May 16, 2017

Building a Better Team at the Contactually Retreat 2017


So, it's 2017. It's been about 2 years since we raised our Series A. The company looks vastly different than it did then. We've hired an experienced executive team from successful companies like OPower, Netflix and AddThis. We have a strategic vision for growth. We are starting to understand who our customer is, and we feel confident that our Product team is rapidly evolving to serve the needs of these customers.

That being said, we have experienced a dramatic amount of change over the past 2 years. We said goodbye to colleagues. We welcomed new ones. We embraced real estate. We programmed in new languages. We released new services. We moved offices. Change was our only constant, and we have a team that rolled with the chaos.

So, how do we help our team with change? We communicate. A lot. Don't get me wrong, we fail at communicating the right things at the right time in the right way all of the time. But the intention is there, with regular all-team meetings two times a week, a Contactually newsletter, a Wiki that documents our every breath and let's not forget the ever ubiquitous Slack.

These forums make sure that Train A knows when Train B is coming and going, but they don't always give meaningful time for our team to reflect, to engage with one another, and ultimately help shape Contactually.

This is why we retreat each year.

For two days, we make the decision to shut down shop, hop into various cars across MD, VA and every quadrant of DC to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, and give ourselves the opportunity to see the forest through the trees. And this year is a big year for Contactually.

We are on pace to double our revenue, we will likely be cashflow positive by early Fall, and are building a product that is far more sophisticated than the Contactually we've known for the past two years. As a team, we are on the steepest part of the mountain; we can see the top, but we have a lot of hard work to get there. For this reason, the retreat this year felt even more important.

Planning the retreat was no easy feat; the team was itching to see the plan for this year and understand how we were going to hit our aggressive goals. 6 weeks prior, content planning began during a regular exec team offsite. Our goal: to find the perfect balance of vision communication with professional development and of course FUN. Each team lead got to work developing content and even more importantly collaborating across teams to make sure that Marketing, Sales, Product and Customer Success were all aligned.

Day 1

Day 1 was packed; too packed in retrospect, but energy was high. Wearing our Dinosaurland themed Contactually t-shirts, we arrived to the world famous scones made by the great catering team at Carter Hall. There was no time for pleasantries or unpacking; we jumped right in. Our CEO, Zvi Band led the day talking about this history of Contactually and his excitement for the roadmap we were going to see today.

Greg Cypes, our VP of Product, then jumped in to paint a vision of the product we all have been dreaming of...a product that is more than a contact management system, a product that intuits our relationship needs and delivers intelligence around the value of our contacts. Finishing up the day, Joel Mier, our VP of Marketing, led us in discussion about our brand and how we plan to live and breathe our brand followed by Tony Cappaert, COO & Co-founder, with a deep dive tactical discussion on our commercial goals and how we were going to nail them on our path to a Series B in 2018.

And of course, there was lots of fun peppered in throughout the day, most notably a visit from the world famous Frisbee Guy who adapted to terrible weather conditions to lead us in becoming frisbee experts and most memorable, the longest game of team-based Yahtzee, ever. That night was filled with a raucous company-wide game of Two Truths and a Lie, a company favorite, where we certainly learned more than some of us ever needed to know about our colleagues.

Day 2

Day 2 started with a robust conversation in small groups around how we wanted to change as a culture and organization to operate more effectively and efficiently. The conversation was raw and gritty around how we, at times, don't always act in a way that reflects our brand. We want to be a company where we live and breathe our product, and while some of us are regularly engaged with using Contactually in our personal lives, more of us are not and we want to change this.

Lots of change suggestions came from this conversation; so much so that we were in fear of just having long lists with no plans stay forever buried in Carter Hall. The exec team then led a handful of elective professional development sessions including things like delivering feedback, presentation skills, and how to use your time meaningfully throughout the day.

Some of us headed out at the end of day 2, and some of us decided to stay and visit a local brewery, play some trivia and, of course, participate in our annual Contactually dance party this year hosted by our VP of Customer Success, aka DJ Faisal Raza.

How it translates today

Our focus today is how to make sure that the energy, spirit and innovation from the retreat follow us from Carter Hall to our new digs in Dupont. Step 1- We've created Team People, a group of employees who all raised their hands high to help drive our best ideas and hold ourselves accountable to the change we all want for our culture, our customers and our product.

This team organized into 4 sub-teams focused on Communication, Community, Living our Values and Outreach all with specific project plans so we can drive great things and be the company that we want to be.

What did we learn?

This retreat confirmed everything I suspected when I first joined Contactually 1 year ago as VP of People. We have a team that is driven by each other and the relationships we develop every day. While we will always strive to better reflect our brand, we excel daily in listening to one another, we value diverse ideas and viewpoints, and and we thrive on healthy debate.

This is a team that understands the value of people, and I look forward to continuing to invest in and grow with this team.