Going. Ahead. With Gage: Interview with Paul Mabray
Welcome to another Going. Ahead. With Gage interview! I had the privilege of interviewing Paul Mabray, from W2O Group and VinTank, who shared insight on being a leader and how his teams operate. I hope you all gain some valuable insights and enjoy the read!
What are you doing to ensure that W2O Group is at the cutting edge?
We are doing 3 things frequently: bringing in smart people (have you met James Jory, Matt Franklin, Aaron Unnasch, Matt Tang, Rob Lowe, Gage Grammer, Brandon Farley, Guy Peluso, Louis Calli, Glen Parker, Glen Franke, Jeff Isenhart or Robert Ford?? #wickedsmart). Encouraging voracious reading and sharing habits, which gives us insight into trends and more – especially non-traditional reading (poetry, fiction, biographies, comic books) to gain ideas and concepts to think outside of the box. Finally, bringing in thought leaders from around the world to enjoy the magic of Napa, but at the same time share their brilliance with the team. We’ve been fortunate to spend time with people like Barry Schuler, Michael Brito (before he was W2O), Robert Scoble, Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis and soooo many more.
But, the major thing we do as a team to keep W2O at the cutting edge is executing and building the most amazing tech product ever. It really is a game-changing technology solution to help businesses understand their audiences.
What are 3 words you would use to describe our culture?
Smart, Edgy, and Fun – Our team works really hard and you have to be smart to make and sell software. We really like to cut the edge into the things we do, and the rest of the company is the same way!
In a few words, describe what your team does for the company?
We are the technology division of the organization. We are building a technology solution that’s unusual and different. It’s part of the secret sauce that’s going to make us great and will help our agency compete above the likes of an Edelman or Publicis. But, our uniqueness makes us a bit of a unicorn within the organization. We think very differently, we build differently, we plan differently and we behave very differently. As a result, we have to learn to work within the constraints of our parent organization and really earn the hearts and minds of everyone in the firm. As I tell the team, we are “intrapreneurs” within W2O.
Thinking of your most successful current employees, what characteristics do they share?
I think that we really choose people based on our culture: smart, edgy and fun. But IMHO the most important factor is that we have people that are self-motivated. Using you (Gage Grammer) as an example, if you don’t know the right answer to something, you are actively out there searching for it on your own. If I’m not there, you don’t need to be gated by me. The last element is having the core principle to do work that makes them proud. It’s important to be able to run work through your own filter first. These two qualities (self-motivation and self-actualized) are huge in this culture and if you aren’t either, then the work results suffer and not seen at your highest caliber.
I only have one responsibility:
How do you empower your employees to go that extra mile?
That’s a really interesting question. Not everyone may see this, but I firmly believe in setting a goal and giving people the freedom to get there. With that freedom you have to give room for the times people will fail forward. The key quality here is to trust your team and empower them to solicit your help when things get challenging. We are here to build amazing software and learn from each other to grow in the right direction. Overburdening employees with oversight only stifles innovation, but also inhibits success.
What motivates you to get up and come to work every day?
We have a vision for this product. We know it’s the right thing for the market. Finishing that, and by finishing I mean always evolving and making it right for our customers. And finally, getting our software to a place where people can say, “you’ve made my life easier, my work and business better and my customers happier” is key. That’s the core function that you want to hear about your solution – you delivered a solution that’s solving something and helping make the world a better place.
I’m also very motivated by helping make W2O the first MarCom firm in history to successfully build a world-class software product and the amazing people that I work with. I really enjoy this team. It’s a great team and as we get our sea legs we become greater 🙂
If you had to choose 1 company value that represents you, which would it be and why?
#WhySuck – You can’t suck with software. You’re either good, bad or just noise. We have to work hard to make great software. We are always polishing the stone and even if we release something that’s not perfect, it’s okay. Software is an iterate thing. We continue to sharpen the sword or polish the stone as we move forward.
What is the most difficult leadership decision you’ve had to make in the recent past and what did you learn from that experience?
The most difficult leadership decision I’ve had to make and work towards every day is merging two very different cultures and disciplines together. Trying to match all the differences is a serious challenge and it’s a big part of my job.
Our specific team is unique in the organization because our models and our methodologies differ so much from the rest of the firm. That requires lots of education and creative discourse while seeking partnership with other passionate leaders in the firm who have a desired tech objective, but don’t always know how to get from point A to point B. This has been especially true when a team has promised to deliver our two giant software goals with limited resources. As a result, we’ve had to make some very hard choices and have had to remind teams that sometimes we have to “do less to do more” in order to succeed. Sometimes those conversations can be challenging, but it’s imperative to our software vision that we have these discussions.
Through these experiences, I’ve realized that I need to invest more time in communication and updates so that the firm understands where we are in the journey to meet their needs.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Never take the bait and use the force.
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