Cultivating Culture | Larry Freed at Give and Take

In part one of our conversation with Larry Freed, of Give and Take, incorporated, he discussed their social platform and the benefits of generalized reciprocity.

In part two of our conversation, Larry shares some of his insights on how to maintain a healthy workforce, the keys to innovation, and managing the continual struggle of a startup.

More info:

Larry is the CEO of Give and Take Inc., a company that was co-founded by Adam Grant (Wharton), Wayne Baker (Michigan) and Cheryl Baker. Give and Take provides solutions that help organizations improve knowledge collaboration, foster a culture of generosity and improve engagement.

The Reciprocity Ring is a dynamic, face-to-face exercise where groups learn to bring the “pay-it-forward” concept into action and practice. Givitas is a purpose-built, knowledge collaboration platform that can scale across an organization that makes it easy to ask for and give help every day, while fostering a giving culture and providing equal access to community knowledge and experiences.

Larry’s background includes being the co-founder and CEO of ForeSee, the leader in customer experience analytics. He led the company from inception (2001) to a successful exit in 2013, returning over 22 times the capital invested in the business. After the exit at ForeSee, Larry advised, mentored, and consulted with early-stage and growth-stage technology companies. He also served on the board of directors of various tech companies. Earlier in his career, Larry also had executive leadership roles at Compuware (Vice President) and Bank One (CTO).

Larry has authored two books, Managing Forward and Innovating Analytics.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Larry Freed 0:00
We weren’t solving the same problem. But we were now saying, okay, you know, that’s a small group exercise, how can we take that and translate it to something that is enterprise scalable, and that can be done every day.

Alexander Ferguson 0:19
In part one of our conversation with Larry Freed of give and take, Incorporated, he discussed their social platform and the benefits of generalized reciprocity. In part two of our conversation, Larry shares some of his insights on how to maintain a healthy workforce, the keys to innovation and managing the continual struggle of a startup. Alright, excited to continue our conversation now digging into understand how are you innovating? How as a leader, do you keep your whole team moving forward, and overcoming the challenges that naturally happen in any business? So looking now of where you’ve come from? How did how did the beginning how did when you first begin with it? How did you get it off the ground? Like, that’s one of the most common questions I hear a lot of stars like, how do you actually like, get into a place where you have 70 different organizations, as you do now, on your platform? What was that first couple challenges you had to overcome to get to where you are now?

Larry Freed 1:15
Great question. It’s, it’s tough to get started. I, you know, I’m a big believer that incremental innovation often is a better way than breakthrough innovation. Sometimes we need breakthrough innovation, some people are better at one than the other. And so really, we this was a series of incremental steps. You know, it started with an online exercise that that has been probably close to 100,000 people have been through a reciprocity rain event, you know, it’s taught at Michigan, at Harvard, at Stanford, at USC, at Duke and North Korea, on and on and on across the world. And, and so we really had the the benefit of seeing how that it evolved over time, how people were able to help the strengths and weaknesses of a face to face exercise. We weren’t solving the same problem, but we’re now saying, okay, you know, that’s a small group exercise, how can we take that and translate it to something that is enterprise scalable? And that can be done every day? That you don’t need everyone come together in a room? which nowadays is a no, no, at least, depending on when you’re watching this, and may be old news that we’re talking about, hopefully, right? But, but how can we make it online and scalable and used every day, and so we had something to build from. So it was really a series of incremental improvements from that. And that’s really been our approach from, from that point forward. The toughest thing in the early days is getting people started. You know, it’s one of the things I’ve said over the years, sat on other companies boards, and having done a startup before and building it up and selling it and, and, and having ties to a number of others, I always tell people, the next stage in your business is the hardest, right? And I you know, it’s it only gets easy when you’re done. Right? You know, so it’s, you keep pushing that rock uphill, and the hill gets steeper and the rockets bigger. But that’s part of the fun. And I think you got to have that attitude when you go into it. And so, you know, one of the things that is not my strength is coming up with the idea, you know, my experience in building companies from the start is, is taking an idea that someone else had and say, Alright, let’s, let’s make that better. And let’s turn it into a business. And, and as a result, you’re really focused on that incremental improvement. But getting those first customers up and running and getting their feedback is huge. And that’s tough. And then and then you got to start getting people to pay for it. Because it is a business, right? That’s tough. And you gotta learn how to scale, right. And those are really the key steps you go through. And then it’s about refining the process. And the one thing I’ve always had a theory on is, is that when growing companies, you’ve got to keep everything in sync, right. And by sync. I mean, I can’t go build the best product in the world, and take five years to do it, and burn through a lot of money, and then say, Okay, now I’m ready to sell it. Right, when it’s good enough to be sold, start selling it. And then as you’re growing, if you just grow your sales team, you’re gonna die on the vine, because your customer success team and implementation teams aren’t gonna be able to support it. Right? If you you’ve got to build the company, as you grow step by step and they got to sort of stay in sync, when they get out of sync. It’s a usually a really inefficient

Alexander Ferguson 4:28
capital. What to keep on tab of knowing is in sync or not, how do you as a leader, what are your indicators that you look for, like, oh, something’s starting to get out of sync, we need to raise up on the sales side or more on the support team, any indicators that you look for?

Larry Freed 4:44
Yeah, I mean, you get some metrics. You have to start by building some metrics that will help keep let you keep a numbers view of it, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s also talking to the people in each of those areas, and really getting that pulse of of where you are and There’s, we have a team that most of us have worked together before. So there’s a lot of great open, honest communication. But over the years, when when sometimes you don’t have that trust, you know, or long standing relationship, you’ve got to sense it. And it’s a lot about stress, when you see people’s stress rise, there’s a good chance they’re

Alexander Ferguson 5:19
overloaded your indicators mess,

Larry Freed 5:21
if you look, yeah, you know, it’s and, and, and everybody, you know, you got great employees, they want to do well. And they also don’t often don’t want to say, I got too much on my plate. And so one, you make the habit of asking, but you got to do more than that you got to sunset. And again, stress is one way, someone that’s normally great at getting things done on time, all of a sudden starts slipping, right? You know, you know, and you look for the little indications. And then over time, you start to figure out what are the right metrics that you can look at. And at this company, we’re just at the release date, just starting at my last company, we had it down to a science, I could look at the numbers of, of how many hours was taking people to do so much stuff, you know, what were you know, and you would start to have a really good indication of where the stress point was coming. And then you would dive a little deeper into it, and talk to people and figure out, you know, are we there? And then you got to plan ahead a little bit too, right. So if you wait till, you know, the bridge is ready to break, you don’t have time to fix it before class, right? It’s the same thing for anyone to your, your teams that that you need to keep in sync.

Alexander Ferguson 6:27
Any tactics for other leaders to know, okay, how to be able to get to the next point, so that you are able to keep moving forward? Yeah, that’s,

Larry Freed 6:36
that’s a really good question. Um, you know, as a, as an entrepreneur, as a CEO of a company, as part of the leadership team of a company, the biggest waste of time in building your businesses is raising capital, but it’s a necessary step, right? You know, it doesn’t, it doesn’t help your business, but it enables your business, it’s sort of like we don’t, we don’t think about breathing is something that’s, you know, we think about, but you need it in order to stay alive, you need that capital to build a company. And so I think going into it, you gotta, you have a plan, the earlier you are in the company’s life, the least accurate the plan is going to be, as you get to a point where you’ve got a business and you run it, you should be able to be really good at forecasting, we and my last company, we pride ourselves on always being favorable the costs, and being within a percent or to a revenue, either above it or below it. But in the first couple years, it’s it’s a little bit of a, you know, throw something against the wall and see what works, you go on your instinct, you go on the feedback, you got to constantly be adjusting to the market. I think the biggest challenge for people as they get stubborn, their plan, or their vision and aren’t adjusting, and that’s a recipe for failure. But so you got to build in that things aren’t always gonna work exactly as you want. So that you’re not, you know, away. We were supposed to be careful, positive now, and we’re not, you know, we got six more months, what do we do You better see that coming fall months in advance, right. And so, you know, and I’m a big fan of metrics, you know, this, this company, getting take has a lot of metrics in it about how good people are collaborating, how good people are at helping others, how good people are connecting, and so on in my last company that was about customer experience, analytics and metrics. But but as a startup, you can’t overload yourself with metrics, it’s more, it’s a lot of feeling instinct. But as you grow, you got to keep adding more metrics into it and get better and better at them. We had the fortune of Moneyball, Billy Beane, the architect behind all that we brought him in for some customer events. In my last company, I had some time to spend with him. And he said, something that really stuck in my mind was that, you know, if you read the book, or watch the movie, they talk about on base percentages, his breakthrough Analytics, you know, way back, you know, number years ago, it was breakthrough, because no one else is really focusing on it. But as soon as everyone else figures it out, you got to get another one. So you really have to be not only innovating the company, you got to be innovating your metrics, the analytics you’re using to run the company, and to help you run the company. And that’s a really important aspect.

Alexander Ferguson 9:14
Looking forward. Now, the next year or two, what do you see the major hurdles you’re going to need to overcome to then achieve the next step in in your face?

Larry Freed 9:23
Good question. I think the major hurdles for us right now are continuing the growth rate and seeing that actually accelerate. So that’s, that’s sort of always a challenge. But that’s, that’s a big one. The second one is going to be keep our team growing at the right pace to keep up with that and to keep moving the product forward. And then the third, you know, we will probably look to, you know, raise around a capital within, you know, start that process, you know, before too long, and that becomes sort of that third, but if you do the first two, right, it makes the third one a whole lot easier.

Alexander Ferguson 9:58
It’s a It’s As How do you personally continue innovating and keep a flow of new ideas? What books, audio books podcasts? Are you listening to right now? Or your favorites?

Larry Freed 10:10
Um, that’s a great question. I, I’m, I’m a person that reads a lot that reads, The first paragraphs have lots of stories and articles. You know, and I’m sort of always doing that. I’ve also got a network of folks that both professionally and even family that are great at, you know, fun dialogues that, you know, Hey, did you see this? Did you what you know, that it challenge you and push you, you know, I got my son’s got to start off my nephews have a startup, you know, I got two other sons, that one’s new in the business world, one’s been in it for a little while. And you know, they’re all facing same challenges. And so, you know, you can’t get stuck in your thinking, you got to be really open minded, but in terms of particular sources, there, Adam Grant, actually, with Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, and one other person started this Big Idea Book Club, which I actually think it’s pretty interesting, you sign up, and you get two or three books a quarter, and they’re really innovative, thought provoking books. You know, I try to read through those, I have a tendency to read again, I don’t always finish business books. But I started a lot of them, and, and those that really grab you, you know, you keep going to, and it’s really about piecing all that together, and also keeping a sense of trends that are going on. Some people really try to get out in front of the trends. I don’t, I don’t know that that’s me. It’s more about understanding where the trends going. And, you know, being being able to go there with it. The way I think about it,

Alexander Ferguson 11:44
if you had one book that you started and found interesting in the last year, so what if you can name one, what will come to your mind?

Larry Freed 11:53
So a couple, I’ll throw out your get up there and yours. Success of aging was an interesting book I just started, I’ve got it sitting behind me somewhere, way back to one of our founders wrote, all you have to do is ask, which, to me is very thought provoking. And obviously, I’ve gone back and read given cake probably six, eight times in the last couple of years. I you know, which, again, is to me, it sort of reminds you of the initial thought process. I think there’s some some interesting podcast, you know, Malcolm Gladwell stuff, science of success has a lot of great stuff in it, Dan Pink, does these pink casts that I think are really enjoyable, and, and thought provoking, almost like micro learning, if you will, I’m a big fan of micro mentoring. And you know, it’s not about necessarily having one person that’s your mentor, it’s about getting a little bit of mentoring from a lot of different people. Our platform, actually, I think, helps with that, you know, the pink cast that Dan Pink sends out I think are great at that. They’re they’re sort of micro, you know, thoughts about one thing, how can you make one thing better? A lot of times, it’s easier to grasp and get a hold of it when it’s boiled down into something simple than it is to, you know, capital A big monster of a, of a thought or concept.

Alexander Ferguson 13:12
Love it. I’m gonna end with one one more question. As a as a business later, I’m involved in lots of tech technology opportunities, where do you what kind of tech innovation do you predict we will see in one year, so near term and 10 years long term,

Larry Freed 13:29
one year and in 10 years? I think some of the stuff that’s happening in the in the DNA world, genomic sciences, if you will, I think is really incredible. And I think that that is probably going to change our life more than anything else. And it’s maybe 10 years out, maybe not that far, but it’s it’s in the future a bit. I think the one thing in the next year, that’s gonna change as a result of what we’re all experiencing these days. With the Coronavirus, and being socially distant and remote working and learning. I think that’s going to really accelerate those things a lot. I mean, we’ve been on those trends, but they were slow and at the right pace. But I think that the life’s experiences is going to say Wow, there were some real positives about having everybody working all right. And maybe it’s not all the time, maybe it’s part of the time, because I think there’s huge value in people being together and collaborating, you know, both in person and through technology. And I don’t think you ever want to lose either one of those. Like I’ve noticed in our team meetings and we we’ve had a co working space that half our team is that most of the time, the other the other half of all work together and so we’re sort of spread out around the country and mostly working remote you know, our team meetings now we get we get on a phone and we get into zoom, you know, so it’s like we’re doing today and and what we what I find is you just let people talk for a while. Because when there is a social aspect of working, that you don’t want to lose, and if you just, let’s get to the agenda, which is what you do when you walk into a meeting often, but it’s the walking in and the walking out that becomes social. In a video world, we don’t have that walking in walking out, you got to let it happen. But I think I think what we’re experiencing now will be a major, maybe acceleration of the trends over the next year. And that the other thing I would throw in there is for a number of years, I thought autonomous driving was close and and I still think it’s close. But it’s it’s not necessarily getting any closer because of a lot of other issues that are getting introduced the the ethical issues, the legal issues, the impact it’s going to potentially have on certain industries, which could be devastating, you know, many ways positive but some industries that could be devastating in a bad way. And I think that’s something that’s also going to be really changed the way we live our lives. And when it gets to that point.

Alexander Ferguson 15:58
I appreciate you sharing your insight, both how you have been innovating and the future that we were all entering in. Thank you for your time.

Larry Freed 16:08
My pleasure, Alex, it was really a pleasure to talk with you.

Alexander Ferguson 16:11
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.



YouTube | LinkedIn | Twitter| Podcast

Aspiring to Inspire | Larry Freed at Give and Take

The Digital Mortgage | Stephen Bulfer at Streamloan