We had a chance to sit down with Jay Steinfeld, CEO of Blinds.com, to talk about his career and the growth and sale of his company. This is the second part of a two part interview. You can find a hasty transcript below.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to Texas Business Radio. We are in the second segment of a Legends in Leadership set that we have. This is our second one. We love doing this. These are the guys that are, are the rock stars of the business world. Right? And Jay Steinfeld is the CEO and founder of Blinds.com. Is here in the studio for another segment. We’re going to dig a little deeper into what we talked about last segment and talk a little bit about the culture that he’s built. I’m your host Matt Register, here with Jay Curry. Jay what’s going on?
Jay Curry: Just, let’s get right into it. Get into the culture, the values, the the way that Jay pull this off. It’s great story and can’t wait to continue.
Matt Register: Yeah, no doubt, Jay Steinfeld. Jay welcome to the show, sir.
Jay Steinfeld: Thanks Matt.
Matt Register: So when we were talking last segment about how you actually built Blinds.com. Right? And part of the secret sauce that allowed you guys to grow so exponentially was the culture of the company. I want you to share a little bit about what that was. Because that’s something that’s very hard to really even talk about because it’s sometime… you know when you see it. But it’s very hard sometimes to you know, explain how does one go about building a good culture. Because everybody has a culture whether that’s a conscious decision or not. But you had it as a conscious decision. Walk me through that.
Jay Steinfeld: Well, I had as a conscious decision but not at first. I didn’t believe in any of that, sound mushy, little soft.
Matt Register: All right.
Jay Steinfeld: So we didn’t really know what it meant. In August of 2002, that was the year after being married for 26 years my wife passed away from cancer. And it was a time when I needed to think about my life, my future, my values, my definition of success.
Matt Register: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: How would I be optimistic with my three children. So, I was studying, I was reading and I continue. As is the number one type of book that I’m reading is about leadership, about understanding yourself and understanding other people. Because that’s the most important part. Understanding yourself and being true to that. And I realized that there were two core values at the time. One of which I found out later is not really that true, now kind of evolved. So I’ll just tell you the short story of what my four core values are now.
Matt Register: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: One is to improve continuously and two is to experiment without fear of failure. Three is to be yourself and speak up from your own unique perspective and four is enjoy the ride have fun.
Jay Steinfeld: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: That’s it. So, I wake up in the morning with the express purpose of improving, improving myself. But it wasn’t until I realized that it’s not about improving yourself solely but about improving everybody around you. In fact the role of a leader is to make everyone around you more effective. That’s your, that’s your number one priority. So, once I realized that my job was to help people, actually help people become better than what they ever believed possible. Which is our stated purpose. Help people become better than what they ever believed possible. That’s when the company really took off.
Matt Register: Well and it’s amazing we talked during the break about. It’s amazing how fast an organization takes the personality of their leader. Right? And when you adopt these core values, I bet it didn’t take long for that to permeate through the rest of your organization.
Jay Steinfeld: It didn’t. But those people who did not have those core values. I mean really core.
Jay Curry: Yeah.
Jay Steinfeld: They didn’t, they didn’t stay but most people did. Because we just inherently knew that those were things that we had. That we had to have as people. Now it’s an express part of the interview process. I interview almost every person now and I still do. I did an interview earlier today for an analyst and my job is to see if they have those core values. And that’s, that’s it. That’s all I interview for. I’m not looking for skill. I’m looking for fit, with that. Because if they don’t have those core values. If they can’t prove to me that in their personal life, personal life, not professional life, that they are experimenting and trying new things for the express purpose of getting better. We won’t hire them. Because if they are not that way, inherently that way. They are not going to make it in our organization. Because we’re changing everyday, we’re evolving all the time. Everything we’re doing is for the purpose of helping ourselves get better. Helping everyone around our self get better and to ultimately influence the customer experience. Where we’ve got to help them get better too.
Matt Register: Well and I tell you what you can always teach the skill, right? You can’t teach a fit. You can certainly teach a skill on bring somebody in and teaching them exactly technically what it is they have to do for their job. But it’s very hard to teach a culture. So now you have an organization full of people that will understand their core values, who hold these core values. How has that impacted the company?
Jay Steinfeld: Well having people who really care about… who, who understand their accountability for getting better. That know it’s in their their power to get better. That they can be better than what they’ve been told and now know they’re accountable for doing it. Not… I’m not accountable for it. They are.
Matt Register: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: And by having people always thinking about getting better and helping other people get better. We’ve gotten better. We’ve done things that large companies like Home Depot were not able to do with billions of dollars of cash and 400000 people. They bought us… they bought us instead of being able to make it themselves because… it was because of the culture that did it. And when we sold the company we got a lot more money than one might get based on our revenue because we had that culture. That was a driver. It was a force multiplier to be able to do things and they thought well they didn’t just get lucky. This culture is what’s enabling them to do all these things and they always want to improve and therefore they see potential for us to not only do what we’re doing in blinds but to help out in the enterprise. And that’s where we got much higher multiple.
Matt Register: Well there’s a couple aspects of this I find particularly interesting. One of them is the, Speak your mind. You know we’ve had guys, a really, really smart guys and talking about, you spent a whole lot of money and hired really smart people and they don’t, aren’t willing to share what they know or what they think it doesn’t do you any good. Right?
Jay Steinfeld: Right.
Matt Register: And if you have a culture of you know not only expecting and enabling but demanding that everybody speak their mind and tell you what they’re thinking, what they think. you’re going to get a lot more diversity of opinion. You’re not going to have meetings where everybody’s sitting there giving you a north and south agreeing with everything you’re saying. But that in and of itself has to have a big impact, right?
Jay Steinfeld: It does. That doesn’t mean that everybody speaks their mind because it is hard. You grow up your whole life not speaking your mind because you could get slapped for doing it. And the way other bosses might respond would be well, that’s a stupid idea. So you get this reaction to just not doing it. Just keep your head down, do your job. Don’t make waves and that’s the way you get ahead. Not with us. Because if you go into a meeting and you’re not providing information. You’re not going to be invited to that meeting again because you’re not providing value. If you want to provide value then speak up, even if it’s not a great idea. It’s an idea and it shows your thinking and those are the kinds of people who I want. People who are thinking, they’re experimenting without fear, they’re speaking up. And look it may trigger somebody else in the room to come up with an idea a way beyond that. But we never would have thought about it had that person not just said what they thought.
Matt Register: That’s perfect and we’re quickly running out of time. But the biggest question and the elephant in the room is, how can a world do you get bought by somebody like Home Depot and not have that negatively affect this culture that you’ve built. Because very often you end up being swallowed up by the, by the big behemoth multinational company and end up becoming them. Which is not what enabled your success, right?
Jay Steinfeld: They were very adamant that if they were doing things that would change our culture, that we should speak up. And that’s great. Because that’s one of our core values is to speak up. So, there are some things…
Jay Steinfeld: They bought in, right?
Jay Steinfeld: Yes. So they wanted us to do things that we hadn’t done and help them become better than what they’d ever believed possible. And it just fit right in and so we are now doing those things. And I feel very grateful for being part of Home Depot and being on this, in this arena. To do things so far beyond what I ever believed I could do. And that’s why I’m still here after three years. I feel like it’s the first day of my career.
Jay Curry: Your just getting started. I mean the impact your going to have. Yeah. Congratulations. Wow.
Matt Register: And I tell you what this shows a tremendous amount of self-awareness. Probably more than I know that, I think that I’ve ever seen out of a large company like that. Where they come in and don’t say “hey we’re a multi-billion dollar company, we know better” and to allow you to be able to run the company the way you want. I think is quite remarkable. Guys, we’re talking to Jay Steinfeld, the CEO and founder of Blinds.com. Jay thank you very much for joining us.
Jay Steinfeld: Matt, Jay thank you. Appreciate it.
Matt Register: Guys, this has been fun. We’ve told you everything we know about it. We’re going to be back next week with a whole another show. I think you’re really going to enjoy. I’m looking forward to it. I think you’re really going to enjoy it. Same time, same place. Guys in the meantime go to Texasbusinessradio.com. A lot of stuff on there. Do yourself a favor. Texasbusinessradio.com. Blinds.com is where you go to learn a little bit more about Jay and his company. Remarkable company. Guys we’ll be back next week.