On this episode Josh speaks with Jonathan Conelias, CEO of ReElivate. They discuss various types of team-building experiences and debate the merit of them.
Jonathan Conelias is the CEO of ReElivate and has been a CFO and Operator for the past 15 years of marketplace companies focused on both B2B and B2C channels.
Jon is analytical and performance-driven professional with over 10 years of diversified experience in executive leadership, investment banking, capital raising assignments, startup and growth environments, operations management, finance, and accounting.
Successful at implementing top-line growth and bottom-line impact through both strong financial management and operational leadership. A seasoned executive that is willing to roll up his sleeves to get the job done.
In today's episode you will learn about:
What can companies do to boost their employee morale
After a year of teams working from home, how to fight burnout
What are the ways to engage with your team virtually
If you have a high amount of employees worldwide, how to get them to act in a relatively cohesive manner
Narrator: Welcome to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where you'll learn what it takes to create enough cash to fill the four buckets of profit. You'll learn what it takes to have enough cash for a great lifestyle, have enough cash for when emergency strikes, fully fund a growth program, and fund your retirement program. When you do this, you will have a sale‑ready company that will allow you to keep or sell your business. This allows you to do what you want with your business, when you want, in the way you want.
In Cracking the Cash Flow Code, we focus on the four areas of business that let you take your successful business and make it economically and personally sustainable. 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 and allow you to be free of cash flow worries.
Josh Patrick: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you're at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. And, today, my guest today is Jon Conelias. And I probably massacred his name like I do everybody. He is the CEO and founder of ReElivate.com. They are an experiences company. In other words, they provide experiences and events for folks. And we are going to have an interesting conversation about what are ways to motivate your employees. And I have an interesting take on that and I'm sure Jon does. So, let's bring him on and we'll start the conversation.
Hey, Jon. How are you today?
Jon: Hi, Josh. Thanks for having me. And you pronounced my name perfectly, so you didn't put an R in there and you didn't try to put a U in there. So, thank you for that pronunciation.
Josh: Well, you may be the first guest I've ever gotten the name right because I massacre names and forget ‘em.
Jon: Well, you're batting a thousand with me, so that's all that matters.
Josh: Okay. Well, there we go.
So, tell us about what are experiences for our employees and, more important, why would we want to do it?
Jon: Sure, happy to.
Really, the idea for ReElivate came about when I was a manager of a team of 30 and it was always really challenging for me to plan events for them. We ended up going to the bar, going to restaurants just because that's what I could do really easily with a click of a couple buttons. And I always thought, “Why couldn't I go do something different and unique with my team at a couple clicks of a button?” And that's really what we're trying to deliver.
And then, the other really big pillar of why we started this was I was the CFO of a company called The Grommet and we were an e‑commerce company. And we grew from a million dollars in revenue to $60 million in revenue. We grew the team from 15 to over a hundred.
And the same thing kept happening whenever I would do an exit interview with an employee was they would always comment that it was never that we hit our goals or they made their bonus was the thing that they remembered as those memorable moment. It was the scavenger hunt that we did as a team, that we threw together, and we did it in Boston. And that was the thing that everybody continued to bring up. And that made the light bulb go off in my brain to say, “Hmm. This is the reason why people have stuck around.” The thing that people remember most was really those friendships and those relationships that they made. And now, in this virtual world, it's really challenging because we're all isolated, especially during COVID. Hopefully, that it returns to normal rather soon. But how do you continue to make those relationships? And we believe that you can do that through various experiences.
Josh: So, this was during exit interviews, you found this?
Josh: Okay. So, if I hire somebody and they're a good member of my team, I don't want them to leave. So, how did these experiences - how people stick around? Let me just say something about friendships because it's really important and you did hit on that, is that companies that foster friendship between their employees will have longer staying employees. One of the main reasons people leave companies is because they don't have any friends. So, if you have a good employee and they don't have any friends, you better make sure they get friends.
Jon: I totally agree. And I don't think that we did a great job with that at Grommet. There were a lot of things that we did really well. The scavenger hunt we did in 2015. And then, people were still bringing it up in 2018 and 2019. So, we didn't necessarily do things like that continually, where people can create new memories and new friendships. And that's where, in starting this company and doing interviews, people need help to plan those events that are, you know, 55 to 50 people. And that's really where we saw the gap in the market. And it ranges from all different companies that we're working with. We're working with companies like Draft Kings and RSM. And then, we're working with small IT companies that have tech’s out in the field and they're doing escape the rooms to try to bring people together because (1) they're scattered physically and (2) now that we're all virtual, they're even more isolated because there's no central place to go.
And so, we've done various things, in the price points range all across the board. At the lowest end, I mean, we have a ramen tour of a ramen shop in Tokyo that's $12 a person. And it can go up to comedy shows that are $1,000. And so, we try to cater to all different types of events, at all different price ranges, and all different group sizes.
Josh: I mean, I have a hard time understanding why I'm going to pay a couple of thousand dollars to have my employees watch a comedy show and how that fosters good feelings or, even more importantly, stickiness to my company.
Jon: I think if you're looking to create employee relationships and build those bonds, a comedy show is probably not what I would recommend. But we have other events like games or escape the room, where you're actually working as a team and collaborating and building those relationships. And so, there's opportunities to do various things where you're putting a random group together where they have to build those relationships and solve a common problem, so they get to know people that they don't normally know and they get to build that memory of, “Hey, we were working together and doing these things to get to know people” in a way that they wouldn't, whether they're in the office or whether they're virtual.
Actually, one of the really interesting things that we found a lot is that, for networking groups and various groups that host different events, attendance is way up right now in the virtual world because people don't have to get in their cars and travel and go to this organization. And so, having it virtually has been a much more convenient option.
And even in employee groups where some employees have challenges or some employers have challenges where employees are different time zones, where they're doing it after work, and if you can make it more convenient for them, you potentially will make the event more fun. And you can even pick a time during work where maybe we're doing it all together at four o'clock or five o'clock, which has been a big value‑add for employees as well.
Josh: Yeah, I would recommend that, if you're going to do anything with your employees, you do it during work hours. Asking people to do stuff after work hours, even if it's fun is not - (a) I don't think it’s fair and (b) your employees are going to resent that before you even start.
Jon: We've written a lot on that topic. And that is something that we stress heavily. But even with that, a lot of people choose to ignore us and that, and we see a lot of after‑work events where they're not necessarily understanding that employees have families to get home to and other obligations outside of work.
Josh: Yeah, and those are the people are going to lose their employees because they're not paying attention to what motivates employees.
And, by the way, let's talk about motivation for a second. All these things that I read about the people do, we say, “Well, we're going to motivate our people.” And I have a really strong belief that you can't motivate your people. But what you can do is you can set up a situation for them to be motivated in.
It’s easy to demotivate employees which is one of the reasons I have with these fun and games sort of things. I've gone to lots of events over the years where we play games, we have color wars. We do scavenger hunts or crap like that. And I personally find that annoying [laughs]. I mean, it's just, it doesn't do anything for me. So, what do you do with people like me? And there's a lot of people like me in a company. They say, “Really? We’ve got to go play a scavenger hunt. That's not what I'm here to do. I'm here to build a house.”
Jon: So, the first thing that we do, and this is a service that we offer, is we go ask people, what do they want to do? How do they want to spend their time? How do they want to engage with their team? And, frankly, if somebody doesn't want to do anything with any of their team members, they may not be the best employee for you because they're not necessarily that passionate about the people that we're working with, and trying to build relationships, and trying to be successful in that way. So, there's a lot of different options out there.
I mean, I totally agree with you, where there's a lot of gimmicky things where you can win awards or win gifts. And, for me, the biggest thing that was motivating me, as an employer and as an employee, is doing things with my team and really doing things in a way where I can build those relationships. For us, it's all about creating those relationships.
So, as an individual company, you have to decide what is your corporate culture and what do you want to do as a group. And there's things that probably fit really well. And there's things that don't fit at all. Maybe, for somebody like you, it's more of maybe a beer tasting where it's, “Okay, let's all, instead of doing a virtual happy hour where we're trying to foster conversation, we have somebody that comes on, gives a 15‑minute little introduction of, hey, here's a couple different things.”
I know, Josh, you live in Vermont, and there's a lot of great beer around you. And let's talk about a couple of the different beer options. And then, we have a 15‑minute conversation, we're having that relationship. And now, we're all on our on our merry way. It doesn't have to be this long, drawn out painful event. It can be really targeted as what does the group like to do? And then, let's try to bring that group together to build those relationships.
Josh: So, again, going back to fostering friendships with our co‑workers which I think is really what your endgame is.
Jon: It is. I mean, we are all about relationships.
Josh: It would seem to me, it would make a lot of sense, that you would have some sort of an interest inventory. So, for example, I happen to be a live music addict. I love live music. Especially, jam bands. In fact, if you just read my last newsletter, you would see me have written a rant about why the Grateful Dead is a great business model.
Jon: Well, I have the perfect event for you. We have local live musicians in Boston that will put on private concerts for a group where you can go and enjoy that virtually. I mean, hopefully, one day, we're back to a place where we can go enjoy live concerts in person but, right at this moment, we're not able to do that, so this is a nice option for all of us that are craving a little bit of interaction like we used to have.
Josh: So, here's the danger, I think, with that is that the leader/president/manager of a company has personal interest which nobody else in the world would have an interest in. I mean, there's nobody in my organization who cares a hoot about the Grateful Dead or, for that matter, any other jam band in the world. So, for me to say, “Okay. We're going to have this great house concert.” And they're going to go “bleh”. So, it's really important for anybody listening to this, in my opinion, that it's not about you. It's about them, which is true with all leadership, not just doing an event or an experience.
Jon: I'll relate this to the experience that I had at my last company because, in HR circles, two of the most hot topics are diversity and inclusion. And we used to focus in on it as far as the hiring process - how you’re bringing in a diverse and inclusive workforce. But you also need to do it with your corporate culture.
And that's exactly what you're talking about is how do you put on events and activities where you're trying to be as inclusive and as diverse as possible. And one of the easiest ways to do that is, instead of as a leader, deciding “This is what we're doing”, turn around and ask the employees. Make it an open process. I don't know if you can satisfy everybody with a singular event but, at least, you can start to see where those interests lie.
One of the things I always hated around, back 5 to 10 years ago, when I used to go to the bar, as I mentioned, with employees and restaurants was it usually centered around drinking. And, in my view, that was not a diverse and inclusive event. That was the extroverts and the people that enjoyed drinking who always enjoyed that, but there was a large cohort of people that didn't enjoy drinking and didn't enjoy that type of forum. And so, I needed to do a better job as a manager, in this corporate culture, to really create an environment where maybe there's some portion of people that were doing some events like that, but not all of the events are like that, where everybody can really enjoy themselves and feel comfortable in the things that we're doing.
Josh: I kind of think what would make sense is, let's say, I have 50 employees in my group, if you have five employees, you're not going to offer a menu of things to do. But if you have 50 people in your company, first of all, I would survey them to find out what their out‑of‑work interests are. That'd be the first thing I would do. And then, I would group them by what their out‑of‑work interests are and try to find experiences that they would enjoy because what you're really looking for is you're looking for people who have common thoughts, common beliefs, common whatever it is so they can form a friendship.
I hate to get political. I'm not meaning to here. But if you're a Trump supporter and I'm a Biden supporter, it’s not likely we're going to form a friendship. But if there's a group of Biden employees and a group of Trump employees and, again, it's a terrible example, but it sort of shows what are your interests? And we form friendships with people who are like us, not people who are not like us. And I know it’s a diversity problem but the truth is, diverse populations will have similar interests along other lines that we might think about.
Jon: Yeah. And you summarized that better than I did.
I mean, let me step back and give you a couple of examples of exactly that because (1) it's not necessarily along the lines of your political example, but we were creating-- we did at the holiday party for a really fast growing company in Boston called Thrasio. And they had about 300 employees at the time. And they're on their way to hiring about a thousand employees. But for their holiday party, because everybody was virtual and, frankly, they don't even have an office anymore because their lease expired in the midst of COVID and they haven't even re‑opt, so they were forced all be virtual.
But we did a dumpling cooking class, we did a comedy show, and we did a pottery making class all at the same time. And the employees got to choose which experience they wanted to enjoy. And so, we did them simultaneously. There were three different Zoom meetings where the instructors were leading you through. Or, in the comedy case, you were able to experience the show. And that was a way for employees to choose which one they wanted to do. The goal of that event was more of a reward. And so, those were more fun activities. It wasn't necessarily team building activity. But we can do the same thing with that.
And we've started to see, depending on the goal of the events, that companies decide to do different things when they want to. Like, for example, we've worked with a lot of employers for new employee onboarding. And in that case, they really just want to get people to know-- and usually they're doing it with a hiring class where there's 6, 10, 15 people to kind of interact because, otherwise, you're sitting behind a computer in some room somewhere. You don't have a water cooler to walk up to. You don't have a desk where you can randomly overhear a conversation and awkwardly interrupt and start to build those relationships. So, in this virtual world, companies need to be much more deliberate about fostering those opportunities for employees to build relationships because, otherwise, they get even more siloed and that's not what we want.
And to your point earlier, when employees have friendships and relationships, they stick around a whole lot longer and they're a lot happier.
Josh: You want people to have a good feeling about your company but, more importantly, you want them to have a good feeling about each other.
Jon: Correct. I totally agree.
Josh: If they have a good feeling about each other, they are more likely to treat your customers well than if they don't. You really just have to get down to that.
I want to pivot for a second because what we're learning through COVID is that virtual is virtual and doesn't mean that you have to have people in your town be working for you from their house. They could be in the Philippines. And I have been actively promoting blue‑collar businesses really to think about a lot of their administrative functions be outsourced. (1) It can be done better and (2) it can be done less expensively.
So, if you have a high amount of people who are outside the country working for you, different time zones, different cultures, how do you get them to act in a relatively cohesive manner or do you just give up on that?
Jon: I wouldn't say you give up. I mean, I think this is a challenge that a lot of companies face. At Grommet, one of our main investors was a company called Rakuten which is a public Japanese entity and made 76 entities worldwide. And let me tell you, time zones were a massive challenge. And what we ended up doing is, whenever we were holding meetings, we were rotating them. And so, we were trying to be cognizant that, at least, the same group wasn't experiencing the pain all of the time. And, for us, it was about a 12‑hour difference from us, from the US to Japan. But the Europeans, it always like 2:00 a.m. whenever these meetings were happening. And so, we would rotate the meetings.
But what we can do is we can choose events that maybe are time zone agnostic like you don't necessarily want to choose a drinking event where somebody’s waking up at 8:00 a.m. and having to have a glass of wine. That just isn't appropriate. But you can choose something that's much more virtual and fun. And that's where an escape the room option would be interesting. I mean, we have some other like food tastings where you can do that for lunch, you can do that for dinner. So, there's a lot of options that you can choose that are time zone agnostic. But the more that you can build relationships with people, the more cohesive your team's going to be.
So, one thing too, that we really try to do is we'd celebrate those cultural differences, like there are cultural differences, but ignoring them doesn't make sense. And so, for example, we've done a lot of different tastings. And we have tastings from around the world. So, if you have a team that's in South America, let's do South American food tasting together, where we can all experience something together. And then that's just an idea.
But if somebody’s in the Philippines, let's try to figure out an event that kind of celebrate some of those cultural differences and some of those differences and break down the barrier so we learn more about each other and build those relationships. There's nothing quite like being able to pick up the phone or type somebody something on Slack and say “hi” and knowing that they're on the other end and we know something about them, and they're going to answer you, and they're going to be able to do what you need to have done because you're relying on them.
So, do you help people figure out these cultural differences or how to bring people together? Is that part of what you guys do or do you just provide the experiences?
Jon: I mean, we are definitely experts on the experience side. And then, we have worked with, I mean, multinational teams in the past. And so, there's things that have worked well. And there's things that haven't worked well. And we're happy to share that information.
How you build a fully cohesive corporate culture with a multinational company, I mean, I think is a really big challenge. And there's a lot of probably smarter people out there than me, really, trying to solve those challenges. But we know that, when we do events like this and bring teams together, we typically see morale go up and we typically see productivity go up as well.
Have you ever worked with Pine and Gilmore, who wrote the book, The Experience Economy about, I don't know, probably 20 years ago, now?
Jon: We haven't. No.
Josh: If anybody's interested in this whole thing about providing experiences and it's also experiences for your customers, by the way, there's a great book called The Experience Economy which almost all these experience companies have come out of, whether they know it or not. And it's really sort of like if you're doing Lean or you're doing Agile, you really should read Deming’s 14 points before you start because that's the foundation for all the process improvement stuff. And it's the same with, you know, Pine and Gilmore's Experience Economy. It's really the foundational work for all these experiences that you can have.
So, Jon, unfortunately, we have run out of time. I have to be honest, I came into this podcast episode today, saying, “I'm going to just disagree with everything Jon is saying because I think these things are basically silly.” I think a lot of them are still silly, but I think there's really a good reason to foster friendship with your employees. And if you understand you need to do that, something like Jon's company could certainly help.
So, Jon, how would people find you and find your company who aren't watching this simulcast and are actually listening to the podcast?
Jon: You can find us at ReElivate.com. My email is just firstname.lastname@example.org, so feel free to reach out to me and say hi.
And there's one other thing that we didn't mention too, Josh. If I can make one more point is that one thing that I'm really intrigued is how client engagement’s going to change because we've seen all the travel budgets get cut. And there's creative ways, virtually, to start engaging your customers and your clients as well. So, we focus mostly on team engagement, but we've started to see a lot of people use us as a way to interact with customers and clients versus just sending them gifts or versus taking them out to dinner. So, think about that as well. Is there a more cost‑effective way versus having somebody have to travel to go see somebody and then take them out to dinner? Can you do something that's less expensive but yet get the same results out of it?
Josh: Yeah. And the truth is we, as human beings, remember experiences far longer than stuff. I mean, if people will stop sending me swag boxes and start thinking about experiences, I might remember it a lot longer.
Jon: I think the swag just has to be Grateful Dead swag and then you'll remember it.
Josh: Yeah, but I might not remember where I get it and that's a problem.
So, I have two things I would like you to do. First is please, please, please, please go to wherever you're listening to this podcast and give us an honest rating and review. If you love us, give me five stars. If you hate me, tell me you hate me but make it honest. I hope you don't hate me, you love me, but that's a different conversation.
And the second thing is I have-- this actually started off as a joke. About 25 years ago, a friend of mine put together the periodic table of estate planning elements which was all these estate planning things you could do. And I said, “Great idea. I think I'll steal it” except we're not going to talk about estate planning. We're going to talk about business strategies and tactics. I put this thing called the periodic table of business elements together. It's really easy to get. It's free. You just go to www.stage2planning.com/periodic. That's www.stage2planning.com/periodic and get it free, so go and do it.
So, this is Josh Patrick. We're with Jon Conelias. You're at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You've been listening to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?”
If you've liked what you've heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 extension 102, or visit us on our website at www.sustainablebusiness.co, or you can send Josh an email at email@example.com.
Thanks for listening and we hope to see you at Cracking the Cash Flow Code in the near future.