Today’s guest is JJ Ramberg. She’s the host of Your Business on MSNBC as well as being the CEO of Goodshop. This episode had wide-ranging conversations.
We started our episode with what it takes to get on her MSNBC show and rapidly moved towards what it takes to have a great company that will last 100 years from now.
One of the things that JJ said is the world will be so different in 100 years that it’s not even worthwhile to think about what a company will look like then. She then went on to talk about having a culture of innovation in her company and that would help the company get through any changes that might be coming down the pike.
This an episode you’ll want to listen to a few times.
Here are just a few of the things we talked about:
- What it takes to get booked on her show, Your Business.
- The fact that you never know how well a company is doing. She uses the company Peloton as an example.
- What a culture of innovation is one of the most important things you can do for your company.
- How her company Goodshop has gone through a few pivots because of what they’ve learned from the market.
- A conversation about sunk costs as it relates to killing programs that don’t work.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business podcast. Today, our guest is JJ Ramberg. She is the MSNBC anchor of Your Business which is on, I think, Saturdays at 7:30 in the morning. It’s a fun show, you ought to watch it.
And JJ has too many things for me to talk about, so I’m going to let her introduce herself and tell us what we’re into. And then we’ll get into the meat of today’s podcast. So let’s bring JJ in.
Hey, JJ. How are you today?
JJ: Hi. I’m good. How are you?
Josh: I am great. Thanks for asking.
JJ: So the show airs actually Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 so if you stayed out too late on Friday night you have a chance to watch it on Sunday morning [laughs].
Josh: Oh, okay. I wasn’t aware of that [laughs].
JJ: [laughs] But thank you for inviting me here.
So I have this show on MSNBC called Your Business which focuses on tips and advice for business owners as they grow their companies. And, frankly, business decision makers – you could run a team. And then, I have a podcast also which we started, we’re in our second season, called Been There. Built That. where I interview founders and CEOs and, again, decision makers. My personal interest in there is sort of, you know, how do you get through the dark corners of running your business when everything looks like it’s very hard – how do you get through that. And then part of the reason I know this and can interview so many people about it is because I have my own company which I started with my brother, 12 years ago, called Goodshop which is an online couponing company. And then I recently just launched a book also called The Startup Club which is for kids. And it’s a fiction book about kids who start businesses.
So JJ, let me ask you something. And then, I’m going to get into what I really want to ask you. But how do you go about finding guests for your television show?
JJ: Oh, gosh. All kinds of ways. So sometimes we’ll read about somebody. Sometimes we’ll get pitches in email. Sometimes, I will literally next to someone on a plane and they’ll tell me their story and it’ll be interesting, and the next thing you know they’ll be on the show.
Josh: Cool. So— okay, so, I guess, it’s how you have a good story. And you think they’d be interested in your TV, send JJ an email.
JJ: Well, yeah. I mean, we put staff– it’s your email@example.com. And people send us pitches all the time.
Josh: Cool. Cool.
So, JJ, what would you say is some of the more interesting stories or situations you’ve encountered while doing your show and interviewing people for your podcast?
JJ: You know, my favorite story as of late is, the podcast and piece for the show actually we did with John Foley of Peloton. So that is a company that’s valued at more than a billion dollars. It’s something most people – the wide, wide vast majority of people will not reach.
But what I was so fascinated by John’s story is that I asked him in the piece, you know, “At what point did you feel like okay a sigh of relief, like we can get there. We can grow this company. I know that it’s hard and we’ve got high expectations, etc. but I feel like I’m not so at the edge of my seat anymore.” And he told me, “Four months ago.”
JJ: So this is a company that is right enormous, has all of this great backing behind it, right? Good investors. It has so many customers. It has this just kind of a rabid fan base. And from the outside, it looked so successful.
And he said, “Literally, until four months ago, when he just raised his last round, people would not give him the money that he needed in order to really propel this company forward.” And he was so honest about it, about sort of what it has taken to run this company and about how there was a point where the board lost confidence in him and he had to really stick up for himself. And his whole background, he didn’t come from a background of, you know, high-growth companies etc. And so, it was just fascinating to hear. And it’s just a good reminder that when something looks so great from the outside, you just never know what the people on the inside are dealing with just, you know, as we are all having hard times in our companies. No, you are not alone.
Josh: I always tell people not to count other people’s money—
Josh: –which is a bad habit we have when we look at somebody and say, “Boy, they’re really successful. And when you’re sitting here, you’re looking, you’re comparing yourself to other people. Do you think that has a negative effect on running your own business?
JJ: Well, I think there’s a little bit of both, right? So a lot of people who are running businesses are competitive. And it’s that bit of competition that keeps them going. So I think there is some of that that is good, and healthy, and motivating for some people.
But one of my closest friends who is a therapist. She works with all kinds of people but she calls it compare and despair, I think [laughs] where, you know, you just— you can’t compare anyone’s success to what you have. You don’t know what’s going on in the inside. You don’t know what issues people are dealing with. And you should focus on what you have – your own successes and the problems that you’re having in your life to try and make them better. It doesn’t help to say, “Oh, they’ve got more than I do.”
Josh: I would agree 100% with that. Just a theoretical— well, not so much a theoretical question but it’s a question that I don’t think many business owners ask, if they want to create an economically and personally sustainable business, they probably should ask which is, If your business was to be here 100 years from now, what would you be doing differently in your business today to make sure that happened? And what would your answer be to that, when it comes to your business?
JJ: To Goodshop, the company I founded?
Josh: Goodshop, yeah.
JJ: Oh, it’s easy. I mean a hundred years from now, the world is going to look completely—it is going to be unrecognizable from now. And so, I just think you need to create a culture of innovation, right? It sounds generic but it is because you’re going to fall behind if you don’t constantly change. So, I suspect if good shop is around in a hundred years, it will look nothing like it does now but it will have the same values behind what we have now.
Josh: So what does a culture of innovation look like? And how do you create it at your business?
JJ: It requires listening to people, being willing to change things, being willing to change them quickly, being willing to kill them off when they don’t work well. So I can give you an example of me not doing that. Well, my company, what we do is, we provide the best coupons and deals for online stores. So, you know, if you get to, for instance, the Gap and you get to check out and you see “submit coupon here” and you think, “Oh, my God, if there’s a box there, there must be a coupon code somewhere. I feel like an idiot for not having it but I don’t want to go search for it.” We basically list all those coupon codes so you don’t have to search for it.
But the company started out as a search engine where every time you searched, a penny would go to your favorite cause. And it had been doing very well. And so, we launched Good TV Ads where you watched TV ad and money will go to your cause. And Good Trial where you’d try something and money would go to your favorite cause. And Good Dining, and you’d eat out and money would go to your favorite cause. And then Goodshop where you would shop and then eventually get coupons and money would go to your cause. And none of them worked except for Goodshop which have hit it out of the park. And it took us too long to kill off those other businesses.
And so, while we were– definitely had the first part of innovation right, this was many years ago, which is that we tried out a whole bunch of things and put them out quickly. We missed the second half which is, if it doesn’t work, kill it so you’re not wasting your resources. And obviously, we learned a lot from that. And so, now, in Goodshop, we are very quick to try things. But also, in order to be able to have the ability to listen to your staff and want to try new things, you do have to make sure that it comes from the company’s NorthStar is clear to everyone, so you’re just not going off the rails with a million ideas that don’t really fit who you are as a company.
Josh: So what was it that caused you to wait too long to kill ideas or kill products when you first started?
JJ: Well, you know, we believed in them, right? And so, we launched them because we believed in them. And, of course, everyone talks about launch an MVP and then iterate. And so, there’s a point where you always think, “Well, you know, I haven’t put enough marketing behind it. Or that’s not why it’s working. Or that button is yellow instead of orange and that’s why it’s not working.” And, you know, there are always things that you can think of. “Well, it’s not working because of X” and you really just have to sometimes just stop thinking about how to iterate and really take your emotion out of it, take your dreams and hopes for it out of it and just be realistic and say, “It’s not going to work.”
Josh: So, today, when you kill an idea, is there a system behind when you decide it’s a go or it’s a no go, or is it just a gut feeling that you guys work with?
JJ: No, it’s not just gut. We test a lot of things, right? We’re an internet company so it’s very easy to test things online. So, you know, we try and make decisions based on data as much as possible. But yeah, sometimes it’s just your gut.
Josh: Yeah, for me, I find that— I assume you’re aware of the principles of behavioral economics?
Josh: And what I see a lot of times with businesses is that they get caught into what’s called sunk cost–
Josh: –where they put so much effort and time into something, they’re just not willing to let it go which brings me to— you kind of alluded to this, but one of my favorite sayings in the world is, “Fail fast, fail cheap.”
JJ: Yep, Yup, yup, exactly.
No, sunk cost is exactly— you’ve just feel like I’m already in it, you know. But don’t throw good money after bad, right?
Josh: Yeah. Well, sometimes you have to say because it’s a bad investment, “It’s time for me to let it go.” I’ve never quite been able to figure out what is harder?” I’d have to ask you this question. What’s harder, to fire a bad employee or fire a bad idea?
JJ: Oh, interesting. I don’t know. I would say employee. It’s still a person, right? So, for instance, he has a family and—
Josh: Yeah, that’s been my experience also. We actually try to rehabilitate people when maybe we shouldn’t.
Josh: And ideas that after a while you say, “Ah, that’s a stupid idea. I can let that go.” But, you know, it also depends how much money you stick into the idea.
JJ: Exactly. They’re both hard. They are both hard.
So it sounds to me like you’re a very much a believer in a values-led company.
JJ: I do. It’s interesting because when Goodshop started, the whole idea again was you would do a search. We sort of put a skin over Yahoo’s search engine. And every time you do a search, a penny would go to your favorite cause. And then we have an option on Goodshop where a percentage of what you spend can go to your favorite cause as well at all of these stores.
And so, I get a lot of questions from people about socially responsible companies. And particularly, “I’m starting out a company and I want to be socially responsible. What can I do?” And what I always say is, “Yes, it was baked into our business plan to give away a portion of our revenue – not even profit, of our revenue.” But that was baked into our business plan. And as people are starting out or even are in a high-growth phase, one thing to just keep in mind is that you are being socially responsible by having a company that exists tomorrow and continues to employ people and treats people well. And so, if you don’t have the ability to give away part of your profits or whatever it is that you want to do just, you know, treat employees well. That is socially responsible. And keep your business in business.
Josh: Yeah. One of my favorite— this was a seminar question I used to ask all the time to people is, “You have decided that– in your industry, people get 50% of their medical benefits paid by the company and they pay for 50%. But if you decide at your company, you’re going to pay 100% of those benefits, would you consider that extra 50% a socially responsible donation to your community?”
JJ: Mm-hmm. And what do people say to you usually?
Josh: Usually, they say, “No, it’s not.”
Josh: And I disagree with that because I actually think that if you go beyond what the industry norms are for your industry, you are actually providing a huge benefit for your community. And I kind of like to start charity at home before I go outside like in a charity. And I’ve seen too many companies treat their employees relatively poorly and try to have a good reputation in the community. It never really works very well because people do look at the way you treat your employees. But still and all, I think that charity really does start at home. At least, that’s just my opinion.
JJ: Yeah. I mean, look, there are all kinds of things. Treating your employees, well, there are real benefits for your business as well.
Josh: Well, I actually just did a video on that. I just did a video that says, “Look, your employees are not going to treat your customers any better than you treat them.” And the question, really– what I was trying to answer is, what’s more important, your employees or your customers?
JJ: Mm-hmm. Well, both.
Josh: Well, I actually come down to the side of employees.
JJ: Your employees. Yeah. Yeah.
Josh: Yeah because if you don’t treat your employees well, they will not treat your customers well.
Josh: And I was using an example of an airline I fly way too much.
JJ: Which one?
Josh: It’s my friends at United—
Josh: But, you know, their employees just don’t treat their customers very well because the company doesn’t treat them very well. I mean, it’s hard for me to find a happy United employee.
JJ: I did a story and I’m trying to remember the name, if it was Us Plumbing, an HVAC company in New Jersey, quite a few years ago. And they treated their employees so well and had such a good culture. And it translated to how all of these employees treated their customers. They had—you know, they sort of re-imagined what a company that hires a bunch of people in this industry could look like. And, as a result, their turnover was incredibly low. Their customers were really happy. It’s a great example of this. I’m going to try and find the name while we’re talking to each other so people can go look it up.
Josh: Yeah. I mean, I’ve seen actually tons of companies like that over the years. It’s not tons, I mean, enough companies that you see that companies who treat their employees well, my suspicion is also probably do financially better than their peers. I mean, that certainly is true in the ESOP world.
Josh: And I have always maintained, it’s not because of employee ownership, it’s because of what it takes to have a successful ESOP in employee sharing and caring about your employees—
Josh: –and treating your employees well, that really leads to the better margins and not the fact that you’re an ESOP.
JJ: Right. Right. Right. Exactly.
There’s something that an ESOP is kind of the outcome. But the way you act etc. is what goes into there which carries over into all kinds of other ways.
Josh: Yes. So are you familiar with benefit corporations?
JJ: I am. BCorps, yeah.
Josh: Have you ever looked at becoming a BCorp for your company?
JJ: You know, we have looked at it for a second. Goodshop started so long ago, before BCorp’s had even stared. And so, we were so busy at the time, I’ve got to say, that we just didn’t get around to doing it. I think it is a great idea what they’re doing.
Also, I think because our kind of give back was so built into our business model, it was very simple at the time, right? We just— we donate 50% of our revenue and people choose a cause. That it wasn’t— I think, we sort of felt like there’s nothing— BCorp wouldn’t provide us anything else. This is just who we are. It is our business model. It wasn’t in addition to what we do. It actually was what we did.
So, anyhow, but that said, that was a long time ago. And BCorp’s done some really neat stuff.
Josh: Yeah. They definitely have.
I actually have found that most people become benefit corporations that at least that I’m aware of. Not in, you know. And I’m sure that Blabs will tell me I’m wrong but it seems to me, most people I know who are benefit corporations actually have a business reason to become a BCorp. For example, if you happen to be an ESOP and you’re not a benefit corporation, your trustees have to pay attention to every economic offer you get. And if it’s a very strong economic offer, you have to take it.
For example, King Arthur Flour became a benefit corporation to fight that very issue because some private equity groups were sniffing around. They had no interest to be owned by a private equity group. And they had to do something to prevent that from happening. And becoming a benefit corporation has allowed them to go tell the private equity groups to go away because it didn’t fit in with what their corporate mission was.
Josh: And another friend of mine became a benefit corporation because his largest customer happens to be Ben & Jerry’s. He had it proved to Ben & Jerry’s that he was a socially responsible company. Now, if you looked at his company, it was pretty to figure out that he was. But he decided to become a benefit corporation so he could go to Ben & Jerry’s and say, “Look, we’re a benefit corporation and we’ve gone through the certification that says we’re doing the right things that you want us to do.”
JJ: Mm-hmm. Oh, by the way, I don’t think there’s a problem with people becoming it because there’s a business reason for it, right? Because the— I mean, in both examples that you just gave, the spirit of what they were doing is exactly in line with the spirit of BLabs, right, and BCorp’s?
Josh: Absolutely. I mean, these are both two of the best companies in Vermont.
JJ: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Josh: And there’s, in my opinion, if you have a certain type of company, I mean like for example, if you employ a bunch of millennials, I would think becoming a B Corp would be a recruiting tool you can use.
JJ: Mm-hmm. I think you’re probably right, yeah. I think you’re right.
Josh: So I think if a company has a business need, it makes sense. The same thing, you know, people become ESOPs because it’s a good business [inaudible 00:17:52] but also is a good social thing that happens in the world as well.
JJ: Yeah, I think it’s really neat what they have built over there.
JJ: Mm-hmm. I do.
Josh: Yeah, I think so, too. I also like their back story which I just found really interesting.
Did you happen to do a segment on them at all?
JJ: I haven’t. No. But I have met them. We have mutual friends.
JJ: So I’ve been at dinner parties with them [laughs].
Josh: Oh, okay. Well, that’s kind of cool.
JJ: Yes, I should have them on the show.
Josh: Yeah. I think it’d be— frankly, I like it when people, you know, talk about BCorp because I think they’re really cool things and–
JJ: I do, too. Yup.
Josh: And I think that a private business is a force for social good. And I don’t think private business owners and their organizations do enough to really promote how strong and how important they are in social good.
Josh: We have time for one more question. And here it is. So, if you run across a company that has about 25 employees–
Josh: –what would you be telling that they probably should be paying attention to, if they want to get to a company that’s big enough where they needed a hundred employees?
JJ: Processes. Right? It is so easy. I’m sure you know this, right? When you are still small, for everyone to know what you’re doing, everyone to be able to talk to everyone else, everyone to, you know, figure out– depending on how long you’ve been together to read each other’s minds. And as you grow bigger, if you don’t have real processes in place, it all falls apart.
And so, if you can put real processes in place when you are small, that can grow with you, I think it saves you a lot of headaches. And that’s around getting things done. But it’s also around culture. So just really trying to start running your business like you’re big while you’re still small. And, conversely, try to keep running your business like you’re small when you’re big.
Josh: Both are good ideas. And frankly, at a hundred employees, you’re still small.
JJ: Sure. Yes.
Josh: The only difference is, instead of managing direct workers, you’re now managing managers who are managing direct workers.
JJ: Exactly. Exactly.
But, you know, we learned something at Goodshop which is, sometimes, when you’re in that stage where you’re small and then you’re growing bigger, is that you assume everybody believes the same thing you do because you talked about it in the interview process. And you talked about it at staff meetings etc. But there’s not the same shorthand when you are bigger, even at a hundred people that you have when you’re tiny. And so, you really have to hammer home what is your NorthStar? What is your culture? The things that you used to take for granted that people would know, make sure that you’re not taking it for granted. And make sure that you know people know them.
Josh: That is true.
JJ, unfortunately, we are out of time. So if somebody wanted to find you or get in touch with you, how would they go about doing so?
JJ: So I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Instagram, Facebook or you can just write to yourbusiness@MSNBC.com with any story ideas etc. We read all the emails we get.
And the podcast is called Been There, Built That. And so, if anyone listens to it, it’s still relatively new so I love feedback – good and constructive. And the show is 7:30 weekend mornings on MSNBC.
Josh: Cool. Thanks so much for spending some time with me.
I also have an offer for you. I just published my first book. It’s a business fable called Sustainable. It’s a fable about creating a personally and economically sustainable business.
It’s really easy to get it. I mean, you can go to Amazon. Obviously, you can get it as a Kindle or as a physical book.
But if you happen to buy it off my website, you get two free bonuses. One is a 35-page how-to book I wrote because one of the things with business parables, they’re stories and they don’t really tell you how to do it so I wrote a how to do it. And the second is, anybody who buys the book can set up a 20‑minute free conversation with me where you can ask me any question about a problem you’re having or an opportunity you’re not taking advantage of. And my bet is, after 20 minutes, you’ll have an idea what to do about that. And to get the book is really easy. You just go to www.sustainablethebook.com. Click the big orange button and buy the book.
This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been at the Sustainable Business. Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.