For many founders, the precipitating experience to starting a company is merely a desire to solve a problem identified in a marketplace. But for Brian Rainey, it was working his way up the corporate ladder through accounting and finance.
He went from CPA to CFO, all the while knowing it would eventually lead to spreading his wings and founding his own company. “My plan was always to get the corporate background and then apply that into a startup,” he says.
Now that plan has come to fruition with his company, Gooten, which connects businesses with a global network of custom printers for fast, scalable on-demand print services.
In this edition of Founder’s Journey, Brian talks about how his experience as a numbers guy influences his decisions as a CEO—and he shares the single-most important advice he tells beginning founders.
More information: https://www.gooten.com/
Brian Rainey was named CEO of Gooten in January 2016. Rainey develops the company’s strategic vision and oversees all aspects of operations, including building the management team, financing, and global expansion.
Rainey previously served as chief financial officer at Buzz Points, a fintech company, and held positions at Deutsche Bank and Deloitte, where he provided accounting and audit services to startups preparing for potential IPOs, private sales, or capital raises.show more
Rainey, a licensed C.P.A, received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from James Madison University and an MBA from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
Gooten is a globally distributed production and logistics company transforming the way online brands manufacture and fulfill merchandise to their customers. Gooten has forged a new print-on-demand model to serve high-growth online stores in unprecedented ways.
We think of our customers as partners and treat each facet of our business accordingly—from letting your voice be heard through our Partner Advisory Committee to layering in operational mechanisms that maximize your business economics, while boasting industry-leading product quality.
Every aspect has been thought through with our partners and their end customers in mind, tapping into incredible efficiencies and smart technologies that deliver results.show less
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!
Brian Rainey 0:00
Like you’re gonna succeed, right funding is not the milestone. And so if you don’t focus on team from day one, and people from day one and culture from day one, then no matter how much you get funded, none of its gonna matter.
Alexander Ferguson 0:19
Welcome, everyone to UpTech Report. This is our Founders Journey – lessons learned leaders insight. I’m excited to be joined by Brian Rainey, this is part two of our discussion, definitely check out part one where we heard more about their company guten, and their custom print fulfillment service platform. Now, Ryan, last time you were talking when I asked you five years ago, you know, what would you wish you had known? You’re like? That was a loaded question. Yeah. But it’s like, it’s this what you learned over the years that really leads you where you are today. I’d love to hear your overall story both the last five years but even before how did you get to where you are today?
Brian Rainey 0:57
Right? It has been a it has been a circuitous path, that that only when looking backwards, we can drive the linear line. I was a numbers guy counting in finance undergrad, I was a CPA, I guess technically I am a CPA, you can’t get rid of that stigma. Even if you leave the industry, it turns out for four years with Deloitte, and I actually was audited venture backed company. So I think startups was always where I was headed. And that’s that’s exactly right. And I still joined one which is that’s that’s where that’s where people asked me if I really know what’s going on. But and then after business school, I was an investment banker. So again, that kind of accounting and finance background with a focus on how can I bring best in class? You know, we don’t reinvent finance, right? I mean, you’re not, you know, you’re not reinventing the T numbers or numbers. That’s yeah, that’s been that’s been pretty consistent for a while. And so my plan was always to go and get a year, sort of the corporate background and then apply that into a startup, I was the CFO of a FinTech company in Austin, Texas, was there for about two years wanted to come back to the East Coast. That was bus points. That’s exactly right. So that was a local rewards company based out of Austin, Texas, that was a trial by fire, no doubt worked with some incredible people with some with some great technology. But ultimately, born and raised Washington, DC, I wanted to get back to New York, and joined up here with guten. And really took, you know, the entire professional learnings. And in that time, and saw within guten, what I had been looking for FinTech, by definition is zero sum, right? finance transaction creates, ultimately a buyer and a seller. It’s sort of zero there. And that idea of, you know, for me to give something to one person I have to take it from someone else is what in love with gluten technology specialization created best in class partnerships around manufacturers who could focus on getting the right product out at the best sort of price and the best quality, being enabled with our technology solution, while providing merchants a single point of integration, I really liked that idea that specialization created something better. And when I took win, win, win, win win, man, that’s exactly right. And I really liked that idea where you know, we have internally at Putin, if you make the best choice on behalf of the end customer over 1000s of transactions that’s going to work out for everybody I really like that it’s one of our key tenants here is we enable everyone at our company and every individual situation that they’re faced to make the best decision on behalf of the customer. Because we’re building lifetime customer relationships here. We don’t look at order, you know, order volume as a transaction. That’s an interaction with a customer of our Merchant partners.
Alexander Ferguson 3:50
It’s interesting that you’re going into the role of CEO being all the numbers and then CFO before honestly, as a CPA, you’re not the stigma. You seem too much energetic. Yeah.
Brian Rainey 4:00
Thank you. I appreciate that. No, I, I actually worked with some amazing, amazing people. But But yes, I felt that as well, that the that the accounting background was going to be really what I was going to take into the professional world rather than staying as an accountant. And I say that having having learned more than almost anything, my my, my manager at Deloitte still is the best manager I’ve ever had. I still keep in touch with her. She’s the most dynamic, dynamic person I’ve ever worked with. But yeah, I wanted to broaden out just a little bit for just
Alexander Ferguson 4:35
now, whether whether it’s a gluten before I been involved with as far as fundraising or raising new funds and rounds.
Brian Rainey 4:41
Yep, yeah, we raised right after I got the most points. We raised a fairly large round and we’ve raised we’ve raised around since I’ve been at at att goodness. Well,
Alexander Ferguson 4:50
any common mistakes that you’ve seen made when it comes to seeking funding.
Brian Rainey 4:56
Yeah, I think I think knowing your story or, or, you know, really being confident in what you’re going out and building? Why are you getting this capital? I think that’s been the thing that frankly, I’ve learned. Right? You know, you need the money. That’s clear. Right? That’s, that’s, again, my CPA background on that, you know, right. But how do you put your How do you put yourself in the shoes of the person who’s giving you money? Why are you doing this? What is the opportunity cost for that funding? And what can you do with that? And in a lot of ways, how can you best boil the story down to say, with this capital, I can return x because of this? How do we you increase the speed of that flywheel? How do you really narrow down you’re doing a every company is doing a million things every day to try to find that product market fit, really understand that customer expand, you know, growth, all of that? How do you boil that down? For an investor who sees, you know, legitimately 100 pitches a year? How do you really sort of make them understand this capital and the opportunity cost of what I’m going down to boils down to this most important thing? I think that’s, that’s the most important thing. And I say that, hopefully, with some humility, because that’s what I’ve had to get a lot better at. I am excited about all of the things that we’re doing, you know, but what a 30 minute conversation, how do you boil it down to that one thing that’s gonna provide the greatest amount of value going forward?
Alexander Ferguson 6:19
Funding is one piece, but then building the right team to be able to go beyond that and actually create a, as you said, call a world class technology and a solution when it comes to building that team and hiring the right people. Have you seen any common mistakes when it comes to to hiring?
Brian Rainey 6:35
I? How much time do we have the second part of this interview? Because that’s, you know, it’s actually it’s funny that you say that funding is one thing is to another I actually, I disagree. I think team is the only thing. If you don’t get team right, then you shouldn’t fund because it doesn’t matter. Right? We, I advise if you startup companies, shout out rebel transit in New York, and was literally with them at founding, and was talking through with them, you know, hey, get your paperwork in, let’s make sure we get this right. And they’re saying, Look, we’re trying to do this, and we’re trying to distance it, guys. If you succeed, and you don’t do this, right at the very beginning, this is going to come back and bite you. And if you fail, none of it matters anyway. So act like you’re going to succeed, right? Funding is not the milestone. And so if you don’t focus on team from day one, and people from day one and culture from day one, that no matter how much you get funded, none of its gonna matter. And so that’s what I sort of mean of like, funding is a hurdle you need to overcome team is it’s something you must overcome, right? That is you have to do that, right. So I think the biggest areas beyond just really understanding and then recognizing who the next incremental resource, how they can give the greatest amount of leverage to your team and your company is and, and obviously creating a culture that people want to work in alignment around between the hiring manager, that the hire themselves, and frankly, the rest of the organization, I’ve seen as the greatest area of improvement that we’ve implemented over the past five years. So that there’s a very clear set of understanding beyond just title, right, especially early in a startup people have a million hats, right? And so when you come in and say, Hey, we hired this director of product management, well, there’s a bunch of different roles that a very effective product manager can play, depending on the stage of the company, depending on who else you have, depending on where it is. We have 3060 90 days, you know, sort of first 30 days, second 30 day, third 30 Day reports which say, Look, this is how we’re going to define success. For the first 90 days of a new hires journey at the company. The new hire sees exactly what’s expected of them, the hiring manager is clear on what they’re expecting. Ultimately, I get to look at this and say, Okay, I see the resources we’re putting towards this and salary and equity and you know, all the ways we compensate our team. As I’m looking at this 3060 90, does that match the resources that we’re putting on? And that heads off things that for new hires have no they have no control over which is alignment within the company, and saying, Hey, I actually think we need something a little bit different here. So that’s finding that right fit from a teammate as well, we’ve seen a huge amount of success. And then finally, we value personal and professional growth as a stool of value of working at this company. We invest a large amount of money in training and cross training. We have, I think, now nine teammates that started in our Customer Support Department that are now account managers and head of operations and data specialists because from customer support, you know, every problem of his company and by investing in them from a professional standpoint, by requiring our management to constantly have up leveling as part of expectation setting for our team, we not only invest back in People, we get more out of them as well. You know, our average tenure for half of our team having doubled the size of our team this year, for the other half of our team, the average tenure of this company is over three and a half years. And that is really rare in a startup. And to have that kind of institutional knowledge is really, really helpful and important when you know, the things that pop up inevitably pop up.
Alexander Ferguson 10:24
Imagine managing a team and the growth. And the culture itself changes as you gain more and more. How big is the team today?
Brian Rainey 10:35
We are. So we’re we’re taping this on a Thursday. So as of Monday, we will be 100 people. On April 1, we were 50 people. Yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 10:46
so that is that is a massive amount of growth. How do you handle that?
Brian Rainey 10:49
We closed our office April 1. So that’s the other interesting piece. Investing in it. Look there, there are very few things now that we are going to be a team of 100 people that I do as a CEO of this company, one of them absolutely is culture, it is a non negotiable of this company, you can be the absolute best developer, you can be the smartest product lead, you can be killing it on operations. But if you can’t work across our team, that’s a non negotiable that period, right? Culture is what you allow. And so maintaining those standards of culture and really getting behind those myself, is that thing that absolutely still sits with me no question, and that I filter out through? And I think it’s also how do we onboard our team as as we have onboarding sessions now seemingly every other week for our new teammates? Making sure they understand that culture is theirs? Now, you’re not part of this team? You’re not you know, so? How does that culture morph? How do you how do you add something we just opened an office in Colombia, to supplement you know, teammates in Serbia and the Ukraine and Canada? Well, how do we start bringing in Colombian culture into what is now a, you know, a broad global organization? We’re very familiar with Serbian traditions, because they’ve been part of our team for three years, how can we bring in Colombian traditions? And how can we, you know, how can we celebrate that so it is something that more so it’s something that is involved, but I think more than anything, it has to be front of mind, it’s not something that happens accidentally, it’s something that we’re very, very proactive about.
Alexander Ferguson 12:23
You said, team is the first and only priority to start with, and then from there, you can grow now that you’ve got that base, and you guys are definitely growing on the marketing side to be able to scale and truly grow any common mistakes that you see people make in marketing in today’s environment.
Brian Rainey 12:41
Yeah, I think it goes back to something I said earlier being all things to all people, you know, you had read at the beginning of the interview, what guten is not for right, I think that’s incredibly important. And that’s important for the merchant as well, we don’t want to put ourselves out there as a one size fits all solution. Because what ends up happening is we spend an enormous amount of time on merchant partners who are absolutely looking for the right solution. And as we look back on our marketing message, I could see why they would have thought that we would have provided that where they would be better served by another on demand manufacturing partner, they would be better served by a smaller entity, they would be better served in a more niche market. That’s incredibly important. So our marketing message actually continues to get refined so that we’re having conversations with those partners that we believe our solution is tailored for and fit for. I think that’s incredibly important. But I also think that making sure that we are top of mind, middle of mind, in end of mind, when you think about what is now a nonlinear buying process, the buying process is no longer a straight, you know, sort of search, and then narrow down and then choose it can happen in a much different kind of way. And so don’t you know, we’re trying to avoid and we’re really trying to get better at avoiding that trap of sem marketing. Yes, I can absolutely point to a lat last touch attribution that says this person came in for this channel, and I paid this much money and then I made this much and so I should throw all my money at that channel. That’s just not how it works. Right. attribution is attribution and alchemy. I think attribution, marketing, and you know, saying how much goes towards this channel versus this channel? Is the is the 21st century version of alchemy from the 15th century, it’s turning lead into gold. I think it’s sometimes but it is incredibly important. Thinking about your brand holistically, in the same way, frankly, that the gluten supply chain solution allows, you know, our brands and retailers to think about their solution holistically. You’re not just a content house, you’re a commerce engine, you’re connecting with your customers in different channels. Commerce is one of those channels. We need to be there also. So marketing is not just SEM, it’s white papers. It’s messaging. It’s It’s It’s support. It’s being out there in those conversations.
Alexander Ferguson 14:56
This environment we’re in as a recording this Being in 2020, COVID. Everyone’s had to shift some maybe they were doing a lot of in person events and trade shows and conferences or doing things. And now everything’s online and digital. And there’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of distraction. How do you both manage what is working and working? Well, what are you planning on? Like doubling down on? How do you see marketing going into the next year?
Brian Rainey 15:24
Yeah, I think the big one is that we take a data driven approach to absolutely everything, right, we look at data when it comes to your every one, every one of the 10,000 orders that goes through our platform every day, we want all the data on that. So why wouldn’t we have data on where we’re spending our resources and spending our money? At the same time, we actually have a pool of capital that is explicitly carved out to say, you know, test capital, that’s, that’s the stuff were number one, tell me before we spend this money, tell me before we spend this time, tell me before you go into this area, what does success look like? You see too often ready fire aim, where you shoot it up, you shoot it a marker, and you put the bullseye exactly where you hit, you say, look at what we did, we did exactly what we were looking to do. And so that that sort of alchemy of of attribution of what supports what is incredibly important. And I think carving out some money to say we’re gonna run a bunch of tests, we still don’t know kind of where things are, and how that works. I think that’s incredibly important for us. But it is that idea of, of basically incentivizing our team, our marketing team is no different than any of our marketing team, they want as much resources as possible to be as many places as they possibly can. That’s the fun challenge. That’s why we have a great marketing team. And what we do is we just say, bring us back to data, marketing and sales, you know, especially direct sales, are the easiest things to invest in, because they’re the ones with the fastest and most direct, theoretically, payback. Right. So unlike another engineer, or what does that incrementally get me or another product manager or you know, another partner in our finance team, these teammates, and these resources can pay for themselves. And so creating that, that sort of sense that says, if you can justify this spend, how could you know, I can give you more of it? That is a that’s a really strong driver of performance and behavior for our for our marketing, folks.
Alexander Ferguson 17:20
And going forward into the new year, yourself, what challenges do you see you’re gonna need to overcome for continued growth?
Brian Rainey 17:29
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s just feed and resources and allocation and focus that never goes away. Right. I, we talked to our team all the time we are, we’ve grown unbelievably, we just have I mean, we have literally 100 More hands physical hands that we did, you know, six months ago. And so the challenges are, it’s not going to change, good problems, still problem still part of a good problem, right? I mean, that’s, you know, that’s great. That’s one of the that’s one of the most fun parts of growth. But I think it is, as we grow the cost of mistakes, the cost of delay, the cost of, of a lack of focus becomes bigger, just because you’re dealing with bigger numbers, right? When we talk to our team, about our goals for next year. If something launches on a Monday versus launching on a Friday, we got 50 weeks in a year, that’s 2% of the Year 2% times our goals for next year is a big number. And so really kind of getting that, that that speed. And that focus, I think is our biggest challenge, while recognizing transparency and communication for what is already a globally distributed team becomes that much more important that we have to allow our teammates to make decisions within the right framework with the context and understanding of what they’ve got, without having the ability to hop into a conference room. Right? We have teammates that are literally 12 hours apart, or code in the Ukraine and Seattle, Washington are 12 timezones apart. And that’s where our two engineering leads are. So you know, figuring out how to make sure that that works, actually creates something even better our operations team, which is half in Europe, and half in the Americas, they can get things right by having an eight hour day and an eight hour day turned into 16 productive hours for us, as we check work in and check workouts. So all of the challenges are advantages. It just takes a lot of work to make sure that we’re that we’re getting helped by them and not hurt by them.
Alexander Ferguson 19:27
What a challenge with the team and and I appreciate the analogy that you shared there. By the way, I interviewed with a company called loop that are trying to focus on when your team is distributed, especially internationally to help like how do you keep that focus and people going through and they just like went into open beta? Take a look at that. I have two questions for you. What books audio books podcasts, are you reading and listened to right now or rather have read and would recommend? Yeah,
Brian Rainey 19:54
there’s there’s one and I I cite it so often that it’s funny that I that I don’t habit, but it’s Matt willowick is the CEO of automatic, they do wordpress.com They bought Tumblr, I found that on a podcast that like, honestly, a week after we shut our office down, and he talked about the different difference between a remote team and a distributed team, and how 1700 people at automatic work together without an office and how they’ve built this up and what the sort of four levels of work are, that is incredibly helpful because it’s so practical, it’s it’s, it’s facing those challenges of what level one is the level two, level two to level three, that’s incredibly helpful. For me, it’s been a book automatic habits, I’ve actually read it now reread, it’s it’s how, you know, literally habit formation and habit creation are so important to what you take every single day to be effective, right? How do you change environment? How do you change the reward structure to be able to drive that home? And then finally, because I’m, I am terrible at at time management, but I benefit from it, just like everybody getting things done was a book that I just sort of kept literally in different places kept coming across. I think that where I finally decided to read it the first time having now gotten through it like seven times, because I Oh, you know, JJ Abrams was asked, you know, how did you film two major blockbusters and this like 15 minutes short with your friends, and he said, I read this getting things done thing, and there’s no, it’s all just tasks, right, shooting a scene for one movie versus shooting a scene for another movie versus changing a light bulb, or just things I have to do. And so I am never, ever going to be as good as I could be. I think that’s the challenge. It’s also I keep rereading the books and re underlining the same passages that stand out for me. But now that’s been me, that’s been one of the 2020 focuses is with all of this extra time, I’d like to come out of the other side, on my own personal and professional growth, track of getting better with time management and, and really setting it up so that it’s almost second nature, right? When you walk in and sit down, I have a list of my five most important things to do today. So that no matter how crazy the day gets, at the end of the day, I can look back, and I said yesterday, those are my five most important things, I got those five things done, this was a good day. Even despite the craziness that came out today, it also really helps keep on track. Because as the business grows, my focus has to extend, I have to be thinking farther in the future. That doesn’t change the fact that immediately after this call, I’m going to get on and solve a problem for one of our customers that that has to happen. But if you’re not doing that, you’re going to start focusing much more sort of narrowly, instead of extending that out and constantly raising the bar for the team. That’s been that’s been my 2020 kind of focus. And and I don’t just like I don’t see myself stopping rereading these books, I think it’ll continue to be my focus going forward.
Alexander Ferguson 22:58
Last question for you, Brian. What kind of tech innovations do you predict we’ll see in the near term next year, so and long term, 510 years from now.
Brian Rainey 23:06
I mean, I don’t think I’m gonna go too far off the beaten path here. I think whenever Apple decides that augmented reality is something that we should have, I think you’re gonna see that come out in ways that that we’re really kind of on thought of, I’m a big, fat, big, big, big fan of mobility, just just a personal thing that I like in smart cities, I think, what the pandemic is allowing cities to, frankly, get away with and try in New York City, there’s outdoor dining, and it happened almost overnight where to get bike lanes and took two and a half years, right? You know, I think you’re going to start really seeing this kind of transformation, which is going to be a handshake between technology and mobility solutions and changes in logistics needs, and frankly, just changes in the needs of the demographics and where they are. The accelerating shift towards work from home, means we’re gonna start looking at underutilized resources and start saying, How can we better put these to work? Right? How can you have a more livable city? What does that look like? How do you enable? How does 5g start really fundamentally changing even that idea of what can be done remote, right? The surgery you want is the most mind blowing to me, right? That you can have a surgeon operating remotely on a person, I’m not going to be the first person to be there, I’m gonna be on the I’m gonna be on the late adopter stage of that of that cycle. But I really do think that’s what’s gonna that’s what’s gonna, I think, honestly make the biggest difference and fundamental and foundational difference in people’s lives. Not saying that technology hasn’t. But I think when you really take a snapshot, you know, of February 2020. And look at February 2021, February 2020 to February 2023. It’s not going to look wildly different, except that the things that you did in February 2020 and took it for granted, right even when the technology existed. It really has felt like the past six months has really just sped up the adoption curve on a lot of things. technology’s which ultimately still creates that firewall effect of more investment. More focus means more applications. And you start kind of just making smarter decisions around our use of land, our use of space and our and how we get around.
Alexander Ferguson 25:16
Right. I love the clarity that you give both on the future and the insights over the years. Thank you so much for your time, man. Appreciate it.
Brian Rainey 25:24
I really appreciate it.
Alexander Ferguson 25:26
Definitely check out part one of our interview guys to hear more about their platform guten and this was our lessons learned and leaders inside. Our sponsor for today’s episode is TeraLeap. If your company wants to learn how to better leverage the power of video to increase sales and marketing results, head over to TeraLeap.io and learn about the new product customer stories. Thanks again and we’ll see you guys next time. 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 report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.