Edward Yao Of OneLocal On The Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Sara Connell
Be adaptable, and understand your environment and the unique impact your actions will have on stakeholders, team members and customers.
As a part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Edward Yao.
Edward Yao is the founder and CEO of OneLocal. With a background in management consulting, he successfully built and sold Canada’s first daily deals company, Teambuy, growing and scaling it to >$50M GMV and 130+ employees in under five years. A local marketing expert and thought leader, his career is focused on delivering measurable results, revenue growth and customer loyalty for businesses of all sizes. Eddy lives in Toronto with his wife Jessica and their dog Bolt.
OneLocal is revolutionizing small business marketing. With a best-in-class suite of local marketing tools, supported by a team of real-life marketing experts, OneLocal provides technology-backed, managed marketing services that allow small business owners to focus on their passions and what they do best — running their businesses. Backed by Y Combinator, Nimble Ventures and Share Capital, OneLocal levels the playing field while driving tangible results for thousands of small businesses throughout North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. For more information or to see a demo, please visit www.onelocal.com.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) and raised in Toronto. Following my business studies at Queens University, I got my professional start in management consulting at Accenture. I started my first company, TeamBuy, in 2009. It was quite the whirlwind. One minute, we were in the basement talking about the idea, and the next, we were on Dragon’s Den. At OneLocal, we take care of the 200+ marketing-related tasks a small business owner must undertake to remain competitive and successful in their local market — all at a fraction of the cost of an employee or agency.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
We actually didn’t start off as OneLocal. We started with a completely different product and name (Gata Labs). As Uber gained dominance in the marketplace, we saw an opportunity to help traditional cab companies compete. When we dug deeper, we realized that legacy transportation models weren’t ready to digitize and the inability to compete with big businesses and disrupters like Uber was a universal problem for SMBs. We made a call, ramped up local operations and de-verticalized our offering to make it work for all small businesses and OneLocal was born. What did I learn? Change is not necessarily a bad thing; it can lead to better outcomes than you may have initially imagined.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Our purpose has always been to level the playing field while extending the economies of scale to help small businesses succeed in a marketplace dominated by organizations with more money and expertise at their disposal. We take the weight of marketing off customers’ shoulders and drastically improve performance — for the fixed price of a software subscription. Our small business customers get back to doing what they love, and millions of consumers gain easy access to local shops and services within their community.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
We’re a start-up, so there’s always some challenge. We counteract through a strong vision, that the team believes in, trusts and is inspired by, ‘We are #OneTeam.’ From our office manager to the senior leadership team, each team member knows we are in this together.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I’d be lying if I said no. Early days at a start-up are exhilarating but can simultaneously be chaotic. The best thing about working with small businesses is that they are so grateful for the work we do for them. The validation we get from our customers on an ongoing basis is really satisfying. ‘Using OneLocal for my marketing needs has been the best decision I have made for my business.’ it’s hard not to keep going with feedback like that. Small businesses are so happy to have someone make sense of their marketing for them — and are very generous with their praise — the team and I can’t help but get caught up in it and want to do more for them.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz. Much like purpose-built businesses, he focuses on the importance of purpose-built cultures and the impact of lack thereof. When we built TeamBuy — we went fast and furious. As a result, I learned the importance of being purposeful with my business ventures, and he inspired me to apply that thinking to our people and culture. It’s helped us build up a strong core team and turn some pivotal corners.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Lead with transparency, authenticity and accountability. It’s easy to hide behind jargon and rhetoric, but it does very little to install confidence in your team, essential during challenging times. They need to know that you are riding it out and striving toward a better tomorrow alongside them.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Fostering morale and team culture has undoubtedly been a challenge in recent years. While we have moved to a remote-first model, we maintain a smaller physical HQ that provides a central meeting spot and’ home base’ for the team for work or social events. We do the same virtual ‘happy hours’ everyone does, but with less forced participation, it’s more of an option. We’ve also got a great program our people team has put together that purposely interrupts the team’s workday to encourage a social break with their peers and leadership. Adoption is high, and we see a lift in comradery and general morale. As a leader, I am most effective when I show up for my team, be it during happy hour or as an active participant in meetings. Distance happens naturally as companies grow, but I make a point to interact directly and authentically with as many as possible — both in-person and remotely.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be transparent, straightforward and compassionate. Make sure you know your audience and consider their unique needs and specific challenges when modeling your message. Be prepared to ask questions and deliver short-term and long-term solutions that address the problem and prevent or lessen the impact of future occurrences.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
We don’t have the luxury of time we had just a couple of years ago. We’ve all had to ask our teams to make big decisions fast while managing outcomes on the fly. While most businesses were still resistant to digitization, the global COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone online, from Fortune 500s to face-timing grandparents. AI and predictive analytics have become essential components of business management, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what they can do. Embrace change and find the opportunity within the chaos.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Revisit your company vision often, and stay true to its core values and principles while remaining adaptable and open to a new or different application of that same vision.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
1. Don’t focus on just the short-term. While short-term tactics can quickly deal with a crisis or rapid change, their overall effect tends to be incremental. Simultaneous long-term thinking can help achieve more significant, transformational changes that can better protect your business and enable long-lasting success.
2. More than ever before, time is of the essence. Learn to differentiate between risk (all potential outcomes are known) and uncertainty (outcomes, probability of success are unknown) to respond quickly with greater certainty while driving better results.
3. Authenticity is vital. Check your ego at the door. The emerging workforce can see right through it, and you’ll immediately lose footing that is impossible to recover.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?
- Be adaptable, and understand your environment and the unique impact your actions will have on stakeholders, team members and customers.
- Be clear, transparent and forthright in communications and actions.
- Accept the reality that change will always happen, continuously reaffirm your vision/values and communicate it to team members and customers alike, loudly and often.
- Understand the differences between risk and uncertainty and how to respond accordingly.
- Be motivational, empathic and present for team members at all times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘You can build your own things that other people can use. And once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.’ (Steve Jobs). It reminds me of why I became an entrepreneur. There is a lot of personal and professional satisfaction in seeing people use and embrace what you have created.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find me, Edward Yao, on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/edward-yao-2599a26/
Check out OneLocal at:
Linkedin — www.linkedin.com/company/onelocalco/
Instagram — @onelocalco
Twitter — @onelocalco
Facebook — @onelocalco
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!