Glen Allison: Keeping the Lights On

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Things are running smoothly over at Honey, Inc, and that’s something we’re stoked about – since Honey’s whole goal is saving us money: it’s an interface designed to automatically find and apply coupons at checkout.

And we have the COO of Honey, Glen Allison (LinkedIn | Twitter), to thank for a large chunk of that.

What’s a COO, exactly? We’re so glad you asked. “The job of the COO first and foremost is to augment what the CEO doesn’t have, in my opinion. George is a great visionary, he’s a great strategist. He’s got super deep thoughts on how he wants things to happen. He doesn’t have the tactical or execution side of, ‘how do those things happen’, right? So he and I spend a lot of time together. We ask what he wants to see for the company, and how he wants things done. And then I sort of take that. I’m like, ‘okay, great, that means I need X number of people here, that means we need to start slicing things up this way’, and then just really put that into play. The COO is really the platform for the company. I want to make everybody that comes to work have their experience to be frictionless, I want it to be fun and challenging, and I want it to be rewarding. So if they can come to work and their parking pass worked that day, their badge to get through the door worked out okay, they had a desk that was there with a computer that worked, coffee is already brewed in the morning, lunch service is being set up for them, the meeting rooms are bookable and they’re clean and ready for the whiteboards to be drawn on, if their payroll got paid… if all of the things that you don’t really think about in this world just happened, then I’ve done my job well.”

Considering the effortless way Glenn talks about his role, you’d think he’s been doing it his whole life. But that’s not the case. In fact, he has been all over the cooperate map – filling all sorts of different roles. Before coming on at Honey, he was investing in and starting a company with Chamillionaire – the Grammy award-winning rapper. Things were taking off when Allison’s opportunity at Honey came around:

“We went out there and raised a couple million bucks, and built a prototype and got it out there, and then my opportunity with Honey came along while we were in sort of the prototyping phase, and I just kind of looked at Cham one day and said, ‘hey, I think you got this on your own anyway. I think you’re actually much more equipped than you think, so you don’t really need me alongside you.’ So I made the choice to move over to advise that company and kind of came over to Honey full-time.”

While Glen’s new role at Honey required a new perspective and skill set, he was more than up for the challenge. And his belief in Honey’s mission helped ease the transition: “Right now we’d like to say our goal is to make the world more fair. We build a free tool that gives you free money, so there’s not a lot wrong with that in most people’s eyes, so we’re trying to figure out how we do that at scale, and how we can actually bring people more free money, which is really a rewarding job for myself and everybody else that’s here at Honey.”

Glen’s wide range of experiences and skills have helped him grow, and he’s come away with quite a few lessons for up-and-comers looking to be the next movers and shakers of the industry.

BE READY FOR BIG TRANSITIONS: In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, things change often. You need to be ready for growth, shifts, cutbacks, and everything in between. “The successful company that we are today is because I like to say we don’t have a rule book that we follow. We’re constantly rewriting the rule book, we’re constantly trying to evolve what happens here. Reid Hoffman’s got his Masters of Scale Podcast going on, and he’s got a great book around it as well, and he describes it from that small family to a team, and from a team to a village, and from a village to a city, to a state, to a municipal … all of that kind of stuff. And it’s true. Everything changes.”

Paint Opportunity for Employees. For Glen, Honey isn’t just about providing a service for customers. It’s also about providing new options for their employees: “We like to think about it in that we’re always painting opportunity for our people at Honey. And what I think makes us pretty unique here is that we sort of under-hire by design. At a lot of companies that are having the success that we’re having – and the board will come in and say, ‘wow, you’ve got all this money in the bank and you’re doing so great, just hire, hire, hire,’ and just double the company every three months. And we decided a long time ago it wasn’t worth the cultural impact to do something like that, so we really try to slowly grow the company such that everybody has an opportunity to do something, as well as grow within that job. There isn’t the point where we ever hire duplicative job roles, where you’re fighting with somebody to say, ‘oh my gosh, I like doing that, now you’re doing it.’ Right? It’s definitely to the point where you still have scope to grow in every role, and that gives you a couple benefits. One, it lets the culture be additive, rather than diluting it with a ton of new people that are taking over all this stuff and then bringing in a bunch of different influence that you haven’t had a chance to shape. So you get a chance to control that. And then the other benefit is you still allow people to do the functions they like, and then you can identify ‘where do we really, really need to hire somebody?’”

And when you figure that out –

Be Picky When Growing Your Team: When a company is growing as fast as Honey, it can be tempting to fill the gaps as quickly as possible. But Glen insists that being picky about who comes on board at Honey has been one of the best decisions, even if it means they’re not expanding as rapidly as they could. “I still try interview almost every single candidate that comes through the door … I worked at Microsoft for almost 10 years, and we had this concept of having somebody from way outside the scope interview a person just to make sure they were a fit for the company, not so much for the job. I always tell every candidate we’re all about accountability and transparency here. So I think if we can ensure that we do that in the interview process as well, we get a chance to tell everybody, ‘hey, we love what you’re doing right now. You could really bring us to the next level. What you’re going to do is something you’re going to love, however, just know that that’s likely to change.’ Right? If you do your job and do it well, chances are you’ll finish it. If you finish it, there’s going to be something new to do. Chances are that means it’ll be with new team members, it’ll be with cross-functional groups, it’ll be … And who knows what it is? And does that excite you? And I think those are the things we’re trying to find out through the interview process. Who really is looking for a job, and then, who is really looking for an experience? And the folks that are looking for a life-changing experience are the ones that I think here at Honey we’ve been lucky enough to pull in.

Keep Learning: Glen has a lot of answers. But that doesn’t mean he thinks he knows everything. He’s constantly looking to grow. “So I’ve been fortunate, I’ve had a phone call or two with the former COO of Starbucks, right, and he was there for 20-something years where he took Starbucks from a handful of stores to several thousand, and just kind of getting some war stories from that is really helpful. Books are definitely really important… it’s how I figure out what’s next for me. Since it’s mostly a people organization, I tend to lean on a lot of people leaders. Patty McCord has written a great book on what she did for the Netflix culture, how you establish and define all of that. It’s a new-ish field where people feel like they need to start writing about it… I’ve started blogging a little bit more so that I can provide some information, not only to people that care about being COOs – I don’t know how many aspiring young kids are growing up like, oh gosh, I wish there was a blog about COOs – but at least I can help paint some perspective for potential candidates for the company so they can see, how does Glen and some of the executive leadership think about culture or people or development or career paths at Honey?”

Believe the best of people. “I think somebody said to me once that everybody generally is trying to do their best, and I think if you can take that perspective it can remove a lot of your frustration at work. [They said], do you really think that person you’re having trouble with is showing up every day with a plot against you to make your life miserable? Or do you think they’re trying to do their best to make the company go forward as well?” If you choose to believe the best, you’ll probably find more solutions and less problems. Common ground is a great place to start resolving conflict.

To hear more from Glen, check out our podcast interview here.

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