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I cringed often when working my way through the multiple businesses that comprise my ‘career’. I wish I could say I had a grand vision from the start of what I wanted to build, but I hate to admit that it took 20 years to figure out. Honestly, I came to know what I wanted to build by first figuring out what I NEVER wanted to build. I wanted to share a couple posts on what we want to be as a company here at re:ceeve.
But first let’s take a step back in time, to Steve’s Bicycle shop, a high school job I had when I was 15. I was fanatical about bikes. I loved BMX and was also getting into road cycling and hung out there quite a bit. One day I saw a help wanted sign on the door. I worked on my bikes myself so the mechanic part was a no-brainer. Experience in a shop? Zero! Nevertheless, I got the job and I was beaming because there was a discount on parts which was shangri-la for this cheapskate. I thought I hit the jackpot.
I was a week into the job when I learned two lessons. One positive, one negative but both very much still with me.
I had to put together some ten-speed. Nothing special and to be honest, I liked repairing and assembling the high-end bikes. This one was some cheap frame with cheap parts and I kind of just banged it together. Steve decided that day to teach me a lesson. He asked whether I put it together right and was it safe? I of course said “yeah, sure” and didn’t think anything of it. He grabbed the bike, squeezed both brakes super hard and kind of mashed it forward and into the ground, quite violently to my surprise. Both brake cables slipped and the handlebars shifted to the side. He threw the bike down in disgust, looked at me and yelled “this fucking piece of shit gets its owner killed at an intersection and me sued the next day. Rebuild it, and if you deliver this quality of work after today, you’re fired.”
There were two lessons for me that day. The first is fairly evident. You better focus on quality because if you don’t, your customer can die. Of course, there are products which won’t kill your customers when they fail, but you get the point. It’s about quality and that lack of quality has consequences. The less evident second lesson for me was that I hated my job.
I loved bikes. I loved riding them. I loved repairing mine. I read all the popular magazines back then and knew about every brand and every part. Yet, I despised that job. It was boring and I was cooped up in the back maintenance area that reeked of cigarettes. The sad reality of bike shops is that the most money is made on simple repairs like flats and brake adjustments. You hardly ever sell the high-end bikes and even more rarely do they come in for repairs. I had zero interest in the bike shop business or in being a bike mechanic. I had this romantic vision of what working in a bike should be like – and it was none of that.
Let’s fast forward to a more corporate role. There isn’t one witty war story to tell. There are simply a million cuts that created the wound that this business would inflict on my thinking. Nothing was shared. This was an organization where holding information close to your chest meant power. Managers never shared details about anything with their subordinates. The most senior level of management reigned by owning pools of information that were never shared for tactical purposes. Careers were made and careers were ended by sharing or withholding information. No one in a lower-level role really knew what the organization was about or what was going on at the senior-most levels. There was so much financial engineering in the numbers that whatever was communicated never really told the true story and whenever there was success, it had a million fathers. Mistakes and missteps were orphans. Admitting that you did not know something or did not have any experience in a specific area was seen as a weakness. Everyone was a genius in their role and spoke, to my surprise, quite openly about how little everyone else knew. If you yourself are in a corporate role, you probably know exactly what I am talking about. Which specific company this was is irrelevant. What is disappointing is that this is so many different companies.
OK, now back to re:ceeve. What’s the takeaway from the above for what we are doing at re:ceeve? Well let me first start with the industry. I never thought in a million years I’d be working in collections. I wasn’t doing this as a hobby on the side or researching it in my spare time. It simply happened to be one of the many areas my co-founder Michael and I were indirectly connected to and we had already built a business in the space. Does the industry sound sexy from afar? No! But it’s actually fascinating when you dive in. There are so many parameters that influence what happens in this space. It is an intersection of finance, banking, behavioural science, technology and so much more. There are so many players in the space and it is relevant on a global scale.
I was not passionate about collections but getting neck deep in the industry, I find it fascinating. I try to convey this to everyone who comes to work for us. There is so much opportunity in this long-ignored segment and so much to do. You can become wildly passionate about trying to change how this space works and not only can you work on some many different things, so too can you still heavily disrupt an industry. I think you can tell I’ve drunk the Cool-Aid when it comes to what we do. At re:ceeve, I want everyone to be just as excited about this space because they find the challenges compelling. We want folks who like to see something being done wrong and do it right. Changing the game is what we are about at re:ceeve and redefining how things are done in this space is what drives us.
You remember that bike up above, the one that almost fell apart? Well, in collections, a lot of times, things are about to fall apart. Not only can it be the customer of our client who is in dire straits and can’t pay. It can also be our client who needs to clean up and add transparency to their business processes. If your collections processes are out of whack, you aren’t getting cash in the door fast enough. This quickly escalates into a ton of other issues. Customers of our clients facing bankruptcy or clients seeing their business struggling due to collections need solutions that don’t fail. When something in your collections operation goes wrong, it only goes from bad to worse when you don’t remedy the process. We need to deliver a platform for our clients that allows their customers the easiest, most streamlined path to remedy their collections issue. In turn our clients need to reap the immediate rewards of technology and innovation in collections to recover unpaid bills and shore up their cash positions. These aren’t necessarily life-and-death situations, they are however significant. The customer can end up bankrupt or the client out of business. We aren’t working on trivial things. What we do has a meaning. We help people get out of difficult situations. The point in the process where our technology is at work can represent a turning point for the better or the worse. If we do our job right, we get things back on track. We solve big problems. We focus on our customers, making sure that every cable and every bolt is properly tightened in their collections process. Doing so is the difference between a bike that hurts you and a bike that gets you to your destination faster.
Before this gets too long, let me get to my last point. I spent many years on the other side as a VC. This meant I got to see a ton of startups and the missteps they had taken. What bothered me the most was when I saw large company behaviour in small businesses. Even worse was when I saw things I had experienced myself within management. At re:ceeve I vowed to remain transparent and open with our team. I want, as described above, people to be passionate about what they do and I want them to care. More importantly though, I want them to see what we do and understand why.
My goal is to involve the whole team in the flow of information. I want people to share with one another and be willing to honestly say “I don’t know.” I also support people asking hard questions. You don’t think something makes sense? Ask why and ask to be brought up to speed on how a decision was made. You want to better understand the finances? Ask to see budgets. You want to know how much money we raised and at what terms? Take a look at the investment documents. No team wins when information isn’t shared and people don’t work together.
Also, we don’t want to be a family. We mention this often on our recruiting documents. What we do want to be is a highly effective sports team. We have folks acting as coaches in their specialty areas. We have complimentary “athletes” all working towards winning. We have “owners” (in our case the VC’s and angels) bringing their network to bear. And finally, we have competition that wants the same things as us and not everyone can win. If you think along these lines, you can be very successful at re:ceeve. If you start playing power games and politics, you won’t go far. If you want to be an individualist and not interact with the team, you’re also going to struggle. If you can’t speak up and add your views, we’ll at least try first to find your voice but speak up you must. And if you have an opinion, but no expertise in the space being discussed, it’s perfectly fine to say “let me learn more about that and I’ll get back to you.”
I could go on and on about other facets of what we are building and the respective war stories but this is enough for a first post. I’ll make sure to follow up with more soon.
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