Encouraging Ownership in Your Remote Team with Stephen Sommers

Stephen Sommers is the co-founder and CEO of Marketplace Superheroes. Marketplace Superheroes is a Nate figure education and services platform that teaches members how to create a five to seven-figure income stream selling physical products on Amazon. Growing at 200 percent across all his companies, Stephen has about 75 team members, most of which work remotely.

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Luis Magalhaes:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the DistantJob podcast. I am your host Luis in this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest today is Stephen Summers, the co-founder and CEO of Marketplace Superheroes. Markertplace Superheroes is a Nate figure education and services platform that teaches members how to create a five to seven figure income stream selling physical products on Amazon. Growing at a 200 percent across all his companies, Stephen, has about 75 team members, most of which work remotely. So Stephen, welcome to the show.

Stephen Summers:

Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here and I always look forward to conversations with people like yourself. So let’s get rocking.

Luis Magalhaes:

It’s an absolute pleasure. So tell me a bit, I mean, this is a podcast obviously about remote work and building remote teams. So why don’t we start there, right? How has remote work and the distribution of work made your current businesses possible or made them better? Yeah?

Stephen Summers:

Yeah. Everything we do is remote right from the premise of selling stuff on Amazon, right through to our warehousing network, right to our teams and everything we do, as I mentioned is just absolutely remote. So remote work has been, I would say, a game changer for us because it’s enabled us to bring in a global talent, people from all over the world who do lots of different things in our business, who wouldn’t necessarily all be located where I live, which is a little town in Ireland called Wexford. We’ve got lots of towns of people here in Wexford, but we don’t always necessarily have all of these tons of people from all over the world. So yeah, it’s been huge and it continues to be so because as we grow our businesses, we are constantly looking for new talent all the time. And the only way we can get that new talent is by expanding to more different markets and more people as well. So it’s absolutely huge for us.

Luis Magalhaes:

Wow. So how big is that town? I’m curious.

Stephen Summers:

Yeah. Wexford? So there’s a town and then there’s the county outside that. I believe the entire county of Wexford is about 120,000 people and a town of Wexford about 40,000 or so. So it’s not like it’s tiny, it’s actually quite a big county in Ireland, but I suppose when you compare it to some bigger cities in Portugal or Spain or USA it’s quite small.

Luis Magalhaes:

I don’t know, I mean, Portugal is a small country, but the reason I’m asking is because it’s actually been in the news recently. We’re recording this on the 30th of March, of course, usually our podcast listeners listen to it like one month after, but very recently the Irish government as revealed their initiative to promote remote work, right? Specifically to make that the rural places more appealing due to people who want to live and work with a nice quality of life. I’d like to, before we go into how you manage your team and how you build your companies, and etceera, I’d really like to know your boots on the ground experience right? Being in Ireland right now, does it feel that the things are really shifting towards remote work and is there a feeling that this is affecting positively the communities? How is it like to be there right now?

Stephen Summers:

Yeah. Well, I mean, Ireland is a very progressive country, as you mentioned there. Great that you’re keeping up on all that news.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s my job.

Stephen Summers:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I suppose that we have a lot of huge tech firms in Ireland who they employ people all over the country. So in Dublin, the Capitol that would have been a massive amount of people working for Google and Facebook and all that in the city center and India Editors inside the city center as well. And that was always the way and with the financial services district in Dublin, that was always the way you just go there to work. Whereas this whole situation has definitely changed that massively and that all those companies now switched to mostly remote work. People are working from home. And as you mentioned, yes, there is a new plan to bring in these hubs all over the country to enable people to work more remotely for the longterm.

Stephen Summers:

So Ireland has tried to do this years ago in a decentralization plan. It didn’t work very well though because people didn’t want to leave Dublin at the time because the actual career advancement opportunities were going down for them. The more they left the capital, but that’s all changed now, changed massively and it’s shifting every single day. So I’m really excited about that idea. I will see how it goes. Actually in Wexford as well, we have a company here, I think they’re called Remote Junction and they tried to build a big remote working facility, and unfortunately, the facility isn’t that great. Although, the building is amazing, the guys kind of didn’t do a great job on it in my opinion, and they made a little bit cheap, but I would say, Ireland definitely we’re going to be doing more and more remote work.

Stephen Summers:

And right now, one of the reasons we’ve been able to keep our economy going pretty well, all right, it’s been affected is simply because so many people work remotely in Ireland. We’re very lucky in that respect that we have so many tech businesses. So definitely we want to keep on pushing forward there. And I’d like to see more tech businesses in Ireland do that. And also a lot of tech companies who even started in Ireland, we tend to go off to America very quickly like Stripe. They went to America and we have a big Dublin base with Stripe as well, but I would like to see more companies realize, “We don’t actually even need to leave Ireland. We can actually bring in these remote workers all over the world and do great.”

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. That feels right. And it’s a pity that the companies in the past that felt that they have to leave their countries of origin and go the US to go big. Here in Portugal, we’ve just had our second unicorn to start up to the funded to the tune of 21 billion, I believe.

Stephen Summers:

Wow.

Luis Magalhaes:

I actually don’t… I was talking with some colleagues about it now. Off the top of my head I don’t fully remember what they’re doing, but definitely there’s a change going on in that people are realizing that they can get good talent from across the ocean if they need to, without leaving their home base. Now, of course, there are other cases that might want to make a company migrate tax situations, et cetera, et cetera that’s up to the governments of the places where the companies are being created to figure out how to keep them there because it’s to their benefit. But the workforce situation is definitely something that’s changing.

Luis Magalhaes:

So you have almost 100 people across several companies, several businesses. So how would you describe the composition of the teams? Now, I know that not all can be remote because you have some stuff that involves store houses and et cetera. And we’re still not at the place where people can be controlling the robots there, right? At the drones and all of that. We’ll get there someday, but not right now, but overall what’s the remote team distribution among your businesses?

Stephen Summers:

As in what countries do they live in that kind of thing?

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. And so is it more obvious and what teams are, let’s say the marketing teams in the company or the content production teams, I know you also have, I mean, what brought you here today as Marketplace Superheroes which is an educational company. What is the team composition there like, et cetera? However you’d like to play it. I just like to have a nice perspective of how you organize this distributed workforce in your head, if this needs.

Stephen Summers:

Yes. So I was supposed, when you look at the functions of what we’re doing, marketing is a big function in the business and it’s what fuels all the other companies. So it fuels our education business. It fuels our coaching business, it fuels our freight company because that’s at the back of the business. So that’s a big focus for us. We have got people in South Africa, there are two people in South Africa, who live close by, they do a lot of our marketing funnels and automation and things like that. And then we have content production over here in Ireland because we have, I’m in the little studio here right now so we’ve got someone that comes in here, works with me a little bit, and we make a lot of the content and stuff like that. But then we have people dotted all over the place who organize things going out and stuff like that.

Stephen Summers:

So typically people are dotted all over the world, but that would be I suppose the first organization. On from that, we have an office in Northern Ireland as well, actually, as our company is actually a UK business technically, our main parent company is. And so we have a Northern Irish office for about four or five people there, they do a lot of the management of different things. My business partner is located there.

Stephen Summers:

And so a lot of times what we find is the very specific functions. So if you’re doing email marketing, for example, you’re writing emails, copywriter, he actually lives in Bali, he’s from the United Kingdom, but we find that the more strategic that you go into business, the more we need to talk and chat a lot more often, we typically find that they’re located closer to myself or closer to Robert up in Northern Ireland because we just find even though Zoom and technology like that is really good nowadays, it’s still very challenging to have, I think, really good conversations that are, that are a bid strategy and stuff like that just on Zoom.

Stephen Summers:

That said though, with our freight company, we have freight partners located in the US in Houston, in Australia in Brisbane, and in Canada in Alberta. And we have to speak to them on Zoom because no, we can’t fly to all these different countries right now. And it would just not be practical even outside of COVID times to always travel. So that’s probably the only instance where we have strategic work happens remotely all the time. We do try to meet up a lot of the department heads and a lot of the more strategic people, we do try to meet up a couple of times a year. Obviously, we haven’t been able to do that during this time, but whenever this whole pandemic ends eventually, or maybe it doesn’t end but change in some way where we can travel again, we would likely do the two or three different meetups where we would have a strategic meetup with all of our more senior partners. And then we would have another meetup, maybe one or two times a year with the rest of our team. That’s the way we’d like to try to do things. So it’s very much a combination of strategic functions. We try to keep them close together. Certain times we have to spread them out.

Stephen Summers:

And then we use a lot of different tools, obviously Zoom for remote work, for conversations, et cetera. We use Asana for a lot of our marketing functions. So for organization of that and our content as social media marketing things like that we usually use Slack for team communication globally. For everybody, we put everybody into the one Slack. And we also use Zendesk for all of our CRM, all of our customer support, stuff like that. And again, our customer support teams they’re located, I mean, literally all over the world. I couldn’t even give you a one country because some people are in the US, some people are living in Poland, some people are living in South Africa.

Stephen Summers:

How we got our team? Actually, we built it from our client base, is how we actually did it, which is why there’s no discernible location. It’s more where we’re good people were that’s we took them into our team. So that’s been kind of cool that we were able to do that as well. We didn’t have to say, “Well, we’re going to go here.” For example, our software team, they’re all located in Ukraine because that just made sense. The guys, they actually have a location there, but then the person that manages that team lives in Australia. So, wow. That’s all over the place.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’d like to speak with that person, because I believe that the challenges in managing the schedules it should be interesting to say the least, right? So you talked about strategic versus content driven. Let’s say, obviously, the person that’s in Bali, that there can be a cadence of reporting and delivery, where they submit the piece and then they go to bed and then the person on the strategic plan reviews it, and either approves it or sends it back with request alterations. They go to sleep, the other person wakes up, picks it up, et cetera, so that you can have a nice written there with software development and someone leaving the software development team. It’s probably a bit more challenging than that, right? Especially when you have deadlines to hit and et cetera, not that it’s not possible, but the fact that having the head of the team can’t really be a blocker right? On the work of the rest of the team due to a time zone constraint, right?

Luis Magalhaes:

It can be the case where we need some input from the team lead, and okay, now we need to wait 12 hours, and then we have to cater for our work time. So we’re going to have that input back when we wake up right, in the middle of that, a lot of hours of productivity will be lost. So I would actually be interested in knowing how they manage that.

Stephen Summers:

But we just answered that. We do have a project manager, who’s part of the team who lives in the Ukraine. I suppose the other person, Lisa, on the other side, who lives in Australia, she is more… I suppose she communicates with us a lot more often. And so she delivers more the strategic focus like so, because project managers, software development teams, as I’m sure you know if you let them go off and they prioritize things, sometimes they’ll prioritize things that are maybe not strategically as important as other things we’d like to on. So I suppose she very much makes sure that they understand strategically what we have to do and they’re getting the stuff done.

Luis Magalhaes:

Got it, got it. That makes sense. So let’s talk about the strategic teams for a moment. Now, obviously, you have a preference for being in the physical space with those people, right? That’s why you like to be close together, but that’s also not happening now, I assume. So what are the workarounds that you found to get the bit of that experience back?

Stephen Summers:

Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the things we’ve done, which might sound strange, so we’re in Ireland. So as I’m sure you know, Irish people, we like going to the pub to the bar, right? That’s a part of our culture where we meet up.

Luis Magalhaes:

Are the pubs open?

Stephen Summers:

No, no. Nothing’s open on our end at all really. And so that’s challenging. So obviously, we create this digital pub night on Zoom where we do quizzes and games and stuff like that and we bring all the team on. And it’s kind of funny because some of our team, our sales team, for example, is headed up by Justin. Justin lives over in Long Beach, California. So it’s early in the day whenever he’s coming into the pub and it’s a nighttime for us. So that kind of thing is kind of funny in different time zones. And so they’re drinking soda or whatever, because it’s too early in the day to be respectfully doing things like that. So things like that have been very important.

Stephen Summers:

I think we’ve looked to infuse a lot more fun into everything we do, more so than ever before, because whenever COVID hit, it obviously hit everybody very hard and continues to do so. For us, we felt like for our clients as well as our team, we had to be a place that was entertaining as well as informed of, because we teach a lot of stuff, but equally we brought that in. So we started doing things like having more memes going out to our clients, talking about a Zoom meeting that’s happening. We were using memes internally as well to have more fun and stuff like that. So that was something we did to bring that back.

Stephen Summers:

Also, I suppose here at Mixer, do you know, there is just a necessity for Tony, the video editor and production manager. There’s a necessity for he and I to be in the same room if we’re going to shoot stuff in the studio here. So initially I did not come into the studio, so I was shooting a lot of stuff at home. And then we found out ways where we could use B-roll and things like that to make the videos look so much interesting. But over the last little while I’ve been able to come back in distanced and Tony, we wear masks and all the rest. But mostly Zoom has been our key. Zoom and Slack have been our two keys.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I mean those companies have experienced massive growth since all of this started, that there’s a reason for that, right? That they’ve been life rafts for many people. So for sure. So tell me a bit about… let’s talk a bit about how you manage your people remotely? Right now, how many direct reports would you say you have?

Stephen Summers:

For me, I’ve cut that right down to about four people come back to me. I have an assistant, Tracy, who works with me full time. I don’t really like the word assistant, but there’s no other word for her right now. So we just go with assistant.

Luis Magalhaes:

Well, you could use secretary, but I prefer assistant.

Stephen Summers:

I think there’s a very old fashioned now.

Luis Magalhaes:

Exactly.

Stephen Summers:

But Tracy, was a game changer for me actually, because I never had an assistant up until maybe last year. And I found, I had a lot of people reporting to me, taking a lot of my time and I realized, “There’s no necessity for this many people to be hitting me up all the time.” And if you have too many people reporting to you, it becomes what we call like, some people call it, “Have you got a minute meetings?” I would call it just like, “Ask Steven.” Or if it’s Robert, my business partner is, “Ask Robert.” And whereas actually the answer, you can go and find the answer. So by kind of forcing people to go via Tracy to speak to me, it’s been really good actually. So that’s clipped down on a lot of the direct reports.

Stephen Summers:

I mainly deal with, speaking of, Robert every single day. We speak every day without question. We talk about the strategic kind of outlook on everything that we’re doing to make sure we’re right. we talked to the freight teams, that’s two, so it’s three now. I talked to the marketing team, Lisa heads that up, another Lisa. So that’s four, and that’s about it. Everybody else then we do these different kind of like team training calls, where everybody comes on, and I train up the team about communication skills and how to take more responsibility for your own actions things like that. Trying to just teach people more personal development type material that they don’t feel like… they can google things, right?

Stephen Summers:

So that’s been really big and giving people our ownership has been also huge. But the thing that I used to struggle with, because I cut off a lot of communication, I actually struggled with, slow bonding with our team members, right? People never reach out to hear from me. I was like the wizard of Oz or something, right? But actually even these team training calls has been great. Pub nights, great. And then the final thing is just our more senior people doing more Zoom kind of calls with those guys has been big. So that’s pretty much how we’re structured.

Luis Magalhaes:

Okay. So, that’s interesting. And that opens a couple of avenues for our conversations. First, I’d like to point out that you are a very Lisa-heavy company, right?

Stephen Summers:

That’s very what?

Luis Magalhaes:

Lisa-heavy company.

Stephen Summers:

Two Lisa’s.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s right. Yes.

Stephen Summers:

That’s very true.

Luis Magalhaes:

Well, I thought the one in Australia was also Lisa.

Stephen Summers:

She is, yeah, Lisa. And there’s two Lisa’s. My sister is one of the Lisa and a Lisa in Australia is our software has a offer.

Luis Magalhaes:

Nice. Okay. So first of all, what you described is what I usually say is what I usually talk about poke management, right? It is where you’re booking… the way that the company is managed is you’re booking people everyday, and people are booking you every day, and that’s fine when you’re like five people. But then as the company goes, it’s kind of begin just to be unsustainable, right? Everyone is poked to that. So we obviously want to avoid that.

Luis Magalhaes:

I want to talk a bit about the ownership part and those trainings that you do. What I find out is that most people don’t understand ownership just because it’s not the concept that they’re used to grasping, right? Most people are taught that they should cover the rest, right? Instead of taking ownership. And the way I found, and I find that it’s really hard to train people out of this. Personally, I try to do it by example, and by actually taking ownership of everything so that people eventually, I know I see that when I eventually find people taking ownership of it themselves, right? Because they saw that I keep saying that everything is my fault, which technically it is, right? I actually believe that, right? And I’m still working here. So apparently, it’s not life-threatening to take ownership. And then people start to get on board with that. But in my experience, it takes a long time. It takes months if not over a year, how have you cracked this dilemma?

Stephen Summers:

Yeah. I would say we still have finally cracked it, but we’re getting a lot better. We’re fortunate in many ways, right? Because our team members, most of them, not all of them, but most of them, they’ve got their own business at the same time. So they still run their own Amazon business, right? So they came to us because they learned how to sell on Amazon from us. Then they joined the team as a coach or a team member or whatever, and they still want to build our Amazon business. So for many people, I was already, as well as Robert, my business partner, we were already teaching them a lot of those skills about becoming an entrepreneur or a business owner or whatever, and taking that type of ownership early on. And I think that’s really benefited us because many of those people brought that mentality into working in the team then, because now there’s some people I actually asked this question today on the call. I said, “How many people here feel like you’ve got a job versus you’re building a career? And either way is fine. I’m not going to like punish you if either way. It’s totally cool.” And it was interesting because more people than I realized actually said, they felt like they were building a career in the company, which I didn’t expect actually.

Stephen Summers:

And so we’ve brought in these kinds of ideas of ownership, as I say, initially from training. But also as time has gone on helping people understand by you saying, “That’s not my job.” Or by you doing things like this. This is actually going to adversely impact you within the business because that’s just not how we operate. Our culture is not about blaming people. We always tell people we don’t blame anybody. Like you just said, Luis, for me and Robert, we always do the same thing as you, it’s my fault. And what did I do to create that? And we encourage our team.

Luis Magalhaes:

Automatically, your team members will do the same.

Stephen Summers:

Yeah. What did I do? Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so I think that’s that, but it’s still taking time. We still have some people who, they forget that they can google something, right? They forget that they can do simple things because I’m really interested in the concept of learned helplessness. You’ve heard of this before?

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. The Seligman work.

Stephen Summers:

And it’s just fascinating that idea where, for anybody who hasn’t heard that briefly, they just did a lot of experiments on animals and things like that, where they tested say, and this is not nice, but they did test having dogs given electric shock, and then they had a locked cage and then the dog eventually just fell down on the ground, they just took it, and then they open up the cage still gave the dog the same stimulus. The dog didn’t leave the cage with the cage open because he or she believed they couldn’t do it. And so is that idea.

Stephen Summers:

And then they had another example, which it’s a more of an anecdotal example of a monkey in the wild. They take the monkey out of the wild, put it into a zoo, feed it every day, a couple of times a day, the exact same time. Eventually, the monkey relies on the food, puts it back into the wild can’t survive anymore. So that’s kind of the same concept with people, humans if we have been fed things, be at a salary, be it the answer via whatever, we just started to become helpless when we’re really not, we’ve forgotten that we’re actually powerful. And so I just look to remind the team members about that. And also the big thing for us Luis, is we try to give people a pathway where they can see that they could progress. So if you’re in support, for example, we’ve had people who started in support are now, some of our key team members at a strategic level, but they started in support.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. So learned helplessness, it’s something that it is worth stressing, especially, in the context of looking things up. I personally, usually tell people that being able to google stuff is a superpower and most people don’t understand how they have the means to improve their lives significantly right on their smartphone, because they’re afraid because they type a couple of words and then there’s a lot of results and it’s intimidating.

Luis Magalhaes:

But I built my career on Google. I was literally on Google and online, let’s say. I was poorly paid writer writing about video games because that’s what happens when you write about video games, those guys don’t get paid anything, literally they’re paid cents on the dollar, right? So those guys don’t earn anything, but a long time ago, someone asked me if I knew how to write about remote work and agile. And I’m like, “Yes, of course I do.” Then I googled it, all right? And then I googled it and then they kept asking me those stuffs. And eventually they asked me, “Do you know about anything about marketing?” And I’m like, “Yes, I do.” And five years later, I’m Director of Marketing.

Stephen Summers:

There you go.

Luis Magalhaes:

Google helps. I agree. Listen, I google things every day. Elon Musk talked about this in the Joe Rogan interview and it was so fascinating what he said. He actually said, “People aren’t realized we are actually cybernetic organisms at this point in time.” But we don’t realize that. But we actually are… like our second brain, my second brain absolutely, is my cell phone. I’m constantly looking stuff up. And as you say, you can improve your life instantly by just googling something. It’s so powerful.

Stephen Summers:

Yeah. Whatever you want to learn is available there. I mean, and you know this because you run a company that teaches people how to do that. So obviously, it really is impressive. This still happens daily in my life. My wife has a problem and I’m like, “Wait a minute.” And I google it. And then I solve her problem and she just tells me, “You’re so smart. I can’t believe you’re somebody.” And I’m like, “No, I just googled it, right?”

Luis Magalhaes:

It’s the same thing my wife thinks am a genius too.

Stephen Summers:

Yeah. It strikes me. It just strikes me how people are impressed by a skill that you acquired literally by typing something, right? By typing a couple of words into a search engine. But actually, do you want to know something, for everybody listening? That’s not such a motivating thing, such a motivating thought, right? If you’re running a company, if you’re looking to work for a company or whatever the case may be, you can, and you can jump above most people by just doing even the simplest thing. And that’s huge.

Stephen Summers:

And I would also say for anybody… a thing I always tell people that are coming into our company as well. So the worst thing you can do is come to me and say, “Steven, I’d like to work with your company and I’ll work for free.” And I say, “Okay, well, what are you going to do?” And they’ll say, “Whatever you want me to do.” I’ll say, “I don’t have time to tell you that.” So I think if for anybody listening, it’s even, this is just an example of thinking differently. It’s like, I always tell people, if you look at our company, identify problems, cause there’s plenty. I mean, still to this day, Instagram, our Instagram is no good. It could be way better and it needs to be better.

Stephen Summers:

As such as a simple example, you look at that, you realize it’s a problem, you understand, you can acquire the skills from the internet for free, if you want to. Or, and I would recommend you can take a mentorship program with someone to get much better, much faster, in my opinion, there’s a lot of information, but it’s poorly organized usually. But anyway, you can acquire the skill if you wanted to for free might take you a long time, but then you can go to a company and offer the solution. Here’s what to do. So even for our team members, I always tell people don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. I don’t need any more problems. I’ve got loads of problems. Bring me solutions. I always tell people, I don’t want to see a problem. I want you to see an opportunity.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. That’s a very good point. And it actually happens to me all the time. And I keep reminding my marketing team of this. I know everything. I have a list. I know all the 107 things that are wrong with our website, right? I don’t need you to tell me that there’s the reason those things were installed because there’s just one of me. So if you can solve it, please by all means, right? I don’t need you to tell me about it. I need you to solve it.

Stephen Summers:

Exactly. But it’s such a simple concept. And I think, for everything we’ve all been told to think a certain way. And it’s been handed down to us for many years. Whereas actually, if you can think differently about everything you’re doing, whatever company. The only reason we’re doing what we’re doing today is because we chose to add more services into our business, add more remote team members into our business to run those services and service the same clients with different stuff. And the only way we could do that was why brain and talented people and just offering it. Whereas most of the people in our space, they just have a course. Whereas, we’re growing freight company. That’s our real big business we’re growing. We will ship 10 million items this year from China to our different areas, but if we had a thought like everybody else, we never would have done that.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Impressive. So tell me a bit about that growth, because one of the impressive things about your businesses is how much, how fast they’ve grown over the last past years. And again, it’s mostly remote. So when hiring someone, I think that part of the puzzle these days is not just hiring someone that’s great at their technical skills. Obviously, that’s necessary, but also finding someone that’s going to be great at working remotely because let’s be frank, let’s be honest, not everyone is great at working. You said, you need to have ownership, you need to be independent, et cetera. A lot of factors that make a normally talented person or even a very talented person at what they do, also be good at remote. So apart from the people that you get from your clients, which obviously you have a very deep relationship with those people and you already know that they are capable of ownership because they started by building their own businesses right? Apart from that, when you need to hire someone from a blank slate, right? What is your process? What things do you look for?

Stephen Summers:

Well, you’re going to laugh because we’ve hired hardly anybody from a blank slate, genuinely. And how I see that is, I think where you were going. And I fully agree. It’s like there’s a lot of intangible factors in a human that you look for. So what I look for is hunger to do more and to go and achieve things and I want to make things happen. So hunger for me is the most, I would say important factor for success. The second thing is coachability is absolutely vital because many people I have actually identified the role for them. I’ve seen where I feel they could do really well. No, they may not be good at that. So I say, “Okay, well, come into the team and we’ll train you up. And then we’ll not pay you. We’ll pay zero, we’ll train. We’ll not pay you, and when you trained then we’ll pay you.” And so but what we’ve actually just started for which of my…

Stephen Summers:

I don’t know if it’ll blow your mind, but it’s pretty cool I think, and we started a paid apprenticeship program. Now, when I say paid apprenticeship, I mean, they pay us. Yes. So we allowed them to apply. Let us know. We have a marketing pathway and we have a sales pathway. We basically allow people to be a fly on the wall in our companies and learn everything there is to learn about marketing or selling all of our processes, all of our systems. We teach everything and the best people at the end, we offer them a position within the business. And then the people who maybe there’s not a role for them right now, we actually teach them enough so that they can go and offer that skill to another company. That’s pretty cool. Actually, people pay us for that.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah, that is indeed pretty cool. And it’s important. I really like, I really enjoy working with juniors, right? And while I don’t have a paid apprenticeship program, I haven’t gotten there yet. Maybe it’s something to consider, but I do always say to people, “Look, I’m hiring you for a very, I mean, I don’t want people to be terribly poor, but I’m hiring you for a modest salary right now because you’re going to get a lot of value from working with us. We have experienced people in our team and you’re actually going to get an education that you are very seldom able to get anywhere else.” And what I see happen is that after your year of working with us, then people go on to double their salary because they required the skills, right?

Stephen Summers:

Yes, exactly. Yeah. And that’s very much how we operate very same way. If you come on, we always tell people, “Make yourself indispensable.” That’s a critical factor. And then when people do, we then offer them a fantastic deal. But what we also do a lot of is team members, not everybody, they can do this, but for example, when people come into our team to say, “Help with product research for our clients.” What will you actually do with those guys is we enable them over time to create different coaching programs, products, et cetera, that we can sell that are fantastic, that they can run. And if they run everything themselves, we actually pay them a percentage of the deal rather than just a salary or whatever, because we want to encourage people that if you do more, you’re going to receive more but it’s more about the value you provide and you’re creating real IP in the business as well, which is really cool. So you should get a share of that.

Stephen Summers:

And we’ve just found that to be a fantastic actually, and it’s enabled myself and Robert to do different businesses and add more stuff into the company. And at the end of the day, like you said, if you find people to poke management thing, it’s self true.

Stephen Summers:

But there’s also four stages of company growth according to one of my favorite books called Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson, AKA Mark Ford. And he always says, at each level you break the thing that you had before and we definitely experienced that. The big thing for us, we’ve seen as we’ve been going towards the 15 million a year claimed America and beyond is like, it’s all about the kind of upper level C suite, if you want to call it that. I’ll be honest though, we don’t put labels like that on ourselves in our business. We just think it’s kind of weird. We’re not really into that. We’re not even big on titles as some of our team members beg for a title. And I tell them, listen, you don’t need a title. I don’t have a title and I run the company.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s so funny because I keep saying that to the people that work on my marketing team, that I’m like… they ask when they are doing outreach or something like that, what should be my job though? I’m like, “You pick whatever you want, be whatever you like to be.” That’s my message.

Stephen Summers:

People Rainmaker. That’s it.

Luis Magalhaes:

Exactly.

Stephen Summers:

Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:

But it’s definitely interesting. And thank you for your extensive reply. I really like the apprenticeship model, right? I think that that worked well in the past. If we stopped doing it for, I mean, for industrial reasons really, but with distributed work, it’s easier than ever to pick it back up and it makes more sense.

Stephen Summers:

I agree.

Luis Magalhaes:

To me, it seems like a much more warranted, personalized education, right? Once upon a time, I actually, my formal education is as a dental surgeon, right? Before I shifted careers dramatically. And I remembered that after five years of college, six years actually of college, after six years of college on my first year at the Nitrile Practice, I learned 10 times more than in the previous six years. And I’m like, “Why didn’t I start doing this before, right. Why wasn’t I allowed to start doing this?”

Stephen Summers:

Exactly. But I would say as well, that in my opinion, well then the reason I’m sitting where I am today is because I was an apprentice of Robert, my business partners in many ways. He took me under his wing and taught me everything initially. And then of course I went on and expanded my own knowledge, et cetera. And we became business partners then, and now we’re very much equal in many respects. And obviously, I’ve gone on, got a lot better at certain things. And he’s far superior than I am at certain other things, which is why the partnership works.

Stephen Summers:

But the point anyway is that I think apprenticeships are critical. I actually think they’re going to become more important in college to be totally honest, because I think college education and number one is outdated way too quickly in a lot of fields. And number two, in this digital space that we’re in you know yourself, digital platforms are changing so quickly, algorithms are changing. You can’t just go to college and spend four years learning Facebook or something because after four years, what you learned in your first year is edit age. And what’s you learn in your fourth year is edit age.

Luis Magalhaes:

Exactly. All right. So I know you have a time that you must keep, so I want to be respectful of your time. I do want to finish with some rapid fire questions. The questions are rapid fire, but the answers don’t need to be. So number one is, let’s say that you want to buy a gift for everyone working with you and you need to buy in bulk, right? You can’t just take something for everyone and you can’t give them a gift card because that would be cheating. That would just be giving them the money.

Stephen Summers:

I know the answer already.

Luis Magalhaes:

Okay. What do you buy for everyone?

Stephen Summers:

I’d buy for everybody a book called the Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco.

Luis Magalhaes:

Oh, nice.

Stephen Summers:

That’s what I would buy.

Luis Magalhaes:

Tell me about, I have that book. The Millionaire Fastlane sitting on my shelf. Well, I haven’t gotten to it yet because I am an obsessive buyer of books, right? I usually buy every book that my guests recommend to me. And even though I read about two books a month, sometimes more, but it’s very hard to go through it. Why should I prioritize this one?

Stephen Summers:

That book has got everything you need to know when it comes to an overall philosophy of how a remote business specifically should be run. It talks about creating unlimited leverage with unlimited net profits for digital type assets and stuff like that. It talks about actually, as a business owner or a creator at the back of a business, what’s your ultimate goal? Like how can you get to a place where you’re actually independent financially and also you have actual passive income because we’re all creating active income right now. We’re working. And then it’s like, well, how do I create passive income for real? Not the Lamborghini guys, BS version of this, right? What’s the real version? So it’s great from that perspective. And also it just shows you how a lot of society actually behaves. The slow lane is what he talks about there and just gives you an overall fantastic viewpoint of how a business should be created it.

Luis Magalhaes:

You got it. Well, thanks for the recommendation. I will definitely pick it up. I have it.

Stephen Summers:

Get into it.

Luis Magalhaes:

So it seemed to it’s bumping to the top of the queue.

Stephen Summers:

Get it at the top of the queue. Absolutely.

Luis Magalhaes:

So what about for yourself? What purchase have you made and just so you don’t reply the book again, let’s put the time limit on it in the last six months, let’s say, what purchases have you make in the last one year to six months, that’s considerably improved your work or productivity, work-life balance, any metric you think was significant?

Stephen Summers:

Sure. A Brain.fm. Brain.fm for anybody who doesn’t know, it plays… it’s an online program, it’s an app that basically plays by Narelle beats to help you get into a productive state of mind, relaxed state of mind, et cetera. And so you basically put on this music while you’re looking to get into deep focus, and this music keeps you very focused. A lot of scientific studies done about it, and that apparently some are proven. I can only tell you from experience that this simple little purchase it’s really an expensive, for the membership absolutely will make you more productive, guaranteed.

Luis Magalhaes:

Wow. You use it to read books as well, or when you’re doing content work, when you’re doing creative work, how does that work?

Stephen Summers:

Mostly writing type works of reminder book or a post or a webinar or something like that. And then I also use it for relaxation. So there’s a rain sense which are really good if you’re trying to relax, if you’re finding difficult to go to sleep or something like that, you can put on rain sounds and you can just listen to that and they have like a beat that goes underneath it and you’ll be asleep in no time.

Luis Magalhaes:

Sounds great. Thank you for the tip. Okay. So I usually have a question about books, but you’ve already shared two books with us. So I don’t think that it would be fair to put you on the spot for a third one.

Stephen Summers:

I could give you a hundred books. No problem.

Luis Magalhaes:

Nice. Well, I like that. You’re a fan of books, I am as well. So that’s cool. So let’s say that, assuming it’s legal again to meet for dinner, let’s say that you are hosting a dinner and the in attendance are going to be the movement makers of the biggest technology companies in the world, the decision makers, the people that make the decisions, they are attending your dinner. There’s a round table about remote work and the future of work. And because you are the host and the dinner happens on a Chinese restaurant. You as the host, get to pick the message that comes inside the fortune cookie. So what is your fortune cookie message for all these people?

Stephen Summers:

That’s a great question. I don’t even get fortune cookies very often. Let’s see. Well, I’m going to cheat a little bit and I’m going to say what my favorite messages to everybody in the world, which is “Become a producer, not a consumer.” I have to just go with that. I can’t think of anything better to say, all right?

Luis Magalhaes:

Love it. That really good advice. I try my best, but I just liked to consume so much stuff.

Stephen Summers:

I know. I tell you what I like about that, right? If you are to give a hundred percent of your time and then we take the parade of principle, 80, 20. So 20% of your time consume, 80% of your time produce. You’re therefore producing four times more and you’re instantly going to be more successful. And I just try to keep that ratio to that as much as I can.

Luis Magalhaes:

I really appreciate that. I would add to that if I may, that as long as you’re producing, the most important thing is that you produce every day, right? I find myself that if I miss a day, then I miss a week, right? That’s what I find. I always try to do my creative things, the podcast, I do a daily vlog, writing, et cetera. I try to do that every day because it’s really easy to get off the bandwagon.

Stephen Summers:

Very easy. And it’s hard to get back on the bandwagon then, right?

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah, exactly. So that’s really good advice. Thank you so much for that. That’s actually a very beautiful fortune cookie too, to end on. So it was a pleasure having this conversation with you. Now, I do want you to tell people where can they continue the conversation? Where can they learn more about your business and how they could possibly benefit from it? How can they reach out to both you to discuss your ideas and also to become clients if they would like.

Stephen Summers:

Sure. Yeah, I would give just two places. I think that’d be appropriate. If you’re looking to learn what we do with the Amazon side of our business and how we build these types of companies, you can go to marketplacesuperheroes.com. But on the other hand, if you’re an existing company and you have clients, and you have people who are not yet clients, and you’re looking for a way to grow your business very repeatedly, like we’ve done over 200% a year by bringing in a promotional system that just works every time, go to growmyreach.com. And you can get a free training there, learn a whole bunch of stuff. We’ll show you how we do that, and track from there.

Luis Magalhaes:

That sounds lovely. So thank you for that. Thank you for being here. I had a lovely conversation. Ladies and gentlemen, this was Steven Summers, the co-founder and CEO of Marketplace Superheroes. Stephen, thank you for being a guest.

Stephen Summers:

Thank you. I appreciate it, Luis. I had a really good time. You’re a very interesting gentlemen and I hope to speak to you again in the future.

Luis Magalhaes:

It’s my pleasure. And I do hope to speak to you in the future as well. Ladies and gentlemen, this was the DistantJob podcast. I was your host Luis in this podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

Luis Magalhaes:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they are a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast indication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast gets to have more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast. Click on your favorite episode, any episode, really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

Luis Magalhaes:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country, look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that a bid you adios. See you next week on the next episode, at distantjob.com.

 

More ways to listen:

Many skills become critical in a remote worker. For instance, having someone who can work independently, who manages time well, and delivers on time, is crucial. However, there’s one underrated skill that makes or breaks most teams: ownership.

In this podcast episode, Stephen Sommers explains in-depth why ownership is fundamental in any business. He shares, from his experience, why encouraging ownership and helping employees developing it changes the team’s dynamics for the better. He also shares valuable insights in diverse subjects such as culture, remote hiring, and tips for remote leaders.

 

Highlights:

  • Why ownership matters and how to encourage it remotely.
  • How to organize your remote business effectively. 
  • The power of googling things up.
  • Skills to look for in a remote worker.
  • Unique remote hiring strategies 
  • Insights on Marketplace Superheroes growth.

 

Book Recommendations:

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up in the next few weeks!