Podcast 3: Derek Flanzraich – Greatist CEO and Founder
Greatist CEO and Founder Derek Flanzraich discusses the motivation behind his wellness company that battles pop culture notions of what health and success should be. By focusing on six core company values and creating a dynamic and flexible workplace culture, Greatist fosters open communication and a team mentality. This interview includes communication tools, hiring strategies, and Millennials in the workplace.
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[00:30] Ryan Kellogg introduces Derek Flanzraich, Founder and CEO of Greatist.
[01:25] Flanzraich discusses the origins and motivation for Greatist, the company’s intent, and massive growth in the preceding five years.
[04:30] By first considering what he doesn’t like about traditional corporate culture, Flanzraich designs an alternative work environment, including no set working hours.
[09:30] The six core values that facilitate both company and individual success.
[14:00] Recruiting tactics to find team members who best fit with Greatist’s company culture.
[16:40] Hiring slow and firing fast is easier said than done – leaders have to learn staffing mistakes firsthand.
[18:30] The benefits of building a team with diverse personalities and knowing when to fast track a candidate before they accept another position.
[23:30] Flanzraich offers his perspective on what Millennials look for in the modern workplace and his alternative to the traditional performance review.
[29:50] Honest communication benefits both the company and the individual, even if it means sending bright minds to other companies.
[33:00] Non-traditional means of internal communication, honoring successes and failures alike.
[36:15] The mindset that gives Flanzraich daily motivation.
[37:50] The multiple meanings behind the Greatist tagline “Good for You” and how it applies to personal definitions of success.
Derek Flanzraich: New Views on Healthy Corporate Culture
Growing up, Derek Flanzraich found that most brands advocating health and fitness were disingenuous, to say the least. The Founder and CEO of the media company Greatist explains, “I started it really because of a personal passion and a personal struggle; I grew up the biggest kid in the class struggling with my weight.” Disgusted with so-called fitness brands that only made him feel bad about himself, Flanzraich became obsessed with the idea of creating a brand that would empower people instead of telling them to look and feel a certain way. The Greatist media company was the first step in building that brand.
Covering a broad range of topics on fitness, health, and wellness, Greatist targets individuals wanting to better themselves, but in an honest, real, and gimmick-free way often not found in the fitness industry. Their efforts have paid off. With 300% year-over-year average growth and a reach of over 10 million people every month, Greatist has raised 8 million dollars in venture capital with well known names in angel investing, including Floodgate, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Chris Hughes.
In the last year alone, the Greatist team has grown from 20 to 40 people. “It’s a really exciting time for us and we started making money doing deals with brands like Target and Fitbit,” Flanzraich says. “It’s been a wild ride over the last 5 years.”
Going Against the Grain
After graduating from college, Flanzraich went straight to a startup, which, six months later, sold to a big media company for roughly 100 million dollars. The experience with a well funded, Silicon Valley startup wasn’t what he’d anticipated. “I was surprised that I felt like there was a lot of missed opportunity,” Flanzraich says, disappointed with the company’s lack of an overall, inspiring vision.
With the birth of Greatist, Flanzraich was determined not to recreate those shortcomings. “I basically reverse-engineered it,” he says of laying the groundwork for his own company, beginning by identifying what he hadn’t liked about his previous job. Setting out to build the healthiest company on the planet wasn’t out of a sense of purity. “I’m a pretty brutal capitalist,” Flanzraich admits. He simply knew that a healthy workplace culture would positively impact the bottom line. That culture includes no set hours and no tracked vacation time. “Vacation and days off shouldn’t be counted as long as you perform.”
Company Core Values
“The first one is You Be You, which is really about being your authentic self or at least working hard to become that.” By encouraging his team to be authentic and comfortable in their own skin, he finds greater communication and less susceptibility to office politics.
“Same Team is our second core value.” With an office-wide ban on “political bullshit” and routinely engaging in radical candor, the Greatist team is unafraid to directly address issues needing attention and have healthy conflict. Values also include Do Work You’re Proud Of, Improve Relentlessly, Laugh a Lot, and JFDI which, Flanzraich explains, “stands for Just Do It.”
Recruiting: Learning the Hard Way
For the most part, Flanzraich relies on word of mouth and professional recruiters to find team members who fit with Greatist’s culture. But having hired 60 to 80 people over the last five years, and also having let go half as many, Flanzraich has had to learn some lessons the hard way. “A lot of the things I’ve learned have come through mistakes,” he says, admitting that ‘hire slow – fire fast’ is easier said than done. For a time, he gravitated to hiring people with personalities that matched his own, before discovering the value in a team of diverse minds. Current hiring practices involve evaluating candidates on both their aptitude and attitude as it fits in with the company’s core values, and making sure a range of team personalities weigh in on the process.
There have been times when hiring went too slow and Flanzraich lost good candidates, leading Greatist to occasionally fast track the hiring process “if the decision calls for it.” In other cases, Flanzraich learned that when it comes to certain skills, like sales and editing, no amount of hunger and ambition in a candidate can make up for experience.
A Millennial himself, Flanzraich cites two goals of Millennials in the workforce – an exciting mission and vision that speaks to them, and professional development. In pursuit of the latter, Greatist removed the practice of performance reviews and instead implemented Tours of Duty, an idea adapted from LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman’s book The Alliance. The Tours of Duty foster open discussion about roles, development, and growth. These discussions buck the outdated notion that employees join a company and work there for their whole lives. “Most companies still pretend like that’s what’s going to happen,” Flanzraich says, choosing instead to promote personal advancement over safety and security.
Open communication at Greatist sometimes leads to team members leaving the company to pursue experience elsewhere. Flanzraich has no illusions that sometimes it’s for the best, and on occasion, employees bring their new skillset back to Greatist.
The company’s tools for internal communication include Slack, Asana, Greenhouse, Google Docs, Dropbox, and newsletters strategically placed “on the refrigerator and in the bathrooms, but those are the two most important places, to be fair.” Monday morning meetings include a rotating award for someone who’s gone above and beyond, and a contrasting award for “the greatest fail, where people actually take turns trying to share who messed up the worst the week before and they get the greatest fail award.” Showing by example and encouraging people to make mistakes breeds Greatist’s culture of innovation.
Good for You
“I get to wake up every morning and go to work, and work alongside people who are all trying to make the same difference that is the difference I want to make in the world,” says Flanzraich. “I’m passionate because Greatist is making ‘healthy’ accessible.” The Greatist tagline “Good for You” focuses on helping people get healthier the right way, rather than doing something simply because someone else told them to. “The idea behind that tagline is that in health, success is really about finding what’s good for you.”
The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha