A startup is more than a company. In our first interview with David Hernandez, managing partner at lotus823, we established that a vision is key to a startup and that people are the physical manifestation of that vision. To dig into that idea further, in this installment we’ll look at the people and culture of lotus823. We sat down with David and Allison Hernandez to get a glimpse into what phase two of a content marketing agency startup looks like.
How did you find your first employees?
DH: The old fashioned way – through networking. This proved to be very successful for us as our first employee, Jess Guida, still works with us today.
AH: Prior to starting lotus823, I worked in HR and Change Management for many years. This combined experience has been invaluable as we continue to grow our business and make continual process improvements.
It’s safe to say Jess has grown a lot since she started with lotus823, even going as far to say she has grown with the company into a powerhouse.
AH: Since starting lotus823 almost four years ago, we’ve all grown, and it has been wonderful to experience that development together.
So how did you explain lotus823 to Jess in the beginning?
AH: We explained to her how we were following SEO, but looking at it in tandem with PR and social media. Lucky for us, she could see the potential in our idea.
There’s an entire culture associated with startups and I think lotus823 is pretty representative of that culture. We even have guitars hanging on the walls and an open-office environment with floor to ceiling windows.
AH: Exactly. We strongly believe your work shouldn’t feel like a job. At the end of the day, if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to excel at it. There have been cases where we hired someone for job A, but we eventually placed them in job C because they discovered it was their true passion. The way we look at it, that excitement over what you do is what helps yield the best results.
That’s kind of like Moneyball.
DH: Right. It’s all about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.
What was involved logistically when you decided to start lotus823?
AH: A lot went into building lotus823 from the ground up. Anyone who starts a business knows your finances must be in order, which can get complicated when you are self-funded. Some questions we initially asked ourselves were: What software do we need? How are we going to invoice our clients? What tools do we need to provide the best services for our clients? Which tools are appropriate for each service area? Where are we going to be a year from now, two years from now?
Also, SEO was relatively new to us and social media was still formative in many ways, so we had to dig into those services. We also had to find the best people to join our team while attracting them to a new kind of job, which is not an easy task.
Well, it started at the dining room table, right?
AH: While sitting at that table, we focused on every tiny detail before we could move forward. David has the vision, whereas I have the logistical mind.
So you’re the perfect team?
AH: Yes, exactly.
Speaking from experience, you’ve built a very comfortable atmosphere from those initial tools.
AH: Our goal was to create a very relaxed environment, complete with touches of home. Beyond the office space itself, we believe that if you tell people how they have to think or what they have to do, you stifle their creativity. Both of us are very open to what others have to say.
DH: lotus823 is a company that is truly built by the personalities within it. We may steer the ship, but we’re not telling you what to do – that’s the secret sauce. You hire the right people and you get them in the right positions. I’m a big fan of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. Find the perfect positions for the people, then ask: now, how will you improve?
AH: When David and I worked together years ago recruiting for the same company, we learned that you can’t teach creativity or personality. You can give people the necessary tools and have them accomplish tasks, but if they don’t have an open mind, a positive attitude, and the ability to collaborate with a team, it’s not going to work out.
DH: Our role is to oversee, motivate, drive, and let everyone blossom and flourish. If you find yourself managing someone too tightly, then you’ve made a mistake. We’re just being diligent about putting our team members in the right seats.
In the case of lotus823, as with many startups, the culture is what drives the productivity. Innovative companies are more concerned with finding the right people than they are with micromanaging. As a manager, if you trust that your staff will take you where you need to go, then you only need to gently guide them. Our culture is both who we are and what we do. This freedom informs our creative decisions. Stay tuned for the third and final installment of our interview sessions with the founders of lotus823!