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Season 01, Episode 02

President & COO at Rebel Interactive Group, Allison Minutillo

With President & COO at Rebel Interactive Group, Allison Minutillo

About the Episode

Today on The Fastest Growing Companies podcast, we’re talking to the President & COO at Rebel Interactive Group, Allison Minutillo.

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Full Transcript

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23:36

Allison:
When you find your people, you find the person that inspires you, that that gets the best out of you that activates you on your core strengths. And doesn’t just say no all the time, right? That it’s someone who’s willing to take some risks and put yourself out there. And when, when you find that from a leadership perspective, it’s really anything that we have set our mind to. We have accomplished in those short two years.

Chris: (00:49)
Welcome back everyone. I’m Chris Ronzio CEO of Trainual, and I’m here with Allison Minutillo. She’s the president and COO of Rebel Interactive Group out of Connecticut. Hey Allison. Thanks for being,

Allison:
Hey Chris, how are you? Thanks for having me

Chris:
Awesome. And like I said, right before we started recording, I was pouring through your website, your podcast, the content you all put out. And so I’m super excited for today’s conversation so that we can talk both about your story in the company and then just leadership in general because you all seem to be thought leaders yourself. So let’s, let’s dig in. Let’s do it. All right. So real quick, tell us about, uh, the business. What is Rebel Interactive Group? What do you do?

Allison:
So we’re a full-service digital marketing agency. Um, we do everything from build websites to launch paid media campaigns, to marketing strategy, creative, the whole kit and caboodle. Um, we’re powered by a team of powerhouse, creative, creative-minded, um, strategic, digital-first marketers. So we were built as a marketing company and therefore we didn’t bolt that on when digital became a thing. We’ve always been that. Um, and so our core company competency being that has allowed us to just thrive and just propel throughout this time because that’s really the world we live in right now.

Chris:
Digital DNA. I love digital DNA for sure. So the company’s grown a lot over the years. The last couple of years, since you joined, it was 38 people to now 75. And so in roughly doubling the company, I’m sure a lot’s changed and we’re going to dig into that over the interview, but, um, I’m curious, what attracted you to this business? Why did you want to join and, and, and take the role you have?

Allison:
Yeah, I’m sure a lot of people can relate, but sometimes you hit a point in your career where, you know, it’s not that anything’s wrong. It’s just that you’re, you need a new start. You need to kind of reinvent yourself. You’re looking for a different leader that you align with. And, and I knew I had more to give, and I knew that there was a leader burning inside me that was ready for the right opportunity to be activated. So I was casually looking, which people talk about all the time. And I met Tindell, who’s the owner and CEO of rebel interactive group. Um, and I was interviewing for a super junior position and I didn’t even care because at that point it was like a pay cut situation. And I took a step back and I was willing to do that because I knew that personally, I needed to be more fulfilled.

Allison:
Um, and the second I met him, um, I realized I met the person I needed to be working alongside. And so that to me was the first introduction to what real positive leadership can do for a person. When you find, when you find your people, you find the person that inspires you, that that gets the best out of you, that activates you on your core strengths. And doesn’t just say no all the time, right? That it’s someone who’s willing to take some risks and put yourself out there. And when, when you find that from a leadership perspective, it’s really anything that we have set our mind to. We have accomplished in those short two years.

Chris:
So I love the journey that you’ve gone through the business. And like you said, taking a pay, cut, joining in a junior position now being the president of the company and COO of the company, how, what would you recommend to leaders, to entrepreneurs as they’re bringing in people to their business? How do they spot the leadership that you clearly had and be able to nurture that in their company?

Allison:
Yeah, that’s a good question because it’s really subtle and it’s a, it’s a nuance that, um, I could have never envisioned for myself. If you had asked me two and half years ago, if I would be here, I would never have said this. Um, so part of it is being really respectful when you make that career change to first seek, to understand, seek, to listen and hear what, how they’re currently doing it and how the business is currently operating and some, and listen to the challenges and pain points that they’re presented with. And then draw on your experience. Once you do understand, draw on your experience and your perspective, what you think we could be doing better or differently, or an alternative perspective. And by doing that, you gain consensus. And I think when, when you’re a fast-growing, um, when you grow in your career really quickly and you ascend really quickly, it’s really critical that it’s not driven by title.

Allison:
It’s driven by people believing in what you believe in and having the support system of people who like you care about you believe in you. And it’s because you do those things for them. You like them, you believe in them and you care about them. So it’s like this, this empathy from all angles is the most critical part when you’re kind of ascending through that, that company to whatever, whatever position it is. And once I, once Bryn kind of spotted it in me and said, cause it was a long time coming, it wasn’t an overnight promotion. Right? You, can’t just, it’s not a position that you just say like, okay, that person’s going to be president. Right. You have to really build and think about the complexities of that. But the second he put it in my mind that that was how he saw me someday. Um, then I started seeing myself in that capacity.

Chris:
So D so he saw it before you saw it.

Allison:
Yeah. Um, one day he said, um, you know, I think we need to talk about like what you could do for rebel and what, and this was a while ago, right? So it was very early on when I started here, um, what you could do for Rebel. And I remember it was on a Friday and we were traveling that Monday together, um, for, for a client pitch and all weekend I was Googling like, maybe I would be the CMO and what does the CMO do? And I was so like, so what was me? Like, you’re not meant for this. Right. Just maybe I could do, I don’t know. Right. I say CMO and I, and I was like, okay, I’m a very prepared person. So I like came in with, here are my thoughts. I think I could do this over time and blah, blah, blah.

Allison:
And he’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no I’m talking president. And right when he said that, it was like, I was so at ease with that word because it was actually what I was meant to do. And it was the most, I can’t even describe the moment, but I’ll never forget it because it was because he saw the right person saw me in that right role. But it was all of my strengths, the things that I’m actually good at coming together in that right. Moment and vision that was like, yep, I can do that. I know that I can do that. This

Chris:
Is such a unique perspective. And so we’re going to come back to the business, scaling and growth and all of that amazing journey over the last few years. But I’m curious. So w when Brynn reflected and when, when he shared that with you and you saw that trajectory for yourself, how did the next 12 months or 18 months, or 24 months ago, what was the process of him taking some of those responsibilities off his own plate? And how did your roles evolve to make this work like it has today?

Allison:
Great question. Um, we are still figuring that out. We figure it out every single day. So it’s, um, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of effective communication and allowing ourselves to just really lay out the hard stuff on the table and just, you can’t be guarded in a situation like this with a, with a business growing this size. So I’ve been around organizations where the leadership just battled each other and they didn’t talk to each other and they weren’t honest. And you would hear one version if you’re talking to this person and you’d hear a complete opposite version of the same story, if you’re talking to another, and that is not what we have. Um, so throughout this, we, we first started with the end, which is what do we want, what do we want rebel to be? What do we want this brand to become?

Allison:
What’s our piece of that. Um, and what’s our vision for ourselves? Like what, what do we want to feel fulfilled from a professional standpoint? Um, so by starting with that, we can say like, okay, your time is less valuable over here. Yes, you’re really good at it, but it’s much less valuable over here than if you were to reallocate it here. Okay. What do we need to do to make that piece happen and kind of compartmentalizing? Because if you try to tackle all of it at one time, you’re not going to get to that end goal. It’s kind of like a marathon, right? You don’t, you don’t get to mile 26 before you run mile one. So you have to break big moves down into, alright, we’re going to make this change. It’s going to be for these reasons. And we’re going to let that settle in. Now, we’re going to move on to the next change. And it’s this path mile to mile, to mile, to mile, to, to foot in front of you. And sometimes, you know, like just very micro and macro decisions that happening at the same time to get to the end goal,

Chris:
The marathon is such a good analogy. I’m actually training for a marathon right now. I don’t have to be so rigid about your weekly progress. And so it’s so true. It’s like, you don’t, you didn’t just take everything over in one day. And if you did that in a race, you would kill yourself. You know? Well, that’s why it’s hard

Allison:
For businesses when they, um, so say we had a vacant precedent position, which we didn’t have before. It wasn’t like I replaced anybody. Right. But say someone was trying to fill that from the outside in, it’s really difficult for leaders to hire an outside party who comes in at that senior level, because they don’t get the buy-in, they don’t get the consensus. They don’t have the vibe and the support system of the whole business around them to say, yeah, that’s our person. That’s the person we believe in as a leader. Um, so it’s, it’s, I’ve felt that myself as an employee of other businesses where it just doesn’t work, sometimes there’s success there. But in our case, it was important to us that we did it the right way.

Chris:
And so in going from 38 to 75, you did bring some people in from the outside because the organization was growing. And so with your progression, through each of the promotions and into this role, you I’m guessing, had to backfill yourself. So how did you think about offloading responsibilities that you had to someone new and how did you manage that?

Allison:
Yeah, so delegation was my hardest hurdle to overcome. It’s still is because, um, empathy is one of my core strengths. Um, and when you’re an empathetic person, you feel the burden of giving somebody else work. And so when you feel like, oh, I’ll just take that from you. You have to release it. If you’re, if you’re going to lead a company and see the big picture and plan and plot, the big picture, which is where your company really needs you to spend your time. But you’re constantly feeling guilty about giving people micro tasks, you’re going to fall flat on your face. And I learned that the hard way I took on too much. And then that’s when you feel like you’re burning out and it just does the other day, right? It’s not something you’re ever going to be perfect at. It’s like you, you take, take, taking, keep, keep, keep things on your list because you feel bad that other people are overworked, but you just, there’s no way that you can accomplish both things. You have to lead from a bigger 30,000 foot view and in the trenches and doing the work yourself. Cause you’re not just out here. Right. But, but it’s a very delicate balance of taking on far too much than you can mentally handle.

Chris:
Yeah. You, you know what clicked for me in that process, because I’m the same way. I would feel that burden of giving someone else that work and feel like they’re doing me a favor and you know, and now I owe them and, and they’re because they’re helping supplement the time. Um, but it was when I realized that handing off delegating responsibilities was empowering people to up-level their own skills and take on new challenges. And when I saw people really liking that work, it didn’t feel so much like I was handing off a burden. It felt more like I was giving out presents.

Allison:
Yeah. You know what? It’s like, people are not motivated by money. Like, it’s, it’s such an old concept in business that people are only motivated by title and salary. That’s not what we have here. Um, yes, that’s a piece of motivation. That’s, everybody’s motivation you want to do well and feel successful in that regard. But at their core, people are motivated by the work that they do and the pride that they feel in their work and the visibility and the accountability and the accolades and the respect that, that gets you when you produce an exceptional deliverable. So we’ve crafted everything around that too, um, even down to our vision. So one of the things that I did in my role was rollout a new company-wide vision, and that is to empower one another, to truly realize what we’re capable of. And it has nothing to do with marketing speak. It has everything to do with what or what do you get, Chris? What do you have in you today that you can bring to the table that is better than what you did yesterday to kind of outdo yourself and see what you have that can be leveraged with other people. And then by doing that, you build an organization that people want to work for.

Chris:
Yeah. Yeah. So as president and COO, then, you know, you mentioned you’re very detail oriented, you’re organized. And so, as you think about the rest of the people in the organization, how do you make sure that their time is spent, where they’re most valuable, and have this calm, open conversation about how they grow?

Allison:
It is complicated. Um, because each day that we think we figured out staffing and that people are humming and everybody’s got a nice, healthy dose of balanced workload. The next day something happens, someone leaves or someone joins, um, or a new client hits. And, and especially in agency, world digital agency, world, our clients expect as they should, that we need to ramp up really, really fast. They want to execute their campaigns in as few days as possible. So they have like, we have no grace period in advertising, right? So, so we have to sprint and we have to staff in order to sprint, but it’s chicken and egg, right? You can’t, you need the money and the new business pipeline in order to staff, but you, but you also need the staff in order to execute the work. So it’s this constant back and forth between our sales pipeline and the health of that, which is a huge component of our growth, um, and Testament to our growth and our operations being really, really, um, fluent efficient. Honestly, it’s amazing what our team produces any given week. Um, and both of those things are like this delicate balance of constantly trying to do the best we possibly can to project both situations.

Chris:
I know for any professional services organization, agency, whether they have five people and they’re trying to go to 10 people, or they have 75, like you, and going to a hundred, there is always this chicken and egg kind of thing. How do you think about the risk? You know, how do you, uh, hire before you need to hire and feel comfortable with that? Like, how does that settle for you?

Allison:
Yeah, well, there are strategies in it that we’re constantly like we have a huge interview candidate so that the one outcome of success is that you’re building a brand that people want to work for. Right? So we’ve gotten some nice buzz. And in our local community, we’ve gotten really, really natural organic interest, which is our sphere of influence that we’re trying to intentionally, um, build from a rebel perspective. So that helps bring the work in, and it also helps bring the candidates in. But the thing that we are most cautious of that is the unintended consequence of fast growth, not just growth, but especially fast growth is, is change management and what that does to employees, because we want every buddy to feel really, really good about what they do and feel empowered by the work feel like they’ve got a healthy workload. Um, but we’ve got always got our eye on culture and happiness and just do people feel fulfilled?

Allison:
Are they frustrated? So a lot of this and I started this podcast by talking about listening is about listening. You have, you have to listen, reflect constantly about the feedback you hear as a leader and take it in process compartmentalize, and then make some changes to note, to make people know that you heard them and you, you feel their pain, but also not let it muddy your perspective and stunt you from the almost like paralyze you from making other changes because you have to adapt. If you’re a company growing this side is the processes that worked when we were 38. People are not the same processes and operations as when we’re 75. So we function almost as an entirely different business now than we did then.

Chris:
So true things are always changing. So, you know, we, we started, I could talk all day to you about just people and operations, but I do want to touch on the incredible growth that you’ve had as well. And part of the feedback that I’m sure you get from your people is about the customers, about the projects that you’re working on. And I’m sure that’s changed a lot over the years. So thinking back from your time in the company, how has the type of work you do or the type of client you serve, been a catalyst for really growing?

Allison:
Yeah. So one project leads to another. So think about a startup, right? They get one client they’re so excited about that as they should be because it was blood, sweat, and tears to get that client. And then that one example leads to another client that leads to another client. So the more we started to grow and get the examples of work that we really wanted to be doing, that we knew that we were capable of doing as an organization, the more that work led to other work that we wanted to be doing. So that starts compounding and it starts becoming exponential and, um, a Testament to our new business team. Um, they are exceptional at telling the rebel story exceptional. We we’ve really dedicated a lot of time to making sure not only do we just, you know, like companies do like mission, vision values all the time, like all that Brandy jargony stuff.

Allison:
But it’s another thing to have all of your employees like replaying that same language in a consistent way. That’s what a strong brand is because your brand is your people. It’s, it’s your business is your brand. It’s not the words, it’s that everybody’s saying the same thing that believes in the same thing. Um, and then can articulate it back in the same way. So that now that new business prospect that heard about it through this other reference that they had is hearing and feeling that same vibe come through from their very first interaction all the way through, well, hopefully not their last, but you know what I mean?

Chris:
Sure. Yeah. I love the, the, the metaphor of like the snowball effect and the momentum of all the good projects kind of refining the story for internal messaging and then external messaging. And you attract the people in the clients you want. So looking ahead, then you talked about vision earlier. What’s the, what’s the big vision for the next few years? What are you working on now?

Allison:
So it’s interesting. You asked because I was just putting together, um, a company-wide, um, presentation to articulate that, because with all that growth, you realize not a lot of the newer folks really understand that big picture vision, even though you’ve said it a couple times, like on an annual meeting, for example, you have to say that a lot more frequently, the more new people you hire faster, you hire. Um, so we’re, we’re taking that. That was some feedback that I got personally the past couple of weeks. So, um, that is my job is to make sure people know their space, know their place in the broader scheme. So our vision we’re creating an ecosystem of brands. We’re creating a brand. That means something that’s all built based on our passions, our experience, our ingenuity, um, we are building a rebel movement. So we actually have a parent company called the rebel realm and think of that as kind of like an incubator of ideas.

Allison:
So the owner is an entrepreneur. That is who he is at his core. He loves building things. He loves giving people a start. Um, he loves taking someone’s idea and saying, yes, go do it. And having them see it through and realize how difficult that is and how much pride is chocked through that. When you launch something that was your idea, and you see it in the wild and you make your first sale from it. Um, so, so from a rebel realm standpoint, we have actually a bunch of different brands. Rebel interactive group just happens to be the biggest one that kind of powers all of the other ones, but we constantly get ideas presented to us from our own rebels, um, who say, Hey, I had this crazy out outlandish idea. And then all of a sudden that’s a company that they’re running under the rebel realm. Oh, that’s

Chris:
So cool. And I love how you call them rebels too. So if someone listening here wants to be a rebel or wants to follow rebel, where, where can they find you? Where can they reach out and learn more?

Allison:
Yeah, please do. Um, our social media channels. We just rebelled and like wiped our whole Instagram channel when we rebranded. So you’ll see us all over the place. Um, Instagram, LinkedIn, our two primary channels. We’re on Twitter. You can actually listen to more of my perspective and our perspective on leadership and rebellious leadership, um, through our podcast. So that’s the rebel leadership podcast. You can find it on apple podcasts, Google, Spotify, all the places you get, your podcasts or our website, rebel interactive group.com. Um, you can reach out say, hi, say you heard me on the podcast, whatever you want to do.

Chris:
Awesome. Well, Allison, it’s been so nice talking with you. Like I said, I could talk to you all day and you’re, you’re so quotable. We’re going to have like all these different quotes. I bet coming out of this. So thank you for that. Uh, go check out the rebel leadership podcast. If you want to hear more from Allison and hear about all the cool things they’re doing over there, as you heard, they grew from 38 people to 75 people. And the sky’s really the limit as they’ve rebranded and just continue to Polish everything that they do at, through their, uh, their social channels, their website, which is super cool. Go check that out. Um, and, uh, and see everything that they’re working on out there in Connecticut and beyond. So,

Chris:
Uh, Allison, thanks so much for being here today.

Allison:
Thanks so much for having me, Chris.

Chris:
Hopefully you can borrow A page from Allison’s playbook as you’re building your own, and we’ll see you on the next show.

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