I’m very excited to share that starting today Think Like An Owner will now be publishing episodes twice per week. This change coincides with our decision to close the Operators Handbook and move those topic-specific conversations to the podcast for Thursday morning episodes. You can expect these episodes to focus on topics like sales, culture, hiring, debt, capital allocation, leadership, board meetings, and dozens of other topics. This is an addition I’ve wanted to make for a long time, and I finally feel like the podcast is ready to go to this next level towards our endless pursuit of better in small business.
The second episode also means we have more availability to partner with great companies serving operators and investors through podcast sponsorships. If you’re interested, please send me an email at [email protected] or connect with me on Twitter or our website alexbridgeman.com. I’d love to chat.
Jessica Markowitz, President and COO at Paragon Legal, kicks off our new topic-specific episodes. Paragon offers outsourced legal services to corporate legal departments, which Jessica and her partner Trista Angele acquired in 2018. Our conversation covers all things culture, including defining culture, maintaining and enforcing culture, and how to build a culture in a remote-first company. Enjoy.
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Hood & Strong, LLP — Hood & Strong is a CPA firm with a long history of working with search funds and private equity firms on diligence, assurance, tax services, and more. Hood & Strong is highly skilled in working with search funds, providing quality of earnings and due diligence services during the search, along with assurance and tax services post-acquisition. They offer a unique way to approach acquisition diligence and manage costs effectively. To learn more about how Hood & Strong can help your search, acquisition, and beyond, please email one of their partners Jerry Zhou at [email protected].
Oberle Risk Strategies– Oberle is the leading specialty insurance brokerage catering to search funds and the broader ETA community, providing complimentary due diligence assessments of the target company’s commercial insurance and employee benefits programs. Over the past decade, August Felker and his team have engaged with hundreds of searchers to provide due diligence and ultimately place the most competitive insurance program at closing. Given August’s experience as a searcher himself, he and his team understand all that goes into buying a business and pride themselves on making the insurance portion of closing seamless and hassle-free.
Oakbourne Advisors– Oakbourne is an independent retirement plan consulting firm that helps small companies design and implement great retirement plans for their teams. Whether you already have a 401(k) in place or are looking to start one for your team, please reach out to learn more about how Oakbourne can set your people up for success in retirement at oakbourne.com/think.
(2:58) – What is the purpose of Paragon Legal?
(5:10) – What values do you view as incomplete and what are some complete ones?
(9:47) – Is there one value that you see as most difficult to live out?
(11:55) – What are some of the most recent adjustments you’ve made to Paragon’s values?
(13:31) – How do you sus out whether someone will live out your values in the interviewing and onboarding process?
(16:42) – Do you have some way to quantify an employee’s alignment with values during performance reviews?
(17:54) – How do you maintain and communicate values to the team?
(19:33) – Have there been any particular challenges with enforcing values?
(23:03) – How have you approached building a culture in a remote-natured company?
(29:07) – What are you considering adding or changing concerning communication or trust building?
(30:20) – How do you approach a situation where a team member is continuously not living up to the Paragon values?
(31:59) – What are some other benefits you’ve seen from focusing so much on values and culture?
(34:04) – Have you found any way to accelerate the process of building trust with a new employee to be open and honest with management?
(37:38) – Do you view the act of building a strong culture allows you to trust your team much easier in terms of delegation?
(39:30) – Where are you focusing on improving right now in terms of culture?
(43:05) – Do you have a strongly held belief you’ve changed your mind on?
(44:02) – What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?
Alex Bridgeman: I think a good place to start would be walking through a little bit of what Paragon Legal does and then maybe how you would describe the definitions around culture and how you kind of brought them into Paragon. It’s kind of a big question kind of walking through the business a little bit would be helpful, I think.
Jessica Markowitz: So, Paragon Legal is corporate counsel on demand. We support large in house legal departments with their human capital needs, helping with short and long term engagements for highly experienced and qualified attorneys. So, culture, hear that word a bunch, and I think it’s hard to define. And maybe part of that is because everyone can kind of have their own definition, one. And two, it’s kind of a feeling, which sounds so hokey, but for me and for Paragon, culture really starts at values, and really, it’s about what behavior do you celebrate and what behavior do not allow. So, when that really is close with values, kind of what are the rules you play with, and things kind of build off of that. If you are a culture that is really about individual contribution, and then you’re going to have behaviors across your company that celebrate individual contribution. If you are a culture- and that stems from your values. In my mind, there’s not a solid definition for something that is so opaque, but it really comes down to the behaviors within an organization and what you try to maximize and what you try to minimize. That’s kind of how I think about it. And I think it’s really intertwined with the values of the organization as well.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, maybe let’s dive into values a little bit. What would you say are, first off, what are your values at Paragon? But then I think an interesting discussion would be, what values do you view as perhaps incomplete values where they don’t fully describe maybe like the aim of that value? And then what are maybe more complete values that you’ve seen either just within your own brainstorming on values and then what you’ve seen from other CEOs?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, so I can start with what are Paragon values. And we came into an organization, we came into Paragon, it’s been a business for over 16 years that had strong values. They were kind of, again, like culture felt but not articulated and not put down on paper. And we spent a lot of time doing that to say exactly what this feeling of values that we all hold really strongly are and wrote them down and made sure as an organization we can all say what they are. So, our values are: Do what’s right, even when it’s hard. That’s a lot about acting with integrity and thinking about the long term. Seek to understand and grow. Just constantly be curious, ask questions, be open to being wrong and being okay with that, being open to make mistakes and try new things, and being open to meet new people who come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs and do that with an open mind. Stand behind our work and our word. We’re a business, as like any other business, that we need to be reliable and accountable to one another. And be proud of what we put into the world. Win together. We’re a team and we celebrate wins as a team. Sometimes that means you have a starring role. Sometimes that means you have a support role. But each piece of the puzzle is required to achieve that ultimate goal. And the last one is put people first. People are everything. People are individuals; we need to treat them as such. This is not numbers on a page. And we need to always keep that front of mind for us to be successful as an organization. So those are our values. We live them and breathe them every day. I would say, I’m not sure if everyone on our team can recite them word for word, but everyone on our team can go through all of them kind of thematically and know what they are. We also on a monthly basis shout out values in action. So, we have a monthly team meeting and everyone goes around and shares a time where they saw one of these five values in the day to day. That’s intentional. And because we believe, Trista and myself, we both run Paragon, that this is essential to achieving great things.
Alex Bridgeman: And then do you want to dive into a little bit of maybe incomplete values that you’ve seen others have, either in companies you’ve studied or peers of yours running other businesses?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I don’t- I think everyone’s- on the incomplete values, I don’t think Paragon’s are right, and everyone else’s are wrong. And so, where I would say incomplete values, where I would see it, and I think at the beginning, Paragon, we’ve evolved to get to this place of where we live and breathe our values and make decisions by them. The incomplete values is when it’s not what they are, but how they’re enacted. So, values on a piece of paper and values not inaction are incomplete values in my mind. If you make decisions to run your business, or who you hire, or who you want to retain, that type of person that is not in line with your values, then those are incomplete values. But I’m in no position to sit here and say another company has incomplete values if that’s what they want to be. But I will say, that’s where they’re incomplete. If they’re a piece of paper with nothing behind them, and they’re not driving the rules you play by, that’s a disconnect in my mind.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I didn’t mean to say that anyone had worse values or incomplete values versus just more of is there- were there values that you’ve seen where the spirit isn’t fully captured? I think your phrasing was better, like an incomplete value is one that isn’t lived out in the company. Is there one that you’ve seen be most difficult, like one value of yours that has been most difficult to see lived out?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I think our most- I don’t want to rank our values. But it’s really important for us to do what’s right, even when it’s hard. Who gets to decide what’s right? And how do you make decisions on right? When we talk, when we interview people, one of my questions I always ask is kind of walk me through your- I ask you to kind of make the right decision. Walk me through that framework of what’s right for you. And for us, there’s always a judgment call. And there’s always information that we could have had and didn’t have and should have had, because time is always of the essence in all decision making. So that’s hard. But it comes with building- living these actions, repeating to see how you as a company make a right decision. What factors do you prioritize versus what factors do you deprioritize. And so, I feel confident after four years that we are making the right decision for Paragon because we prioritize our stakeholders, we prioritize the long term, and we prioritize putting people first, kind of a combination of a handful of different values. But there’s always you can look back and say, was that really right? Because I have more information now. You can question it. So that’s hard. I think that’s hard for anyone. That’s not a unique Paragon problem. It’s a business, you make decisions with imperfect information, and you learn.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, certainly. On the learning piece and I mean, values aren’t static. Like there’s constant tweaks and iterations that you make over time. What are some of the most recent tweaks or adjustments you’ve made to your values based on perhaps maybe more perfect information today than you had previously?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I would say our values are our values and they’re not going to change. You come back to me in two years, and hopefully, we can chat about whether that’s true or not. But these, no matter whether we enter a new service, whether we enter new geography, whether we totally change what Paragon does, and I’m not suggesting we’re doing any of that, the rules we play by and the behavior that we accept as an organization and how we win won’t change. This is kind of who we are as people. And so, when we think about our values, they are characteristics of a person. They are not things outside of that. So, someone who really strives to do what’s right, even when it’s hard, someone who really strives to win together, someone who stands behind their work and their word, all of those things, those are descriptors of a human. And those are the characteristics we look for when we bring someone onto the team. And so, no matter what Paragon does, it’s just kind of the combination of those five things are who we are. And I just don’t see those changing.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I think values in the onboarding context are pretty interesting. I’d be curious what your onboarding process looks like and how you get a sense for does this person live our values and follow them and believe in them, or are they not going to be a good fit? How do you kind of suss that out during interviewing and then onboarding?
Jessica Markowitz: This is kind of an evolution, but we have a really robust interviewing and then onboarding, and knock on wood, fingers crossed, but it’s been really, really powerful since we did it. But we ask value questions within our interviewing process to try to understand how the person thinks. We are very open with what our values are and who we are. And so, when I get involved in interviewing and Trista in her role gets involved with interviewing, we really focus on the values portion of that. So we have five to ten questions that we will ask throughout the interview process that are solely around values alignment. And when we think about cultural fit for an organization like ours, or for any, that’s it, it’s values alignment. It’s not activities or interest based or vibe, which I don’t know how to describe either. But that’s what we’re talking about. So, then that’s within the interview. And we know not what the right answer is, but we discuss what a good answer looks like. And it’s really around the thought process of how to make decisions and how you live and learn by those decisions. And then with the onboarding process, Trista and I with every new person on our corporate team, we go, we have an hour long conversation – from the horse’s mouth, these are our values, this is what it means to us, and these are really important. So, they’ll hear it from us, they’ll hear from their direct manager, they’ll hear it in our monthly meetings when we do our values and actions. And then recently, and I think maybe eight or nine folks, part of their onboarding is to bring examples that they’ve seen of values in action from their first couple of weeks to their manager and discuss them. And then we also, and we make this clear to not just new folks on the team, but with all of our employees, we’ve now switched to part of the performance management that we have is alignment to our values. So, a portion, we put our money where our mouth is that people are going to be rewarded based on living the values. So, I feel like when I’m talking out loud, it’s like everything we do is this. We do other things too. But our values are ingrained within almost every aspect of our business.
Alex Bridgeman: During the interview process and then the evaluation or performance reviews that happen periodically, do you have some way to quantify that person’s alignment with values? Or is it still kind of a more squishy thing to evaluate?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I wish I could quantify everything. That would make my life way easier. It’s qualitative. But we all at the leadership level and Trista and me at the executive level know what good or aligned looks like. And we know high level what non alignment looks like. That’s within the interview process. That’s kind of when we go through and we discuss kind of what are we looking for when we ask these questions values wise. But I don’t think there’s, with anything, with people, there’s for these things that are squishy, that are hard to define, it’s just really you can put a- I can’t find a way to put a number to it. But if you find a way to put a number to it, please give me a call.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, we’ll see if someone’s figured that out. You mentioned that in your monthly team meetings, you go around the room and share different examples of people living out their values or these values in their work. What are some other ways that you maintain these values and constantly communicate them to your team?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, so we have kind of weekly team meetings, depending on what group you’re in, and we use an agenda. On the agenda, the values are listed there, so people can, if they forget the words, they’re usually shared on the screen during the meeting. Through emails that we’ll exchange, whether it’s on a client issue or an attorney issue or just an HR policy, we’ll see people use, hey, this is the right thing, even though it’s hard, or I’m seeking to understand and grow around this. As I say this out loud, it seems crazy, but you’ll see it kind of peppered within people’s decision making. This is something we have to do to put our people first. So, it’s not- it can’t be something that Trista and I alone enforce. And it has to be something that takes kind of a life of its own. Everyone has to actually be a part of it. And that’s what we see happening. We’re a part of that just the same as everyone else, but we don’t alone drive it.
Alex Bridgeman: Have there been any particular challenges with enforcing values, either a type of value or enforcing values with certain folks in your team or certain departments or something like that? Where have challenges arisen?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I think, one, when we were a little bit earlier in our Paragon journey, we didn’t have our values really articulated well, and we weren’t really vetting for this in our hiring process. And so, you learn really quickly when someone’s not in a value alignment, even though you don’t know exactly what that means. And it takes a while to figure that out. So, I think we’ve learned a lesson there pretty- going through it that you need to bring on the right people from the beginning. And I think also, we are a business that has changed dramatically. We bought a business with four people on the corporate team supporting 50 or 60 attorneys. We now have 19 people on the corporate team. So, every time- And we’ve changed. We used to be driven by a Google Doc. Now we have systems. We’ve moved from an institutionalized business to a process driven business, which I think a lot of search fund type businesses or ETA, they go through that evolution. And so, with change of an organization, and then add on whatever chaos has happened in the world, people have a lot going on. There’s a lot on their minds. Changing an organization in the best of times is challenging. Changing an organization in what feels like to me the most chaotic times. And so, it takes significant methodical effort to make sure that frustrations or challenges people are facing are kind of worked. And it’s easy to maybe when things are really tough to kind of forget what’s most important. I think we’ve also- as we’ve transitioned to a remote organization and have a lot of communications over messaging, intent can get misconstrued or lost. And so, making sure and working on that communication and bringing people together and having the understanding that people are, when things are communicated fast over email or Slack, that people have the best intent and not assume the worst has been something we’ve had to work on. I think we’ve done a great job at. But those challenges, when there are so many things coming at you, and we’re in a new environment, we’re working in a different way, they can make the values feel secondary, and reminding people that those actually needs to come first to solve these growing pains, these working pains. I can’t solve anything happening outside Paragon in the world, but we can at least make it fun and enjoyable while you’re kind of within the working day.
Alex Bridgeman: I’d be curious to hear a little bit more about running a culture through a remote workforce, especially in regard to more junior employees where maybe they haven’t had many roles before or they’re just graduating college or, in your case, law school. I’m curious, what kinds of challenges do they run into? And then how does that apply to kind of your broader organization?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, again, like everything, it’s been an evolution. It’s been over two years, two and a half years, since we’ve been essentially fully remote. We do have an office in San Francisco. But for the most part, we’ve taken advantage of the remote environment to hire the best people, no matter where they live. So, we have half, if not more than half, of our corporate team outside of the Bay Area now. And so, we are committed to the long term remote nature of Paragon. So, with that, it’s been an exciting challenge to solve. For us, it’s really working. And we have brought on, I think most of the folks we brought on have been more junior. So, figuring out how to get them up to speed, how to get them trained, how to have them feel like they’re a part of a company, we’ve had to be really intentional with that. So, we don’t do anything kind of special or different for junior folks versus more senior folks in terms of the onboarding. But what we do do is the onboarding is really slow. And I’ve heard new people at our company say, “I can do more.” And I say, “Just be patient with it. Please enjoy these first couple months where your job is to learn.” And we have a really detailed robust onboarding plan. So it’s not ad hoc. You come in, and your first two weeks, for the most part, are very highly scheduled. Part of that schedule is getting to know people and carving out time to learn what they do, how their portion of the organization comes together, and where they’re going to fit in. So, they’re onboarding at Paragon, and I would expect a lot of other places, it is a big lift for the existing team and also for the new person, junior or not. The other thing we have started to do – well, I don’t know, started, we’ve been doing it for about two years – is we have a meeting every Monday and a meeting every Friday. We bring all 19-20 of us together on the corporate team. There’s no point to this meeting that is business related, except to spend time with one another. So, it’s going to sound super cheesy, but on Monday mornings, we kick off the week with gratitude Mondays. Everyone goes around the horn and just shares what they’re grateful for. It could be little things, could be huge things. But start off the week just sharing something that you’re thankful for with the team. On Fridays, we kind of do a round robin. We’ve been doing this for two and a half years, and we have not run out of questions of what we call Friday Fun Facts where one person on the team poses a question to everyone else. And we go around the horn and people share. That takes about 40-45 minutes. Questions like, what was your first job, favorite vacation, all the way to what are you most proud of, talk about a time you feel like you’ve been very brave, all of the things, whatever people want to bring. If people aren’t comfortable, they are more than welcome to opt out on a question. But what that space, that space on Monday and that space on Friday, has really allowed people to do is connect on things that are not work related but have had extreme work benefits because of the level of trust people build with each other. It then creates kind of fodder for conversations within Slack or otherwise that people just can connect on. And then we just recently launched kind of an automated tool that schedules 15 minute kind of one on one coffee chats. Just it’s really easy. It’s kind of just through Slack. It like pairs you up with someone and away you can go just to connect with people. So those tools, the transparency we have across the organization, the values that we live and breathe have been really great to build trust, to build community, to build friendships, and to get things done as a business. I get the question during interviews or even during people’s first week of how am I going to- I’m sitting here alone in my home office or my bedroom or wherever, how am I going to get to know people? And when I ask people, and I ask people far too often on our team, kind of what was the most unexpected thing about joining Paragon versus what you thought you were getting into? And a lot of times the answer is around, I didn’t realize how I feel so connected to a team. Some people on our team haven’t even met anyone in person. And so that always makes me really grateful. But not without a lot of effort, a lot of intentionality, and just dedication from the team to care about one another in a way where it really builds trust. That being said, we are constantly improving, constantly getting better, constantly tweaking. Not every day is a great day, but I think we are moving in the right direction.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, what sorts of things are you considering adding or considering changing right now?
Jessica Markowitz: With respect to?
Alex Bridgeman: Just the way that your team communicates or different tools that you might add to increase trust or get that trust going faster perhaps. What are like the ideas you’re kind of weighing right now?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, the most ideal of those would be to be able to kind of have in person cadence, whether that’s by team or corporate wide. I think that’s the link that will bring it to that next level. We did our first kind of corporate retreat in May. I met so many people for the first time that I hadn’t met in person. That was the first one for over two years because of everything. And I think that’s a piece of how do we- what’s the cadence? And what do we do when we bring people together? How do we do it? So that is the missing link that I think will add a lot of benefits.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, certainly. We talked a little bit about enforcing values. But how does your process work for if someone continually doesn’t fit values and you need to find them a new place for them to work? Like, what does that look like? Or how does that evaluation go? And then when do you kind of make the decision to let them go?
Jessica Markowitz: So I am knocking on all of the wood that exists in the universe right now. But we, fortunately, have not been put in a position that since we’ve articulated and really embraced living by our values over the last couple of years, we have not been put in that situation. But part of the evaluation within the performance management, as we’ve set for everyone, kind of there’s a bar of living the values and what we will accept and what we won’t. So, we view it as, like any portion of the job, if you’re not doing X, Y, or Z tactically or well, or you’re not whatever it may be, we view it the same way. So, it’s no different if someone is tactically not performing versus values not performing, in my mind, you would do the same process – warning, conversation, helping supporting them get there, and then figuring out what the next steps are from there. But we’ve been really lucky. And again, knocking on the wood.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, certainly. It’s pretty interesting that the implementing values and having them consistently communicated could act as almost an error reduction factor for hiring and growing your team. What are some other benefits you’ve seen with focusing so much on culture and articulating your values more consistently?
Jessica Markowitz: It builds trust across team, super important when things are changing, and you’re trying to drive change. I think the coolest thing I’ve seen is people getting comfortable having a voice at the table and being able to have opinions that may differ than others. So, I think when Trista and I got here, people would look to us and nod in agreement like that and probably be thinking that terrible idea is so terrible, but I’m going to nod because that’s what I’m supposed to do. We don’t have a company like that anymore. And there’s still work to do. But we openly disagree with one another to come up with the best ideas. And the reason we’re able to do that is because we are all aligned on the values. And then we do it with respect. And so, the ideas that have come up from senior people on our team to junior people on our team, being able to bring those to light has been really cool. It’s really awesome to see someone who a year or two ago would sit in a meeting pretty quiet now speaking openly about things where they’re disagreeing with their manager in a respectful way to get to a better place. And that’s changed our organization. To think that Trista and I or our senior leadership team have the best ideas, better than those people who are doing kind of on the ground floor, that’s not it. So, looping those folks in, giving them space to share has been awesome.
Alex Bridgeman: Have you found that there’s any way to accelerate that process for someone coming into- who’s either new to the industry or just new to your company and accelerate their process of that trust so that they can share what they really think in meetings and with their managers? Or is that something that just takes time and it’s really hard to accelerate that at all?
Jessica Markowitz: Everyone’s different. You don’t know what baggage someone may be coming into your organization with and what cultures they’ve been a part of. I think, for us, what has been helpful is modeling the behavior, celebrating when someone disagrees, celebrating when you’re implementing someone’s idea who is not a senior person, all of those things to say these are not just words we’re saying, these are things we’re doing. And so, when you can show the actions and show them repeatedly over time, at some point, it’s going to click and say, oh, this is real, I’m not going to get penalized, or I’m ashamed or embarrassed by this new idea. But I don’t think with trust or anything, you can say, we have a goal to hit trust in one month, because you never really get there. You’re always evolving and learning more about one another. And so, I think what you can do as a leader of an organization or manager or even an employee that’s welcoming someone new into your team is be consistent in the behavior that you want the team to display and act in a way that you want them to act. And people will see that that’s the way it is.
Alex Bridgeman: That’s pretty amazing. There was a talk that I listened to that Richard Reese was giving. And he talked about how consistency was a really key characteristic for a leader. Like you can be really nice, or you can be a jerk, or you can be Bobby Knight, but you need to be consistent and predictable for your team. That was pretty interesting to hear.
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, and I think that’s challenging in any organization. But it’s challenging as you’re trying to drive change. And being in the leadership seat and for a lot of us, you kind of do the ETA path where you’re an individual contributor, and you’re driving the change yourself, crunching numbers until all hours of the morning or defining processes, all of those things, it’s solely within your control pre this life, pre having a team, pre being responsible for the success of everyone on it. And so, I think part of the evolution, at least I’m speaking for myself, there is just- and where you could potentially be inconsistent is just that transformation of giving away control. And so that’s just been a learning evolution for me. Because that’s scary. When you care so much about everything and everyone and you want it to be perfect, and you’re betting your whole professional career on something, that fear can spur inconsistency. And you have to manage that. And I haven’t been perfect at that and it’s something I’m conscious of and working on. But that’s kind of a challenge.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. Do you view the act of building a strong culture that you trust and believe in allows you to trust your team? I would imagine that makes it a lot easier for you and the rest of your team to handoff tasks that eventually need to be delegated to others. Like you’re doing a lot of work maybe early in your time at Paragon, and over time you delegate certain tasks. Has building a strong culture made that easier for you?
Jessica Markowitz: I don’t know if that’s tied to culture or tied to just growing the team and growing the business and needing specialized folks for different things. When you’re a smaller company, and I think back to when we were 5, 6, 7, 8 people on the corporate team, we kind of do a little bit of everything because you don’t have a place for- it’s not a full time job to do X. And it’s not yet a full time job to do Y. And so, part of that growth evolution is okay, now X is a full time job, and I’m going to hire someone great to do that. And now Y is a full time job, and that comes off my plate, and I’m going to hire someone to do that. So, I think that more comes with growth rather than culture, in my mind. But also, on that, as I’m kind of talking out loud, it’s been part of training our managers who have been individual contributors and giving them the support to let go because like me, they can struggle with the, you’re not doing it the way I wanted it to be done and how I want it to be done and the speed I want it to be done, and letting people- giving them the freedom to let go. That’s kind of the culture component. But the delegation itself comes to, I think, with just scale and business need.
Alex Bridgeman: So obviously, no culture is perfect. Where do you feel like Paragon is- where do you feel like you’re focused on improving right now in regard to culture?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I think we’ve made huge, huge, huge headways. I think that’s the word, right? But I think we can always improve on building trust. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the last six months, not because I’m not proud of where we are, but what is it going to take to get us to that next level I think just requires that next level of trust. But looking at my team, looking at what we’ve built over the last four years, looking at how I’ve evolved as a leader and a manager over the last six years doing kind of the ETA path, I’m really proud of where we are. So, if you were to tell me, this is it, there’s no more progress you can make as an organization, I’d be okay with that. But there’s still more we can do. And we don’t have that constraint. So why not continue to make it better?
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, certainly. What do you feel like that next step is in the improvement that you’re striving towards?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I think the industry, our little niche of the world, is transforming really fast in terms of kind of adoption of different technologies and different services and different ways to solve a problem that Paragon solves. And I think a lot of that accelerated by COVID, when there’s the pandemic and the move to remote and the focus on budgets and the focus on efficiencies. And so, with that, I think, comes a level of speed at which an organization needs to move. And in order to move faster, you need to be willing to make mistakes and make decisions with imperfect information. And that requires that next level of trust and belief that it’s really okay. And we’re going to be able to do things significantly different. I think for Paragon in particular, what we have done over the last four years, which I am extremely proud of, is built the foundational building blocks of a business where they did not exist. So we built out a really robust recruiting team. Again, we had four people on the corporate team, we now have 20. So build out a really robust recruiting team, build out an account management team, implement systems, so when I go to sleep, I’m not worried that the business is going to disappear to the ether because I don’t know where all my things are, implement systems, really invest in, and we’re still working on this now, in business development and marketing, and really build the foundation of the business that didn’t exist before. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. And then the next step is okay, we have those tools. Now, where do we go with it? Strategically, we can now do things different than how we’ve done them for 16 years because we’ve taken the time to build the foundational base, if that makes sense.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, certainly. My first closing question is on a strongly held belief you changed your mind on. I’d be curious if there’s any in regards to culture or values that you’ve changed on?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, the biggest thing is remote work. I remember sitting in a board meeting early on talking about hiring someone. We’re having trouble to fill a role, and we wanted someone in the Bay Area, and it was just really competitive, wanted someone to come into the office. And our board had suggested hiring someone remote. And I sat there and I was like, “Absolutely not. I could never, I would never.” And now, I can’t imagine being full time in an office and can’t imagine going back to that. And so that is kind of totally different than what I would have ever- what I believed before.
Alex Bridgeman: I like that one. That’s a good one. What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I know you pose this question. And I thought a ton about it, and I don’t know if you’re going to love the answer, but I think it depends. And what I mean by that is there’s a best business for a person. So, I kind of took this through the lens of kind of what businesses did I see going through my search journey, and what business would be great for me may be a nightmare for someone else. So, there’s an element of what are your skill sets? What excites you? What do you want to- what part of your job do you want to maximize? All of those things are important. So all to say there’s no perfect business. If you go through a framework of recurring revenue and high margins and all those things, yeah, those are nice. But this whole journey, anything like this, is just very personal. So long answer, longer. What’s the perfect business for you? It all depends.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I totally agree. I love asking the question because everyone has a different reason for why they think a business is the best. Some folks love businesses that have good customer service, or they have ones that are really efficient or some people talk about the finances, that their business model is really good. But everyone has their own reason for liking a business. And it’s just kind of fun to hear how folks admire businesses and from what lens they admire them. So the ‘it depends’ is absolutely valid and is true everywhere.
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah, I wish I could tell you the perfect business. And I mean, maybe it’s Paragon. And if I’m thinking through that lens of what is most important, culture is everything. We have a strong one. So that’s important to me.
Alex Bridgeman: Absolutely. Well, thanks for sharing about culture and values. It’s been always- it’s been really fun chatting about it. And I’m excited to hear the next step for Paragon, what that looks like and get to have you on again and talk more about it. So thanks for sharing a bit. I really appreciate it.
Jessica Markowitz: Yeah. Thanks for having me.