Building and Maintaining a Great Company Culture: An Interview with Desiree Vargas Wrigley

Desiree Vargas Wrigley learned a lot from her eight years as Founder and CEO of the successful crowdfunding platform GiveForward, and she’s bringing that experience to her latest venture, Pearachute. On this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast, Desiree talks about her growth as a leader, building and maintaining a great company culture, embracing failure, and more.

Listen to this episode on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.

Show Notes:

0:27 – All about Desiree

1:09 – All about Pearachute

3:11 – On hiring employee #1 at Pearachute:

“I think I learned from some other founders to bring great talent with me. My first hire at Pearachute was actually my first hire after Ethan, my co-founder, at GiveForward was a woman named Erica who worked for us as a free intern at GiveForward for a year, waiting tables at night so that she could come in and work at GiveForward. That dedication took her to the top; she ended up leading a team of about 16 customer service reps at GiveForward. I knew that building Pearachute we were going to have to be really focused on both sides of this network. We have the providers who are these business owners who are trying to build a local business, and then we have all these moms who are trying to get their two-year-old into fun dance classes. If something goes wrong, it’s going to be disappointing three people in this system. I wanted someone who I could really depend on, who I knew could build a stellar team that would focus on both sides of that network. Erica was perfect, so she came with me.”

4:04 – The first hire at a startup:

“I think it’s a combination of willingness; no job is too small, no job is too big. Those first hires need to be able to rise to the challenge but also get into the details.”

4:40 – Desiree’s management style and leadership growth over time.

“I think the lesson of learning how to give up control is one that some people are naturally good at and some people it takes a little bit longer to get good at. As a type A person, GiveForward was my baby, it came out of my brain. I just wanted it to be successful. Every mistake that we made I felt like it was an indictment on my ability to succeed personally. It took a while, and it took some pretty dramatic moments at GiveForward for me to step back and realize that I wasn’t being the leader I wanted to be, I wasn’t being the founder I wanted to be.”

7:41 – All about Desiree’s first startup, GiveForward

7:57 – Embracing failure in a way that is productive:

“We talked about failure at GiveForward, but we didn’t do the best job of rewarding experiments, we really just rewarded successful experiments. This time around [at Pearachute], I’m being a lot more intentional about how I encourage the team.”

9:36 – What is “Coffee Monday”?

10:49 – Core Values at Pearachute:

“We also have ‘Be Each Other’s Village,’ which is this idea that everyone in the village has a role to play. There’s the baker, and the trash-man, and whatever, but there are days when that person is sick or can’t do their job, and we need to be there for each other and be willing to jump in. At the same time, we’re building this network of providers. We work with 400 women-owned businesses in all the cities that we work with. Our goal is to really help lift them up too, and there are going to be days where they need help, where they have to cancel a class because they have a flat tire or they can’t find an instructor. We need to be able to step in and be there for them as their village too.”

13:28 – Desiree’s core values process:

“I really think you can’t create these values until you have customers. You have to be at least six months into the business because you need to know what those interactions look like and feel like.”

15:04 -Do you share values with your subscriber base, with your vendors? And, how do you make core values real at Pearachute as you consider new staff members?

“One of my favorite questions is about failure, ‘Walk me through a recent failure. It doesn’t have to have ended well; I want to know how you felt about it.’ Because how you deal with it along the way is as indicating I think as whatever the outcome was. I like to see people’s processes.”

16:40 – The one bad hire at Pearachute, what told Desiree it was time, and what the conversation looked like when it was time to let them go.

“You could feel the energy being sucked out of the room every time they participated in the discussion. Not that you need everyone to be alike or always on the same page, but when you have someone holding back the rest of the team, I think you just know from a culture perspective.”

18:46 – Management learnings from Desiree’s hyper-growth experience at GiveForward that she’s bringing to Pearachute.

“When one person comes in and starts to poison the well, it really does spread, and you end up with complainers on your team, and sometimes they can be coached back into the right culture and sometimes they have to be coached out of the business. I learned the importance of moving quickly on bad hires but also that I have more control than I thought I did.”

20:27 – Desiree’s compensation philosophy at Pearachute:

“My team is almost entirely women, and it’s really important to me that they are market, even though we are a startup and not hugely funded. I think it makes a statement about the importance of their work and recognizes that often women and often moms, not to over generalize, but because we have so many demands on our time, we are often very efficient and good at time boxing. Some of my team gets more done in a seven and a half hour day than they would in a 14 hour day because of effective they are. I want that to be recognized and, to me, it’s not so much about butt-in-the-seat time as it is about output, and so I try to recognize that.”

22:52 – If you were to pick one greatest lesson or biggest thing you’re going to take with you on this career you have in front of you of building businesses, what would it be?

“I don’t know if my board would like hearing this, but I realize that no one is put on this Earth to make my company more successful. They’re put on this Earth to have this journey, and hopefully, we get them for 40 to 60 hours a week of their best and most productive time. I feel like my job as a leader is to make sure that they find as much value in that time as possible.”

24:51 – Desiree is currently reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

25:44 – What is the greatest challenge for Desiree over the next year?