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CEO's Guilt

Mary Grothe October 6 2021


Meet Host, Mary Grothe

Mary Grothe is a former #1 MidMarket B2B Sales Rep who after selling millions and breaking multiple records, formed House of Revenue®, a Denver-based firm of fractional Revenue Leaders who currently lead the marketing, sales, customer success, and RevOps departments for 10 companies nationwide. In the past year, they've helped multiple 2nd stage growth companies between $5M - $20M, on average, double their MRR within 10 months, resulting in an average ROI of 1,454% and an average annual revenue growth eclipsing $3.2 million.


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, the 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

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Coming off the heels of a tough week, this week stretched and challenged me way outside of my comfort zone, having to make some big decisions for the company. I'm not going to dig into a lot of the specifics because they do deal with people and our team. But it's been a heavy week, and it's been a hard week. And it sent me into an area of reflection. Thinking about the last four years, we are about five weeks away from celebrating our four-year anniversary in business. I did a lot of reflection this week because I think this past week was one of the heavier weeks I've had in running this company.

In that reflection, I reviewed in my mind and played the tapes back of all the challenges that we have somehow figured out how to work through and move past. But I kept coming back to the same word or the same thought, which was guilt. And it's heavy. Guilt is a very heavy emotion. I'm trying to work through it and process it so that I can grow from this past week. I can be better moving forward. I can learn. I can put measures in place to avoid repeating anything that happened this week.

I started to look back at the last four years. Maybe because I was allowing myself to feel guilty, all these memories flooded and thoughts from the other times I have felt this way. I felt really compelled to share this. I've really been sharing positivity and optimism because that's really at the core of who I am. I'm puppies and sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. Typically, all my posts and anything that I would put out on this radio show always ends with the fairytale ending; it always has good news in the end, but this week is heavy. So, I wanted to dig in with you because I feel that the CEOs who listen to this can empathize and say, I've been there, I've done that. I felt the same way. I want to normalize some of these feelings and maybe create a platform, an okay place that CEOs can talk about the very difficult, challenging weeks that ensue.

Well, I'm going to start with what has transpired leading up to this week, just with me personally, and then we'll go back and play the tapes. This is a message I also shared with our team and our all-hands meeting on Wednesday, and I want to share it here with you. We believe in our core values that we need to serve first, scale second, and succeed always. First, we break it down into three categories: we serve ourselves, then we serve our teammates, and then we serve our clients. Going into the core value before we scale their companies, we must care about them first, but we get to make our own success definitions with each client. Therefore, we succeed always going to the first core value, the very first part of the core value of serve first.

This week in our all-hands meeting, my topic was that wellness starts with you (me) and then every other person listening in the room. We truly cannot give what we don't have. And as leaders as CEOs, it is taxing and draining every week, the amount of pool on us. It's constant; it never turns off. If I had the ability to stay awake and work 24 hours a day, I would probably always have something to do. Not that my business can't run without me. It's that I want to be involved. I want to invest in every team member. I want to assist in strategy on their projects. I want to listen back to recorded meetings and provide insight and coaching on how they may have handled a certain situation. I want to be present. I want to do so much more than I have the time, ability, capability, and bandwidth to do.

So I look at what has transpired leading up to this very difficult week that we're coming off of. I hadn't been taking care of myself. I had allowed myself to get lazy. I hadn't been to the gym in five weeks. I was sober for the first six months of this year, and I absolutely loved a sober lifestyle. I was so clear, I had so much energy, I was operating at 100%, I just felt so good without any alcohol. However, I started to enjoy having a cocktail here and there and a glass of wine here and there in July of this year.

Then I noticed that some pressures were on me at work over the last couple of weeks leading up to this. We were navigating a lot of things, a lot of movement, a lot of decisions, navigating our growth, making big decisions of building out a new office space, working with a contractor and a furniture supplier, and negotiating a lease. Plus, I'm looking at some exciting comp plan changes for 22. And I have been working with my legal team. We're switching accounting and payroll partners. I switched insurance brokers. I've been doing so much to get ahead of this next stage of growth so we can really mature with our infrastructure. It was a lot. We also had five new hires that started in September during this time. In August, I probably had 15 to 20 hours of interviews and recruiting every week, not to mention we onboarded six clients between the first of August and the end of September, which onboarding a new client is a huge lift.

I also have been averaging 10 to 15 hours of prospective client meetings every week, coupled with at least five to eight hours of admin work of creating proposals and progressing them, getting them connected with references and case studies, and whatnot. It was a lot. I was burning at both ends. I was exhausted. I started to find that comfort that many of us have of “Whoa. That was a long workday. I'm making a margarita. Whoa. That was a long workday. I'm going to have that glass of wine.” And I started to fall into that again.

Well, that's not doing anyone any favors because I don't know if you're anything like me, but when I have a glass of wine or margarita, it makes me hungry. So, I would just snack and eat and usually not the good stuff. More like chips, popcorn, and stuff that I don't think there's any nutritional value in that. I'd find myself snacking on Tostito's until I'd go to bed. So, I mean that stuff's just not good for your body that late at night, and it just was bad. Then my trainer at the gym got married, so she had like a week for Bachelorette then honeymoon or wedding then honeymoon. Then she got COVID. So, two weeks off. I hadn't been to the gym in five weeks, so I had no release there. While all of this is mounting, the pressures of the business and the company aren't lessening.

I had to look in the mirror and say, what seeds are you putting into the ground, Mary? Like, what are you planting right now? You can't expect good things to come out of your behavior, not taking care of yourself. There are 27 people, their families, plus 20 clients, their companies, their staff, and their staff’s families that depend on me firing on all cylinders, not to mention that I am not just a CEO, I am a wife a mom. I am committed to raising my son and being a present wife to my husband, and I have really been struggling with that. This also then doesn't make me feel very good. I then have the mom guilt and the wife guilt because I'm missing out or not present when I'm sitting with my kid because I'm hammering out proposals. It's been a rough few weeks, and I wasn't taking care of myself. I'm sharing this with you because I believe people need to talk about this. Being a CEO is a big responsibility.

You've heard me say that how many times, don't sign up to do this job if you're not willing to do what it takes to deliver on what you said yes to. You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't be lazy and drink and shove your face full and not take care of yourself and go to the gym, being absent but present while you're at home. You know what I mean by that you're sitting there, but you're not there. You're working on other stuff because you can't give what you don't have. I wasn't taking care of myself. I wasn't plugging into the source. I wasn't filling myself up. I wasn't sleeping well. So what do you think people were experiencing with me? Yeah, not good. Okay, we can answer the question for you...not good.

I take responsibility for that, and I've apologized to my staff, my team for the way I had been showing up for a few weeks. I made a commitment that, as of that day, and the day before, is really when I made the commitment that I was cleaning it up and getting back on track. I understand and acknowledge that everybody wins when I clear that clutter out of my life, and I can operate at 100%. They get the best side of me. I can give because I have a lot to give, and there was a commitment and a shift that I had to make this week.

As I made that commitment, and my mind became clear, the distractions were removed from my life; I felt healthier already. Just within a couple of days, I could just feel this resurgence of energy and clarity and joy. Like the clouds were lifted, I could see so clearly, and I knew we needed to make some big decisions in the company. They're very difficult to make, very emotional, but we made them. When I started to process my emotions and feelings, I realized that I had a lot of guilt; I started to feel like I let people down that I didn't create the right opportunity for two team members. Unfortunately, we had to separate with them this week, and I carry that heavily. I look back and say what I could have done differently. Then, I started to spiral down over the last four years, and walking down, there's been a lot of times I feel like I've let people down, former employees, former clients.

As I started to walk down memory lane, when we were a startup in our first year, we didn't even have a product-market fit and didn't know how to price our services. I added staff members to the team when we started; I was adding them as contractors because I was too scared to have employees. But with contractors, you can't tell them who, what, where, when, or why. They’re contractors; they are not your employees. I really struggled to have standards with work and get on the same page with my contractors, I didn't have any bandwidth or time built into my schedule. It's just all hands on deck. I was working so many hours. I never really trained anyone or mentored or developed them. I rarely ever communicated expectations until they weren't being met, then we were having a performance conversation.

I remember back to those early clients that were so brave to spend money on a brand-new company and invest and pay for our services. I think back looking just four years ago, oh my gosh, what we know now, what we do now. I mean, we're 100 times the company we were four years ago, even two years ago, I would even say we're 10 times the company we were a year ago. I think back to those brave customers that said yes to working with us, and I know we did good work. I'm very proud of what our team did, but it is nowhere compared to what we're doing today. I start thinking, “Gosh, I feel like I owe a refund to some of those early-stage clients.” I mean, we were just kids back then trying to run a startup and build this incredible service company and do great things for their company that they couldn’t do on their own. We made mistakes. We didn't have our processes ironed out yet, and I didn't have all the right people on staff. All those things that a young services company might face we did.

I started to think back to all the brave employees that said yes to working for such a young, small startup—so much risk on their side. Our comp packages were so small back then, way below market rates, and they still said yes. We had no infrastructure systems or processes. Many of those employees created the processes for their roles because I had never built them. I just spoke what the vision was for it and tried to hire people that I believed could operate in a world of gray that didn't have a lot of structure with very high expectations coming from me, and I felt bad.

I started to think through, like, “Geez, I'm better than that, you know.” I created an experience that must have been so hard for some people to come to work every day, and not even know like, what does Mary even want? What am I doing here? What am I supposed to do? She doesn't give me direction. I don't get feedback. I don't know when I'm performing well or not until, you know, there's an issue. And I'm sorry. Like, I'll just say it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the employees. I'm sorry for the clients that I've let down over the last four years.

I'm thankful for your grace and continued support that I know many of you give us; you cheer for us when you see some exciting wins and announcements. It was just announced that we won Colorado Companies to Watch, which is a very prestigious award in our state. There are usually over 1000 second-stage growth companies that apply every year, and 50 are selected. We're just over the moon that our company won, which comes with a lot of weight because I hate hypocrisy.

I worked for a Fortune 1000 company. The CEO, a very prominent man, would be on CNBC or, like those money shows, whatever Wall Street money shows. I hear the CEO of the company that I worked for, for eight years. He'd be on TV, just all excited promoting the company and talking about our shares and earnings and how great and while we positioned, we were in the market. I would sit there and have disgust for that CEO because I was on the front lines with my clients for that company.

I was selling a product and service that often never came into fruition because that client would say, yes, we'd put them in implementation, and it would just start blowing up. It was awful. Then the ongoing service was deplorable. I do not say that in a negative way to those people. They're implementation partners, and my ops partners are my friends. They were not set up for success. They didn't have training. They didn't have an SOP. They were overloaded with clients like there was just no way they could get through their email. I mean, they were often behind on emails, one to two weeks; it was so bad. They couldn't get through voicemails. They couldn't return calls. They were not set up for success. Then that CEO is in my living room coming through on the TV, gloating about how great this company is. I said, “You’re a liar, and you're a hypocrite.” So here we are sitting winning Colorado Companies to Watch, and I don't take that lightly.

If our company is going to be winning awards, then we must be more than just a really well-written application that we filled out to win an award - we must show up this way. It starts with me. It continues through our leadership team, our culture, and what we're doing for our team. Growth is not an excuse to skip steps and to treat people poorly, and I acknowledge that. As a CEO, I'm going to make mistakes. I don't have all of this figured out yet, but I'm learning and committed. I look at how heavy this last week was; I bear that weight, and I take ownership of it. I know that looking back, there are things that could have been done to avoid what ended up transpiring, and that's why I'm committed to not repeating those mistakes. I will grow from this. I will learn from this. I will take those learnings and impart that wisdom to our leadership team, encouraging them to implement it in their own teams. It's just - it's my responsibility.

I know this episode is a little bit different today, but it's important to me that our audience hears all sides of this. I'm committed to talking to you about what it's really like to scale a company. We are scaling, and you've intercepted to be on a tough week where I'm carrying a lot. If you've had those tough weeks, too, keep your head up. At the end of the day, if your heart is in the right place, and you can keep a clear mind and be taking care of yourself and decluttering your distraction, staying committed, and staying the course, I think that's what we all must do.

If I want to go be a top-performing sales rep again, maybe I can enjoy the work hard, play hard and cut out of work and go have my Friday night Margarita with an extra shot and unplug for the weekend and say I'll just get to that on Monday because pretty much had it for this week. Suppose I want the ability to do that. In that case, I should take a job working for someone else with less responsibility. If I'm going to stay in this seat, there are people who depend on me. Not just financially, not just for a paycheck, but for their well-being as a human. Like these people spend how many hours a week dedicating their life to this company and our clients and their teammates?

So there you go. I'm going to wrap this episode a little bit short because I don't have anything else to say. I'm just going to be talking to talk. I know a lot of people on my team listen to this podcast as well. It's important that I am fully and always transparent to my commitment to grow, learn, and keep my North Star, both our employee experience and our client experience the rest of the details will come. The revenue that we do in our company, the top-line revenue, and the profit are not more important than the people here and the clients we serve. I am committed to continuing to put my head back on. Get it on straight. Keep my mind clear. Take care of myself so that we can all do great things and do remarkable work.

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Thanks for listening to today's episode. If you're interested in being on our show or want to learn more about how we can help you scale your company, connect with us at or with me Mary Grothe spelled G-R-O-T-H-E on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.

Connect with House of Revenue® on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

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