When you’re a small but growing company, sometimes the best people to learn from are the big fish in your industry pond — the friendly ones that don’t eat you. This week Paul and Rich speak with Tracey Zimmerman, President and CEO of Robots & Pencils, a digital innovation firm working on similar projects as Postlight but at double the size. They compare notes with Tracey on what makes a successful innovator, how to build the right teams for your clients, and how to scale your organizational culture.
Tracey Zimmerman I’m not trying to oversimplify it, because there are definitely processes and systems in place and coaching and oversight and client management. But most of that gets solved by bringing in the right people. [music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]
Paul Ford Richard.
Rich Ziade Yes, Paul, how are you, my dear partner, and friend?
PF Good to see you. Good to see you. So look, we have a very special guest today.
RZ Ohhhh I love guests!
PF This is a dynamic person from a competitor agency, from another firm much like ours called Robots & Pencils. And we have to talk about what that all means. But this is someone who does what we do. And we’ve gotten to know this person, we were introduced for mutual friends simply because it’s like, I think literally it was you all kind of run your mouths in the same way. [Rich laughs]
RZ Something like that.
PF It turns out we do. We’re corporate leadership who should maybe not talk as much as we do. But you’re not going to change it. Tracey Zimmerman, welcome to Track Changes the official podcast of Postlight!
TZ Thank you for having me, Paul. I mean, I think that’s the kind of introduction I really appreciate, another leader that runs your mouth too much. I think it’s most accurate introduction I’ve ever had! [Paul laughs] Thank you for having me as your guests and I totally agree with our friend. He is right. Very similar talking to you.
PF Yeah, exactly.
RZ Tracey, tell us about Robots & Pencils which is, sounds like a daycare center. But go. [Tracey laughs]
TZ That is the first time I’ve ever been—I’ve gotten that comment before. So thank you for your creativity. [Rich & Paul laugh] I appreciate it. I’m not surprised with your street cred. But yeah, Robots & Pencils is similar to Postlight, like you said, I mean, we’re definitely working in the same space.
PF You’re bigger, you’re bigger. Right?
TZ For now, it seems like you guys are growing pretty fast. So maybe we will see.
PF Really, that’s all I do is wake up every day and go ‘Robots & Pencils, they’re gonna feel the heat!’ But yes, I think you’re like twice our size.
TZ We are, as of this week, I think 216 people.
TZ What about you guys?
PF We’re 90 edging on 100. Yeah, so twice our size. So good. Finally, somebody we can learn from on this podcast!
TZ Sometimes we teach what to do and sometimes we teach what not to do.
RZ By the way, if you want to reach out to Robots & Pencils it’s email@example.com. [Rich & Tracey & Paul laugh]
PF Oh yeah, we’ll take care of all those leads. Alright, so—
RZ Tell us, give us like a couple of like highlights of the work Robots & Pencils does.
TZ We build digital products with our clients, we worked very closely with them to try to understand where there’s really kind of high value use cases, lots of impact for their business. And then we tried to really work with them as well, to do sort of the right solutions. We tend to be kind of on the edge. Like we started with doing mobile app development before there was an app store. That’s our founding story, that’s in our DNA. And so we try to stay ahead of the curve, sort of harnessing great design and great engineering and bring it to the table for our clients. So we really have the Humanities and Sciences working closely together. So we are not a daycare center. We are a center of excellence, digital product builds. So our robots are our engineers. So they are like our scientists, and our pencils are our designers, UX, information architecture. So our whole kind of promises, they work together to give you the best outcomes. And that’s not a daycare center.
RZ I think that’s an overlap here in this is something we tell people is that design and engineering are not walled off as different services groups that actually work very closely together. Is that the case at Robots & Pencils?
TZ Yeah, totally. And both first class citizens, right. So that’s our founding, the first the co founders were a robot and a pencil. And so it’s always been that way. You know, a lot of firms that are in our competitive space, it’s like, ‘they had a bunch of developers like, oh, my gosh, we need some good designers!’ Or if it’s like a design agency, everything’s artistic, and they’ve got code monkeys in the back. Whereas ours are very level playing field and very integrated, like deliveries.
PF It’s like looking in a mirror. Like I’m looking at the headers on your website. And it’s just like Work, Expertise, About, we have Labs and you have Fun Labs, and we have Insights, and you have Blog. I think this is worth noting, right? Because it’s like, each company picked this place in the marketplace. First of all, I don’t know if we’ve actually gone up against you on anything, but like, there’s actually enough room in our particular part of this world, because it’s so badly underserved, this kind of like, I can build you the whole product.
RZ Well, I think it’s more than that. I think we’re gonna work through the problems together.
PF That’s right.
RZ Right, try some things.
PF This is a 200 person company, we’re close to 100 now, but like, you’re looking, I’m looking at your website, right. And the brands are big. It’s like Microsoft and Warner Brothers and Nike and we have the same thing. And it’s interesting because babies like us, you know, at this size, we are tiny companies compared to giant services firms, just unbelievably small. But the big orgs still need us. Why are they going with you instead of the firm that’s, you know, 150 times bigger and really knows Sitecore? And so on and so forth. Where do you come in?
RZ Related to that? Just to tack on to that question. Who is that? Who’s coming to you? What’s the roles that are coming to you?
TZ Well, actually, I’ll an answer Rich’s question first, because I think it brings that up a little bit. I kind of archetype the client that comes to us, I call that person the frustrated innovator, frustrated innovators are all around us, they tend to be in our experience, many times, they’re p&l leaders. So they’re line leaders are in the business, we do work with CIOs, of course, sometimes as a primary contact, sometimes as a secondary contact. But often what’s happening to our clients is they have a great idea to either you know, grow their business be more competitive in their marketplace and have an innovation project, or they have a way that they really think they can cut costs, if they got a better system. And they’re just not able to get it done for whatever reason. Often, it’s because there’s just so many other things going on inside of an organization, and they can’t get the work prioritized, right? That’s particularly true in that enterprise, or even the mid market. We also do quite a bit of work with startups. And that’s like a whole, you know, it’s similar, but it’s a different ballgame. Because you know, then you really become whatever they need at that point in their, like, you’re either their whole outsource team, sometimes we’re co-delivering with them. Sometimes we’re open up interview and hire people. So pretty flexible.
PF Will you take equity? Do you build with them? Or is it like, how does that work in your world?
RZ No comment! [Rich laughs]
PF No comment is fine. No comment is fine. No, we get we get asked a lot. And it sort of like, I mean, we’re always open to the conversation, but it’s just hard to do.
TZ It seems like a brilliant idea. And my team brings it up all the time. Like why don’t we just take equity in this startup? So the answer is we have sometimes done that is part of our pay. We typically don’t want to put a lot at risk. So we have a payroll that we have to make like we’re more bootstrap business like you guys are. And so it’s a different business model. And at the end of the day, the thing that’s difficult about taking, you know, the equity is like we can guarantee the product will get done and delivered, if we have all the levers, and then we often don’t. And then you know, even the products delivered, there’s a lot of other dependencies, whether they’re regulatory, or go to market marketing, you know, leadership team on the client side, etc. So it’s not, it’s not impossible, but we don’t do it very often. We have done it sometimes. And we also, you know, can try to be flexible in terms of sometimes terms and things like that, like we get when they’re managing with cash flow, but it’s a little bit—
PF We have the exact, we’re in the same spot. Like it’s just, it’s funny. I think people just assume it’s the smartest thing you could ever do. And it’s like, no, that’s literally why there are VC firms. That’s why like, it’s then I have two jobs. I don’t have time and energy to manage a portfolio of possibly interesting investments. And that’s really, it’s an awkward thing. I think, for people to hear, they just kind of assumed it’s like my—and especially because when they come and they pitch when they’re entrepreneurs, and they’re so excited. And they’re like, ‘and aren’t you going to help us build this?’ and it’s like…
TZ I have two things, two points to that, because obviously you’ve been around this block a lot. So one is the kind of thing I said before, which is hard to manage the outcomes, there’s a lot of project risk in the beginning, that’s just true of anything you’re building, especially the more custom it is, the more mature it is. You go and start up marketplace, they might pivot three or four times before they even do their first release. And you guys know that. But the other half of that is we do have our own internal products that we experiment with. So we have a methodology that we call Fun Labs that we use to kind of essentially bet on our team’s ideas, right. And so now I do see next generation of firm, I would love to do more, you know, shared equity arrangements, co-development, things like that. We’re just not there yet. But so sometimes when I go look, startup founder, you’re basically competing for my team’s ideas. And we have incubated and spun out some successful products. And I believe we’ll do more and more. So like we, you know, built Missions inside of Robots & Pencils, and then Slack, bought it and integrated in his workflow builder. And so we want to continue to kind of bet on our team’s ideas or have some kind of shared equity with existing clients. It’s hard with startups, right? Because startups like that is their IP, that is their idea. So they’re not the best position to give up any ownership either.
PF How do you decide what to build in labs? What’s your process?
TZ That’s a great question. So with Fun Labs, which is our current mechanism, it’s pretty complicated. It was designed by game designers. And it was designed to solve the problem we had at the time, which was we were funding some of the team’s ideas, and nobody knew how or why. Right? So somebody was sort of petitioning the executive team, we were going okay, fine. You can work on this for a while. As we grew, you know, it’s kind of hearsay, and people are like, ‘oh, they’re working on their cool product idea what’s going on with that? I want to be part of that. How come you’re not finding my idea?’ I’m like, what’s your idea? Right? So we created this mechanism, we have a structure, we build it into our budget, basically, you know, there’s a pitch competition. The criteria for selection is partially shaped by the executive team, but also just, you know, bottoms up From the marketplace, and people have a competition, the ideas get voted on by the team.
RZ Everyone votes.
TZ Everyone gets a vote and the way if you have coins to vote with and the longer you’ve been there—
RZ The more coins you get.
TZ Yeah, well, it’s wait. You can also vote with your coin that says, if this project gets picked, I want to be on the team that gets to be on it. And we’ve actually conceived a next generation that we would keep something like Fun Labs, which is it’s more technically risky stuff, and may or may not have a strong go to market, we actually have discussed something internally that we’re working on that would be Market Labs, and Market Labs would have to have more of a strong go to market. But it also could potentially have different tranches of funding, maybe there’s potential to co invest with clients. So that’s something that we’re working on this year, too. But at least we have something out there that the team understands.
RZ When a new frustrated innovator shows up, and you’ve spent 30 minutes on that first call, and you’ve gotten to know the person, what are the things that stand out to you that make you think this person is going to figure it out? This is going to end up being a success? Like what are the characteristics of a frustrated innovator that pulls it off? And then I want to take a darker turn and talk about the characteristics—because we’ve all seen it too, right? We can’t say ‘God, you know, Dave, that’s just one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard. And we’re an agency we’d love your business.’ We’re not going to say that. Right? So what are the traits of a stakeholder that leads to success? And what are the traits that that don’t?
TZ Yeah, I think it’s a great question. It’s interesting, because I think the answers are on the two extremes. So they either have previous successful experience working with tech teams, or they have almost no experience, and they’re willing to fully trust the team. Either one works. The ones in between are hard, right, where they’re just like, ‘Oh, I know a lot about tech. But you know, I had a terrible agency, I’ve been burned. And this is how I’m going to manage it now.’ It just gets hard, right? It’s kind of like trust issues and a relationship. So it’s better for them to either really trust the team or be very integrated in the team and have a good and they’re there, then if they are experienced, then they’re sort of way they do projects needs to be close to how we do it, it doesn’t need to be exactly the same. But we need to have a similar philosophy.
RZ Okay. So this is a key point, either trust us and let us run. Or if you’re experienced, and you know the work dynamic around good product efforts, then that can work. You need to see either of those, if they’re somewhere in the middle, it gets jammed up, it gets scrambled up and it brings increased risk. Is that your read?
TZ I mean, yeah, it’s more about saying like, ‘No, we don’t need a project manager on this. I believe in having like a product owner who does everything.’ And again, like I’m not trying to get into the specifics. But they’ll architect the solution, it’s like the work!
PF This is our world too. A huge tell that you’re in trouble is when they go ‘Well do we really need product management? Because we have people over here who can do that?’ And you’re like, uh oh, yeah, because then it’s a sign they may not know what they’re buying, or why.
TZ It’s interesting, because even inside of our company, I’ve kind of posed this thing to my executive team, I said, you know, I think we’re getting the point where we need to say, when we take project work, like and it’s okay to integrate client team members, but they need to run our methodology, they essentially need to, quote report to us when it comes to delivery of the product. And they need to if they’re going to give us say, a product owner, then that person needs to do exactly what R&P;s product owners do. And then we also need to put an R&P partial person to mentor that person to de-risk the project, right? Before you say, hey, we want to bring it to you back in architects, well, then, you know, we need to be doing it unless they’re just handing us API’s, ideally, that are already done documented in performance, then, you know, that’s a little bit different. But if they’re bringing in an integrated team, because I understand why clients might want to integrate their team members, I actually think it’s good if you can make it work.
RZ What I’m hearing is this is in the spirit of frankly, protecting the team, in a lot of ways.
TZ It’s protecting the client from having their project fail.
RZ Ohhh, she did a judo move, Paul.
PF Look, the fantasy of the agency is I will buy interchangeable humans and I will be able to sort of like, get a thing as a result. And it just doesn’t—
RZ There are agencies that sell you humans. And I think one of the common things between Robots & Pencils and Postlight is that that’s not our value prop. Right? Our value prop is not bodies, though bodies are involved that to just purely augment teams, but rather to solve a problem in a discrete, holistic way. Right? I mean, I think that’s a big difference. There are plenty of firms out there that just give you capacity. Hard and clean capacity.
PF No I mean, we’re the relationships, where the you know, it’s this sort of like years and years of being a friend.
TZ Preformed teams is how I say it, right? We bring pre formed teams to the table. Because a lot of, I mean, the work that we’re doing that we’re collectively right, your your firm and ours by its nature, it’s high risk, it has uncertainty in it. There’s constant change under our feet all the time. That’s the industry that we build in, the environment we build in and our clients too. You know, are constantly the marketplace changes so quickly. Even on the needs discovery, you know, Product Market Fit side, that’s changing all the time, too. So one of the best things that we can do to de-risk a project is we bring pre formed teams. I know if I’ve been working with Paul, for years, I know how he works, you put us on a team together, and we’re more likely to be successful. So when we’re talking with clients, like one of my roles is I kind of oversee the overall—I’m an orchestrator of the organization. And to me, I also have seen a lot. So it’s easier for me because of my experience to kind of see, predict what’s going to work. And now what we’re trying to do is we grow the company, like I said, we’re 216 people, there are other people besides me, who understand those things. We literally have a quarterly rock we’re working on right now. That is to figure out a systematic de-risking—
PF Wait a quarterly what?
TZ A rock, it’s just like an imperative, quarterly goal! We use—
PF No, no, come on, come on, we got to break that acronym down for the people.
RZ It’s ROQQ, by the way, Paul. [Rich laughs]
TZ The rocks are just quarterly goals. And so we set three to seven at the senior executive team level, and then they propagate through the organization. Right. So one of our rocks this quarter, is to figure out how do we create like, essentially, a risk matrix around how projects get assigned, like we have project risks up, of course, like we’re mature and project management methodology. But this is more about who are the right people on a project at the right time, like this goes beyond, hey, I need a senior level architect, I need a lead this and that, I need a UX person and an artist. It’s more about like, I need a cheerleader, I need not a new person, I need a new person. Right. So we’re trying to get to the next level of talent allocation, and really building the right teams for our clients to also de-risk their project. Like it’s a people business. And that part’s not easy. Like what we’re trying to do is not easy, I think it’s interesting, the team keeps saying this project is on track, because I’ll be interesting what comes out the other side, we’re trying to just formalize what we’ve seen, because it starts with like instinct, and then it becomes like, why did you guys do that again? We know when you X that we get Y.
PF We are in a place where we are formalizing process around delivery, around the practical parts of the organization. But we haven’t aside from Charter and a few other things. We don’t formalize and create process around culture. Right? And that is kind of what you’re describing to me, which is really interesting, which is—
RZ No, that’s called fascism, Paul.
PF No, no. [Rich laughs[ I mean, now we’re having a totally different conversation. Very exciting. No, I mean, that, you know, how do we create the right cultural mix to make the engagement, especially on the bigger ones? That makes a ton of sense, we do it. It’s just very, we don’t talk about it, except in a kind of instinctual, like, well, you know what, ‘you know what would really helped here’ kind of way.
TZ Right. We need a Sarah, we need a Mike. Like, when you’re smaller. Everyone knows what that means. Well, we have outgrown that, right? And so, we’re trying to formalize that, because it’s not just—
PF It’s also sad, because you get the star performers, and then you just demolish their lives, you split them into little tiny pieces. [Paul laughs] Because you only know those five names. And then it’s the worst thing ever, because the boss says, you know, who should be on this, and then that that person slowly is melting into like a ball of lead. Yeah. Okay,
TZ We’re big enough that we have gone through that and back through it several times. So like, when I first joined, we were small enough that like, basically, everyone was on a couple projects, and people weren’t sliced, then you grow. And then people get sliced, then people freak out, and somebody quotes deep work to you, and then you consolidate them again. And then you do it again. And so actually we’re doing, we have some rules around like people can’t, you know, depending on the project type, they either need to be fully allocated, or no more than two projects. There’s a lot of rules like that here now. But it actually goes beyond like it is about the levels and the timing, it’s the reality is, it’s complicated, especially if the projects are high risk. This does not really come into play, you know, kind of release two or release three, you know, you already know, so we’re trying to, instead of testing and production, we’re trying to take what we know and forecast and, you know.
PF This is something to educate potential clients about which is the difference between I need to make get this thing either like back on rails, but it exists and the data is here. So and the Greenfield effort, and the kind of risks and the kind of teams and the kind of people involved. Because that actually ends up being something really hard to educate people about which is that that that kickoff team that’s going to run for the first six months, even if it’s a big project that has a big ambitious, you know, product roadmap, after that phase, you need new kinds of humans doing new kinds of things.
TZ Totally true. Because actually and again, we’re working on a matrix I’ll share with you guys when it’s done.
PF I love a matrix!
RZ Paul loves matrices.
TZ Right? There are definitely people out there and I’m I’m more like this when you know I was in doing work role, where it’s like I like to start stuff I like when it’s new. Once things get to two or three releases in, I’m kind of looking for the next thing, which is great. We need those kinds of people in the organization. And then you need the maintainers. And then it also opens up at what point if we are transitioning it to a client, or you have a shared team, who comes in when? If we can be better at those recommendations. Again, I’m pretty, because of my experience on the client side, I am more open, I think that a lot of companies are to bringing in client teams, I just think it has to be de-risked. And it’s actually the thing that I’m working on with my company is I want to get to the point where we go, ‘Well, if you’re not going to kind of use this type of methodology and use our forte, like, that’s fine. Everything’s fine materials, you guys are directing the project.’ It’s not because we’re like, angry or anything. It’s just like, we have a proven process. We know how to build digital products. If a client thinks they have a better way, that’s fine. But we can’t also be on the hook for the deliverable, right? We can continue to advise, but at some point, how you take my methodology and slice it into pieces. It’s not my methodology anymore. It’s client managed. And so that’s some of the things we’ve been talking about in our organization.
PF This is tricky, because large orgs like I mean, at some level, they kind of buy process, and we sell delivery, right? And you’re just like, no, you actually want us to build the thing for you for real, I promise. But they get really hung up on on, you know, their particular brand.
RZ They think they’re mitigating risk with the process, right? They think they get to constantly perpetually audit the whole thing as time goes by, which can be debilitating and demoralizing. Depending on how it’s done. I think this goes back to trust, right. And one of the things we try to walk clients away from is don’t get hung up on the headcount. Like it’s kind of meaningless sometimes. And we want to flex and we want the flexibility to actually cake on people if it needs to happen, and then pull them off if it makes sense. And that’s it. It takes everyone a minute to kind of what am I buying here? What do you mean, you’re not going to tell me? What’s this range you gave me a three to 10 people? Like that’s insane, right? But what we’re saying is, it’s secondary is that it’s actually logistics, and what’s primary is what you’re going to get. That takes time for someone you just met, takes less time for someone that knows how you work, right? And I’m sure a lot of your business, Tracey, is recurring, with relationships you’ve built over the years where they come back to you again and again. I mean, no doubt.
PF So wait, Tracey, how did you get this job? Give us a little bit of a summary of how you ended up here. And where is here?
TZ Well, I’m in my office in Pittsburgh today. And actually, I’m proud to report a number of my team members are here too. So it’s been awesome to see humans really, in real life. Yeah, like, so it’s interesting, you asked me that, cuz I often say to the team, especially when they’re telling me about the interview process that I would never get a job here if I had to go through an interview process. So it’s good I got here sort of early on. I’m like, every roll. I’m like, maybe I could do this. And then they tell me what they’re doing. And I’m like, yeah, probably not. So it worked out. But I was, I was hired by the co-founders of Robots & Pencils six years ago, to come in, and to help them to grow and scale the company. And so I really came in, in the President role, we were, you know, fast growing around 70 some people at that time, I think up from, you know, we’ve already grown, I think 100% that year, you know, like kind of the company had gotten a large client, it was growing on this large client. And so all the sudden, they needed more process and more infrastructure. And you know, it was just, it was a small company at the time. So I came in and jumped into kind of the deep end and tried to help the company grow. So around some specific projects, methodology, like you were talking about, Paul, that was kind of the first generation of trying to get some more structure and scaling the company up. And then you know, so basically, I took over as CEO, at the end of last year’s end of a successful transition, I worked very closely with the, you know, CEO, the co founders, but particularly the CEO, and he kind of passed at the time last year. So I mean, it’s been, it’s been a super interesting experience, I kind of got here and I saw a need to be done. And I helped to grow the company. So there were a number of things like we were very, we were very reliant on a single client, I mean, kind of all the normal stuff that happens with companies when they are, you know, growing fast. The other thing I’m really just proud of, is I think we, you know, the company is really founded with a talent first mentality, which doesn’t mean like, we have developers running the books or something, you know, it just means that we’re trying to solve for the talent first, because we get the right people and provide sort of the right environment, we believe they’ll solve the problems and that’s always been true of the company. And we’ve stayed true to that. It’s hard to do that actually in a professional services environment. It requires, you know, constant compromise and trade off management working very closely with the team but that’s really the mental model and in the in the talent wars, we’re now in more than ever, I feel happy that we’ve done what we’ve done so far.
RZ I wanted to take the last few minutes to actually take a hard left here and get your thoughts and your what you’ve learned about making a successful remote work, organization work because that’s a lot of people’s minds now, pre-pandemic Robots & Pencils was fairly distributed. Is that fair to say?
RZ Yeah, so your 200 people, you’re in how many cities? Or locations?
TZ I mean, in terms of where we have offices or where we have people?
RZ Oh, okay. Answer both of those. Because I think that’s interesting.
TZ So we have we have five offices, and we have city, we have people like, I don’t know, 130? I mean, no, it’s more than that. I mean, unless you say metros, because we have we have talent across Canada, the US and then a small team we just started this year, in actually in Mexico, and even in Mexico, we have like six people, and they’re not all in the same place.
RZ They’re not in the same place. Yeah. How do you make it work? Like what what are the things? I mean, cuz there are people now who are grappling with this, who never grappled with it, even pre pandemic, right.
TZ Right. Yeah. And I did not have the experience in leading remote teams before I came here, although I had always worked in sort of a flexible work environment. So I remember what it was like. I would say the number one thing is, you know, yes, Slack is our client, our partner, but like, first Slack solved our problem of working across all these different locations. Slack is Robots & Pencils’ headquarters. Absolutely. It’s where all the people are. It’s where we can work together on projects. It’s where we build culture. Of course, there are other things. But that is number one is actually starting with digital and distributed workforce first is like a mental model that I think then just removes a lot of problems. And people just I’ve had people say to me, Well, there’s your Austin team, you know, deliver all the Texas projects? And I’m literally like, what? But like, when you think about it, we’re really solving for the talent first. So I see my role to my clients, I’m going to bring you the best team, regardless of where they are. So yeah, I would say that, you know, making Slack the headquarters has been the number one thing and it’s the only way you have to keep track of everything that’s going on. I do believe and I did before the pandemic, I do now still believe in sort of a hybrid environment, in a sense that, like, we will keep our we will continue to have offices, we will probably open more offices. So we’ve hired a lot of people in Toronto, probably open an office there. You know, again, when it makes sense, obviously, we’re not going to open it like when nobody can come in, you know, we’re probably open other locations, too. But it starts with where we hired people. So it’s kind of bottoms up versus top down, ’cause meeting in person is actually really important. But meeting in the office every day isn’t, to me is not important at all. I mean I had my first work from home job, I was like 20.
RZ Do you gather everyone?
TZ We do. So actually, like I said, I’m at the Pittsburgh office today. Well, I mean, obviously, again, I’ll speak pre pandemic right now. So where people are in an office region, typically we’re at least doing something an event a month with that’s more social and might be, you know, happy hour, it could be a team breakfast, we also do stand ups by office, we also have a remote office stand up. So the remote office is also a first class citizen robots and pencils, and is really our largest office, right by number of people. And so we try to do everything that we do for the in office stuff with the remote people too. And then sometimes people go, I live down the street from Pittsburgh, but I never come in, I’m doing the remote office, and we’re kind of like whatever, or they can be both. You know, we just weren’t super rulesy. It’s more about helping the team to feel connected. We do conference every couple years that we call Robocon, where we take everyone from the entire company and fly them into one location. And we basically work learn and play together for a week. I’m hoping that we can schedule one soon. I mean, it’s difficult, particularly with the Canadian team, as you know, they haven’t they’re not they don’t have as much freedom to move yet. But so, you know, it’s a lot of logistics to fly everybody into one place. But we’ve done several of those. And that’s, you know, you’re trying to create connection. But at the end of the day, we again, we’re trying to solve for the talent. So where the talent thinks they can do their best work is where they should work. So some people do you come in the office, like religiously every day, but those people like can I have special permission to come in while the office is closed? I don’t like to work from home.
PF How do you factor in what the client wants to see? Right? Because that’s a concern for us, like how we, you know, we have our nice New York City Office and the clients like to visit. They want to come and have a cup of coffee, like how, how does that play into your thinking?
TZ Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, we have offices so we can bring our clients to our offices. Generally speaking, we spend more time going to the client’s location and to the clients offices. I know when I was a client, I almost never wanted to go to my partner’s offices, because it required me to go there, get coverage for my stuff. I mean, we like it right? Because we get their undivided attention. But as a client, it can be, you’re adding a lot of overhead. We tried to be like what is best, I mean, I’m not saying you’re not you guys are cool. You’re in New York City. Your clients are probably like, get me out of my corporate office!
PF We’re not we’re not young, like you are. But we’re still really cool.
RZ In fact, older, actually, it’s worth noting.
PF Much older.
TZ Yeah. Much cooler, much cooler. So we’re kind of like, you know, peers, but it’s something that’s also regional, right? What’s the culture? But yeah, I know, I’ve seen a lot of success there. And we also do a lot of business like, you know, in other networking ways, whether it’s dinners or lunches or briefings and things like that, and those are sort of wherever.
PF So the presence has to happen. The presence has to happen. It’s just that the office isn’t the default.
TZ Yes. And in fact, I would say it’s almost like, you know, it’s almost like the third most likely option, right? So for the talents perspective, we just again, we want them to be productive where they are. And I always say the team, I’m like, look, 99% of the time, I’m going to give you so much flexibility you can’t even stand it. Every once in a while, I’m going to call you on a Sunday night, and ask you to get on a plane and be at a client’s office on Monday morning. I have never had a problem with somebody doing that. Because we try to be so accommodating to them. But from a delivery perspective, my clients, Paul, I couldn’t do that, if I didn’t screen for culture on the way in and hire people that could really lead themselves. They themselves will say to me, ‘Hey, I’m gonna fly in I decided Sunday night’ they’re telling me right? ‘Hey, FYI, I’m going to clients late on Monday morning, I booked my travel, you know, let me know if you want to talk’ or whatever, because they’re trying to solve the client’s problems, too.
RZ I want to just I think there’s New York City. And then I think there’s everywhere else, just in terms of, there’s no way Postlight would be where it is today without us having planted a flag where we did in the middle of New York City, like we should just say it out loud.
TZ Well if you want, I could put my logo on your door. And then we can see if me having a New York City Office, that’s big and fancy like yours, which I love by the way, helps my company to grow, so we could test that in production if you want.
PF You know, why not? What the hell at this point? Yeah, like let’s just, do companies even matter anymore?
RZ Also, what if you want to reach out to Tracey it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. [Rich laughs] No, in all seriousness, Tracey, how do people reach out to Robots & Pencils? And I guess they could just visit the site. But you tell us.
TZ Yeah, they can visit the site, or they can email us at email@example.com. We’re on every social media channel, LinkedIn, et cetera.
RZ This was great. Tracey, a lot of good insights here. It’s fun to overlap. There aren’t a lot of us. Paul and I like to look each other in the eyes and talk about how special and exceptional Postlight is. But there really aren’t a lot—who do you consider—
PF Light a nice candle, we got out for dinner. It’s great.
RZ Who do you consider competition?
TZ I mean, we typically will compete against you know, people like you guys, like whoever’s kind of used in that marketplace. And then the big guys, so it’ll be like Deloitte Digital, us and whoever’s local.
PF That’s so weird. We have the same boat where it’s just sort of like, you know, a couple like suspects.
RZ The problem for us, though, is whoever’s local is New York City. [Rich laughs] There’s a lot.
TZ By the way, I do think you guys are very similar to us. And I, I’m not saying there’s not on the inside, right? Because a lot of times on the outside, you’re like, Oh, they have design and engineering and they build digital products. Yeah, we do that too. But having talked to you guys, I do think we’re very similar on the inside.
RZ I agree.
PF No, I agree too. I mean, it’s it’s fascinating to see where you’re at where you’re trying to make the culture scale as much as sort of the processes. We’re headed in that direction. But we have a minute, I think you’re you’re already there. So it’s good to good to know what’s coming.
TZ Patrick Lencioni said the only sustainable differentiator is culture. And I believe that for a very long time, and because you know, even your processes, whatever it’s gonna happen, your need your culture to keep them otherwise they become dumb rules that everybody hates or doesn’t follow. I checked the box, I did the project on it. I don’t know how it got from red or from green to red so fast. There’s never any yellows here!
PF Well, that’s when you get from 200 to like, 500. That’s when that shows up.
TZ That’s not gonna happen here Paul! Not happening here.
PF Okay, good. You’ll be the one! We’ll keep talking to figure out how that won’t happen when you get to 500. That’ll be the next podcast.
TZ Alright, sounds awesome. Well, thank you guys so much. It’s been awesome being on the podcast with you today.
RZ This was a lot of fun. Thank you, Tracey. This is great.
PF If somebody wanted to talk to you directly, Tracey, or just follow you in the world? What’s the best way to get in touch?
TZ They can email me my email addresses firstname.lastname@example.org because Robots & Pencils is so long, I had to shorten it.
PF It’s fair. It’s totally fair. Alright, great. And everybody knows how to get in touch with us. Send us an email email@example.com. Check out our website robotsnpencils.com. And that was great. I am fascinated. It’s fascinating to see exactly how we come to the same conclusions trying to do good work for many clients. It’s the same. Everybody needs the same thing. They just need to listen! Listen to Tracey!
TZ And you guys.
PF It’s fine. It’s nice. It’s nice of you to say. We’re a little older. Alright.
RZ On that note.
TZ It’s been great.
RZ Bye Tracey! Thank you. [music ramps up, plays alone for 3 seconds, ends]