Building a Scaleable Team from the Start: An Interview with Roger Morgan, CEO and Founder of pawTree

Roger Morgan, CEO and Founder of pawTree

Natural pet nutrition provider and creator of the pawBox, pawTree, was founded by Roger Morgan in 2014 and has been doubling every year since. Roger started pawTree with a high-growth mindset and built the team and operations he needed to quickly scale, but the company culture is what sets them apart: pawTree culture is one of love and respect. Listen to this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast to find out how Roger Morgan has built his pet care company’s team and culture.

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Adam Robinson: Welcome to the Best Team Wins podcast where we feature entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible result. My name is Adam Robinson and for the next 25 minutes I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring. Today on the program Roger Morgan is the founder and CEO of Paw Tree based in the Dallas area. The company was founded in 2012, has raised around seven million dollars in funded, as 14 internal employees and as I understand it, Roger manages a network of close to 1,000 independent folks affiliated with the business that help you move your product. The best learning happens through the experiences that we share with fellow entrepreneurs or business leaders. Roger, we’re so excited today to learn from you. Thanks for being on the show.


Roger Morgan: Oh, my pleasure Adam. Thanks for having me.


Adam Robinson: We’re here today to focus on the people side of your business but before we jump in, set the stage for us. Give us 30 seconds on what you do.


Roger Morgan: Sure. We are in the pet nutrition business. We have an offering, we call it customized nutrition for pets. As many of us know, many of your listeners I’m sure who have pets know, we really treat pets as members of our family. It’s amazing the difference we can make in the lives of pets when we give them good nutrition. A lot of issues that come with pets, bad breath, itchy skin, bad coats, bad gas, GI issues, all of those things many times can be addressed with nutrition and we have an amazing nutrition plan that includes pet food for both dogs and cats and really healthy treats and supplements. It’s all delivered right to your door and sold not through retail stores, but through an independent group called Pet Pros.


We’ve got, as you mentioned, over 1,000 Pet Pros all around the country in all 50 states. We share it through people. People go out and share the message of this great nutrition plan. When they share it with their friends and family and they purchase, those Pet Pros get paid a commission for sharing it. That’s the way our model works and we’re really excited. We’ve been making a difference in the lives of pets and people now for just about three and a half years. We launched in January of 2014 and it’s been really, really rewarding to see the difference we’re making.


Adam Robinson: That’s fantastic. If listeners want to learn more, what’s the best way for them to reach you?


Roger Morgan: The easiest way, we put all of our information on our website, which is PawTree.Com, like a pet paw. PawTree.Com. There’s information there about our products. There’s information about how to join as a Pet Pro, if somebody would like to earn an income by sharing great nutrition and joining our amazing community of pet enthusiasts. Then of course there’s contact information there on the website as well, how to contact our support team here at the home office in the Dallas, Texas area.


Adam Robinson: Well thank you for that. We’re so excited to learn more about the people side of your business. Let’s go all the way back to when you first got started. So many founders have the experience and remember hiring the first person. That first person in the door is just so critical to helping move it beyond yourself. Tell us about how you found and hired the first person that worked for you.


Roger Morgan: That’s a great question. I’m a really big believer in setting the right foundation for, especially a business like this that scales very rapidly. We’ve been more than doubling every year since we launched and that was really the vision that I had when I set out to start this company was to build something that could really scale and really be something exciting that would be around for generations. With that in mind, hiring the right people and those first few people was really important. I mean, it is in any business, but I was really looking for something that we could find some people in the front end who could help build the right foundation and would be competent enough to scale with us and that we wouldn’t outgrow our first set of employees.


There were a few key hires I had right out of the gate. Most of those came from prior experience, I’d worked with in a prior company or knew through prior industry work. There was a great validation already there. We’d already had a good rapport, good chemistry, knew each other and trusted each other and so that made it very easy to make those first couple of hires. I will mention that one of the very first hires that we made was for our national sales director, who I didn’t know. I was very, very particular in the type of person who I wanted to take that role. I didn’t have a network of people who I thought could do that job and so I actually went to a recruiter who specialized in this method of selling. She introduced me to several people. I was very, very picky.


I think I probably went through, I don’t know, 15 or 20 candidates interviews before I found the right one. I’m so glad I did and that I didn’t compromise on that because it’s very easy, especially when you’re new as a company and young as a company and eager to get going to maybe move faster than you ought on some decisions like that. I was really patient and got the right person and she’s been fantastic, her name’s Melissa Davis, and just so thrilled that I took the time to find the right person there. Also, really thrilled that we had the right relationships and contacts to fill many of these positions without having to go through that type of process and having a good group of colleagues and friends I could draw on at the beginning as well.


Adam Robinson: Let’s talk then about that process. You said you were pretty picky. Take us through it. What was your process? How did you engineer a good result there? It sounded like it worked out wonderfully.


Roger Morgan: Yeah, it really has worked out great. I think it’s really important, and anytime that I’ve hired someone, not just at the beginning of this process but anytime, you’ve certainly got skills that you’re looking for and I had a list of skills that were important for that particular job and every job has its skillset that you know you need somebody who can do a certain set of things. Defining the skills certainly is important on the front end, which I did. More than that, usually it’s not that hard, in my experience I have found, it’s not that hard to find people who have the right skills.


The part that is much more difficult to find is the person who has the right culture and mindset and in our case having the right passion, which is not only a passion for pets but a passion for what we’re building as an organization. That cultural fit is, I have found, more important and more difficult to get right and the thing that I think it pays off to go slowly. Once we defined the right skillset, that’s why there were several qualified people who met those criteria, but the filtering through and identifying who really resonated with our vision, which our vision is to create a world filled with unconditional love where pets and their people thrive. Pets, those of us who have pets, know that pets give to us so willingly, so unconditionally.


They really do love their pet families and their pet parents just so naturally and what we’re doing through this amazing nutrition concept to help pets is we’re allowing pet parents to give back to their pets in ways that pets cannot give for themselves. Pets don’t have a choice what they eat. They eat whatever their pet parent puts down in front of them. That can either create a healthy and happy life or sometimes a miserable, difficult life depending on what they eat. It really is a story of unconditional love and so finding somebody that really resonates with that vision and it’s not just about selling pet food or a sales job.


It’s about really connecting with that vision and then embracing the values of the company, which I can speak to a bit later if you like. We’ve got some really specific values that really make up the fabric of our culture. Finding somebody who connected and fit with those values naturally is a really important part of finding that cultural fit as well.


Adam Robinson: Let’s talk about that. Why don’t we go there? Describe the value system of the organization. What are the core values of the business and how do you make those real in daily life for people?


Roger Morgan: Yes. We have just a handful of core values. I find that if you have too many values or too many priorities or too many of anything, you really have none of them. I’m a big believer in focus and identifying a short list of things that are important and that can be addressed and reinforced. The very first value that we ascribe to is that we love people, all people. I just think there’s something about this human family that we’re all part of that when we treat each other with love and respect it makes everything else work better. It doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with somebody, doesn’t mean that you can’t have a different opinion, it doesn’t mean that you can’t hold somebody accountable.


All those things are fine and good but if it’s all done on a basis of loving people, that’s a really important core value to begin with. It sets the tone. That’s the first one. We have five values. The second value is that we finish. What I mean by that is we follow through, we do what we say we’re going to do. When we accept an assignment, we get it to the finish line or if for any reason we can’t, we communicate about that and let the other person know, whoever we’ve made that commitment to. We’re finishers. That’s the second core value. The third value is that we live with integrity. I’ve had some great career experiences so far.


When I founded this company, I was at the point in my career where certainly building an exciting business and successful business and the financial rewards that come along with all of that for me and others was important, but far more important than that was these core values of living true to myself. I’ve lived enough of my life to know that when we live with integrity and we’re honest with ourselves and others, it brings peace and happiness, a harmony within that is not worth compromising. That’s our third value is to live with integrity. The fourth is what I call communicate proactively. This is something I’ve taught as a father, I’m a father of three daughters, and I’ve seen this in the home, in the business environment, in volunteer organizations, etc., as one of the things I think becomes potentially the downfall of groups and organizations is when they don’t do this.


Communicating proactively is something I really believe in and try to lead by example with. It basically just says if you need something, ask. If you’ve got a concern about something that’s bothering you, voice it. Voice it quickly and resolve it professionally. On the flip side, if you’ve got a compliment, share it. Give and receive feedback with positive intent and be proactive in that. It’s amazing how many little misunderstandings can be quickly resolved and not escalate into something bigger, which ends up detracting and distracting … Detracting from the culture and distracting people from their core jobs when we can just communicate proactively. That’s the fourth one. Then the fifth value is to live in humility.


I guess the flip side of that is that pride occurs when we compare ourselves or judge ourselves, judge others versus ourselves. I’m a big believer in being confident in who I am, in encouraging others to be confident in who they are and for us as a company to be confident in what we stand for and what we’re becoming without comparing ourselves to others. Anyway, those are our five values. Back to finding the right employees, it’s been really important for me.


I believe that those values can be taught and reinforced, but it’s also much more effective if you can find people who already live their life consistent with those values, or at least are aspiring to live their life consistent with those values, it’s a lot easier culturally than if you find somebody who isn’t living those and you try to bend them into living this way. That’s been a really exciting part of building our team is finding and fostering those people who have those five values.


Adam Robinson: It’s such a crystal clear picture you’ve just painted on the kind of work environment you’re building and what it means to be a member of the team so thank you so much for taking us through that. What informed your philosophy on even knowing that core values were important or mattered? Who taught you how to do this or was this something you learned over a series of experiences?


Roger Morgan: It’s a great question. I don’t know that it’s any one thing, but it probably, certainly in my case, started in my home and being taught by parents who had values. Certainly, I know, it was influenced by my church environment and church organization and colleagues and peers and leaders within that church environment. Certainly, it was also influenced by previous work experience and both positive and negative. When you see what’s working in other organizations, trying to take the things that are working and pattern after that, or when you see things that don’t work, the same thing, making note of that and identifying things that you don’t want to do and don’t want to replicate because you’ve seen them not work.


I think it’s probably a combination of all of those things. I guess also a school learning environment background as well, just being taught in an academic setting the importance of having some of these foundational tenets of a business. At the end of the day, you’ve got to take it from the academics and put it into practice, but I think having some of those frameworks that are taught in schools and that you can find articles and so forth written on, certainly there’s some good things to draw on there as well. Probably a combination of all those sources.


Adam Robinson: Over the years of doing this, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned the hard way through experience on managing the people side of your business?


Roger Morgan: I think two-fold, it’s usually on the front end and the back end of hiring. I think in my experience, there’s a quote that my father-in-law shared with me when I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage, when I asked to marry his daughter. He encouraged me to measure twice and cut once. In other words, really make sure this is what you want to do and then commit to it, which I’ve done. My wife and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this month.


Adam Robinson: Congratulations.


Roger Morgan: Thank you. I think it’s the same. On the front end of hiring, I think it’s that same philosophy of really making sure, doing all the diligence that you need to do on the front end to be comfortable and maybe going a little slower, hire slow, and making sure that you’ve done the right background checks, done the right reference checks, had enough time together, being transparent on the front end. I’m a really big believer of putting all the cards on the table at the beginning. If there’s something about our company, about our particular job, that’s got any negativity at all potentially surrounding it, I like to get it on the table and let that candidate know so that there’s no surprises.


It’s a two way street on the front end, but going slow enough that you can really make a good, informed decision and measure twice and cut once on the front end and then on the flip side, the other place I’ve probably had my biggest people mistakes is on the back end when things weren’t working well, waiting too long to make a decision to move on. I’ve heard that there’s a saying, I don’t know if it’s something … Hire slow and fire fast, or something like that.


I think that’s generally correct, that making a slow decision on the front end, but boy when things aren’t working and you know for whatever reason, I mean there are reasons that things stop working and then it’s not a good fit anymore for … Maybe it’s because you made a mistake on the front end, or maybe it’s just that things have changed in that person’s life or the company’s position and it’s time to move on. When you know that’s the time, having the courage and the honesty with yourself and with that other individual to make that decision and move on and not let it drag out. I think those are probably the two, front end and back end, of those decisions are really important to get right.


Adam Robinson: That’s great. To lighten things up here as we wrap up, what book is on your nightstand right now and would you recommend it to our audience?


Roger Morgan: You know, it’s interesting I wish I were a better, more avid reader. I enjoy movies a lot more than I enjoy reading and so I don’t read a lot. The one source that I personally do read regularly are the scriptures. I mentioned that my church had a big influence on me in setting my values and so forth. I do think there’s a lot to be learned from history with, not just about God oriented beliefs, but honestly with leadership and relationships and values and there’s a lot there that I really personally get a lot out of. I would say that is the book that’s on my nightstand. I’ve got a long list of wishlist books I’d love to read from a business perspective and people send me and recommend all the time. I rarely get around to reading those books. That’s the honest answer. My daughter, who’s an avid reader, could list off probably 100 books that are fantastic books that she’s read. That’s my answer.


Adam Robinson: No, thank you for sharing that with us. Final question here, if you were to come back on the show a year from now and report on the most critical thing in front of you as it relates to the people side of your business and whether or not you moved it forward in the way you wanted to, what would you be telling us?


Roger Morgan: I think in our business it’s all about connecting. As we mentioned at the top of the show, we have over 1,000 Pet Pros, who are our sales reps all over the country. Helping each of those individuals connect personally to our mission and vision in a way, in a passionate way, that really allows them to go out and be motivated by their own, what we call their why. Why are they doing this business? Why did they sign up to be a Pet Pro? How do we connect their personal why to our company vision and mission in a way that creates passion, alignment, stickiness and really motivates somebody to get uncomfortable? Because that’s what often it requires, right?


We’re comfortable doing what we’ve always done and getting out of our comfort zone and going and doing something else, opening our mouth and going and sharing this message of Paw Tree with others, requires some change, some action. A year from now, if I were to look back and say we’ve accomplished one of the most important things that we could from a people perspective, it would be that we have really moved the needle on connecting individual Pet Pros whys, why they are doing this business, to our overall vision and mission and created this incredible energy that comes from people having a passionate reason to get up in the morning and go be an advocate for Paw Tree and all that we’re doing to change the lives of pets and people.


Adam Robinson: Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the final word. You’ve been learning today from Roger Morgan, founder and CEO of Paw Tree. Roger, thank you so much for being on the show today.


Roger Morgan: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.


Adam Robinson: All right. That’s a wrap for this episode of the Best Team Wins podcast where we’re featuring entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, author of the book The Best Team Wins, which you can find online at www.TheBestTeamWins.Com. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you next week.