LearnWant to be a successful CEO?

Ryan
writes on April 2, 2007

I had an amazing conversation with Ryan Allis, the 22 year old CEO of Intellicontact. I am so impressed with how he has taken his company from a small shop to a multi-million dollar company with 50+ employees, in about three to four years.

What really struck me though, was how he knew his numbers inside and out. He is absolutely hard-core about measuring everything. It was like a slap in the face – as CEO of Carson Systems, I just don’t know enough about what’s going on.

I guess what I’m learning is that I need to transition out of the day-to-day management of our projects, and move into a role where I’m evaluating and acting on important measurements. For every business, the measurements are different. However, it takes a good sit-down to brainstorm what’s important and what’s not. Once I know what’s actually working for us, I can guide our team to do more of it.

In order to help me do this, I’m putting together a monster Excel sheet that’s going to have everything I need to know. Then I’m going to ask our team to fill in the numbers from their projects on a weekly basis. This way I can react quicker to both opportunities and problems.

How do you guys measure what’s going on in your companies? Please share!

19 Responses to “Want to be a successful CEO?”

  1. Hi Ryan,

    I just came across your blog in that typical “ok, now how did I get here again?” fashion. Some interesting stuff.

    I am not clear on what kind of information you’re looking to get. Information on your employees – ie. productivity – or information on your customers?

    Market information is very important – knowing what your customers are thinking etc. But you know that. Knowing what your employees are doing/ thinking is another thing altogether. We set up some very nice, very elaborate spreadsheets that told us great things, like daily productivity right down to the billable/ cash billable/ non-billable/ gross margin minute. Ultimately, all the graphs and spreadsheets couldn’t solve my internal challenges, and simply worked counter productively – encouraging staff to exaggerate time and stress out about micro management amoung other things.

    Ultimately, you risk adding overhead for little or no benefit.

    Instead I’ve found that a) making sure the right people are in the right place and b) making sure the systems support and nurture those people is the best way to go.

    We use basecamp – and love it – seconding the basecamp mentioned above. Great communication and project management tool.

    Good luck

  2. Hey Ryan, hit me up for a Copper Project account, I’d be interested in whether you regain some clarity! http://www.copperproject.com

  3. All these methods of measuring business performance here sound great. But you need to remember the old adage ‘what gets measured, gets done’.

    So in other words, make sure you’re recording and measuring the correct data first.

    Like Alex, I would also be careful how much data you ask people to record each week. My experience is getting people to fill in a simple time sheet is difficult enough, let alone an array of complex business performance metrics.

  4. I think the spreadsheet is a great idea, but be careful how big you make it and how often you ask your team to fill it in. Especially if you have a four day work week. Don’t want to make your team spend 25% of their weekly working hours filling in your sheet. 🙂

  5. Ryan, will you be sharing your Master Spreadsheet? Well the template of course.

    Hey Brad,

    I don’t think so. Only because it’s very specific to our business, and wouldn’t be useful in general.

    Sorry about that.

    – Ryan

  6. My finance person and I have been using Google Docs / Spreadsheet with some success.
    I think for such a small group, it really works well. Some others noted realtime data and creating a page that displays this data. That is a great idea as well, but why not go one step further and use the Google API ( http://tinyurl.com/2gl4ho ) to do some updates to your spreadsheets. I only assume its possible as I’ve never really read the API. I’m just thinking ‘out loud’.

    Ryan, will you be sharing your Master Spreadsheet? Well the template of course.

  7. It might be interesting to try out WikiCalc, a sort of wiki-based spreadsheet made by the original creator of the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc.

    http://www.softwaregarden.com/wkcalpha/

    It seems like it would fit your needs in that it would allow multiple people to edit it, would keep a history, and would probably be a lot easier to maintain than some Excel versioning hack-job.

    That said, I’m not sure if it supports every type of formula you would need. But it does seem to be quite full-featured.

    I got to speak with you for a few minutes at the UK meetup at SXSW and have been a fan of your various websites for some time. Keep up the good work!

  8. We do a combination of things. We have forecasting and planning spreadsheets that we run on Google Docs that we update regularly. Everyone on the team has the ability to update and we use them often on calls and have additional “spin-off” spreadsheets that we share with our clients.

    We also run numbers directly out of the DB. At some point, I would like to combine the effort and have them automatically update — but as you know, when running fast, go for the 90% solution first and work your way to 100%!

  9. Knew, not new. Other than that, great article.

    Thanks Tim 🙂

    In your article a few weeks ago ‘Kickstartâ€, you mentioned autoresponders. Iâ€ve done a little research on this so far. Are you using already or planning on using IntelliContact?

    We’re not using IntelliContact right now, but I hear it’s a great app.

  10. I use Omniture…

  11. We started using Basecamp for our project management a while back and use the time tracking extensively to check on the resource spend for projects. I built an advanced reporting application that pulls data from Basecamp via the API and builds management level reports for us. Since we started using basecamp and tracking the numbers, our profitability has increased steadily month on month. We can now see quickly where projects are going over budget and look to recoup costs if work is outside the original scope of the contract.

  12. I recommend using http://dabbledb.com/ to plug in all that data and then manipulated it, sort it, filter it, make custom views of how different parts fit together.

    Your staff can be users in realtime and therefore it would be a collaborative spreadsheet…

  13. This article really hit home for me! We have nearly 30 employees, have been in business since 1997, and I still don’t have my fingers on the measured data as well as I should!

    There’s a lot of contributors, I think — being profitable reduces urgency, constant business opportunities coming in demand attention, and (as you mentioned) spending too much time on the day-to-day operations details gets in the way. But also, I think having a diverse business makes things especially difficult for small companies. Each area of doing business has its own operations details, cash flow dynamics, etc. making it difficult to even uniformly identify and capture the right data, much less analysis it in a global way.

    Obviously, I don’t have an answer to propose. I can tell you what we’re doing to try to improve the situation though. We’ve developed a time reporting web app that fits all our business activities. Mainly it allows us to create bookable “assignments” to staff which associate:

    1. Customer
    2. Budget Line
    3. Project
    4. Task

    With these four independent elements, we can at least model everything from web app development (where the customer could even be external, or us), to consultancy, to internal training.

    We also try to capture as much as possible in QuickBooks (which I think is a great app!) Since we run companies in Europe in addition to the US, we have to fiddle things a bit, since QB (at least the Mac version) seems very specific to the US market.

    Finally, for the Mac, the management staff enter a lot of data in Daylite (which I think is another great app.)

  14. Ryan,
    In your article a few weeks ago ‘Kickstart’, you mentioned autoresponders. I’ve done a little research on this so far. Are you using already or planning on using IntelliContact?

  15. I second the one page, real-time metrics page. We do this and most of the data gets pulled straight from the DB to provide very insightful and decisive data for us.

    Though there will be some things that need to be measured off-line or that require specific input from your team, you can always create a simple input interface so you can get that too in the DB and utilize the metrics.

    As you say the measurements are different, so the important part is finding out first WHAT to measure and WHAT is important.

  16. Tim Hutchins on April 2, 2007 at 11:13 am said:

    Knew, not new. Other than that, great article.

  17. Weekly spreadsheet? Not good enough. Build a screen which gets your metrics in REAL TIME. Signups, click-throughs, adword results, conversions, monies outstanding, sales pipeline.

  18. Tim Hutchins on April 2, 2007 at 11:09 am said:

    Ryan, typo – “how he knew his numbers”, not “new”.

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