< Radically Personal Podcast

KURU: Creating Anticipatory Customer Service Experiences

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Sean McGinnis

Featuring Sean McGinnis,

President & Integrator at KURU Footwear

In this Gladly podcast episode, join President & Integrator of KURU Footwear, Sean McGinnis, on balancing personalization with efficiency, and how leading with empathy acts as KURU’s golden rule of service.

Plus, hear why KURU took an unconventional approach–avoiding distribution through Amazon or eBay, or wholesale via stores like Dicks Sporting Goods–to maintain full control of their customer experience.

“You’re either oriented for personalization or you’re oriented for efficiency and sometimes you can find both, and when you can, it’s magical.”

Sean McGinnis

President & Integrator, KURU Footwear

Joseph Ansanelli: I am so excited to have Sean McGinnis of KURU Footwear today on Radically Personal. Welcome Sean, how are you?

Sean McGinnis: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Joseph: That’s good. Why don’ ...

Joseph Ansanelli: I am so excited to have Sean McGinnis of KURU Footwear today on Radically Personal. Welcome Sean, how are you?

Sean McGinnis: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Joseph: That’s good. Why don’t we start? I always like to start the podcast with a little bit about the origin story of KURU. You’ve got this really interesting place in the market. I just think that that story needs to be told. I’d love to hear the story of the company, how you got involved? All that goodness.

Sean: Yes. Our CEO and founder is a gentleman named Brett Rasmussen. And from the time he was a teenager, Brett always knew that he wanted to start a shoe company. As part of our company lore, we have pictures of drawings, hand drawings, and lined paper from when he was in fifth or sixth grade.

Joseph: No way. Oh, that’s awesome.

Sean: He was in grade school or middle school and some kids showed up with a new pair of kicks and they were the pump kind, and he was like, “Wait, do you see this? I can pump these things up and I can jump higher. I can run faster.” Brett was fascinated. He thought, “Oh, my gosh, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Typical schoolboy behavior. From that moment, it was a dream seed that got planted along the way.

Brett took a chance shortly after graduating college and decided to start a company. The whole dream from that perspective began when he entered a business plan contest at the University of Utah in 2006 and won the grand prize. We’ve got that $40,000 check hanging on the wall. It’s one of those ginormous checks with a phone backer board. It’s six feet long, it’s huge. He spent two years doing patent research and talking to anyone and everyone that he could about how to get shoes made and where to get shoes made and learning from people along the way.

That’s the beginning of the origin story. The real interesting part of our journey was when he went and did patent research. He knew that he wanted to have something that was defensible in terms of an intellectual property backstop in the marketplace. He wanted to do something that was different.

He spent a lot of time understanding the biomechanics of the body and how all of our joints work when we walk and when we run and when we jump, and he invented this technology that we embed in every pair of shoes that we make it. His initial thesis was that he just wanted to build a better shoe.

The question really was at the beginning, “if I buy a pair of running shoes, how come I also have to spend another $80 on a pair of inserts to make them work for me?”

The thesis was why can’t I just take those shapes and build them directly into the shoe. That’s what the original theory was. He had no intention of building a shoe that helped solve foot pain. He just stumbled into that. He started hearing from customers along the way that that technology removed some of the pain that they had been experiencing for years or sometimes decades. That’s how KURU Footwear was born. We were launched in 2008 and here we are 13 years later.

Joseph: That’s awesome. Now, how did you get involved with the company? What’s your background?

Sean: Yes, oh my gosh. My background is bizarre.

Joseph: Let’s start way back when.

[laughter]

Sean: Well, when I was a small child– No, I graduated with a degree in acting, and went off to law school.

Joseph: Oh, wait a second, acting and then law school, I love the conversation.

Sean: The acting story, I had every intention of going to med school and was a typical, maybe atypical, but stupid 20-year-old college male and joined a fraternity and had gotten good grades for my freshman and sophomore year in math and science.

Junior year, there was an advanced organic at chemistry class that started at eight in the morning, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This 20-year-old kid was not getting out of bed for an 8:00 AM class until about four weeks in. I was so lost in advanced organic chemistry that I ran into the arms of the theater department because they happened to be doing a musical that I had done my senior year in high school.

I got heavily involved in theater at that point and they were able to get me out in four years so that it was a rip pull, the ripcord moment of like, I need to get out of college. I don’t want to be here for another five or six years, whatever it’s going to take to do this thing right. Hence the undergrad degree in acting. Then I went off to law school, got my degree at the University of San Diego school of law graduated in ’94, spent 10, 15 years in legal sales selling to law firms across the country.

One of the things that we developed as a program was marketing services and websites. I became very proficient in marketing for small B2B law firms. I quickly became known for SEO inside the business. Then as we were spinning out, we spun out a separate unit inside of larger Thompson Reuters that sold websites to law firms. When they were looking for someone to lead the SEO department, they looked in-house, and I took my first corporate role and moved from sales management to SEO management. Then suddenly I was a marketer.

Joseph: Then how’d you end up at KURU?

Sean: Yes, from there every other three years or so I took a promotion, moved the comp, moved the family around the country four or five times and was ultimately recruited out here into Salt Lake City, led a big marketing agency out here. When I left that agency, I happened to meet our founder through a mutual friend and joined the firm in October 2019. I’ve been here about two and a half years now.

Joseph: That’s awesome. That’s great. One of the things that you talk a lot about in terms of your approach to customer experience and service is this phrase you’ve used called anticipatory which I think is such an interesting approach to thinking about service. Where did that come from? How does that embody how you deliver the customer experience at KURU?

Sean: Yes, that’s the vision of our CEO and founder, Brett. Brett read a book back in the day that mentioned that phrase and he really locked onto it and just fell in love with it. It’s been a focus of ours. It’s actually not part of our mission statement, but we run the business on a system called EOS. It’s based on a book called Traction. EOS stands for the Entrepreneurial Operating System. One of the things that they mention in EOS is there’s a vision side of the business and there’s a traction side.

On the vision side, we talk about what is the marketing strategy and our world-class anticipatory D2C customer experiences are one of the three things that we actually talk about in that vision from a marketing perspective. We try to do things in a very empathetic way, learn from our customers what they need in order to make good decisions, and use the data that is ever-present inside the business to try to treat customers the way we would want to be treated. It’s the old golden rule. We’re constantly trying to evolve the way that we interact with customers. We meet them where they want to be met in terms of the various, different channels.

Obviously, Gladly is a huge part of that ecosystem for us. When we made the change from our prior partner into the ecosystem that you all provide, we became 30% more efficient in how we deal with customers. It’s a great example of when we think of anticipatory, the fact that your system can guide a customer back to the same agent, the same KURU guru that we were working with two days ago, and no longer do we have to context switch, and we don’t have to go and spend five minutes reading up on the thread of what that customer history is.

When they reach out and they catch one of our team members like Fern, Fern just goes, “Oh, I remember dealing with you. I remember a call a couple of days ago.” Now, that makes it a much better experience from our customer’s point of view. That’s a huge part of how we treat our customers every single day.

Joseph: That’s awesome. You used another word I also love when we founded Gladly, which is empathy, this idea of being empathetic for customers’ situations. I just think when you bring that and enable and by the way, I love how you call their team gurus. I refer to all the people who work on Gladly as heroes, but Gurus is great. I think that this idea that the way to create a connection is through these empathetic conversations that happen, where you can show that you have a customer’s best interest at heart. I think that you do that super, super well.

Part of the thing that when you have talked about anticipatory and just learning, you shared a story with me once just a little bit about how once you realized what the job of KURU is around and that seemed to come from all these conversations that you were having with customers around how you were helping people feel better. It’s interesting your purchase experience, you ask a lot of questions. Are those the kinds of insights that you drive then to turn them around to anticipate people more? Is that the idea?

Sean: We believe very strongly in this it’s a product-oriented framework called jobs to be done. Clayton Christensen here from Utah originated some of the frameworks behind that in partnership with some other thought leaders and effectively it that theory or that methodology for doing product management asks product owners and product managers to think about the following question.

What is the job that your customers are hiring your product to do for them? What is the specific frame of mind that they have? What are the competing alternatives that they’re considering you against? Sometimes it’s not doing anything at all and suffering through foot pain. Sometimes surgery can be as radical as that. It could be custom orthotics and a trip to the podiatrist. It could be Dr. Scholl’s aftermarket inserts from a local grocery store.

There’s this whole range of considerations. We’re constantly trying to evaluate and understand the jobs that each of our customers is hiring that specific pair of KURUs to do. You can think about that on almost different levels. In the big picture, I like to say that we are stylish shoes for foot pain. That’s the category that we live in or that we inhabit. I like to think of that as a Venn diagram. Typically, stylish shoes create foot issues and typically foot shoes aren’t very stylish. There’s a sliver there that overlaps and it’s us and maybe a couple of other players that we pride ourselves on providing the best of both worlds there. I’ll layer down. The question is like well what are they using those specific shoes for?

What’s the job to be doing? We have certain people who will wear our hiking shoes to church with a suit that raises the question. Is there a better shoe we could develop for them for that specific job? Is that market big enough for us to go and spend the time the resources et cetera to go address that specific job or is that job one that most customers would say, “You know what, I’m okay being uncomfortable for four hours because I know it’s just that one thing?” I need to go to a wedding and I’m willing to look incredible in my stiletto pumps. I’m willing to put up with some foot pain as a result of that and I’ll put my KURUs on when I get home and they’ll help solve that problem.

We really like to think of it through that jobs-to-be-done framework and it’s guiding our principles on a regular basis. For example, we survey the post-purchase checkout. The minute you make that purchase we say Hey why did you buy these specific shoes today? Is it for a specific job that you do like a work job or what are the things that you plan on using them for? We gather that data; we provide that feedback back to our product team so they can understand why our customers are buying that specific pair of shoes.

Joseph: I love it. The framework that you talk about is very famous for the job of the milkshake. Folks would go out on YouTube and search for jobs to be done. There’s this whole thing of the research they did of like why are people at eight o’clock in the morning going through a drive-through of a fast-food restaurant and buying a milkshake and people would like that just seems crazy. Why are these people ordering milkshakes? It turns out because they’re very slow to drink on the commute home.

Sean: It’s a great framework.

Joseph: It is great. Just make the milkshakes–

Sean: It’s the best example ever. It’s a header scratcher. You’re like who has a milkshake for breakfast? It turns out a lot of folks, just not us.

Joseph: You said something interesting about when we were talking about anticipatory service, and you said that you become 30% more efficient by delivering more personalized service which seems like that would not– I think there’s this natural belief that delivering personalized service takes more time.

Sean: Yes.

Joseph: You’ve had the opposite experience.

Sean: Yes. I have this personal point of view that I originally developed when I think about how we market our services. I’ve learned in this role as president at KURU that it applies to almost every single department and you’re hitting on another area where it does apply and that’s you’re either oriented for growth or you’re oriented for efficiency. In this case, it’s you’re oriented for personalization, or you’re oriented for efficiency. Sometimes you can find both and when you can it’s magical.

There is something incredible about what you just said which is we’re going to give you better service than ever and we’re going to be more efficient at it. That’s like a brass ring. That’s the holy grail. If we could all reach a little bit higher and find either the technology, the systems, the process, or the methodology that will help us better serve our customers in a way that is more anticipatory while also being more efficient. That’s what every brand in the country should want. We stumbled into it with you all and it’s been an absolute blessing. We love it.

Joseph: I’m going to admit something radically personal which I don’t think I’ve said publicly, when we started the company, this was one of my biggest concerns. I really believe that service is more personal. I’m like Ugh we’re going to have to fight against the fact that it’s not going to be as efficient. Everyone focuses on efficiency. Literally, within our first few go-lives, our customers are telling us that it’s more efficient.

It is this weird thing you think about oh we’re going to deliver better service. Efficiency’s going to go sideways. It turns out that it’s just the opposite when you do a better job of delivering personalized service, you’re it is more efficient which is just awesome. When you think about delivering personalized service how does it tie to how you think about self-service? Oftentimes that’s the other one that feels a little bit like they’re competing ideas. I don’t think they are, but I’d love your point of view on that.

Sean: I think for us we’re constantly looking for ways that we can allow people to self-serve while giving them every opportunity to choose a different pathway. Especially in the pre-purchase experience, there are customers that just have questions and they feel more comfortable talking to a human. That’s fine. We replicate those same questions and answers in the Q&A section on the site. We are constantly thinking about ways that we can short circuit the question-answer interaction inside of a chat window for example or inside of SMS.

Now we want to meet our customers wherever they prefer to communicate. We don’t want to force them into a box. I always think that healthy blend of providing and really what the most important thing for us is to close the loop. We’re constantly pulling on our guru’s time to ask them for things that they’re suddenly finding out from our customers. They’re not directly responsible for updating information on the website but we must cross-pollinate across these silos. It really goes back to, Brett talks about this an awful lot. When he first started the business, it was he and one other person that were doing product development and answering the phones.

Joseph: [laughs] I know those feelings.

Sean: It was easy to take that customer feedback and push it into a different department because you only had two people doing everything basically. This helps with plantar fasciitis; I’m going to go update the website today and talk about plantar fasciitis. One of my jobs and I think one of our jobs at KURU is to make sure that we’re breaking down those barriers because those silos inevitably grow up with the business. It’s just impossible to keep them completely broken down. My job is for every department to be as transparent as they can be with each other and make sure that information’s getting shared. We create those best-in-class experiences regardless of the channel that the customer chooses.

Joseph: I think this idea that any engagement is part of that ongoing conversation with a customer and that was just such a powerful thesis for why we started the company was just when we were getting started, we spent a year and we literally sat in all these contact centers, and we were in these contact centers. What we realized was that so much of why the experiences were not great was that the teams didn’t have the tools to be able to deliver on that.

They didn’t have the context. The context to your point is not just when they’re engaged in a conversation with a customer but it’s also what did they do in self-service? What did they do on other channels? That must be part of the whole picture and it’s great when they come together. Let’s talk a little bit about Amazon. You don’t sell on Amazon and it’s a very conscious decision. What’s the thinking around that? They are an interesting company/competitor. [laughs]

Sean: Yes.

Joseph: How do you think about them?

Sean: I think as a consumer, most people, I know love buying stuff on Amazon, right? It’s convenient, it’s easy, it’s cheap. As a brand, we want to make sure that we’re in control of the customer experience every step of the way, from the very first interaction you have with us to the very last. We want to make sure that we’re in control of the destiny of the brand perception, I would say. That includes controlling the customer data, it includes having the right and the ability to clearly communicate with every customer that we interact with and sell to and so we’ve made the conscious decision to sell only on our direct-to-consumer websites. The only place you can buy KURUs today is new.

Obviously, you could buy a used pair off eBay, or on Amazon, or on any one of several other different places where people sell stuff, wherever. There’s money to be had there, we know we’re leaving money on the table, and we could probably grow faster if we were to make the conscious decision to sell there but we also don’t sell through wholesale distribution. You can’t find us in Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s is a great brand. It’s a great company. I go there frequently for the things that I need but for our brand, we’ve made the decision that we want to own every aspect of the customer relationship and interaction as wholly and completely as we can, at least for now.

One thing that we’re talking about as a group is what’s the next distribution vector or channel that we’ll look at, and owned and operated retail is another potential place where we can do everything I just mentioned, and still service the customer and expand our capabilities. We’re not quite there yet. It’s still probably a few years away. One of my big projects this quarter is to really make some big decisions about our go-forward strategy regarding that as a potential distribution channel.

Joseph: Amazon is a great company. I’ve got my Prime membership and for my day-to-day stuff, it’s great. Stuff shows up sometimes the same day now, and usually within the next couple of days, but your point, for you and your brand, and the company and the product, and delivering on the experience is such an important part of it. I do think that we are in this new world of what we refer to internally as the loyalty economy, which is, you’re going to win because people fall in love with you. That’s the big idea and you’re not going to be able to out Amazon, Amazon but you can do something that’s unique and special and different that people create an emotional connection. I think that that’s what happens. I have a standing desk, so I have a pair of Adams that are just the best. I’m on my feet eight hours a day, and it’s been a game-changer.

Sean: That’s great to hear.

Joseph: Yes. I just think that when you create that connection with people, you want to hold it tight, you know what I mean?

Sean: Yes.

Joseph: I think you do a great job with that.

Sean: Thank you.

Joseph: Now, that ties to your team. When it’s you and a couple of people in a room getting started, it’s really easy to ensure that you have the right culture, the right engagement. As you have grown and scaled the team, how do you hire your gurus? How do you enable them? How do you ensure that they’re super engaged? How do you build that guru culture with your team as you grow and scale?

Sean: Yes, that’s a good question. We’ve changed our approach, frankly, the pandemic changed our approach dramatically. We had a very typical contact agent culture. When I arrived here in October 2019, everyone was jammed in a room on smaller desks, newbie, high-energy, lots of noise. People turn and ask each other questions. As the pandemic hit, we sent everybody home. Ironically, as a leader, I was overseeing that team and we had a call center or our CX manager at the time later, I promoted him to director who reported into me, and he was very worried about it as well.

My big concern was that all the people in the business may or may not be equipped from a space perspective to be able to do their job. I jumped into a spare bedroom when we went remote. [chuckles] I just took over the guest bedroom and moved the bed off to the side and suddenly that was my office. I was like, “I’ve got a door I can close. Even if the dogs are barking, there’s a little bit of privacy. I can [crosstalk]”

Joseph: Everyone got used to hearing the dogs barking too.

Sean: Yes. Right, and the world moved on. The Gurus in particular, one, I was like, “Oh my gosh, some of these kids are still living at home with their parents, or they’re in a little bit more of a communal setting. They’re sitting at a kitchen table.” We had one woman that sat in her bed half the day with her back up against the bed, but she loved it. She thought it was the greatest thing in the world. We surveyed them as we went through this timeline, and there were more than anyone and so actually, when we came back into the office, they’re still fully remote. We’ve said, you know what, if you all love that approach, and it’s working for you, and it seems to be working for us and for the customer, then who are we to make a change and mandate a change? It just didn’t seem right. We changed a good bit about it.

Joseph: So, given that, how do you hire? What are the things you look for? Then once you hire people, what do you do to, I use the word enablement, I was going to say indoctrinate, that seems maybe a little cultish but how do you get people to understand, like how do you train them? How do you make sure you’ve hired the right people in your culture?

Sean: We have a dedicated trainer on staff who’s developed a training program and a methodology. Our new director of CX comes from a training background so he’s incredible. He’s coming in to bring this level of strategic thinking into that team that is just eye-opening for us. We have a dedicated trainer, a dedicated QA person, and we have two team leads that are responsible for training and onboarding and the training program is exceptionally well run.

Most of the hiring is done through word of mouth, and it’s internal to the team. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re like, “Okay, this is getting a little bit monoculture, maybe we should force ourselves to go find out one or two other folks from outside the organization.” Just because there’s always a concern.

Joseph: With new ideas, different perspectives. Yes.

Sean: Yes, new thoughts, new perspectives, new ways of doing things, different people that have been trained by other organizations. There’s no reason for us to think we’ve got this wrangle every single time. It was incredible. Overall, that team had experienced quite a low turnover for quite some time and so it’s been good though, the team has adapted to this new environment very well. We empower them. I like the word empower. We empower them to do what’s right for the customer within reason. There are some guardrails but by and large, they are fully empowered to just take care of customers.

I’m one of those that believe the customer is right most of the time, not always. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes when we’re not communicating something clearly. To this day, we’re still debating on this is I think one of the things that will never fully be solved, but what should our return policy be? We have a 45-day return policy; they need to be returned in a new kind of condition. We also encourage people to wear them around the house for a couple of weeks to try to break them in or if you’ve worn them around the house for a couple of weeks, they look used, so where do we draw the line about treating customers right, versus the operational risk of having an unlimited go ahead and break them in running them for a bit?

If you’re not 100% satisfied inside of X days, go ahead and ship them back. It’s a real challenge honestly. That’s one of those ones it’s like– I surveyed the marketplace, people are all over the board, everyone from Nike to Adidas to Allbirds, everyone’s got a different return policy and it’s just interesting.

Joseph: I think the thing that you said which is the right approach, though, is about empowerment.

Sean: Yes.

Joseph: I don’t know if you know Danny Cox. Danny leads the customer experience of Breeze Airways. He’s in Salt Lake City. He shared with me a story of how when you’re traveling you talk about issues that happen and like the old way, they used to do it like your flight’s been canceled, there are no more flights tonight, we’re going to book you in some random hotel around the airport somewhere. What they did was they basically changed it and just said to customers, they said, “Hey, go book wherever you want” because let’s say you’re a member here or a member there, and just literally text us a picture of your receipt and we’re going to give you a credit for it.

Sean: That’s so amazing.

Joseph: People were like, “Oh my God, that’s crazy. People are going to stay at the four seasons.” He’s like, “No, you give them some guide rails.” It turns out that customers are happier. It makes it more efficient because now everyone who is on the plane is just booking a hotel and of course, if they want help, they will help you to find a hotel. If you ask, of course, they will do it but if you’re a traveler, probably 80% of the people are like, I’d rather just book my own hotel and just send you a receipt. That’s about empowerment. It’s about you just doing the right thing for customers and making it easy. I just think that that mindset of that culture is really, it’s just so key to delivering great service.

Sean: Yes.

Joseph: You touched a little on the pandemic, obviously, we’re more than two years into it. What other things, obviously, the remote work was a big one.

Sean: Yes.

Joseph: What other things happened to the business? Did you learn from the business? What changed? How did you adjust to what you think are interesting lessons? Did the way people communicate change in the pandemic? Did people buy different products in the pandemic? I’m curious.

Sean: Yes. Frank, transparently a lot of the decisions that we had been making just happened to line up. We benefited a lot from the pandemic transparently in several different ways, one way, probably my favorite statistic, which everyone would like probably to snap their neck violently agreeing with if I said it out loud is in 2020, over 2019, the sale of dress shoes dropped 70% year over year, not for us, globally.

Joseph: I’m wearing shoes right now just for the record.

Sean: The world stopped going to church, they’re not going to weddings in church. They’re not dressing up like athleisure became the default mode of the entire country. So as primarily a sneaker and comfort brand, we benefited as a result of some of those changes for sure. The other big thing is as a product company and an e-commerce company is shipping times and lead times, and just trying to manage and predict inventory levels when you don’t know what’s going to happen. In 2020, it was difficult because things contracted for about two weeks, and early in mid-March of 2020, and then everyone went, “Oh, okay. I can’t go to restaurants. I can’t travel. I’ve got all this extra money in my pocket. I’m going to go buy stuff.”

It became a thing-oriented economy instead of a service, an experience-oriented economy and we saw that in the global numbers. The acceleration of e-commerce adoption-

Joseph: It went through the roof-

Sean: -It went through the roof, and that put some pressure on us in the summer months transparently, because we were low on inventory. We weren’t out, but we were lower than we would like to have been and then 2021 comes in and this federal stimulus checks hit and no one had predicted that. If you’re watching it, if you’re ordering six months in advance, you can’t react enough to that happening.

I think in March of last year my forecast was, I think, pretty, accurate and we did 50% better than what I had forecasted in March. That continued in April of last year because the federal government dropped $1,200 checks in everybody’s account, and you had this additional burst of activity and so that put additional new pressure on us last summer in June and July. This summer we’re over inventory and I’m excited to see what a real June and July will look like from our sell-through rates and our conversion rates and everything else. That was a big aspect of how the pandemic affected us.

Joseph: Planning the business is challenging.

Sean: It’s harder. It’s difficult to get accurate.

Joseph: Yes. One of the things you did recently, and I don’t know if this was a result of the pandemic or not, was sabbaticals team and you talk about helping people with life goals. I think you used the phrase once cultural touchstone moments. What was the thinking behind that, what’s happened?

Sean: Yes, so we want to create a culture here at KURU, I think we’re one of the best-kept secrets in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is an incredibly innovative and entrepreneurial place. It’s filled with amazing companies. Well, I’m going to go ahead and say it, there’s probably more unicorns per capita in Salt Lake City than anywhere other than maybe Silicon Valley there, and we’re primarily known for big B2B SAS companies. Companies like Podium and Weave and Adobe and Qualtrics and the likes. There are so many incredible companies that are doing really great work over their divvy.

We’re this little bitty fast-growing entrepreneurial e-commerce business and I want us to be known as an employer of choice in Salt Lake Valley. I want to be able to take my pick. When we post a job, I want everyone who’s highly qualified to be begging to come to work for us. That happens when you have a great track record of success and growth, and you have a great track of hiring highly capable skilled talent that puts that word out and becomes a magnet for other talents.

Then it also happens when you create benefits and other things that I think get talked about and are highly valued. We explored this idea of a sabbatical, and ultimately made the decision to do it and we did it by tying the whole program into our mission as a company. Our mission is to help our customers pursue their life’s passion, potential, and purpose. When you have foot pain, you can do none of those things. By removing that foot pain and allowing people to get back to normal, we think we’re turbocharging their ability to focus on those larger life goals. When we rolled out the sabbatical program, we did the same thing, but it’s for our employees instead of for our customers and so rather than making someone wait 10 years to earn a sabbatical with us, we do it at 3, 6, and 9 years.

Every 3 years, we may have got to 12 and 15, but at three years of employment with us, you get a week off work and a thousand dollars. We want you to take that time and that money to go check off one of your life goals so when we hire you, Joseph, when you come work for us, we’re going to ask you, identify your big bucket list items, right. Help us capture those things and put them on and we hang them on the wall. The whole idea of the program is to use that time and that money to go and do something that you wouldn’t have otherwise had the resources or the time to go and do. Then when you come back, we want to hear you tell everyone all about it and so we had one of our team members who immigrated here when he was three or four from Mexico. Just use his sabbatical to go back for the first time in 25 years and meet with his ancestors, his great aunts, and grandparents in Mexico.

Joseph: Oh, awesome. That’s so great.

Sean: It’s incredible, and he’s got these incredible pictures and it was this life-changing moment for him. We, as an employer, played a small role in making that happen and he’s a highly valued team employee and that’s a cultural touchstone moment. When he comes back and we’re going to have our all-hands here in a couple of weeks, we’re going to ask him to stand up and talk about it in front of the whole company. It’s great, it has the potential to be in an incredible program, and by getting people to state these are the things that are important to me that are these bucket list items, and we literally call it the life goals program. It’s the hashtag life goals. I’m excited to see where it takes us as a company, and it’s effective so far.

Joseph: Yes. It’s cool because you’re supporting people and because I do think that people talk a lot about work-life balance, and I think that that concept is not right. There’s a professor from Penn and Wharton that I’ve known for years, and he has a different approach, which I really like, which is that you really want to optimize both of those things. Because balance the problem with balance when you think about a scale, the justice, you think about the scales of justice, one must go up for the other to go down, right? I think that that idea of how you optimize and try to integrate and you’re supporting people in their personal lives to do things like that, they bring that value back to their work and I just think that’s an awesome idea.

Sean: Yes, a guy I used to work with used to say, there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only work-life integration and how you integrate those two things together is everything. I love it. It makes a ton of sense. I’ve always agreed with him, and I agree with you as well. It makes a ton of sense to me.

Joseph: The name of the podcast is Radically Personal and so you may have heard this, but I like to ask everybody to share. If you can share something radically personal about you that most people don’t know, maybe it had an impact on who you are today, and how you think of the world and your work. What would that be?

Sean: Well, many people, I guess know it, but those that are closest, but I was a competitive tennis player all through high school and college. Traveled quite a bit and I’m just a very competitive guy. It’s not that I like the competitive nature of it. For me, it’s less about winning, and more about not losing.

Joseph: I love it. That’s great. Well, in closing, what’s next for you and KURU, and where do you want to go?

Sean: Right now, we are in the process of re-platforming the whole business away from Magento into Shopify, so we just kicked off a huge project. It’s going to be five or six months. Our whole tech stack is changing. Almost every single tech tool that we use is changing, except for Gladly. The only thing that was completely off-limits as we made that decision was that we must continue working with Gladly, so thanks for all that you have done for us.

Joseph: Thank you.

Sean: We’re super happy to be a customer, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you all and continue to evolve our program as we go into the new world with Shopify instead of Magento.

Joseph: Well, Shopify, it’s a great platform. We’re excited to continue to partner with you and continue the journey. I can’t thank you and the team enough for all the partnership and feedback and look forward to many, many, many, many more years together. Thanks for taking the time today. I really appreciate it.

Sean: It was such an honor. Thanks. Thanks so much.

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ABOUT THE HOST
ABOUT THE HOST

With a proven track record of building companies that don’t settle for the status quo, Gladly CEO and co-founder Joseph Ansanelli is reinventing customer service to put people back at the heart of it. Joseph is also a Partner at Greylock, focused on investing in enterprise applications.


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