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March 29th, 2021
Welcome to Leading Indiana Ambition – a series of leadership stories fueled by Elevate Ventures highlighting entrepreneurship across the Hoosier state!

CEO Andy Medley Reflects on PERQ’s Development and Focus on Culture

By Rachel Smith, Communications Specialist

When co-founders Andy Medley and Scott Hill started PERQ, neither had tech backgrounds. The marketing technology company was launched after a 2014 pivot of their first business that offered printing and direct mail services. Since then, PERQ has seen rapid growth with innovative marketing technology solutions to help B2C companies grow sales through their websites. CEO Medley reflects on PERQ’s development throughout the years, and how the company’s leadership has ensured the culture remains a priority.

PERQ was founded in 2001, what was life like before PERQ?

I worked for my dad for a year right before Scott and I first started our first company.

My dad was in the restaurant business and it was kind of trial by fire for me. He helped me get along with two of his restaurants and I basically took over at age 22. The issue was I was the owner’s son so when I walked into the restaurants, I was met with lots of skeptical eyes wondering why I was now the boss. It was a great learning experience for me to be able to figure out how to overcome all of that while trying to do what I could to make the businesses as successful as possible.

Tell me about the development of PERQ and how that eventually led to PERQ Software.

We started out in traditional advertising – direct mail and print – and were servicing two main sectors. One was automotive and one was newspapers. Both the markets were a little different, and the application of the services was different.

It started with Tri-Auto, which was the automotive side, and then Trace came next, which was service for the newspaper. The holding company was called CIK. Both businesses grew pretty fast; both were in the 50s on the Inc. 500 list over a three-year period. In 2007, we were at about $40 million run rate, but the business was niche-focused and we had very little room to grow. We also were at a little over 100 people in terms of employee count and our lack of formal business knowledge was hurting us. It caused us to ask ourselves some questions about whether or not we are going to make this a lifestyle business and just be happy with what we are or take what we had learned over the first seven years of business and apply it to something bigger. That was kind of the precipice for the beginning of the business as you know it today.

We went to a program in Boston at Harvard called OPM, which stands for Owner/President Management, which was like a condensed MBA. It is about 40% American, 60% multi-national – all huge businesses. We barely qualified. It really opened our eyes. We went into it saying, “How do we take everything we’ve learned? What are our core competencies and apply into a bigger market, a bigger opportunity so we can keep going?”

That is when the PERQ software was starting to be born. I say starting because right after we got done, this little thing called the Great Recession took place, which crushed our business and really pushed our focus on a pretty simple strategy, survive – which we did. The next two years were brutal. We went from $40 million down to $16 million in terms of revenue. After those few years it became about building the balance sheet back up so we could invest in ourselves.

In 2014, we met Bill Godfrey and worked with him internally on the idea that we had for PERQ. He helped us recruit two of his former leaders at Aprimo, which were going to be our software development team. We got going in 2014 and launched the first software.

Looking back on it, how did that recession compare to the current economic landscape?

The uncertainty of a macro-economic environment like now, related to the Great Recession; they aren’t necessarily similar, but one definitely informs you of how to be better in the next one.

How have you and Scott Hill (co-founder) used your individual strengths to support and grow PERQ?

We were roommates in college and best friends before we were ever founders. It was his idea to start, and he came to me and said, “Hey, I’d love for you to join.” – and “join” meant in his family room, cold calling, trying to build a business for the first time. It was really around our skillsets and how we naturally complemented each other. Scott is a visionary, a great idea guy. He’s a product dude and sees opportunity in the marketplace and makes me look like I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m really the ‘nuts and bolts’ guy, and I love the scale of the build. So, he brings the idea, creates chaos, and then I figure out how to make sure that we can take it, keep going and that something good comes from it.

What advice would you give to those working with co-founders or even those who are trying to find co-founders?

It’s truly is like our second marriage. We are in it every day and in some instances end up spending more time together than we do with our wives or our families. With that has to come a lot of trust and a lot of ego being put aside. Especially in the early days, you are stepping all over each other and sometimes that’s okay and/or other times it’s not okay. And when it’s not okay, that is when egos drive the conversation. You have to get to a point where you’re comfortable looking at that person and telling them the things that are bothering you; having those marriage-like conversations. It will put you in a position to understand how you scale each other and how you most effectively leverage each other.

Scott and I are probably uncommon in that we are completely comfortable being all over each other’s backyard and can play off each other. As the business scales, the yard gets bigger and your areas of expertise become more and more defined. That is certainly easier if you’re having conversations along the way about the things that are working and more importantly, about the things that are not working. Absent that, there’s just going to be a lot of frustration, a lot of pent-up angst that causes the foundation of the relationship, which is trust, to go by the wayside. So, I always encourage anybody that’s looking for a co-founder or is working with a co-founder to make sure they have regular one-on-ones. Share what’s not working, areas of frustration and address those without letting them fester.

How did you go about building the leadership team beyond just you and Scott?

It really happened internally for us. We were a little unique because we birthed our software out of our existing agency. We already had this built-in team that we knew. When it came to the software side and building out our development team, we were lucky enough to have an introduction and someone we really trusted vouching for other individuals that we had never met.

Of course, every executive or leader we have didn’t come internally. My biggest piece of advice is that if you’re the CEO or the founder, you have to be out there digging your well before you’re thirsty. That means recruiting and having continual discussions with individuals who might be good marketers or who might be good operation people. Knowing that when the time arises for you as an organization, if you don’t have that internal person that’s ready to step up and take the role, you at least have a bench of individuals who are instantly in the throes of the fire of interviewing. Whenever possible for us, we are always trying to think ahead. But, because we are a little bit unique in how we operate the business, we do like individuals to internally grow with the organization.

Has the leadership team’s dynamic changed as the business has grown? If so, how?

I think autonomy is directly correlated with size. When you are smaller there is less room for strategy outside of the founders. Whereas today for us, there are expectations of the executive team to build strategy to scale.

For example, in my role, I can’t possibly touch everything. In the early days you’re building the foundational pieces with maybe the CTO, or maybe with the head of sales. Then from there you start to see the foundation build while you’re giving advice and making sure the team is measuring the right things. But nothing makes me happier than when an internal idea gets put into play and actually works. Sometimes, the team is moving so fast that I don’t even necessarily have an opportunity to weigh in on an idea or decision, but it turns out to be excellent and a game-changer for us as an organization. That’s not necessarily a thing that takes place in the beginning, but definitely is something that evolves with that team as they move forward. So, I think it’s autonomy and responsibility as your scale.

Company culture is a big part of PERQ. What does the culture at PERQ look like from your perspective?

One thing we’ve looked at is our mission and purpose. Our mission is driven by the business and what we’re trying to accomplish. As we continued to grow, we wanted to revisit our core values and make sure they resonated. As we did that, we realized that maybe we weren’t as intentional on the purpose of the organization versus the mission. Some businesses don’t necessarily need to do this, but I think in our instance, we needed to separate them. If you’re a business that’s saving the environment, the purpose of that business is pretty easy for everybody internally to understand. But when you’re a marketing technology company servicing the multifamily industry, for example, the difference you’re making might not necessarily be as clearly understood. We know the value we’re providing our customers – what it is that we do for those clients and how we try and give back to the communities we serve. All of those things have always been a part of our culture, but we went ahead and stated our purpose. We talk about business as a game. Our culture has always been educating individuals on the scoreboard and that they’re the team, our stadium is the building and if we do really well, we’re going to win.

At the end of the day, what that ultimately means is that if we continue to grow, if we continue to improve, we’re creating a foundation where we can make meaningful change outside of the benefit that our technology provides our clients.

PERQ’s purpose: “Play the game of business openly to create opportunities for personal learning and advancement while making a meaningful impact on ourselves, team and community.”
How did you go about defining and building that culture? Does it become more challenging as the team gets bigger? What are some of the changes in culture-building priorities you experienced?

It started with Scott and I asking ourselves – “if we were the ones that were looking for a job, what kind of company would we want to work for?” “What would we want to get out of it?” It really wasn’t anything deeper than that. We knew we wanted feel like we were part of it and that we understood how daily actions helped accomplish the bigger goals of the organization. From that became open-book management and us making sure that we educated the team on all the pieces. I think some founders get a little lost trying to build the mechanics of the entire culture, rather than thinking about that initial core and then slowly layering in pieces. Also understanding that you’re going to try a bunch of different stuff that is going to fail. You’re going to roll some stuff out and think it’s the greatest idea ever, and two weeks later, you realize it didn’t work. That’s okay, that’s part of it.

It starts with that core for us. We were leveraging open-book management and tons of education. Then we started to realize that we had to really get individuals understanding what their daily actions are. Maybe that’s through KPIs, or maybe that’s through additional communication so that they understand how it connects to what our annual goal is. Once they understand that, then we can connect it to the bigger mission. For us, that drives purpose in the person’s job and keeps them from getting lost. They’re not wondering why their role is important to the business. As you grow, there are more complexities. For example, different departments, new leaders coming on board, or going virtual. As long as the core remains the same, then you can start to layer in things that perpetuate it to make it better that make it fun – whatever the culture is that you’re after.

Elevate advisor Christopher Clapp sits on the PERQ board. What are the board dynamics and has that influenced your overall team culture?

I’m super lucky to have an awesome board. I know that isn’t always the case.

When I was working with Ting on who the representative for Elevate was going to be, I wanted a past-CEO, or executive, that had seen a successful exit and had scaled a business so they understood the complexities that we’re dealing with. I wanted somebody who had stood in front of the sales team and pitched an idea. If you’ve done that, for example, then your advice is going to be grounded in a lot better understanding of the reality we are facing. It’s also going to make us better.

PERQ’s board challenges us and is made up of individuals that have seen a tremendous amount of success and know what it takes to get there. When they give us advice and feedback – sometimes I don’t want to hear it – but it’s always very helpful. It’s coming from a place of experience and smarts, and more times than not, it’s the right advice.

Christopher Clapp is an example of someone you can get into the weeds on specific topics with because he’s experienced it. He brings real life advice: “Do this, don’t do that.”, “Here’s somebody you can talk to.” It is immensely helpful in so many ways. Christopher is somebody that has been a tremendous benefit and just another nice breeze of wind at our backs that helps us move forward and gain momentum. PERQ is better because he is with us.

(Photos courtesy of PERQ)

 

Read our previous Leading Indiana Ambition story profiling Ellie Symes of The Bee Corp here.

 

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