In this episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast, we have Kevin Yip, COO & Co-Founder at Blueboard, an employee recognition company he founded after working 100-hour weeks without appreciation. Join us for a frank conversation about recognizing your employees’ achievements and rewarding them with experiences that matter.
If you missed episode #188, check it out here: Ask Yourself This: “But Am I Making Any Money?”
What You’ll Learn
- The rich reward of giving your employees personal experiences
- Building a company out of joy
- Learning what you’re good at as an entrepreneur
- Scaling to offer a community
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Show Agenda and Timestamps
- About Kevin Yip & Blueboard [2:20]
- How burnout led to Kevin’s entrepreneurship [5:00]
- The surprising things about running a startup [12:25]
- How to scale sales & marketing [15:15]
- A philosophy for finding and keeping talent [19:00]
- Paying it forward [23:00]
- Sam’s Corner [26:20]
About Kevin Yip & Blueboard [2:20]
Sam Jacobs: Today on the show we’ve got inspiring entrepreneur, co-founder and chief operating officer at Blueboard, Kevin Yip.
Before we get there, we’ve got sponsors to thank. The first is Outreach, the first and only engagement and intelligence platform built by revenue innovators for revenue innovators. Traditional tools don’t work in a hybrid sales world. Find out why Outreach is the right solution at click.outreach.io/30npc.
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Now let’s listen to my conversation with Kevin Yip. Kevin, welcome to the show. We like to start with your baseball card. You’re the co-founder and COO of Blueboard. What is Blueboard?
Kevin Yip: Blueboard is an amazing company. We help organizations reward, recognize and celebrate their people by giving them awesome experiences. That goes from a couple’s massage, Michelin star dinner at Napa, or going skydiving for the first time all the way up to hiking up to Machu Picchu or learning to surf in Bali. Last year we did experiences in over 70 countries.
How burnout led to Kevin’s entrepreneurship [5:00]
Kevin Yip: Me and my buddy were roommates in our first corporate jobs after college. I was working as a fun, sexy auditor at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It was the eighth night in a row I came home and our roommates were in the living room watching a San Francisco Giants game. It just felt so routine. And I’m like, “Dude, we’ve become the most boring people. And it only took one year working in the corporate world for it to suck the life out of us.”
We abruptly quit our jobs — probably a little too soon because we actually didn’t have a business model. We were like, “How do we get experiences into the hands of people?” That was in June 2012.
How we ended up becoming a rewards, incentives and recognition company was, we had been brainstorming. I had been talking about my experience at PWC.
I was working a hundred hour weeks for about two and a half months. It’s a complete and utter grind. There’s no overtime. There’s no bonus. And at the end of it, I was stressed, anxious. I was also 25 pounds heavier. My girlfriend was on the verge of breaking up with me.
My manager came to me. “Kevin, thank you so much for your hard work. We could not have done this without you.” And she put down an Amex gift card on my desk and slid it over to me. It felt like a slap in the face. I had done hundreds of hours of overtime, and I got a $250 gift card for it.
The surprising things about running a startup [12:25]
Kevin Yip: I’m learning every day. I make mistakes all the time.
I think you also have to find what it is you’re good at as an entrepreneur and really orient around that. Some people are brilliant engineers, right? Some people are brilliant product people. I had no skills other than just working my ass off.
Being close to the customer, really understanding what they want, understanding your market, I think that is a principle I’ve always fallen on.
Crunchbase data used to be free, so we had downloaded a report from their website of all the startups in San Francisco that raised over $10 million. And we had all the address data. We layered it over this free application called PadMapper, because we had access to their mapping.
We literally went door to door to over 300 companies in SF to pitch people. We got a lot of feedback, got a lot of nos. But every single time, we’re like, “How do we refine the pitch?” It was a grind. We got kicked out of tons of businesses. I got escorted out of Dropbox when they were in another company. That was interesting.
But we got one customer from it, and that was all we needed. As a startup, out of hundreds and thousands of nos, you need one yes. Serve them, and then figure out what other customers look and feel like them.
How to scale sales & marketing [15:15]
Kevin Yip: In the beginning, it was a lot of what Sales Hacker offers now. It’s a community. It’s reaching out to people, asking them for lunch and coffee.
I probably read every single sales book I could and started just developing my perspective on what was interesting. Let’s actually try it in real life and figure out what works and doesn’t work.
Now that we’re at scale and we’ve got a full blown go to market, it’s all about hiring the right leaders for us. I’m always just looking for the best people.
A philosophy for finding and keeping talent [19:00]
Kevin Yip: There was this Antarctic explorer, Edward Ernest Shackleton, in London. He was recruiting people to go on this adventure and mission to Antarctica. Rather than talking about the glory and how nice it’s going to be, he was like, “Adventurers wanted. Guaranteed scurvy. Near certain death.” He listed out the 10 things you’re going to die from. And then at the end, he was like, “But it’s going to be a freaking adventure and you’re going to remember it.”
It’s being authentic about the role in the company and leading from that. We talk a lot about our mission and our product and why we’re here. It tends to attract a certain type of people — people that are experience oriented, people that don’t give things as Christmas gifts. They’re buying their siblings tickets to the game or a road trip. Those are the types of people that get really excited about our company.
It’s always hard as a startup to find the person who’s done it before. We’ve been able to really grow the company off those zero-to-one leaders. How do you level people up when they haven’t done a job before? How do you get them access to your investors network for mentorship, for help? That’s something we always think about. It’s not just finding the people, but once you find them, freaking invest in them.
Paying it forward [23:00]
Sam Jacobs: Kevin, we’re almost at the end of our time together, and the last thing we like to do before we go is pay it forward a little bit. Who or what comes to mind that you think we should know about?
Kevin Yip: Scott Broomfield, has been absolutely amazing and just a joy to work with. He was the CFO and CMO at a time of Xactly, the incentive comp software when they went public. He took them through their acquisition with Vista Equity Partners, and he’s just been amazing to bat around ideas.
Scott helped us build out our early plan forecasting model, how that filters into our revenue build, and then how we look at what we call a sales pod model. That’s super important at any scale of the business.
Once you get started, you start getting consistent win rates, you start to know your customer profile, building out that sales machine. That model of thinking and approach has been really helpful in us growing to where we are.
Sam’s Corner [26:20]
Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody, Sam’s corner, great conversation with Kevin Yip. He’s been doing this for a long time, and I feel like Blueboard’s probably only achieved escape velocity in the last couple of years. So this has been a passion project, a labor of love.
Blueboard is a company focused on providing experiences to people. Kevin did that, and that comes from his soul. That comes from this passion. So many founders start a company because they are convinced that they should be in charge of something. They come from a privileged background and they think that they’re special. But sometimes people build things out of love, out of true joy and love. Those are the lasting companies, from my perspective. Those companies that people remember.
I love that anecdote about Kevin working a hundred hours a week and his boss giving him a $250 gift card. Unfortunately, I’ve done that to my wife sometimes. I’m getting better though. Just take a second, step back, be present and think, what does this person do? What does this person love? Once you think about what they actually enjoy and love, then it becomes easier to buy presents for them.
If you want to reach out to me, firstname.lastname@example.org or LinkedIn.
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Talk to you next time!