Podcast

Proven Strategies To Better Lead Your Business—with Matt Hulett

By , May 24, 2021

Discover how Matt Hulett led Rosetta Stone as it pivoted to stay relevant during difficult times and how he uses culture and leadership to help businesses grow.

Rosetta Stone was struggling to stay relevant despite having a 97% brand awareness in the United States. But the company pulled through the difficult times by staying unique to their brand while pivoting according to necessity. The good news is that they did manage to stay relevant, thanks to the leadership of Matt Hulett. Matt is the President of the company, which is a world-renowned leader in technology-based language and literacy learning. Matt is helping entrepreneurs and other small or large business owners by giving practical advice in pivoting company progress in order to unlock their full potential. Join your host, Meny Hoffman as he sits down with Matt and discusses business leadership and how you can level up your company for the future.

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Proven Strategies To Better Lead Your Business—with Matt Hulett

Have you ever traveled and you pass by the airport and you see huge billboards or even kiosks selling Rosetta stone products? Our guest is Matt Hulett. He is the President of the iconic company Rosetta Stone, a world-renowned leader in technology-based language and literacy learning. With many years of experience building and leading world-class company in the private and public sectors, including Realnetworks, Expedia, and more, Matt is passionate about sharing his experiences with other business leaders to help them unlock their potential and succeed. He’s a regular featured in technology and business media outlets such as Recode, Forbes, Entrepreneurs, and others. He’s the author of the book, Unlock: Five Questions to Discover your Business Potential. This is a great interview because you’re able to hear from Matt what it takes to come into a company that hit a plateau and ultimately turn that company around, which he did multiple times in his career.

This episode is full of golden nuggets and full of practical advice on how to go about different parts of your company when it comes to pivoting and making your company agile so you could progress, and most importantly, the importance of unlocking your full potential. We also spoke about culture, leadership, and ultimately, Matt shares why he has this mission of going out there and supporting small businesses and leaders to help them unlock their full potential. Without further ado, here’s my interview.

Matt, thank you so much for joining me on the show.

I’m excited to be here. Long-time listener, first-time caller.

That’s great to hear. I have been introduced to you. I read a little bit about yourself. We connected on LinkedIn as well, and I figured this would make a great interview. As I mentioned to you, our audience is looking for no-nonsense advice. The people within the trenches. Your background and including what you’re doing, is all about leadership, taking the challenge, making this into opportunities, growing, pivoting, and so on and so forth. For our readers, give us that backstory just a little bit to put things in context before we get going on the real questions.

Thanks for that. Thanks for having me. For some of your readers, do you remember the original TV show called MacGyver? It’s about a protagonist that somebody using science, his logic, and his brain come out. He figured out how to get out of any situation. I think they have another version of that now, but I think of myself as MacGyver because I’m typically brought in to companies to fix them and then grow them. That’s what I’ve been doing for many years. That’s ranged whether it’s been a startup or a big public company. If there’s a strategy problem, management problem, capital problem, or all the above, I’m usually brought in to fix things.

Obviously, every company that you came in, probably on different occasions and different size companies, as you mentioned before, but what are the common denominators when you come into a company, what is the process, and how you approach that?

There are common themes, regardless of business model or vertical. It changes a little bit by size because you don’t need to be as formal in a five-person company than you have to be in a 500-person company, obviously. In general, I find that most businesses don’t quite understand their strategy. They’re not as tight to their strategies as they should be. There’s a process I used to take businesses through that I call an insight score. It’s like a FICO score for someone’s business. I walked through a process of listening and learning for about 90 days to figure out what that score is. The score basically takes where the timing is for the business, the total addressable market, the real plan, the momentum of the business, and try to figure out what’s going on with the business because most businesses want to be market share leaders and they haven’t done the hard work to determine if they can be there. I’m always surprised that walking into companies, one of the first questions I asked is, what are the numbers you look at to determine that you’re successful? Usually, you hear lots of different numbers or you hear people pointing to somebody else to answer that question.

Most businesses want to be market share leaders without having to have done the hard work to determine if they can be there. Click To Tweet

This reminds me of such an important point that business owners, especially if you come from an entrepreneurial background where you’re just by luck or you have this passion. You started the company and then ultimately, the company started growing, it outgrew you as a leader. You probably have zero clue on the numbers side. They maybe have a bookkeeper, a CFO, controller, or whatever it is. It’s in a room with a leader asking for numbers and you say, “Let me pull in my CFO for some numbers.” There needs to be that set of metrics where the business owners need to benchmark themselves as where they go with the company.

There’s an answer for any kind of strategic outcome that you want. It’s okay to have a business in a niche that’s generating a lot of cash. I’ve done those businesses. I’ve done venture capital, hyper-growth businesses but it’s what you want to do as a business owner and leader that’s we’re going to drive all these investment decisions. When it comes down to it, as you said, brass taxes, I’m always surprised at how many businesses don’t understand the core unit economics. They don’t understand how much they get from each customer, how much does it cost to acquire those customers, and how it trickles down in the cashflow. It’s shocking to me but that’s easily fixed.

Those are nice problems to have when you find a business where the business is growing despite itself. It becomes a little more problematic when it’s a leaky bucket. There’s a lot of customers not renewing, or you’re spending more than you’re making. I think you start with the simple questions first. What do you want to achieve? How does the business work? What makes you special? That’s the process that I do for about 90 days, and I usually figure it out, but it’s the simple questions that are almost the most disarming.

Would you say that most of those companies or what you’re seeing out there now when companies do not arrive to the fullest potential, is it usually the people behind it, the process, or the product? Where do you find the bottleneck for companies that hit a plateau or even worse than that?

To be honest, I think it’s hardest for an entrepreneur to upgrade themselves and understand when to let go. It’s the most common problem that I see, and this is for really small businesses. In fact, my wife is a CEO of a non-alcoholic beverage company that she started by herself. It’s funny to watch her start her business. It’s an awesome product. People love it. The thought of her hiring an employee or two because she outsources everything is not even in her brain because she wants that. She controls the entire process, which is similar to most entrepreneurs that I’ve talked to. They don’t understand what they’re good at, what they want to do, and how to start scaling areas of the business that they don’t want to focus on or they’re not good at. I don’t know what you’ve seen, but to me, it’s people.

It reminds me of a line that I’ve heard from Brian Scudamore from 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. He said, “Once upon a time, you identified yourself. I have a service business, product business, and SaaS business. Now, it’s all a people business.” It starts with the people and the bottleneck is the people. Of course, in order to have transactions, you have that service, their product, whatever it is. Ultimately, you could sell the simplest product like pens and be so successful because you have the right people driving the vision, the strategy, and everything else.

I know people that sell pens. I know people that sell things that are remarkable. You look at that and you’re like, “That’s the most unsexy business imaginable.” They turn into amazingly interesting businesses because they’re able to scale. They have the right people around them.

I think you mentioned something that it’s worth digging in, which is as an entrepreneur, as you start at one point, you think you are the business and the business is you. Anything that if I’m going to delegate or how I’m going to spend myself and lose control, but ultimately, you become the bottleneck. Talk us through some practical advice. I know we are now living through this COVID situation where we see so many pivots happening within companies. Once upon time, it took years to pivot, but now, you saw companies doing it in a matter of days or weeks. There are major changes in these large corporations. You have been involved in a lot of those large corporations. Once you identify the person or the bottleneck in the company, how do you approach those rocks within companies in order to turn them around?

It’s a hard question to answer succinctly. I would start with a couple of things. It depends on the size of the company. I can tell you a couple of stories; that might be more helpful. I’ve been a part of as president Rosetta Stone, Expedia, some big companies, and very small companies that no one’s ever heard of. To me, it’s always key to get alignment. What I mean by that is, even before we have a conversation around whether we want to change the culture or values, which are incredibly important to get right, are organic, need to manifest, change all the time, and get it reinforced before you do the work of the people piece, I always like to get alignment with what are we trying to achieve?

LTB 81 | Business Pivot
Business Pivot: Most businesses don’t quite understand their strategy. They’re not as tight to their strategies as they should be.

 

I go back to business school. Michael Porter, the economist who had the great set of principles that he rolled out, but all strategy can be dumbed down to whether you’re going after a low cost or a premium strategy, whether that’s a horizontal marketplace or a vertical. That’s a strategy. What I often find with alignment is, is the business aligned around how much capital it requires to achieve their outcome? That’s the first thing I started with. Even before I go into, is this the right entrepreneur, is this the right team, is this the right culture, are there communication things that are broken. Are we even aligned? I find that’s super important. I’ve run into this before, I’m putting money into a young company and they have no idea what they’re aligned to.

They want to be a market share leader, give away product for free but they also have a premium offering, they’re not going to raise enough capital to go after this big opportunity, or they raised too much. It all starts with the alignment of what are we trying to achieve and is the strategy lined up to what we want to achieve. Once you get there, then it goes into, “Once you’ve figured that out, let’s assess what the team looks like.” This can be done in very small teams or very big teams but assessing like, “Is the organization aligned to achieve these outcomes?” For example, when I went to Rosetta Stone, it’s a very well-known brand in language learning. I started the company years ago.

You couldn’t pass the airport without seeing them.

That’s the fine point of the story. I walk into the business and it’s not doing well. It’s shrinking. No one knows what’s going on. No one has personal goals. I’m not kidding. There’s a lot of things wrong. Most business owners and executives are probably reading, like, “I don’t know what Matt is talking about. I have these perfect dials. I turned. I know my acquisition costs. I’m hiring all those people.” Imagine all those dials of perfection turn to the left called not working well all the way to zero. Walking to the business after answering these questions, like what are we trying to achieve? What’s the strategy that will get an outcome that we want? What is the best business for that strategy? Then working down through,” What are the tactics and initiatives to get there and then who do we need around us to achieve that?”

Meny, you said that in one sentence. I said, “What about the Rosetta Stone brand as a consumer brand?” They’re like, “That’s not going to work.” I was literally like, “We have a $2 billion Goodwill in the brand and we’re not even focused on it.” Everyone knows who Rosetta Stone is. We basically moved away from the consumer business. “Why is that?” “Duolingo is free and we have these competitors.” I’m like, “We have 97% awareness in the United States and people want the product.” We had a product in mobile. It was the most expensive product in the App Store and we had one SKU.

People still liked it. We’re getting high App Store reviews. Yet, we were focused completely on this other business that we still have in the enterprise space, but we didn’t know how to do a B2B SaaS business. It’s a little bit harder than this, but as usual, you got to the point quickly is, “Everyone knows the brand.” I started with that. It’s like, “In business, you always want to have something unique and an edge. What are you doing differently than no one else can do? What’s that unique thing?” In my case, walking into Rosetta Stone, the most obvious thing was we have one of the world’s most iconic brands in learning in general and we’re spending $0 against that. In fact, the consumers that are using the product that isn’t even optimized love it, so why don’t we do more of that? They’re like, “Matt, certainly you’re embellishing a little bit.” “I’m not.” This comes up time and time again because a lot of times, if you stared at a Rubik’s Cube for eight years and you haven’t figured it out, it feels really bad to turn that next square. That’s some of the problems when you’re too close to some of these preconceived notions about your business.

Let me ask you some additional questions. If some of the information are confidential, then you are feeling free to let me know that, and our audience will understand. The marketing budget for that brand is coming out objectively. Meaning to say, marketing dollars are being spent and then the focus is driving somewhere else for shiny object syndrome. We’re looking at something. What else could we do? What’s the disconnect? Before you come in, where were the leaders or people within a company lose focus when there is so much attention towards the marketing direction?

When I talked about alignment on the strategy, in simple terms, I would call it capital allocation. If I’m going to give a business a dollar, what do I expect in terms of return? If there’s another business that I have that can generate a much more efficient IRR, Internal Rate of Return, then I should apply it there. To me, it starts with that. Assume that one of these businesses dies. That was the overall strategic assumption where the business was spending its money, it was putting money in another division that we had that helps K-12 kids in school to learn how to read better, which by the way, is a fantastic place to spend our dollars. Since 2/3 of kids, by the time they hit a grade three, are reading below grade level. I joined the company because I’m dyslexic. Since the language group was floundering because there was no strategy, we allocated all our money on the other division that was growing much faster, which was probably the right decision at that time. Yet, I showed with a little bit of incremental capital. We could start growing this business. We got it to over $100 million in 2020. It was $67 million the year prior.

In order for entrepreneurs to upgrade themselves, they need to understand when to let go of control. Click To Tweet

Let’s speak about leadership in general. This is basically the alignment of the team and understanding where to focus on. You’ve probably dealt with so many different companies. You would have experienced to answer it on a general term. There is a common question leader have, myself included, not to take myself out of the equation, there is the leader’s vision and then there’s alignment with team vision. At which point is the leader saying, “This is the vision. You’re either on the bus or take the next stop. Let me bend my vision because we need to have team alignment.” What’s the balance with that?

I maybe answer it differently. I always tell teams that I work with that it’s not about the leader in general. I don’t mean to sound like every other piece of advice that we read about servant leadership, which I believe in. To me, I always described a business as not a family as much as a sports team and the company comes first. If we all agree as a business and we’ve done the work to agree on what our good values are, I hate corporate values that say things like, “We want to have integrity.” Who cares? Everyone should have integrity in their business. What’s special and unique to the business? For example, I like colloquial values and I have one in our team that says, “Be prepared to let go of the cube.” If you’re a new employee coming into the business, you’d be like, “What the heck is this guy talking about letting go of the cube.”

Letting go of the cube requires a story. It came back to a value that we permeated through the company. The value is we have to empower everyone to make decisions versus trying to do everything ourselves. The story of letting go of the cube was, I was at one of those group offsites, you pay someone $2,000, and you fall backwards and the people’s arms and stuff. I think you’ve ever done that stuff before. They’re usually pretty good. This one was horrible. I was the worst attendee there because there was a structure we had to build and it was this cube.

I had to put all these little pixie sticks together and I went into micromanagement mode and I just said, “I got it from here.” The whole purpose of the task was multiple people would help you build the structure and I would let go of the cube. Everyone made fun of me. I said, “This is a learning moment. We’re going to change some of our cultural values to talk about this because we’re small cap public company up against people with hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital. Let’s start integrating the types of values that we want as a team to reinforce that in the culture.”

To answer your question, a long-winded way is a leader should be aligned to the values and culture, and then that should be the no decker sticker throughout the organization. There is no difference between the leader’s vision and the team vision. You should all be aligned. There can be a difference of opinion, but the strategic focus and the North star of that business should all be aligned. If you don’t have that, then you have one division thinking that they’re better than the other. This project’s more important than that important. I am very transparent about the value that you were going to generate, the strategy, and the initiatives. Those aren’t up for discussion. How you get there absolutely in your control. I don’t know if that helped answer the question.

Speaking about values, at Ptex, we have our core values. It’s something we always say, “You need to be able to be ingrained. This is the common denominator between all of us.” The example I use is when one of my parents call me up, they want to do a project, and the reason I can hand them over to one of our team members and say, “They’ll do a better job,” is because I know we have instilled the same core values in how we approach a project. Sometimes, we teach about core values and somebody says, “I love whatever you have. Could I use them all?” I say, “You could use them but you got to put them into action. It’s not just a nice something on the website or on the wall when somebody walks in.” Again, these are the things that, as leadership and as teamwork, we have to hold each other accountable. That becomes the culture of excellence, I always say.

When you speak about culture, one of the things that Google did a disservice for the business community is because when you ask, “Name a business with a great culture?” People will say, “Google, because they have ping pong tables and babysitting service.” That’s perks. It’s part of a good and playful culture, but a culture of excellence means that there are guiding principles on how we operate and how we should be able to treat each other. That’s the common denominator that helps a leader and a company achieve bigger results.

We’re in alignment there. I always think of the values as these are the norms and principles of how we behave, and the culture is our daily reinforcement of living through those values. I agree with you. The Amazon, you make your desk out of a door that real thrifty internal culture and it’s actually not BS. I have friends of mine who fly trans-Atlantic on coach because Amazon is like, “You’re not going to call up your travel agency and get first-class upgrades. This is not how we do it. We believe in passing through the value of all the costs right down to the consumer.” Obviously, you could poke at things and say, “They do this and that.” They have the most complicated set of cultural values that I’ve ever read. They’re very long. I’m sure you’ve read them as well, or the Netflix deck. You do those things for a reason because they’re unique, you hire against them, you fire against them and you promote against them.

I agree with you that this convoluted notion of the perks or the frills are a component of the culture. Those are tactics around the culture. Those are reinforced of certain elements. For instance, when we do this Rockstar award at Rosetta Stone, I don’t spend any money against it. I could be handing out $500, $1,000, or Amazon gift cards. I do this recognition program and I get a cowbell out because we’re all remote still at Rosetta stone. Most people are. I bang the cowbell, I put this crazy wig on, and I’m yelling and stuff. That gets more people pumped than me handing them $50. I call their name out. I say, “Congratulations.” That may work in my culture. It may not work in your culture. I always feel like organically, you have to check your culture. It could change over time.

LTB 81 | Business Pivot
Business Pivot: Start with the simple questions first. What do you want to achieve? How does the business work? And what makes you special?

 

For instance, I’ve gone into companies and it’s been a little bit off, meaning, it used to be the right culture, and now, it needs to be something different like if you’re trying to go from a harvest mode to a growth mode, or growth mode to a not so growth mode. Saying different things in your culture values becomes a little bit false. I think you have to still make it dynamic and relevant to your company and it can change over time. Hopefully, not that much. Your strategy shouldn’t be changing that much, your tactics should, but I agree with what you’re saying.

I want to shift the conversation to an important topic. I know that in Rosetta Stone, they started off in the CD world or even the records and eventually became a subscription-based and a SaaS, Software as a service, which is a very significant pivot. We’ve seen companies like Blockbuster and others go out of business not making the pivot in the right timing. We’ve seen it now with COVID as well. What have you seen and what has those pivots? What can we learn as business owners from what’s happening?

My first answer is, it’s not me, it’s the team, and I mean that sincerely. One of my superpowers is I know what I’m not good at and I have really great people. I don’t take credit for anything. Occasionally I do, but I have a phenomenal team first, and I truly believe them. My team knows this. I get very emotional. I love my team. Not everyone that was with the business when I started ended up being the right people on the other side of that pivot. That’s the other hard piece to it. As a business leader, you may be going through a traunch of growth or down where do you have to make these hard decisions as a business and then also understand the empathy of the person. Being a real person and a good human being to the people who aren’t right for the business on the other side. That’s a very difficult thing to learn and be a true good person and empathetic person around that.

To answer your question, I had to convince a public company board within 90 days of starting that, one, their enterprise business model focusing on selling language learning services wasn’t the focus. Two, we’re going to shift 100% of our focus to a consumer business that was largely a CD that was perpetually ported over to a mobile device. I got their support. It took us a while to bring in and met new people that had some brand and marketing expertise and get the right product figured out. In some cases, we brought in some contract engineering teams that were really good at mobile, and that was important to us because most people want to learn a language on a mobile device. It reconstructed based again on the alignment, the strategy, and then who are the people against that strategy that we needed to hire or upgrade. A lot of people came along for the ride as well. I don’t know if that answer your question, but it goes back to first principles for me. It’s not me, it’s the team. It’s my job to make sure it’s the right strategy, or I don’t have a job and making sure that we hire the right people against that strategy to execute.

The second part of my question is based on what you’ve seen the last twelve months in general business with pivoting large corporations, companies shifting the business model, or adding revenue streams. Have you seen a major contrast between some companies that are very good at it versus others that have lagging and then now suffering the consequences? What can we learn as business as a whole?

I think what we’ve learned is particularly, this is a bias towards digital eCommerce. Two things, one is digital eCommerce companies that were in the right place at the right time certainly benefited digital eCommerce companies that weren’t quite there but pivoted very quickly, accelerated massively. You go back to, was Shopify the right place at the right time? Absolutely. COVID probably pulled forward about ten years’ worth of eCommerce for their business. The companies that did quarterly planning, they did OKR’s. Agile processes across our business we’re able to adapt very quickly. You saw a lot of companies change their operating plans, offering relief for first responders, helping out where they could with COVID, inevitably focused on societal needs and our learners and their customers first, ended up really doing well.

In fact, Rosetta Stone was one of those companies. We gave away free software to every district that had a little bit of our license in our K-12 business. Not because we wanted to profit from it, because we wanted to help kids and parents. That business is taking off. For me, that was a cultural value. That reinforced the cultural value. We want to make sure that anyone should be able to learn how to read, write, and speak with confidence. That reinforced then people got more excited, worked harder, and delivered more software, and this virtuous cycle developed. That’s a good example. Then there’s a lot of businesses that didn’t do well. They weren’t prepared and they didn’t change how they worked. I look at another one I used to work years ago for a guy named Rich Barton, CEO of Zillow.

He’s a master of pivoting. In fact, Zillow completely changed how they work and are now embracing remote first. That’s a massive pivot. At Rosetta Stone, we were always remote first. We have offices everywhere. We have remote employees everywhere. I think about the people that were positioned for that digital transformation did well. The folks that were able to be agile in terms of how they onboard employees around their businesses, move from office to remote, those businesses were very successful. That comes down to being agile in your leadership and being able to empower your employees to come up with new solutions. The story there is, I was outside of Seattle, Everett, Washington. The first case of COVID, I called up the CEO of Rosetta Stone. I’m the President, he’s the CEO, and said, “This is serious. I read this very long boring medical journal. Someone died here outside of Seattle.” The response was, “Maybe you’re blowing it out of proportion.” I got a little team together and we had a completely new plan on how to run the business within a week. This is a public company. Businesses that think in an agile way, not just engineering teams. When people hear agile, they think, “Here’s the engineering team guy.” No. Any team like legal, HR, and business leaders are thinking about how they can be agile in terms of their initiatives that they’re doing and being able to move rapidly are the ones that obviously benefited a COVID but will benefit at any time.

In business, you always want to have something unique that no one else can do. Click To Tweet

Let me ask you a follow-up twofold question. We’re speaking about agility in general. I know this has been a buzzword for a couple of years now, in particular, during COVID and hopefully, it’s going to stay. Give us some practical tips as far as leaders that have this robust way of operating and they want to become a little bit more agile. First, how do they start, so to speak? Second of all, how do you do it, especially if you have a remote team when we can just hop on, “Let’s get into the conference room. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s walk out with a decision?” Maybe some do’s and don’ts or some practical stuff how you operate.

I’ll be practical. I know sometimes my team is like, “Matt, are you a consultant?” I’m like, “Please, don’t offend me by saying that.” Here are two pieces of advice. Don’t build things that no one wants and don’t fund things that don’t work. You’re like, “No kidding. That’s obvious.” What I mean by that is whatever the words you use, and there’s tons of agile everything. Kanban, there’s all these words. The main thing is don’t deploy enough capital or human energy on an idea, a product, a service, and a process, or whatever it is to get a little bit of data to determine whether you should keep going. Bigger companies call that stage gating.

Here’s a true example and this is a failed company. I want to build a tutoring product in Korea. We don’t have any experience with any of that. We have some general hypotheses about it. We’re going to spend $1 million trying to do that. We plug along, spend $1 million, and we have very specific things we want to do and measure to determine whether they’re going to keep funding. It turns out in that test that I deployed, instead of building a product for adults, I built a product that kids wanted for tutoring. It’s completely different use case, not the right product. You could probably do smaller tests for a little amount of capital. I would say that try to define a process that’s for you. It doesn’t have to be an engineering-style process where you can get a no hypothesis figured out.

That could be as simple as if you’re a marketer, an ad with a different unique sales proposition. That can be as simple as a business owner wanting to organize sales differently. Instead of organizing 50 people and organizing them differently, why don’t you take one pod, account manager, and a sales rep together on this particular idea that you have for three months. Pay their commission if you think they’re going to not sell as well because they’re not going to make commission and see how that works. Try to break things into pieces against the null hypothesis because it’s so hard and so expensive to go backwards. Opportunity costs this.

It also delays the process. Sometimes, people over-complicate a product. Particularly, you could see it now with software and entrepreneurs. These laundry list of features that need to be in the product and only finding out after everything has said and done that there’s somebody else that did it faster and cheaper than them that’s more exciting for the end-user.

I want to get a little bit of your book, Unlock 5 Questions to Discover your Business Potential. Share with us a little bit about the motivation for the book and some of the content within the book that our readers might appreciate it.

Thanks for that. Actually, I have not publicly talked about it. I officially finished the manuscript. I’m not even debulging.

Perfect timing.

It seems like the setup. No. I signed with a publisher and finished the manuscript. I did it in two months. The reason why I wrote the book is I spent a lot of time on my career mentoring lots of different types of entrepreneurs. In fact, I spend most of my time now mentoring entrepreneurs that have less privileged then I was born with because all the folks that I’ve mentored that have had a lot of privilege, they’ll drive by my office in their Lamborghini and Hawk. There’s not a lot of fulfillment in that. It’s something else to give back to folks that haven’t had the same privileges that a lot of us had. That’s the first point.

LTB 81 | Business Pivot
Business Pivot: Values are the norms and principles of how we behave, and culture is our reinforcement of living through those values on a daily basis.

 

The second point is, most of the jobs that I’ve taken on, I almost called this book messy jobs. I start the book out, talking about my career feels like an analog to Liam Neeson in the movie Taken. I’m a man with a particular set of skills because I take on these jobs where they’re like, “I cannot believe this thing is still around. What are you going to do with it?” I’ve taken a lot of businesses that were left for dead and have grown them. The reason why I wrote the book is, if you’re a Netflix, Google, whoever, you’re the 1% of companies that are market leaders, you shouldn’t buy my book, but most businesses, big or small, want to do something different. Whether they’re a cash cow or a little company that’s growing fast. They need to figure out or want to figure out how to be a market leader.

When I was a young software product manager many years ago, I started a business with a partner and it was during Web 1.0, which was the big burst. Businesses that went public that didn’t really have any valid reason for being public. There wasn’t much of a business. That was my first taste of thinking through. There’s all this other side to the business that I better understand. Sequoia capital, a very famous venture capital firm invested in us. That venture capitalist, Michael Moritz is one of the most successful venture capitalists of all time that I was lucky to have to even be near. Did this famous slide deck called RIP, rest in peace? It talked about the value of cash.

That was a very weird, wild, and hard lesson to learn in your mid 20’s about how to run a business when things aren’t going your way. There were no resources for me. I had to make up all this stuff on my own. I started getting good at turning around businesses who were trying to figure out how to grow them to they’re market leaders. I couldn’t talk to any of my peers about it because they were already getting hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital, and they didn’t have to worry about these problems. I kept getting these jobs that were hard. They’re like, “We don’t have any money left. Do you want to join the board? Maybe you want to be the CEO.”

I was put into these situations that felt nearly impossible. I thought, “Who’s helping these entrepreneurs and executives?” Over time, I started building my little 90-day toolbox and how it helped companies. I decided to put that down on paper so that instead of paying $1,000 to $5,000 a day for a consultant that you’ll never see a return on, you can buy my book. Email me directly and I can give you a template on how to think it through. That’s the impetus. I just want to help anyone that wants to better their position in life because I think that’s the best thing we can do. In this life, wouldn’t it be great to unlock potential in others? That’s the impetus behind the book.

I get emotional when I hear words like this from a leader. My personal mission is I believe every person should be given the opportunity to succeed in life, and sometimes you have what it takes for that person to succeed. If you have that next step for that person, life is too short not to share and do stuff. Another point, I love the word “unlock” because there’s so much potential within a person, and people don’t even realize what they are able to achieve. Sometimes, all they’re missing is that direction, a tool or, “Get me out of where I’m stuck.” All of a sudden, they accelerate and they move fast.

I’m getting emotional as well. Can I tell you one more story?

Sure.

This may be running long, but one of my mentors, he’s still my coach now. He was my coach for track and field and cross country. He’s been my coach since I was in 7th grade and I still text him. He was the roommate of the legendary Steve Prefontaine, one of the most recognized long-distance runners in the United States. His coach was Bill Bowerman, who invented the waffle shoe and it became Nike. He’s right now the coach for the Wayne State Cross-Country coach in the United States. About unlocking potential, I learned a lot from him because we would, prior to matches, listened to very inspirational music, pictures of Steve Prefontaine. He cranks Queen, We Are The Champions to create a real ruckus around the whole event, so you were fired up. I remember that my coach had more enthusiasm and zeal for the worst runner than he did for the best runner. He carried that through to this day. He is still coaching me, like when I’ll have an up, I’ll have a down. He’ll give me advice. For him and to instill that in me is, the true joy is to get and unlock the best out of somebody. If you can do that, that’s transformational. That’s what really drives me.

The leader should always be aligned with the values and cultures of the team. Click To Tweet

As leaders, I always say there’s also another part to it, which is we don’t realize that but it makes us all stronger.

It does.

I know we couldn’t go on for a long time. Let’s close with four rapid-fire questions. Are you ready?

Yep.

Number one, a book that changed your life?

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell.

Number two, a piece of advice you got that you will never forget?

Never run out of money.

Number three, anything you wish you could go back and do differently?

I wish I could go back to my younger self and say, “Please, be patient. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Number four and final question, what’s still on your bucket list to achieve?

I had a prepared response and I change it. I would like to see my wife’s business become one of the top beverage companies in the world.

I have an advice for her. She could hire Matt to come in and accelerate the business.

I want to keep my marriage intact. We don’t meld our businesses together.

Matt, thank you so much for joining us. I know your time is valuable. That is why in the name of our readers, we will forever be grateful for sharing some of your time with us. It was a blast.

Thank you very much. I’m glad we went to some deep areas. Good questions as always. I’m really thankful to be on the show.

Thank you.

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About Matt Hulett

LTB 81 | Business Pivot

Matt Hulett is a seasoned technology executive with more than 30 years of experience building and leading world-class SaaS and consumer companies. Matt has led the growth of companies in the private and public sectors, including Rosetta Stone, RealNetworks, Expedia and many more. He has had multiple turnaround successes as a public company president as well as a private company CEO. Matt has a proven track record raising venture capital from blue chip firms (Sequoia Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Allen and Company, Intel Capital) with multiple liquidity events.
As President of Rosetta Stone, Matt is responsible for driving the transformation and growth for all aspects of the company’s Consumer and Enterprise & Education language businesses. Matt has led the company’s evolution from a declining perpetual business to a thriving software subscription business. He is regularly featured in technology and business podcasts and media outlets, such as Recode, Forbes, Entrepreneur and others. Matt has also been recognized with several awards, including Seattle Business Magazine’s 2020 Executive Excellence Award and Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.
Matt has a degree in Marketing and Information Systems from the University of Washington and lives in Seattle.
Meny Hoffman

Meny Hoffman

Meny Hoffman is the Chief Executive Officer of Ptex Group, an Inc. 500/5000-ranked marketing and business services firm headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.

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