, it causes a lot of unrest. And it actually leads to pretty fast burnout on my part. Then the worst thing is it leads to me feeling like I'm not doing the right things with my company and for our clients. I'm only in business to serve. I'm only in business to create remarkable results. And with me in those early days having to be this firefighter. I felt like why are we even in business? If we can't solve these problems? Why is this coming to my play? I don't have the team that can solve them. Well, a coach helped me look in the mirror and realize that. A lot of these surprises were happening because I had created the culture that that's how we solved problems.

So then, when we were able to back into it to identify the trigger, then we broke it down into the common triggers by identifying the who, what, where, when, why, what were all the common scenarios that caused these to occur. And then we worked through this process of eliminating surprises. And when you brought it up in the pre-show conversation, like, Okay, so this is brilliant, because now I'm hearing another CEO talk about this, it transformed our business forever, I want to hear how you brought it in how you embrace it, how you coach people in your company, to understand that surprises are not okay, but problem-solving is ideal. So, tell me more about that.

Bob Paulsen: Well, and to be clear, it's not that we don't have surprises. I mean, there's one thing I know in my role that every day there's I don't know if it's gonna be hit over the head in the kidneys or anywhere else, but something's gonna come and land on my desk. And I'll, but Oh, after this many years, you know, there's a big tennis fan and, and Billie Jean King once said, pressure is a privilege. And, and I appreciate that these things come to me. And if anything, I try to help figure out well, how do we get here? How do we get through it? So, what's the problem-solving? But it's, it's when people bring problems? Yes, I hope that they also have an idea for a solution. The faster we can see a problem, the faster we can address it, right?

When you're experimenting with things, especially in the revenue side of the house, learn fast, right? Go in a direction that you think is right. Nobody ever has perfect information, right. So, you have to go a little bit on gut a little bit what you have. And if anything, one of the scary things is I feel like if you're looking for some validation through information, you can just about find any information that you want to validate. So, there's a little bit of a question there in my mind as to how much do you trust the information sources. But really, the final thing and you know, in business is the information source you can trust as your revenue, right? If people are willing to pay for your solution, and they're happy, and yes, in the pandemic. When 80 85% of our revenue comes from restaurants, retail hospitality, it was a challenging time. What we learned, we really refocused and this is I mean, this is the history of the company is getting comfortable with change. So, when I say no surprises, a twist on that is, is making what used to appear as a surprise more of every day when you recognize that you have to keep changing, the environment keeps changing, your personnel keeps changing their desires, and their worlds keep changing. You've got to position yourself in a continuously changing environment.

As we also spoke briefly earlier about what we have in a place called a tour of duty, and the functional org chart, which came from a phenomenal early-stage book, The EMyth. Yes, big fan of that. That helps to clarify who's responsible for what, and enables this mindset of change so that when somebody when changes do come up, you know how to address them, right? People can jump on it, you have those clear areas of responsibility, and you can truly empower great people to do some challenging work, and then feel like they're comfortable working as a team instead of just feeling like it's all on them. And feeling like if they see a problem, they have to solve it all by themselves. The best thing you could do is bring it up. Yeah, bring up a challenge. So even if this is something that isn't really a big problem yet, cut it off early, right, bring some visibility to those potential challenges, and leverage that talented team around you to solve a problem.

Mary Grothe: We're gonna break this down because there's so much within this that's very beneficial to any CEO executive listening. The way I interpret surprises, I would interpret a surprise that would cause a trigger for me. I don't want to be surprised after the fact I want to be I would rather be surprised if we're going to be surprised at all on the front end of the problem. I think that's what you've built into this culture is to bring forth problems, speak up, present the problems in their infancy, but coupled that with some ideas and solutions on how you plan to solve or tackle it.

Not that everything needs to lean on the CEOs desk, but you build that culture within your teams to say when an individual has an aha moment like wait a second, this isn't right. If it didn't go as planned or we've been thrown a curveball or something in the technology just failed on us or we are past the deadline on a roadmap, which affects something else or fills in the blank. Something comes up. How are we training our individual team members to identify the situation as a green, yellow, or red flag? How severe is it? Are we asking the right questions to uncover the root cause of the problem? Our team members trained to address the surface problem or the root cause. So that would be number one. What is their protocol on how they work with another team member? Have we created an environment where people panic? I can't let anyone else know that this happened because this is on me.

And if someone finds out, this could be my job, and I don't want to get in trouble, or I don't want someone to think less of me, no, we can't do that. Because this problem has a snowball effect that can be wildly expensive to the organization or to the customer, or has negative repercussion or causes delays on other projects, or timelines or whatnot, we have to train the team to truly embrace and be good and okay with the fact that problems are going to arise. I mean, that's something that I've learned in running a company now this is my second company, that things are gonna come up things will not go as planned, but it's what do you do when that happens?

So, team number one, raise their hand. Number two is which team members surround this person to help identify the root cause of the problem and address it and solve it. If that immediate team cannot? Who is that first line, second line, third level as you start going up the chain of command of who's going to get involved? And ultimately, I think the team, it's sort of like AI learns over time.

I feel like the team needs to learn over time with the nuance with executive level management and CEO what truly needs to land on their desk and what doesn't, or in the Slack channel, in their email. There's also the discernment to know when this needs to go to a certain level or not. But when you can build that inside of your company, then you don't have surprises, not the bad kind of surprises, problems are going to happen as can issues are going to arise. It's just what do you do with that. And then if you can build that problem-solving process, and methodology that works for those specific individuals and teams and organizations, then the CEO isn't playing full-time firefighter in having to go in and work on all these issues and problems that really they never needed to do. And honestly, like 70% of them, they probably didn't even need to know about, if not more. So, breaking it down into that granularity. Is that similar to how you've done it, or is there a different nuance within your organization?

Bob Paulsen: Yeah. Well, you said it, you hit on a couple of things there. And one is, and I go back to that functional org chart, you know, when people identify that problem, especially in the early stages, there, there's always a temptation to come to me. And oftentimes, you know, I appreciate it, you found something you have an idea, but when I go back to it, am I the right person to bring it to? Right, we've got to establish that foundation of trust, so people work directly with each other. Otherwise, you get this Oh, somebody went to dad, you know, somebody went to Bob, and then Bob so gets that direct communication going between your team members? Yes.

Another book that pops to mind as you're reflecting on this communications protocol, which is a tricky one because you don't, I don't know that you really write it up. Right. It's just something that ends up permeating your organization. And you can bring it up and say, here are best practices, including like, how do you? How do you throw a meeting, if you're going to because a lot of times people aren't used to bringing together these ad-hoc groups? When I mentioned the ad hoc groups, there's another book that pops to mind that discipline of market leaders. It's a fantastic book. And one of the things that talk about identifies different types of companies where we're of what would be considered by that book of product leadership company. And one of the things it says is you need to just you know, that the whole foundation is all about creativity, commercializing new ideas leapfrog advancement? Well, how do you do that, and part of it is a cultural component. And it says you have to get comfortable with person-to-person direct communication, and very quick ad hoc groups that come together to solve problems and then split. Right. So, we really try to encourage that, which has been a lot more challenging once we all went home. Right for class, all of a sudden...

Mary Grothe: ...the collaboration now

Bob Paulsen: It was so much easier when we were all together, and you're walking by and you have a quick question for somebody to see him in the kitchen. You see him. So, we've had, we are continuously trying to change and adapt. And we've, we've really, we're still working on it. But I think we've we continue to uncover new ways for this new hybrid working world that we'll be in. Yeah, because we're not all going to be going back to the office full time. So, you've got to keep that somehow level of combat collaboration and openness and trust. Even when you bring in new people on that have never been in our office environment that had it kind of had this aura about you know, and it's hard to experience that one. The second you hop off your zoom call, you've got to deal with something at home. So new challenges, but will you know that that's one thing if anything that we've I hope that we continue to get better at all the time, but we've spent a lot of time trying to adapt to change and maximize the opportunity to improve when those opportunities for change emerge.

Mary Grothe: Yeah, I agree. And I think that we can build our own playbook for what is inside of each of our own companies. And it's just being present. It's asking team members what that change needs to look like and how we continue to build on what we've learned with being that hybrid team and identify where the gaps are and keep constant communication and ideas flowing. To figure it out. That's something that we were talking about pre-show, I felt like I woke up one day as a CEO and realize that my job didn't need to be this hard. I realized all of a sudden that I had built a company around my specialties and my knowledge and my skill set and my way of thinking and my way of doing things. Well, that's dangerous. One, it's going to not be scalable. And that's what was causing me to work 100-hour workweeks and leading to burnout. Two, it was very limited. It was limited for our clients, it was limiting for our team members, I started to acknowledge that the needs of our clients changed and when I couldn't satisfy that with my own experience and knowledge I needed to hire and I started to hire through diversity and ways of thinking skill sets experience and ways of solving the problem that we solve in the market, which is CEOs reaching a revenue plateau.

How do they get past that? And predominantly, we were focused on only the sales or Well, that's not the answer. The answer is all of the revenue, it's marketing, sales, customer success, and revenue operations. But I was predominantly successful in sales. And so, I just didn't have what I needed to bring forth in those areas. So, when I started to hire to diversify, the thought leadership and the talent, and the diversity of thinking and how we solve that problem, and what we were doing for our clients, my life, slowly, took time, became so much better, because all of a sudden, I'm like, wait a second, I've now built a company where they really don't need me, I'm a nice to have. And I think I do contribute a lot when it comes to thought leadership and working with our clients.

But now my role is more strategically at that high level, and actually leading and growing and managing a company. And it's quite a brilliant transition. But one of the things, as I've stepped out of the client work and stepped into leadership that I've started to notice, is I built the scalability of our company based on a copy-paste of these different roles. Yet, I have brilliant talent who may do something a little bit differently than their peer, they still get great results. But then what I hired them for, which was to cover a pretty wide area of do all of these things, their desire and skills overlap could actually be a much smaller portion of that, can they get through the other part? They sure can. They're super talented, they're brilliant. But it takes more mental energy, it takes out of their mental capacity, it's draining work, and it may have a lower success rate in that one compartment.

So, as I've stepped out of claim delivery, stepped into leadership, and had a better view of what's happening. I broke down these walls in between the roles. And I said, Wait a second. What if we had other team members that came in and actually did portions of other people's roles where they weren't strong? I thought this was something mind-blowing that we did in the pre-show you're like, Oh, yeah, we've implemented that. That's how we run our company. So, explain what this is through your eyes. Because hearing that someone else was doing this, I felt like it was this massive breakthrough of like, Oh, my gosh, other people know this. So please share how you view it and how you embrace it in your company?

Bob Paulsen: Sure. Well, you know, I hate to keep referencing it. But this idea of a functional org chart is very helpful because it allows, it allows that plus this tour of duty mentality allows people to recognize that we're not all graded everything, right we've got and the more you can ensure that if you've got a cultural fit with a very smart person that has tremendous value, but maybe all the things they're doing aren't their strength. How can you narrow that focus, right, and I've got a great sample, we have an unbelievably wonderful head of product that's been with us for a long, long time. He is the exact kind of cultural fit that you want, right? He is hardworking, extremely intelligent, respectful, empathetic, passionate, disciplined, etc. But he actually even recognized what we need to take our next step, he doesn't have that exact experience.

We looked around said, well, what do you gray out? What do you love, and he's transitioning right now into a different role. And we just brought in a new product leader. And for a product-oriented company like ours, this is a big role. We wanted to bring in somebody that actually has the experience at the next level, but has experienced the exact steps that we want to work through so he has the ability to reach down, pull the business up and then we'll you know, once again, hit stride as we come out of COVID.

Mary Grothe: Well, that's something that I read in the book, The hard thing about the hard things, no is that When CEOs can help their team and their people embrace the concept, which is undeniable that as you scale, the people that got you to a certain point may not necessarily people that take you through the next stage. And it doesn't mean that they don't have a place in your family, in the company in a specialty in a role. You don't have to make the investment in that person and your love for that person and throw it out the window, you can actually get super creative find a different place, but bring in that new talent that is set for scale and the next area, brilliant conversation. How do people get in touch with you? How can they find you?

Bob Paulsen: Hit the website PlayerLync with an L-Y-N-C, that's the easiest way.

Mary Grothe: Thanks for coming on.

Bob Paulsen: Thank you.

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