A conversation with Eyal Lifshitz, founder & CEO of BlueVine about how he is building Company Culture at BlueVine
Hi, this is Rama, cofounder/ CEO of GoodRipple. GoodRipple helps you send fun positive vibes to your coworker anonymously on Slack and Avocado Culture helps you see how your Company Values are lived weekly, so you can build strong company culture in real-time. I had a fascinating conversation with Eyal Lifshitz, founder & CEO of BlueVine and wanted to share some of the things we talked about. I am a big fan of the organization he has built and is building.
A leap from Greylock (VC) to do a startup
Eyal was working at Greylock IL, a top VC firm, and with an interest in FinTech was seeing how traditional lending was being revolutionized and done better by new players online. At the same time, he came across factoring and got an idea that the same innovations that were happening to traditional lending could be done to factoring for small businesses. He was not looking at becoming a founder, it is just that the idea found him, and he thought there was an option to build a large company. He came from a line of small business owners (his father and grandfather) and could relate to the cash flow issues small business owners typically face given his personal experience of it — that made it exciting for him to pursue this journey. He made the leap to start BlueVine (Greylock IL and Lightspeed were early backers).
Going beyond Factoring as the only product to understanding the cashflow needs of small business owners
BlueVine started with factoring and did factoring better and faster online and made it more modern. A more modern factoring was a very useful product, but when serving small business owners, BlueVine realized that the small business owner’s need is not necessarily product specific — they have a more primal need, how do I deal with my cashflow issues? Factoring is one of the ways to help with this need, but this deeper understanding of clients opened up new ways for BlueVine to serve their clients — for example, lines of credit was a new BlueVine product that helps small business owners and over time even delivering non-credit products that serve the customers’ need. A broad offering of solutions is the key to delighting the small business owners.
Growing to 185 people (and growing fast!): Hiring with intention: Good people hire good people
At the beginning, it was only Eyal and his cofounders. He needed to bring other people on board for the BlueVine journey. For those early employees, he needed to tell people about how they could come and help build this company from the ground up. These people usually had excellent outside options, and would typically take a significant pay cut to come work at BlueVine. They needed to believe in the upside potential of BlueVine. As the team grew, the senior people would become easier to bring on board. At the same time, Eyal realized he needed some structure to have an effective organization, so that people had proper mentorship and time with their line managers. For the people below the executives, different things would appeal to them. Instead of coming to help co-build the company (like the earlier people were), they are coming in with slightly more structure — for these people, the draw is the mission of the company (helping small business owners thrive), the upward trajectory that they will have (compared to a larger company) and the greater ownership in their work. I mentioned to Eyal I noticed that the office exuded raw energy and people talked to each other a lot. He thought ‘people’ is an important factor in applicants choosing to work at BlueVine- good people hire good people and when people meet BlueVine employees, they can assess if they are a good fit for each other (‘seeing is a thousand words’). Sometimes, Eyal would get involved in the hiring process when needed, where he shares BlueVine’s mission and values. Another aspect to growing the company, was to grow different sections of the company in lockstep (for example, grow sales and operations in tandem) to make sure when people were here, they had the right corresponding teams to work with.
With scale, Eyal needed to communicate values more explicitly
At some point, it became clear to Eyal that he needed to change the way he communicated to people at BlueVine as the organization was now much larger (as he was no longer able to be in communication in the same way with everyone). He needed to be more explicit about the way he instilled the culture and values of the company. The company values were now written on a wall, so everyone could see them. For Eyal, a big lever in creating Company Culture is hiring the right people and the CEO doing what he/she preaches. Because of the company size, he does not always know directly how the people other than his direct reports, are living company culture, but he sets the example with his direct reports and keeps them accountable and has them do the same down their reporting lines. Eyal is alert to ensure that nothing conflicts with the messages and has a variety of ways to be aware of what is happening at BlueVine. He has a monthly coffee chat with different people at BlueVine to learn first-hand what is happening. He reads Glassdoor reviews of BlueVine (he notes that these comments tend to be extreme — either very positive or very negative). He surveys people to get insight on what is happening. These are the things that matter to him as a company CEO.
Eyal’s view: It is not a company value if it is not timeless
Eyal is building an organization for the first time and when they started thinking about their Company Values, they at first thought of 10 values. They realized for them 10 would be too many for people to remember. One of the values they wanted to have is: ‘Maintaining a high level of security’. After some discussion, it became clear that this was table stakes, not something that inspires people, which in Eyal’s view Company Values are meant to do. He thought of values in the following way: What makes us different? What is true for everyone in the company? What values are unique to us and help us succeed? Every value needs to be applicable to each person in the company. The values need to be universal and timeless for the company. To illustrate timelessness, he uses one of Amazon’s value of ‘Frugality’. Although right now for BlueVine they do act frugally, he would not be opposed at some point for having business travel for employees who need to travel internationally for business as they go into profitability (Amazon does not have business travel as standard for its employees). So for Eyal, although they are frugal now, it is not something that defines BlueVine forever, so would not be a Company Value as it is not timeless.
BlueVine’s Company Values: inspired by who they are for their customers
- Move Fast
This is inspired by what really makes a difference to the small business owners — if BlueVine is fast, this allows the small business owners to not have to remain in uncertainty and can move on to doing business. The speed is not a nice feature for customers, it is a life-changer for them to get fast decisions and be able to focus on their business. To be that for the customer, internally at BlueVine, everything needs to move fast.
2. Make it Simple
Similarly to speed, BlueVine delivers complex products simply from the point of view of customers and this matters a lot to small business owners. Internally, it serves the company and its clients to make things not cumbersome or too complex.
3. Push Boundaries
When BlueVine was trying to disrupt the old industry of factoring, the traditional factoring industry said: ‘Are you nuts?’ BlueVine is playing in a conservative industry. To succeed in that context, BlueVine had to constantly push the boundaries and challenge assumptions. To many questions ‘why’, they would hear the answer: ‘Because it has always been done before’. Through asking questions, BlueVine allows people to disrupt things, including themselves.
4. Constantly Learn
Whilst this one may not be unique to BlueVine, it reflects how people are and allows people to get into new areas. This reflects a little bit Eyal’s journey of BlueVine. When he started his foray in factoring, he did not know much about it and had to learn it. With this value, BlueVine is a learning organism.
5. Win Together
Winning together and partnering internally are super important to BlueVine. The approach extends to thinking about everyone winning, especially their clients. This is the way to create a long-lasting brand where people genuinely like you.
Eyal shared a message he had just received on LinkedIn, where a customer whom Eyal does not know, told Eyal about how BlueVine made a difference to his life as a small business owner. The business owner’s email also conveyed how ‘fast’ BlueVine was. Reading other customer reviews, ‘simple’ comes up often. BlueVine’s values seem to correspond quite well with how their customers perceive it.
Plans for the future — BlueVine looks to grow its team a lot this year (from 185 to 230) (BlueVine’s hiring!)
BlueVine plans to grow fast this year through a combination of outside hires and internal promotions (where the internal people are almost qualified for the next level up). With this growth, Eyal thinks some more structure and governance would be needed, and policies become more important. He sees HR as growing in strategic importance to the organization in thinking about the right way to grow. Standardization and resource allocation would start taking a bigger dimension in the organization.
Eyal’s tips to fellow company leaders to build an organization and Company Culture
It is hard!
Try to adopt candor with yourself and others.
Ego is a not a good thing.
Be willing to learn from anybody (listen even if you may not end up following the advice).
Be humble — be willing to change.
As CEO, hire great people who complement you and are better than you at their respective functions. Eyal is proud to have built a great team and he attributes BlueVine’s success to his amazing team. Hire high caliber people who work well together. Building a great team requires investment, work and a bit of luck, which Eyal thinks BlueVine has had with its team.