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Season 03, Episode 32

How To Think Like A Business Owner

with Director of Business Operations at GumGum, Neha Gupta

About the Episode

Neha is the Director of Business Operations at GumGum an experienced operations and strategy leader on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list who has helped scale some of California’s most successful start-ups, including The Honest Company and Beats by Dre. In this episode, we chat about working for well-known organizations through large transitions, thinking like a business owner to improve processes, and using OKRs in the workplace.    

After working on a number of key partnerships and transactions for Beats, including the sale to Apple, Neha moved on to the augmented reality start-up, DAQRI, before her current role as Director of Business Operations at GumGum Sports, where she’s helped scale the Operations Team from 6 to a team of 24. Neha loves building teams from scratch, establishing a shared vision, optimizing organizational structures, and creating and testing new processes.

Full Transcript

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Neha:

The way that I think about my role and I’ve always thought about it this way. And I don’t know if it’s right or wrong is I’m always trying to offload what I’m doing to someone else. Right. So I can do the next thing. And I joke with my manager, the manager I have on my team here. And I’m like, I want you to have my job tomorrow. And so the responsibilities that I have today, I’m constantly trying to train, you know, him or whoever it is that works with me to be able to do those things.

Chris:

Hey, everyone, I’m Chris Ronzio, founder, and CEO of Trainual. And this is Process Makes Perfect as always, we’re talking with experts in process creation, automation, and delegation. Basically, the people that make business easier may has an experienced operation and strategy leader on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Who’s helped some of California’s most successful startups, including the honest company and Beats by Dre. Can’t wait to hear those stories. After working on a number of key partnerships and transactions for Beats, including the sale to Apple, Neha moved onto the augmented reality startup DAQRI before her current role as Director of Business Operations at GumGum sports, where she’s helped scale the operations team from six to a team of 24, Neha loves building teams from scratch, establishing, shared vision, optimizing organizational structures and creating and testing new processes. So obviously we’re all going to love her. Neha, Thanks for being here.

Neha:

Thank you. Thanks Chris, for having me,

Speaker 3:

Can this business thrive without the owner, you got to start putting systems and processes in place. If you don’t use the systems, the business will break. We’re always looking to buy back our time. You cannot say something once and expect that it actually is received. This is two ways a big motivation in that for me, is creating a job for myself that I really enjoy. This is how you discover your vision, and this is

Chris:

It’s Process Makes Perfect. There is so much in your intro there in your bio that I want to dig into. So, let’s catch up and, you know, fill me in and fill everyone in that’s listening. Tell us about your background. You’ve worked at some pretty impressive companies,

Neha:

Right? So, um, I would say my foray into the startup space was definitely non-traditional. Um, when I went to undergrad at UCLA and did a master’s in econ with an emphasis in finance at USC, and thought I wanted to go into finance and was looking at positions in investment banking and just traditional finance roles. And I did an internship and hated it. And I think I cried every day and realized that that was not for me. And I was coming up on graduation and didn’t know what I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I was very confused and I had a friend who, um, you know, introduced me to the honest company and the way he presented it was there’s this baby products company that just [is] Jessica starting, are you interested? And, you know, fresh out of school definitely didn’t have an interest in baby products, but, you know, thought Jessica was cool.

Neha:

And she was co-founding the startup with another, um, with Brian Lee, who I was familiar with in Los Angeles as having started legal, zoom and ShoeDazzle. So, um, I was fortunate enough to join the team before they launched and was there for about a year. And that’s where I like to say I got the startup bug. And so ever since then, you know, my passion has been joining businesses really in their earlier stages, really in helping think about how to scale, you know, critical parts of the organization. Um, and you know, that has taken on a whole lot of different forms as the different roles have come into. But I think most recently I’ve been specifically focused on the operations, um, set of business. So my last two roles here at GumGum sports and prior to that DAQRI have been, um, in operations.

Chris:

That’s great. Well, I can’t wait to weave through your career in this conversation. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of good nuggets. So back to the honest company, let’s start there with the startup bug. I have two little ones at home, so I get a box of honest products delivered to my house. Once a month, I read that you were behind setting up the customer service team. Can you talk a little bit about how you went from kind of nothing to building out that structure?

Neha:

Right. So, you know, when we started, um, customer service is something that the founding team was very passionate about, and, um, they knew from the forefront that that would be a core part of the DNA of the business. Um, before we, anyone started at the business, we were all required to read delivering happiness. Um, and so, you know, that was the required reading for anyone that was starting at the business. And I think that was the case for a really long time may still be today. And so again, that just shows the passion that the, that the founding team had around what customer service would be. And I would say from, you know, again, taking a step back from my perspective, when I started [honestly], you know, I had, um, I had a different perspective of customer service, you know, for me, I was imagining, you know, the person on the end of the line, probably sitting overseas, I was just picking up calls, you know, didn’t like their job.

Neha:

And it was just trying to get through, you know, a preset set of answers and get you off the phone. Um, the way that the honest company approached customer service was really different and it was more of a, you know, relationship building with our core customers. And at that early stage of the business, you know, there was a clear understanding of who our customer was. Um, it was, you know, we had a very clear profile of the type of mom and dad that was interested in a product like Honest. And we set up our early customer service processes to cater to that kind of a mom and dad. And so, you know, we’re really educated on process on product really educated on kind of new trends in the space of, you know, organic products. And then also, you know, doing little things like sending cards and writing handwritten letters and following up on email and checking in on how our pregnancies going or how kids are doing and really establishing personal connection.

Chris:

So I know from my experience, when you’re building out customer success and customer service, as the company evolves, you get these great ideas like, Oh, why don’t we send them a card? How do you capture those ideas and make sure they end up in your processes or your documentation so that everyone is doing things the same way?

Neha:

Yeah, I would say the way that we did it at honest was really through hiring. Um, so again, it came, you know, we, when we were hiring out the customer success team customer service team, at that time, we were hiring fresh grads right out of school, um, who, you know, we’re just eager and hungry and wanted to get their foot in the door and be able to work with, you know, a celebrity like Jessica Alba. So we were getting, you know, we’re, we’re hiring for and making very clear in the beginning, what we would be expecting that those folks to do. Honestly, I would say a lot of it came, um, that desire to do things like send cards and hen written notes came from, you know, people’s personal desires. Right. And they were, those were things they wanted to do as they built relationships with our early customers. Now that’s easy when you have a handful of customers, right. But as you scale it, you know, that is something that we try to incorporate as a bit more process-oriented of, you know, why don’t, you know, select a handful of customers and really follow them through their journey and just make it a little bit more, um, you know, just kind of make it a little easier to manage, you know, some of those things.

Chris:

Yeah, that’s great. Okay. So let’s go from a one celebrity founder to the next celebrity founder with Beats by Dre. So how did you make that transition? What was that opportunity?

Neha:

Yeah, so I had been at the honest company for a little about a year and I had no plans to leave. And, um, you know, I was having a really great time there, and I was, um, reached out to, by a recruiter and, um, found out that they were looking to expand the strategy and business development, team. And, you know, funny enough, I actually didn’t know anything about Beats by Dre at the time. Um, luckily I had my brother over when the recruiter reached out and, and I asked him, I’m like, what’s Beats by Dre? And she looked at me like I was crazy. And he was like, go on the Facebook page or just Google and find out, you know, you know, headphone company that’s blowing up. So, um, I joined when the company was going through an interesting transition, they were going from having, um, been a licensing business with Monster Cable to, you know, bringing all operations in house, to being a wholly-owned organization.

Neha:

So really interesting transition time. And I think, you know, a licensing business required, it didn’t require much in terms of, you know, people, I think beats was around me, 30 to 50 people, um, as a part of monster. But as you were bringing operations in house, you know, the business was scaling very quickly. I think when I joined we’re at about a hundred people and when I think about the point of acquisition, we’re at about 600, so wow. Fast growth in three years. So just, you know, that same kind of hockey stick really kind of cool, interesting grow that, you know, we, I think beats was just right, right place, right time.

Chris:

And I, I, for anyone that’s listening audio only, I’m wearing my beats headphones right now. So, uh, so I’ve touched to, um, two for two on your companies, how, as, as you were going from 100 to 600 people in the company, you’re obviously expanding products, you’re rolling out products, you’re going into new markets. How do you do that in an organized way, is someone that’s operationally focused pro uh, you know, process focused? How did you even go about that?

Neha:

So I think one of, um, you know, one of the things that the leadership team had foresight to do was to expand leadership team, right. And bring in, um, folks that had experience at much larger organizations. And so, um, you know, one of those, um, hires was my boss actually. And she was our general counsel and head of strategy. And she came from VF and had been general counsel there. And when, when she came in, one of the things we did as a team is she started to, um, plant the seeds for doing things like insight development, consumer research, market research. And that was interestingly enough, something we had not done to date. And I I’ll say, you know, using data do using research and, um, and using research that we had available to make decisions was something that was actually very new for the leadership team today.

Neha:

You know, they had that, you know, they felt like they had a good pulse on culture. You know, Jimmy Ivan is head of Interscope Records, and really has pretty much every and any major artists under his belt. And so, you know, they felt like they had a good grasp on where we should be. But again, like you said, when you’re expanding to new markets and you’re building out your product line, you know, there has to be more rigor around how you’re making decisions. And I think the development of an insight and research team really helped do that.

Chris:

So that’s great. You, as a company grows, I think it’s important. You bring in people that are experienced, they’ve done this before. They can bring that knowledge to the business. Now what about as people are being promoted from within, how do you make sure that the knowledge that someone gained in one position can transfer effectively to the person that’s going to replace them in that role? I’m curious if you saw that at all, or if, if maybe it’s easier to answer as you transitioned from company to company, what was that process like of buttoning up all the things that you did for the next person?

Neha:

Yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great question. Um, I think a lot of, a lot of the way, I mean, personally, I’ll just answer personally the way that I think about my role and I’ve always thought about it this way, and I don’t know if it’s right or wrong is I’m always trying to offload what I’m doing to someone else. Right. So I can do the next thing. And I, I joke with my manager, the manager I have on my team here, and I’m like, I want to have my job tomorrow. And so the responsibilities that I have today, I’m constantly trying to train, you know, him or whoever it is that works with me to be able to do those things. That one enables me to be able to move on to new tasks. And you know, what, if I, if I need to move on quickly, or things change there’s lots of that kind of painful transition. And second, it helps the team around me expand their skill sets, you know, be able to have a better understanding of one what I do. And also just bring that fresh perspective into things that I’m doing on a daily basis.

Chris:

All right, guys, taking a quick break here to ask you for a quick favor. If you like, what you hear on the show, please take a moment to review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening to the show. And if you snap a screenshot of your review and you send it to me at Chris Ronzio, or at Trainual on any social media platform, we’ll send you a free Process. Makes Perfect t-shirt and some other swag. We’d love to hear what you think. Okay. Back to the show. Absolutely. I love that answer. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s like if you want to grow and you want to be free to take on opportunities, then this gives you the most flexibility to train people as you go now. So you were at the company through the transition, the transition to Apple. Is that right? That’s correct. Yeah. So, I’m curious, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs have aspirations of selling a company or, getting acquired. How did the cultures merge through that, that, that transition and what was it like to combine Beats by Dre his playbook with Apple’s playbook in a sense,

Neha:

Yeah, it’s, it’s funny, you know, um, I encounter people who have gone through a lot of acquisitions and that was my first and, um, you know, it was, for me, it felt like a very painful process. And, um, you know, I think it depends on who the acquirer is, right. Um, Apple has its own very strong culture and there’s such a large, massive corporation that they had. They wanted to keep beads as is, you know, they want to continue with the magic that we had and, you know, the cultural relevance that we had without, you know, being too involved with, um, and getting influenced by Apple. But since there’s such a large organization, I don’t think they could help themselves, you know, very quickly we were pretty much swallowed whole. And I think one of the interesting things about that too, is like, just for perspective, in terms of revenue, you know, beats were topping $1.5 billion.

Neha:

And we were like a decimal point for Apple, right? And so for us and our grand scale things are, you know, our, from our perspective, we felt like we were, you know, a big player in our space, but when you’re hired by a company of that size, you’re really nonexisting. You’re like a line, you know, a sub-line and the accessories category. And, you know, you know, that’s their perspective and your position within a company changes. So I think we got swallowed whole. Um, I think the Apple culture and the beats culture were very right. It’s you can probably imagine, um, Apple Valley Apple, you know, sits in the Valley. Um, it’s folk on average, the tenure is very long for people that have worked there. Um, so I was sitting in meetings with the operations team and, you know, people would introduce themselves and most people had been there 10 years, 15 years, you know, and at beats, if you had been there for more than three years, you were an old timer, right.

Neha:

So it’s, you know, there’s, there’s that, there’s that difference. Um, you know, we were used to kind of moving fast and not really following a lot of processes and rules and just trying to make things happen. And that was, we were purposely built that way operationally because, you know, our head of marketing and our executive team wanted to be able to, you know, quickly develop a headphone or quickly develop a product with a relevant artist or irrelevant athlete. And so we perfectly kept our processes very nimble. And then as when, when we were, you know, moving towards Apple’s processes, those are very different. So, you know, I think culturally speaking very different or process-wise very different. I don’t think two more different companies could have come together. Um, and you know, I think, you know, and if you look at it from the outside and very successful transaction and very successful outcome for beats, for Beats by Dre and you know, who knows what the future would have been otherwise. But I think as a person, as a part of the person that helped you build that organization, build that culture, you know, you, you see all of that change almost overnight. Um, and so it’s, it’s almost like the death of a company in the way that you’ve known it and it becomes something else. And either you’re on that train and interested in continuing to be a part of that new organization, whatever it may be, or, you know, you, you move on.

Chris:

Yeah. So I, you know, everyone heard about that acquisition. It was big news. Do you have any sense of whether the valuation was driven entirely by brand and the celebrity of the thing, or was there some value in the systems and the, and the processes that have been developed behind the scenes?

Neha:

Yeah, I think, you know, what, what was interesting for beets, um, you know, and the, again, the leadership team, Jimmy, and, um, having worked in the music industry, he developed products and response to what you were seeing in the industry, right? So he had phones were, you know, he wanted consumers that have a better way to listen to music and higher quality. And then also, you know, made a small acquisition, started developing a streaming platform. Right. And I think, again, that understanding and that foresight of, I see these trends, I see these changes and I’m going to develop a product and response to it, um, really helped put beats at the forefront of a lot of those changes. So, um, you know, I think for Apple, I think it was a lot, you know, it was a bunch of different things. It’s you have this incredibly, incredibly diverse leadership team and executive team, you know, you get Jimmy Ivy, you get dr.

Neha:

Dre, um, you know, and you get are the seasoned executive team that was there. Um, but then you also get Apple Music, right. So, you know, for them, it’s, they have a product in the accessories wearable space, and they’re looking to expand that and, you know, they get access to a different demographic and, you know, they’re figuring out iTunes and their software on the end and Apple Music or Beats Music, sorry, gave them kind of an interesting for it and access to a different demographic and that kind of network effect of having, you know, the chairman of Interscope be a part of your leadership team.

Chris:

I think just watching as an outsider, you know, you see businesses build that are around celebrity or around amazing brand and partnerships like that. And I’ve worked with celebrities in that kind of capacity, and it’s almost like they’re visionaries that just blaze the path, but the business works because of the systems that everyone else is running, right. That the economics work because of the system. So I’m sure they were, they were thankful for, uh, for people like you making it happen. So, so let’s move into DAQRI. You’re the last company you were with? Um, I saw that there was a, uh, a layoff or a restructuring, and I know that’s not easy for anyone. So can you, can you talk through how, how you approach that decision and, and thought about it?

Neha:

Yeah. Um, so, you know, for DAQRI was a very, it was an interesting experience, I think, even taking a step back, right. The augmented reality space, and even where it thought today, um, you see a lot of, um, you see a lot of movement in the space with who’s in there and kind of the rise and fall, and you have the magic leaps where people are kind of scratching their heads and wondering what’s going on. But I think for DAQRI, you know, I guess taking a step back when I started, you know, there was this vision of how do we enter the enterprise space, um, with an augmented reality product. And we want to have a very specific use case for that customer. And so there was no interest in consumer, you know, we, we understood that this was going to be a very expensive product, a clunky product and enterprise is right, right.

Neha:

First step, um, you know, it was a hardware product. And so it was familiar working at beats with hardware. I knew it was very capital intensive and difficult. And so, you know, one of the first things I looked at is, you know, investment profile, how much money raise and all that, because with the hardware product, that’s the most important, the harder part of that hasn’t been released, that’s one of the most important factors to consider. And I would give that advice to anyone looking to join a hardware company. Um, and you know, for me, the company had raised quite a bit of money and it looked like there was some positive movement and POC is out there. And, um, you know, I think the issue that we had was a combination of, um, you know, it was a timing thing. Again, it goes back to timing really important.

Neha:

Um, the space is not there yet for a product like a DAQRI headset or DAQRI helmet. And, you know, we continue to be partnering with innovation teams and developing POC, but to be a part of a day to day, um, the day to day for a worker, like we, we’re still far away from that, from that. And so as a result of that, there was a lot of, um, there was a lot of decisions made in terms of, you know, how hiring and then, you know, what were the teams that were actually necessary. And all of that came down to money, right? You have $10 left in the bank. Like what can you do with $10 that you have? And, you know, those are the, the decisions that we had to make was this is the runway that we have and what are the necessary functions that we need to have to, to be able to continue and, you know, potentially raise more money.

Chris:

So, so I remember when I was consulting and I would go into a company and say, you know, I’m here to improve processes and streamline things. It was always a concern. People would look at me and be like, you’re here to get rid of me, aren’t you. And that was never the case, but that was the perception. That process improvement means kind of, you know, trimming the fat or getting rid of things. So how did, how do you avoid that perception and make the process role a more positive thing?

Neha:

Um, that’s a good question. I think there’s no two ways about it. I think when I left, I felt like the Grim Reaper, but I think ways that, you can do that in a more tactical way, obviously, you know, engaging with and building relationships with members of the team, right? So often as a process improvement person or a consultant, like you said, you know, you’re coming in from the outside, you may be working, let’s say, will you partner with it? Um, you know, you’re not day-in-day-out working with the IT members, but you’re there to help understand their processes, understand the software tools that they’re using. And, again, just trying to figure out ways that they work. So I would say letting the team come to you with ideas versus, um, you know, presenting or, you know, forcing your ideas and improvements back on the team.

Neha:

And so that was a lot of my strategy. It was just, it was working with the team, letting them come up with the idea and just helping and being seen as someone that can help get, you know, resources, which may not be the right word, or just help get outside support for moving things along. But, you know, I think I was lucky enough at DAQRI where every team I engage with was clear that there were improvements that needed to be made, right? No one, no one came to the meetings and said, yeah, everything was working perfectly. And, you know, we don’t, you don’t need to cut anything. There was kind of a collective understanding that changes have to be made. And even the last, last note on that is, um, I think support for initiatives like that comes from the top, right? So whether it be your CEO or CFO or whoever, you know, this is kind of presenting that to the, to the company and letting them know like, Hey, we are, we’re a startup. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve and, um, you know, improve and cut our costs. And so, you know, that is an effort that we all have to undertake and kind of think like a business owner and think of how would you run your own business?

Chris:

Yeah. I think anyone that’s improving processes in an organization or being tasked with doing that or anyone that’s good at it is a good listener because you have to be able to listen right. To, to what’s going on and let people come to the conclusions that things are broken so that you can then be constructive and help fix it rather than you attacking someone’s way of doing it.

Neha:

That’s exactly right. And, um, you know, if it’s about the attitude and it’s about people feel uncomfortable and if they don’t, then they’re not gonna, you’re not going to have that dialogue and you’re not going to make any changes. So, um, you know, I think connecting with people at the end of the day for all of these, you know, any type of process improvement is the most important step in getting anything done.

Chris:

Right. Okay. So let’s look forward now you’re at GumGum sports, a new role, and you’re, you’ve got some big goals ahead. So how do you chunk down those big goals and make sure that you’ve got milestones and things actually happen?

Neha:

Yeah. So I am a big believer in [inaudible], which is just, it’s a management methodology. I read a book, and I was recommended a book a couple of years ago, a Measure What Matters by John Doerr. And, um, it had a huge impact on me actually. And for me, what I loved about the book is it was, it’s a very simple framework. Um, and I think it can be used in the workplace. It could be used to manage your teams. It could be used on a personal level if you have personal goals that you’re trying to achieve. And so what I have found is, um, you know, I use ocarus at GumGum sports and, you know, I get really positive feedback from my team and

Chris:

Okay. Just so everyone listening knows is, okay,

Neha:

So the OA stands for objective and KR stands for key results. So essentially at a very high level, what, what you’re asked to do is you put together an objective. So let’s say, I want to lose five pounds is your objective, right? And your key results are very specific. You know, you have three to five key results per objective, and they’re very specific, they’re measurable, and they have a deadline. So it can be things like sign up for the gym by, you know, Friday, August 23rd, and, you know, go to the gym three times the week of August 25th. So very, very specific. Um, they have, they’re very measurable, and you can look back at them, grade them and see whether you achieve success. So, um, you know, generally when working with my team, I’ll ask them to put together a minimum of three objectives, one, you know, one that’s relevant to their current day to day one, that’s a reach goal.

Neha:

So something that, you know, they probably won’t accomplish, but is, you know, overly amp is a bit ambitious and then a personal goal. So, you know, run a half-marathon or whatever it is that they personally are trying to do in their life. And, um, I’ve just found it to be a tool that empowers each individual, to stay true to the goals that they want to achieve. Um, and as a manager, I’m just kinda checking in on it. And from time to time, even like once a month, I’ll look and say, Hey, you know, how’s your half-marathon training going. And, you know, a person goes, Oh, I haven’t started, but you know, let’s, so then I’ll be like, let’s shift the dates and, you know, let’s get back on track with that. So

Chris:

That’s great. So set goals, set milestones or objectives and key results, whatever language you use, make sure there’s something scheduled and then you just stay, uh, hold people accountable, right? Yeah, that’s right. Perfect. Well, uh, as, as I look back and, and, and look at your amazing career so far and jumping from place to place, I think a, a great lesson is to always be training your replacement. And I think anyone listening should take that away, that, you know, regardless of what you’re doing today, make sure you’ve got that written down and got that playbook got other people cross trained, because if you want to be free to take on the next exciting opportunity and not leave your company in a bad place, that’s the way to do it. Right.

Neha:

Absolutely.

Chris:

Anything else you’d like to share with everyone listening?

Neha:

No, I don’t. I don’t think so. I mean, I think you’re absolutely right in terms of documentation and, um, ways that I go about that last note on that is one of the things I’ve found to be really powerful is as I hire, I have new hires, um, redo our training documentation. So I, we just had a training right, just about an hour ago. And, um, I had one of our newest hires and an old hire, you know, do a train, do the training. And I think I have found that’s the best way to keep your materials up to date fresh and, um, you know, make it so that someone you can understand them.

Chris:

I love it. Neha I totally agree. So have your newest hires give advice on, uh, on, on your training materials because it’s fresh to them. They can fill in the gaps. I love it. So great advice. Uh, if people are looking [to] connect with you, where can they find you?

Neha:

So the best place is on LinkedIn actually. Um, so you can find me on LinkedIn, um, under my name, Neha up the, and, um, feel free to reach out or send a message. And I love connecting with new folks and new industries every day.

Chris:

Perfect. Well, thanks so much for being on Process Makes Perfect, and really appreciate the advice.

Neha:

Thank you, Chris.

Chris:

Hey, thanks for listening to Process Makes Perfect. If you’re listening on your earbuds on a run in the car, we also have a version on YouTube. So if you want to see this in color video with me interviewing all these great guests, check it out on YouTube, just search Chris Ronzio and you’ll find my channel on there. If you found this helpful, we’d love for you to leave a review or rate the podcast. If you found the information valuable, please share it with a friend, a family member, or anyone else do you think could benefit from the information to connect with me at Chris Ronzio on all social media platforms or the company Trainual. That’s “Trainual” like a training manual everywhere that you want to follow us. Thanks again for watching or listening. And we’ll hope to see you next time.

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