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Kristine Steuart beat the odds when she founded and grew Allocadia to over 100 employees and exited through a merger with Germany’s BrandMaker. Looking back on the experience in conversation with SAAS NORTH, Kristine shared the best advice she ever received as a CEO – and how she implemented it in her company.
- Founders should focus on building a company people want to belong to.
- Belonging includes all stakeholders: investors, partners, customers, and team members.
- Founders should use belonging both as a day-to-day decision factor and also embedded within a few key strategic pillars that work for your company.
After building and exiting Allocadia, Kristine Steuart finally had a moment to breathe. Not only did she wildly beat the odds of building a startup from scratch to over 100 employees and a successful exit, she did it without needing a 9-figure growth round. Looking back on the experience in conversation with SAAS NORTH, Kristine shared the best growth advice she ever received as a founder – and how she implemented it to turn Allocadia into a lean rocketship.
ADVICE ON THE ROLE OF A FOUNDER
The Allocadia platform helps marketing teams manage their spend, team planning, projects, and more, similar to how ERP and CRM systems help operations and sales teams, respectively. Kristine founded Allocadia with her sister in 2010, both seeing an opportunity in the then-burgeoning marketing operations space.
Along the way, Kristine said she received immense support from early investors and employees who believed in her. But the best advice she ever received came from a board member: she told her that her job as a CEO was “to create a company people wanted to belong to.”
“The word ‘belong’ is so special because it means more than just working for you or profiting from you,” said Kristine. “It also isn’t just about investors but also partners, customers, and team members.”
Upon repeating the advice, Kristine noted that it’s a fairly intuitive lesson to hear. However, the “how” of it all is the hard part that took her years to truly understand.
TURNING ADVICE INTO ACTION
According to Kristine, implementing the “belonging” lesson happens at two levels:
Day-to-day decision factor: Each time Kristine came up to a hurdle or fork in the road when building the business, she asked herself if the decision ahead would make the company a place that people wanted to belong to.
Embedded in strategy: Kristine said that as CEO, she needed to pick a few key pillars to focus on that would, in her view, make the company one people wanted to belong to. She was also clear that it has to be a small number of priorities since each pillar requires dedicated energy.
While day-to-day decisions continued to leverage belonging as a decision factor, Kristine chose three pillars to embed into strategy: Career experience and growth for employees, diversity and inclusion, and using a one-page strategic plan.
1. CAREER EXPERIENCES AND GROWTH FOR EMPLOYEES
For Kristine, building great career experiences included:
Looking for ways to promote people: Whenever someone exceeded expectations, Kristine looked for ways to recognize them with a promotion (if it made sense for both the person and the company).
Encouraging people to bring their passions into their work: In one example, a sales development rep loved writing and storytelling, ultimately wanting to become a screenwriter. While there was no role like that at Allocadia, Kristine encouraged him to help turn a company town hall into a theatrical event with scripts and show running. He got to bring his passion to work and Kristine said the event was one of the most memorable in company history.
“I want to find ways to build a great employee experience that we can just keep doing over and over whenever people love it,” said Kristine.
2. DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION (D&I)
Kristine’s co-founder brought her passion for diversity and inclusion into Allocadia, wanting to ensure anyone who engaged with Allocadia felt like they were welcome.
The company’s initiatives began with organically but evolved into a more fleshed out strategy, including:
Bias checks: Allocadia used online language tools to identify if job descriptions were using exclusionary language.
Encouraging voices: Leadership encourages all team members to share their perspectives. This also coincides with initiatives around bringing your passions to work, meaning that employees don’t have to hide their non-work personalities or hobbies.
Sponsorship and showing up: Allocadia began to offer intern programs to help new people break into tech and sponsored numerous community events to not only support those communities but also to draw talent.
“At one point, even our board was all women – except one man,” said Kristine. “That is incredibly rare in business, but we wanted to ensure people had these kinds of experiences at all levels in our company.”
3. THE ONE-PAGE STRATEGIC PLAN
A key way to make sure people feel like they belong is to show them how their contribution fits into the big picture. At Allocadia, Kristine accomplished this with a one-page strategic plan.
Instead of an enormous document, the simple one-page structure made it easy for everyone to imagine their contributions.
Kristine took inspiration from “Playing To Win,” a book on corporate strategy, and used the following sub-headings on the strategic plan:
- Culture and values.
- Mission and vision.
- Where we will play: What products or services the company will focus on.
- How we will win: Big strategic choices and go-to market investment.
- Capabilities we need: Budget, resources, and specific talents.
- Quarterly operational targets: Base metrics to plan against.
“Smart people need to know where the company is going,” said Kristine.
GROWTH TO GROWTH
Fast forward to 2022 and Kristine is no longer involved with Allocadia – she moved on from the company shortly after its merger with BrandMaker. Instead, she’s focused on helping other founders as a board member of the BC Tech Association.
She is excited by what she sees in the BC tech ecosystem, but noted that there are a lot of small startups yet few scale ups. As a result, she wants to focus on helping companies grow into their potential.
“I want to give back in a similar way to how my early investors supported me,” said Kristine. “We have a thriving ecosystem in Vancouver, and I want to give back and help companies scale up.”