|Piyush Patel is on a roll. Five years ago he achieved a $45 million exit for Digital-Tutors, the company he launched with a $54 investment. Today he is a bestselling author of a book about building an exceptional workplace culture. He is also a speaker and angel investor. How did this entrepreneur achieve such success? His book, Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, outlines his process, but it really could be summed up in one phrase: Roll changing.
“Big problems happen when you ignore little problems because they start to compound,” says Patel. “Changing the toilet paper roll is the smallest litmus test in an organization that shows how people treat each other.”
“People ask me all the time: ‘Piyush, why do you obsess about that?’ And I say it’s because I see my core value broken. The core value of respect. In the boardroom and in the kitchen, everyone’s going to be respectful. But how do people act when nobody’s watching?”
It was three years into the launch of Digital-Tutors before Patel and his wife Lisa realized the need to hammer out a list of core values for their business. (They titled those five values The Rules of Our Game.) But that might never have happened if the entrepreneur hadn’t encountered what he calls ‘the valley of death.’ “There are hundreds of those times,” he says. “It’s when you’re not growing, cash is tight, you struggle with culture and with customers.”
“Then you figure it out and you grow and then you hit another valley of death again. Entrepreneurs need to realize it’s a process. The character of your people shows up in the valley of death because those parts are hard. This is where great businesses are built.”
If it sounds like a roller coaster, then you get the idea.
The values derived from that valley of death are on page seven of the book, but here is a takeaway from page eight: “Those five values,” says the author, “transformed my company from a place I hated to go into a place I loved to call home. They also turned Digital-Tutors into an online training powerhouse.”
Another thing that kept Patel rolling in the right direction was to focus on a goal. “I call it the North Star,” he explains. “For Digital-Tutors, that meant becoming the ESPN of our industry, that is being the brand equity for people in the movie and video game industry.”
“So when we hit those valleys of death, we asked ourselves, ‘Will this help us become the ESPN, or does this divert or cloud that process? That became one of our litmus tests.”
The North Star answers the ‘what we do’ question, but what about the ‘why’ do we do it? It’s about role changing.
“If your role is to make sure to take care of your core tribe, they will take care of your larger tribe every time,” he says. “We did what we did in order to improve the lives of our people and the people who use our products.”
“The order here of our people over the people who buy our products is extremely important. We didn’t put our customers first.”
Dial back to the first paragraph to see how that ‘why’ worked for this CEO. Then add in this fact: Digital-Tutors served big-name clients like LucasArts, Pixar, and Disney.
While taking care of those customers, Piyush Patel kept taking care of his team. “At each of our monthly staff meetings, we went around the room and let each person tell about how another employee exemplified one of our five values. Each story was tied to a specific value, about a specific person, and related to a specific event.”
“Our monthly meetings gave me the chance to check all the dials and gauges. Deeper than that, though, it gave us all a chance to affirm not only our values but our significance to each other.”
“We do this all the time with our families. We tell them we love them even though they already know it. We need to do the same thing in a business setting.”
“Think of it as an investment in the long-term health of your tribe.”