Monday, December 15, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Bazaarvoice

I am not sure that anyone could properly "Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship" and not highlight Brett Hurt and Bazaarvoice. The company is one of the most talked about and fastest growing in Austin. Beyond their leadership position in helping large companies / brands understand and utilize the best of social media conversations to drive business, it is just a cool place to work.

Bazaarvoice technologies enable consumers to write product reviews and contribute user-generated content on leading e-commerce websites, helping build online sales using authentic customer opinions. They bring the power of social commerce to the world's best brands. Social commerce happens when you connect customers to one another in ways that drive measurable results to your business.

I have several friends who work for this company, and everyone of them raves about the technology, the opportunity, and the culture. Serial entrepreneur and CEO Brett Hurt is the c0-founder of the company and a man who is passionate about building more than just a company.... he is crazy about the culture.

I asked Brett to answer a few questions about culture, entrepreneurship and Austin:

Thom: What is it that makes Bazaarvoice special?

Brett: The executive team really focuses on our culture. And I really mean “focus” – actions not words. I spearhead that focus as our CEO and our head of HR calls me the “Chief Culture Guide”. Since the inception of our company, we spend 20-25% (3-4 hours) of our executive team quarterly strategy meeting discussing culture. Our best brainstorms have come out of these fierce conversations.

I take culture very seriously for three primary reasons. First, I believe it leads to better performance – it can be measured in our client renewal rate, which is critical as an ASP (or SaaS) business, as well as our win-rate versus competition. Second, it makes it more fun for all us – including me. I sometimes pinch myself when I wake up in the morning; I truly love my job and the Bazaarvoice team. It is very humbling to see our team embrace the culture.

The executive team and I may be putting the ball in motion, but it is others that carry it through. For example, one of our Sales Directors (not a management position) leads our Bazaarvoice Foundation initiative – our charitable arm. Third, it leads to better retention. Employee retention is a killer for most companies. Domain experience is very important, especially in a new industry.

Transparency is a huge part of our culture, and I think it’s really important. As soon as the economy started its freefall, I gathered the entire company and told everyone about how the management team and Board of Directors were ready for it. We had been in a contingency planning mode for more than a month. We all need to stay focused to take advantage of the incredible advantages and opportunities we have, and being upfront and honest goes a long way.

If you treat your team with respect, as adults, then they respect you in turn. And if everyone knows the good and the bad, they will rally harder in the face of adversity. Weaker companies may hide the bad because they are afraid of how employees will respond. This is a natural human behavior but it is absolutely the wrong way to build a solid culture. Trust leads to exceptional performance.

More than anything, we attract and hire only five-star players, and a sense of humor is a big plus. We test every candidate and put them in a high-pressure situation – this helps us separate our finalists. We take our work seriously, but not ourselves. We take time to find pleasure in our work every day, and it creates a fun, challenging atmosphere of excellence. In fact, just about every day, a client tells me he or she can “feel” our culture in interactions at all levels of the company, and that our culture is deep and real. They often ask if they can come work for us, and we are very flattered when they do.

Thom: What is it about being an entrepreneur that draws you to build businesses?

Brett: This is the fifth company that I have founded – the most recent was Coremetrics – and it’s the challenge of creating game-changing solutions that genuinely help others that draws me to building businesses. My friend, Derek Woodgate (a local futurist), told me “entrepreneurs create the future”. I like that.

I also take great pride in building a great team and giving good people good jobs. With Bazaarvoice, Brant and I saw an untapped opportunity that would – and has – revolutionized the way all of us make purchases, and I saw a huge financial upside as well. This is a global need, and I’m proud of the fact that we already have 380 team members, 290 clients, 7 solutions in 20 international languages, and 4 locations globally (Austin, London, Paris, and Singapore).

I always want to challenge myself, and surround myself with smart, driven people. In some ways, it is like my Wharton MBA experience all over again. I’ve been very fortunate to successfully build on great ideas, and Bazaarvoice has the biggest potential yet.

Thom: What is it about Austin that makes it the best place to be an entrepreneur?

Brett: As a native Austinite – and I guess not many people can say that – I wouldn’t have done this anywhere else. Beyond my natural affinity for Austin, I like that Austin’s energy drives creativity – it’s such a unique city, and frequently top-rated on many dimensions. It’s rapidly becoming a larger city (I recently heard from Brewster McCracken that 10,000 people are moving here per month), but it’s small in that we are all so interconnected – it’s so easy to meet people who can help (like Bootstrap Austin, Leadership Austin, or TexChange), or whom we can help.

It’s almost like there are less than two degrees of separation between any two people in Austin, especially in technology. Finally, people in Austin are just plain happy to be here – it’s one of the best cities in the world and always in the nation’s top-five in educational background, per capita.

Bazaarvoice continues to do great things, and I predict that they will continue to grow into one of Austin's legendary success stories.

Have A Great Day.


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