In this episode of Beyond Consulting, sponsored by ECA Partners, we welcome Michael McCarroll, a former McKinsey consultant and Irina Egorova, a former BCG consultant. Together, Michael and Irina are the co-founders of Teamraderie, and they join us to discuss their paths from consulting to building a highly successful sales and customer service team at Lattice Engines, a B2B enterprise SaaS company that used predictive analytics to drive better outcomes for marketing teams, to then founding Teamraderie, a company that provides virtual experiences for teams.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted each week by Ken Kanara.
Ken Kanara: Hello and welcome to beyond consulting brought to you by ECA partners, the only podcast dedicated to helping our listeners navigate the wide variety of options they have after a career in consulting. I’m Ken Kanara, the host of Beyond Consulting and CEO of ECA Partners, a specialized project staffing and executive search firm focused on former management consultants and private equity. Each week I host guests that have spent time in consulting and made a pivot or career change. The goal is to help our audience understand all the options they have, and ideally learn from our guests, both in terms of what they did right and things they wish they would have done differently.
Today we welcome Michael McCarroll and Irina Egorova to the studio. Irina I hope I pronounced your name right, but thanks Michael and Irina so much for joining us.
Michael McCarroll: Good to be here.
Irina Egorova: Thank you for having us.
Ken Kanara: You bet. For those of our guests that don’t know, Michael and Irina are highly successful, serial entrepreneurs and also former consultants. I’m going to turn it over to you two. I’d love to have you give us an introduction and a background on yourselves, then we can jump into Teamraderie and what you’re doing now.
Irina Egorova: Thank you, Ken. I’ll start. first. It’s a pleasure to be here today, and we’ve known each other for a few years. I guess we first met back when I was working at Lattice Engines and leading a sales organization there and the ECA team really helped us grow our team and find exceptional talents, so thank you for that. Just as a quick introduction for myself I’m always loved mathematics, so I have an education and background in mathematics and computer science. I started my career at SAP then spent more than five years at BCG, and then at a startup called Lattice Engines. After that, I founded Teamraderie together with Michael.
Ken Kanara: Excellent, thanks for joining us Irina.
Michael McCarroll: Again, it’s great to be here. I’m Michael McCarroll. My favorite subject was actually engineering, so I’m an engineer by training. I worked as an engineer for about five years in semiconductors. I spent five years–three years actually, at McKinsey–sorry, it felt like longer. Then I pursued a career in entrepreneurship. This is the third company I’ve started. The second one I actually started in collaboration with a couple of other people I met while working at McKinsey. I think what I would say is I think Irina and I both believe that the time we spent in consulting has benefited us for the rest of our life. In part, it’s why we found kinship with each other, but it also just gave us a set of tools I think that we’ve really valued and take forward into what we do now.
Ken Kanara: Those are probably two of the most humble introductions that I’ve ever received from two incredibly successful people. I’m going to have to dig a little to learn more here, guys. First, in terms of what you’re doing now, Teamraderie. Newsflash, I am a customer and I’m a big believer in what you’re doing, but tell our guests what it is and how you got the idea.
Michael McCarroll: Sure. Teamraderie is a solution to the problem that anyone who manages people faces, which is, how do I take a group of highly skilled individuals, and as a manager of that team, how do I create a context on that team that lets those individuals gain from each other and actually work together as a team? There’s been abundant research in universities and companies on what are the habits and norms of creative, collaborative, and cohesive teams? The research all points to a set of pretty fixed practices that when these things are resonant on a team, they lead to higher performance, greater sense of purpose, and lower attrition. It makes work matter more to people, makes them enjoy it more, and it dramatically increases the output you get from any team. What Irina and I did is we took these practices from academia, from university research, and we commercialized them. We took this research and we turned it into a marketplace of shared team experiences. These range from a conversation with a former poker player, to writing rap poetry with a rapper turned poet, to coffee tastings, so it’s a marketplace of 40 or so, and growing, different experiences that you do with your team. They’re all about 45 minutes long and after your team does one of these experiences, you will notice that they feel closer to each other, they trust each other more, and they feel more connected. For teams that do this on a recurring basis, basically once every 90 days, they will report that these feelings not only persist, they increase, and then they’ll measure reductions, and attrition, elevated creativity, higher collaboration, and they rate their manager higher, they rate their company higher. Ultimately, what you’re able to do is get a group of people that felt like just a group of people and turn it into a team. That’s really the mission.
Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. One of the most interesting things that I found having experienced as a client was just the amount of vulnerability that we are able to experience, even within our own team, that we hadn’t before. Could you talk a little about how you’re creating that and how you’re making that happen?
Michael McCarroll: Yes, so vulnerabilities…look, nobody wants to go be vulnerable, right? It suggests that we’re going to put ourselves in a position of weakness. If you want to get a group of individuals who typically emphasize their strength and confidence, and turn it into a group of individuals who are willing to be vulnerable, you need some form of a catalyst. The catalyst can’t be dramatic. You can’t you know make the room dark, start to play odd music and get people to do that. It needs to be pretty natural. It needs to be organic and something that feels like a part of what you would do within a company. There’s a principle and organizational behavior that is called contact setting for vulnerability. What it says is that if I create a context, if I basically tell a story so that people are not being vulnerable in the standard workplace, but they’re doing that in the context of something that you set up, people are willing to share. Every time somebody shares more and is vulnerable, they like everybody in the room more that they just shared that with, and then everybody in the room will rate that individual as more trustworthy because that individual just shared something that was clearly vulnerable.
That’s all from university studies. What we’ve done is taken that concept of creating a space for vulnerability and made it something that can fit into the middle of your work day. That’s what corporate teams will do now as a way of building that cohesion to create a sense of team.
Ken Kanara: It was incredible that you were able to do it in a virtual way, too, for me. Okay, so we just talked about different teams, talk to us a little bit about what kind of companies and organizations that you’re working with.
Irina Egorova: We work with all kinds of enterprises, from large to small, across multiple industries: technology, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing. We can see that there’s a problem of connection and team connection resonates a lot across organizations. As these teams become more distributed, the problem becomes even more acute and people crave connection and crave trust. We pretty much find that every team, after they experience a Teamraderie experience and get the chance to get a little bit more vulnerable, spend some time together and get to know a little bit more about each other, they feel more connected. They are more productive and happier at work. It doesn’t matter what they do day-to-day, it applies to a broad set of industries and companies.
Ken Kanara: Is it just teams internally, or are you seeing clients use it with external parties? What are some of the different use cases that have come up?
Michael McCarroll: I think that the interesting thing is when you step back and say, “Well, what are all the different contexts in which I take a group of individuals?” If I can create some sense of team among those individuals, I get to a better outcome. Those are really the use cases that people come and use Teamraderie for. The most popular one, the most consistent one is obviously the concept of a functional team. I’m an engineering manager, I have 12 engineers on my team. That’s what we would call a functional team.
As you can imagine, that’s a pretty standard use case, but in some ways it’s not even the most powerful one. That gives a group of people that need to be collaborative with each other and gets that going. The second one is when there’s a cross-functional team. A cross-functional team would be, now it’s engineering, DevOps and product. In a lot of organizations, not only, obviously, are functional teams distributed, but cross-functional teams can be distributed across locations and across geographies. Now you’re getting a group of individuals that actually think a little bit differently, and because of that, they actually have inherent distrust or siloing, and it’s getting those individuals to feel more connected and cohesive. In just about any piece of knowledge work that we do, it’s super rare that you don’t have a cross-functional team. The second big use case is really cross-functional teams.
Then there’s a third one, which is the concept of a sales team. Anytime you’re trying to sell an enterprise product to a customer, you’ve got a sales rep and a sales team on the seller side and you’ve got a buying team on the other side. No transaction is going to happen unless there is a sense of trust, a sense of common purpose, shared understanding, and even a sense of what are the norms going to be in the relationship post-sale. In all those different contexts you have companies that are now using Teamraderie as a way of effectively stimulating, catalyzing, lubricating the type of cooperation that you want to have across different types of people and that’s how you get these teams to form more quickly, develop trust rapidly, and get to better outcomes than you would have generated otherwise.
Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. Michael, Irina, walk me through how you thought about this. I mean, it was in the height of COVID, right? How did the idea happen? Is it because of COVID? It’s been just a little over a year, if I’m not mistaken, is that right?
Irina Egorova: Yes, that’s correct. We started the company in 2020, but the idea has been there for a long time. For example, I have a long history of working with distributed teams–globally distributed teams. I had a distributed team at SAP, multiple distributed teams at BCG, even at Lattice Engines, our sales team was distributed. Distributed teams are really powerful. They combine people of so many different backgrounds and different perspectives, but it’s really important and really hard to maintain connection. They really require different ways to engage with each other. As a manager I used to read articles in Harvard Business Review and try to understand how to make connection better and how to build trust between team members while they were located in different regions. So we felt the problem for a long time, so we started the company in 2020 because the problem became really acute and we knew we had to do something and we had to find a modern way to help teams stay connected with each other.
Ken Kanara: As someone whose company…you got our entire company dancing all at once, I can say you guys are doing a good job at Teamraderie. So this is the second go-round together for you two as a partnership. Could you tell us a bit about Lattice Engines and what you did there, how you got connected and what it’s like to work together this time around.
Michael McCarroll: Irina I met when we were at Lattice Engines. I was one of the founders of that company, it’s the one that was started by a few other alums with consulting backgrounds. What we what we were trying to do was sell what was a pretty complicated product into a pretty confused market, at a relatively high dollar value sale. One of the things that became really important was to change or evolve the way that you sold, because we were selling something that was an analytics-oriented product that was relatively new to the market. You really needed to find people who were empathetic with what customers were trying to achieve and could very quickly take what we were selling and turn it into something that the customer understood is exactly what they needed to solve the problem that they had. It was taking the sale very much away from me and turning it into being focused on you, the customer.
I met Irina back in 2014. Irina joined the organization initially leading solution consulting, and ultimately leading sales teams. What was really striking about her, in part she’s an exceptional person, but in part she had this background, obviously Ken, that you’re familiar with. In consulting backgrounds, you immediately understand it’s all about the client, it needs to be framed in their problem, and there are not one-size-fits-all solutions. Irina was incredibly effective at this, personally. Ultimately, Ken, we leveraged your organization to hire both solution consultants as well as sales reps, sales people.
The context for us first meeting was trying to solve a really tricky, good market challenge. We solved it with a skillset obviously that Irina had in spades and we scaled it with skillset, I think that certainly your listener base has in spades. Fundamentally, we have an incredibly effective go-to-market motion. It was really efficient from a cost sampling. Consultants aren’t cheap. People with consulting backgrounds aren’t cheap, but it is an incredibly effective and ultimately, an efficient way to go run a sales organization. That was the context that we met in and a bit of why we became involved with ECA.
Ken Kanara: That’s great. I want to dig into Irina, how you grew the business from a sales and commercial perspective, but before we go there, Michael, one of the things that our users are really interested is, okay, you make a transition from consulting to technology…my understanding is you didn’t have a lot of experience in product, obviously you were interested in engineering, but how do you make that jump and what are you missing?
Michael McCarroll: I think that’s fair observation, which is, when you come with a consulting background you’ve got phenomenal instincts around service and empathy, and you tend to not think first about product. I think walking into a product company from the consulting background, that’s certainly one of the things that you need to be cognizant of and know that you got that blind spot. I would tell you that when you’re doing that in software business you get reminded incredibly quickly how important product is. The reason is, is that nothing that you just did can be recurring unless there’s actually a product behind it.
I think, in Irina’s case, actually, she had been at a product company, SAP, before she went to consulting, so she in fact showed up with that orientation. I think that was probably, for myself, when I made that transition from consulting into entrepreneurship, probably the thing that was the hardest corner for me to round was orienting around the centrality of product, obviously the importance of wrapping service around that, but the centrality of product to the offering.
Ken Kanara: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. How many years in, Irina, was Michael into the business when you came in? Then, can you talk a little bit about how you grew it from a sales perspective, because I think that’s a really interesting story.
Irina Egorova: Michael had been in business, I think, for more than five years when I came in. We had great customers already, so I fortunate to have great references and case studies in the technology industry. We had an objective also to penetrate new industries and new customers and I think this is what I’ve been focusing on initially. We went beyond the technology industry and we expanded into distribution and manufacturing with customers like US Foods and Hahnemühle. This was a really exciting time when we had to figure out together with the customer how to use modern technology to solve their growth market challenges. That’s what we started with and we’ve been very successful. Then we hired the team to continue this motion and to continue the growth across industries, but what I also noticed about consultants and although not everybody had backgrounds in product who were joining us, thanks to their experience in consulting, people learned so fast. Because people jump from product to product and they’re very used to new teams and they’re used to new subject matters, and it takes an astonishingly short time for people to get up to speed on what product can do and use cases of the product, and they’re pretty fast in aligning these use cases and helping customers align these use cases to product capabilities.
Ken Kanara: Irina, the other thing I think you did particularly well at Lattice, it was that you brought on a lot of former consultants and trained them to have a more commercial focus. If I’m a consultant that’s, let’s say, I’m leaving McKinsey or BCG or something, and I want to get into a more commercially-focused role in enterprise SaaS, what are the things that I might be missing or I’m coming in a little bit green on that I probably need to think about?
Irina Egorova: Yes, I would say two things. First, be prepared to work with people with many different perspectives and backgrounds. People will think differently than you in many cases, but use it as an opportunity and fully embrace it because the combination is really powerful. So that’s, I think, one thing that jumps out. The second thing is that, though you have many skills that are applicable and you can be really successful in your analytical approach and your customer service approach, but most likely you’ll still face many ups and downs. There will be so many things that you can’t really control. It’s really different from your consulting days when you need to run your analytics, when you need to do your analysis, when you need to create your slides. You know what to do to be successful, more or less, but in the sales career, there are so many changes that are completely outside of your control: budget shifts, people leave the company, and more, so get ready to do it and treat it as an opportunity to evolve and to be more comfortable with that. Find new ways to achieve your goals and ultimately it will be a very rewarding experience for you.
Ken Kanara: I know that if you’re running any kind of sales team or sales organization, obviously metrics and KPIs around activities are super important, how do you marry up something like that with a large value sale like you were doing at Lattice where…how do you juxtapose those two things?
Irina Egorova: We need to be really rigorous in how you run your local business. You’re right, we have large deals and it’s really hard to forecast when a deal is going to close, but that’s why you have to find have many deals in your portfolio and many deals in your pipeline. You have to be really rigorous and prioritize your efforts in such a way that you still meet your KPI’s from quarter to quarter. It’s easy to say, it’s not easy to do that, but if you don’t overly focus on just one customer and you understand that you need to have a portfolio, you’ll be successful.
Ken Kanara: One of the things that I’ve observed, at least with former consultants, is that sales or commercials or whatever you want to call it, has almost become a bad word. I don’t necessarily know what the reason for that is, but did you encounter any of that when you were on boarding or bringing folks up to speed?
Irina Egorova: There is, of course, a certain perception of the role that exists, but at the same time, we see that the definition of the role and the requirements to the role are evolving. Customers are getting more and more advanced in their understanding of different domains. There’s so much information available across digital channels and your customer comes to you really prepared. They know all the basics, they have really specific questions, they have really specific requests, so I think with time, the expectations and the definition of the role changes and people realize that you need to be an expert in your domain, you need to be really attentive to what your customer wants, you need to be really skillful in applying your product to the specific needs of the business. It’s not just “dial and smile,” it’s about establishing deep relationships, it’s about becoming a part of your customer’s team. It’s a really critical capability and requirements and expectations are really high right now. With time, we’ll see more and more sales people who have really strong analytical skills that are similar to the skills that consultant companies develop in people like really strong customer empathy skills. This is a great profession that helps you build that and helps you helps you develop this skill set.
Michael McCarroll: Ken, if you look back 20 years ago, if a customer wanted to buy something, they did not have a lot of places to get information. The role of a salesperson was to give you information. That’s what sales people were, they were people that would give you information. Roll forward 20 years to today, information is everywhere and it’s readily at hand. A salesperson’s skill, and we still have the things like “the smile and dial” meme that sticks around, but those things are an antiquated way to think about sales. To Irina’s point today, the way a sales person is successful is they have to make themselves valuable, right? If you’re not valuable, people don’t call you back or e-mail you back. You have to create value. What Irina is saying is, “Look, these skills that you developed as a consultant actually allow you to add value in the sales process.” I think any sales academy is teaching consulting skills to people that want a career in sales. You’ve got consultants now that could actually just show up with those skills.
I remember, this is like 15 years ago, but right after we started Lattice, I told my mom that we were splitting up responsibilities and I was going to focus on sales. She looked at me, as one of the founders of the company, she kind of looks at me and says, “Don’t you think you could find something better to do?” Her point was, and the way she regarded salespeople circa mid-2000s, was it was the guy that sold her an Oldsmobile and she didn’t think her son should be doing that. You just need to explain to somebody that that’s not what sales is anymore. It’s nothing like that at all. It’s connecting the customer to the problem that you solve or really digging in with the customer like that. That’s absolutely the skill a consultant has in spades. They’re actually quite set up to be successful, after making a couple transitions, but to be really successful in this field.
Ken Kanara: That’s such a great point, thanks for sharing that story, Michael. One of the things that I always tell people that come into our company too is, it’s like, okay, what’s the secret sauce? I hope Spotify doesn’t flag me for my explicit comment, but my best advice is just honestly, give a shit. If you care about the customer, if you care about the outcomes that you’re driving, if you genuinely, authentically do care, you’ll succeed pretty greatly because I think people are more perceptive than people realize. I’m probably belaboring that point, but thanks for sharing that story.
Michael McCarroll: Absolutely, right? Just put a lantern on that one. You brought up authenticity, so you can kind of say, for any transaction to happen, the fundamental thing you need to have is trust. Fundamentally…no transaction happens if there’s not trust. Okay, so let’s say that’s true. How do you build trust? It turns out actually, there are three dimensions of trust and one of those dimensions is authenticity. To your point about giving a…if the person that’s trying to sell you something does not appear to care meaningfully and invest themselves, they don’t come across as authentic and you don’t trust them. And that’s it.
Francis Frei is a professor at Harvard Business School and she’s the world’s foremost authority on trust. She’s part of the Teamraderie’s Advisory Board, a founding advisor. She’s defined trust as having these, what she describes as a three-legged stool. She describes it as, if anyone of those legs isn’t rock solid, the stool wobbles. She calls those trust wobbles. In an environment like sales, they’re just totally unforgivable. Once you wobble, you can’t recover and authenticity is one of the three legs of the trust triangle. It’s super important for people to be authentic, and it’s a core element of how you build trust.
Ken Kanara: Yes, and bringing it back to Teamraderie, one of the things I observed as an early client of yours, when you were starting the business, is that you both were very involved in that process from an early on point of view. Even though it is a business that provides experience virtually, and you can book those appointments online, I did observe as a client that you were very involved, and I felt like part of that was to understand the customer better. Was that intentional?
Michael McCarroll: I think you have a couple of things. Our business launched late in 2020, and what we have right now online is a marketplace so you can go and you can select experiences. One of the things you’ll be seeing later this year is an ability for a manager to go in and basically say, “Here’s a few things I’m seeing on my team,” and then our site will actually recommend what experience you would take. It’s only to say I appreciate you’re valuing our authenticity and caring. We’re actually looking to automate that. In addition, the point is for any transaction, the person on the other side of it needs to know that it’s the real you, they need to see that you care about their success and Teamraderie, or Lattice, or anything people do, those are now two of the three elements of what you need to build trust with people.
Ken Kanara: I think it was probably more of a commentary on how you both invested that extra time up front to understand the customer. In the startup world I’ve heard the expression, “Do things that don’t scale.” So, first, you do things that don’t scale so that you can scale them, and I got the sense that you were really trying to understand that so that it can become a lot easier to automate and easier to do. Because now when I set up experiences, it’s a much more seamless process. I totally understand that.
Excellent, well one of the other things that I wanted to cover…you both come from very impressive academic backgrounds. One of the things we’re developing is a library for folks to learn about different books that you might recommend that have been pivotal in both of your careers. I would love to hear you talk about what you might recommend to our audience.
Michael McCarroll: Sure. I’ll give you two that I really like. There’s a book from Amy Edmondson and the book is called Teaming, so “team” and then i-n-g. What I like about it is, it tells you things that you already know, except for the fact that you don’t actually practice them, therefore it deserves to be read. It goes through, effectively, all the research behind what it takes for this verb “teaming,” which is a group of people collaborating together to create value in an organization. I think it’s a great read. It reminds you of what the fundamentals are. It’s like watching a master class video from Steph Curry, right? How to dribble, how to shoot…these are things everybody should know how to team. Teaming. That’s a really good one. It came out a few years ago, so it’s not a new book.
The second one to pick up is Adam Grant’s book Think Again. It came out last year. What I like about the book is it does a really nice job of revealing the various biases that we all have and the way that we make decisions and becoming aware of it just means that you’re less likely to make those mistakes in the future. I found that book really helpful.
Ken Kanara: Awesome, thanks for sharing. Irina, what about you?
Irina Egorova: Yes, I can share a book that might be interesting for everybody who is interested in becoming a seller and everybody who is a buyer. It’s an interesting book that was published, I believe, last year, it’s called The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit. It’s basically a very researched book that shows you how to understand if people are speaking the truth or not and different linguistic tricks that show you if it’s true or if it’s not. It’s a great, entertaining, but at the same time, research-backed read that everyone can find useful.
Ken Kanara: Awesome, alright. Thanks so much. Before we wrap up, if our listeners want to learn more about Teamraderie, or learn about the experiences that you guys are providing, how would they get in touch?
Michael McCarroll: Obviously, the website teamraderie.com, it’s camaraderie except with the word “team” in front of it. That’s one way. The second is that we would love, Ken, to help one-on-one with anybody that’s looking for a specific way to get started. We get asked a lot, “How do I get started with my team? What should I do first, second, third?” Both Irina and I, Irina [email protected] and I’m [email protected], and we both would love to help you get started with something. We could explain why you start with what you start with and ultimately we have a whole set of digital resources that tell you how to reinforce what comes out of each experience, but we’d love to help you get started on that journey. We just believe everybody can be a pretty gifted manager when they make this part of their management cadence.
Ken Kanara: Awesome. I truly love what you guys are doing and it’s so fun to see two entrepreneurs that did something very analytical and very, let’s call it, like a hard software, hard technology business, make a pivot to something that is in a way softer, but also very much research-backed. It’s definitely affecting change, just in a in a different way. I really love what you guys are doing, thanks so much for joining us today.
Michael McCarroll: Our pleasure, Ken. Thanks for inviting us.
Irina Egorova: Thank you, Ken.
Ken Kanara: Yeah, you bet. For those of our listeners that want to hear more episodes like this, make sure you subscribe to Beyond Consulting on either Spotify or Apple. If you want to learn more about the podcast, it’s beyondconsulting.info and if you want to get in touch with us directly, it’s www.eca-partners.com. Until next week, thanks so much and we will talk to you then.