Culture, Growth, Startup

Byron Darlison, Rise Vision Founder & CEO, on Growth and Culture

Our spotlight entrepreneur today is Byron Darlison, the founder and CEO of Rise Vision.
Founded in 1992, Rise Vision is a bootstrapped company that delivers software that powers the digital signage and monitors in over 9,000 organizations worldwide, including Chicago Public Schools, Marriott, the University of Delaware, Bic, and many, many others.
Byron is one of the most thoughtful and meticulous business leaders that I have come across. He has never raised VC or private equity financing, only debt, and has bootstrapped a growing business with strong profitability.
Despite or perhaps because of that growth to profitability profile, Rise Vision has demonstrated the focus we like to see in strong, sustainable companies:
Byron is a big proponent of developing clear systems and processes for his company and team, which have been remote way before COVID came about.
Many thanks to Byron for taking the time to share his experiences and learnings with us all, and I hope you find some good learnings you can apply to your startup or scaleup business!
Key Takeaways
  • Company culture will happen by accident, whether you intend it or not.
  • Holding everyone to account for values, irrespective of role, is what builds a strong culture.
  • “I got this” may be helpful but is not an effective way of scaling a company
  • An entrepreneurial operating system can be an effective way to keep everyone oriented around common goals, and accountable for achieving them
  • When you have a strong culture and values, employees will self-select based on whether or not they fit.
  • Began building software for Reuters to power LED screens on trading floors.
  • Moved on to banks and the retail space, beginning to be called digital signage at that point.
  • It was a series of accidents and opportunities that presented itself which enabled the company to grow to where it is now.
  • “A series of accidents.” Can’t orchestrate culture.
  • Have a clear description on where you’re going, what the expectations are, and what won’t be compromised, while considering values along the way.
  • Values are aspirational. Will fail at them but it’s everybody’s responsibility to hold each other to account. Everyone is accountable for adhering the values, regardless of role, and that’s what creates a culture that sticks.
  • Didn’t prioritize them for years, but with an average tenure of 10 years. Team has worked together so long that culture has become established.
  • Nobody was accountable but everyone helped each other out “I got this” was a commonly heard phrase. Ultimately, that approach only goes so far.
  • 3-4 years ago began looking at this topic, emphasized looking at how work was accomplished, defined what was of most importance.
  • Went fully remote 15 years ago, did not enjoy needing to be in a fixed location. Decided at that point anyone could work remotely, kept the office for those who wanted to continue using it. Saw that no one was using the office the following year, surrendered the space and committed to fully remote for everyone.
  • Doesn’t believe a mixed model works as it can be disruptive to one’s routine and communication channels. Fully remote has worked better, but need to have people for whom that fits.
  • Hire and work with people in the same timezone to ensure constant communication throughout the working day.
  • Pre-COVID, the company brought everyone together for off-site gatherings to create a better bond.
  • Use WeWorkRemotely, learned from Basecamp. Not hard with the digital space to find talent. Hires head hunters if required.
  • Pay salaries benchmarked to Kansas for all employees, irrespective of location.
  • Remote working is not for everybody because people want the collaborative environment. Focus on more mature applicants who can manage themselves without an office environment.
  • High tenure, little/no turnover, resulting in minimal hiring.
  • Incorporate a whole checklist. Everyone must learn the product, work in support, meet everyone in the company. Training on products, and all tasks.
  • Process takes approximately one month. Everybody gets involved, can be a firehose for new team members.
  • Use Topgrading to ensure they like the applicant’s history. Only engage recruiters who use Topgrading. Depending on the role, may pay them to undertake a project further assess them..
  • Byron and the entire team play a critical role in the hiring process.
  • Prior to 3-4 years ago, not a whole lot. More recently, have prioritized hiring of women and particularly women of colour. Strong preference in the hiring process, have made progress with their last three hires.
  • Rates the company as a low D for diversity, but has been working on changing this.
  • This lack of diversity is largely tied to the high team retention, equating to less hiring that would accelerate the transition to increased diversity.
  • Work on a 3-year planning cycle.
  • Identify target customer, what attributes they make buying decisions on, how they stack up against competition. Look at divesting in some areas and investing in others to create white space between them and competition. Put this all on a map and define strategically what they want to deliver that will reinforce their competitive advantage by quarter over the next three years.
  • Take that and look at who needs to deliver on what to make that happen.
  • Use a financial model called a 36-month rolling forecast which states what they’re going to achieve and then every month they plug in the actual amount. It rolls forward so if they are off in their projections they can see the impact, reconcile all areas quarterly.
  • Everyone updates their scoreboards weekly to see where they are.
  • The goal is that every person can say whether they had a good day or not by a number.
  • Scorecard reviews. Look at what was accomplished, what the employee is looking to accomplish over the next 90 days. This determines a critical number and supporting metric targets.
  • Evaluates how they stand compared to values – uses a matrix approach for values and competencies.
  • Adherence to values is fully incorporated in the scorecard.
  • Many times, looking back it was largely due to lack of education and experience.
  • Historically experience numerous challenges through the years, especially prior to the “awakening” and implementation of an operating system 3-4 years ago.
  • Tenacity and stubbornness is a large factor of success and reason of today’s existence.
  • Very open and transparent, and a few people over the years have not been comfortable with that level of openness. It’s not for everyone.
  • Looking for ways to go forward faster – add capacity and opportunity in leveraged ways.

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My name is Alexander Rink. Drawing upon over 20 years of experience growing early-stage companies, my team and I help CEOs and Boards of Directors of companies from $1M to $25M in revenues identify and resolve strategic and organizational challenges to accelerate their company’s growth in a capital efficient manner.

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