MTO: 3 Keys to Building a Mission Driven Company (Ido Leffler of Yoobi)

Ido Leffler, Co-Founder of Yes To Carrots and Yoobi, which designs fun office and school supplies, joined Meet The Operators. Ido credits his success to creating a very clear and single vision. Every company has been built on three key pillars: Incredible People, Kick-Ass Product, and Awesome Cause.

Zaw had a chance to catch up with his good friend Ido.

Ido Leffler Meets The Operators #MTO

Listen to the full interview on SoundCloud here
Read the entire transcript of the interview

Three Fun Facts About Ido Leffler

  1. If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be? 
    For me, it’s all about family. I want to meet my grandfather who I never got a chance to meet. I want to meet my family, who, unfortunately, perished during the Holocaust. I want to meet people that helped create the family culture that I live in today, and that I hope to grow. 
    Listen to Ido’s story on his family and roots
  2. Favorite Superhero: 
    Batman, because I want all the gadgets. I’m a gadget guy. I want the cars, the gadgets, the flying mobiles. Anything that flies, I want it!
  3. If you were not doing what you’re doing today and you could do it all over again, what would you want to be doing? 
    As a kid, I always dreamt that I would be a diplomat or someone who worked in government and was, to a degree, a public servant.

Top Five Questions MTO asked Ido Leffler

  1. Lessons Learned & Advice: Can you give an example of big challenges you’ve encountered and overcome? What would be the one piece of advice you could give to businesses right now? 
    Listen to Ido’s Response Here (min 9:19)
  2. Vision: Do you remember the “Aha” moment of Yoobi? How did the idea come to birth, and what problem(s) were you trying to solve? 
    Listen to Ido’s Response (min 15:54)
  3. Success & Hiring: What is the MOST important thing you’ve learned when trying to build and maintain the best team? Listen to Ido’s Response (min 22:25)
  4. Culture: How do you communicate the company’s vision to everyone?What do you do to create the right environment? Listen to Ido’s Response (min 23:55)
  5. Goals: How do you create your company objectives (KPIs)? How do you measure & plan for them? Listen to Ido’s Response (min 27:18)

Ido Leffler’s Responses

  1. Every startup has its ups-and-downs. Can you give us an example of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered and overcome? 
    What would be the one piece of advice you could give businesses?

For Yes To, the first two years were one massive fire drill. Every day there was a fire to put out. I could probably name a thousand that stick out. But here’s a great example…

As it’s every entrepreneurs dream to be on the front cover of a magazine, one amazing publication in Australia (my home country) was very kind enough to put Lance and I on the front cover. We were receiving great press from this everywhere; on Facebook, Twitter, and every social channel you could imagine. And here we were — at the exact same week — literally looking at each other across the table wondering how we were going to make payroll!

I’ll never forget that particular week. It was one of the most humbling moments of my life. While the world (or at least the world around us) had put us on this amazing pedestal and was giving us this incredible ego boost, at the same time we were scrambling to find money so we wouldn’t have to close the business down and really let ourselves and everybody around us down.

What we learned was that we over- forecasted our revenue, we under-forecasted our expenses, and we didn’t do a good enough job of managing our cash flow as a result.

If I can give any advice to any business no matter who you are, whether you’re a service business, a product business (it doesn’t really matter what), you always need to have your eye on the cash flow and you need to be ready to make really tough decisions earlier on and not rely on that last month of runway or fumes to get you through. Because there’s a limit to the amount of Hail Mary passes that you can throw.

2. Do you remember the “Aha” moment of Yoobi? How did the idea come to birth, and what problem(s) were you trying to solve?

At the time when we came up with the idea for Yoobi, my wife and I had two kids. I was walking down the aisle of a local store…shopping the school supplies aisle for my kids. Here I am, in the school supplies aisle, and I’m looking left and right and none of the products on the market were very inspiring to me. My daughter walked passed that aisle as though it didn’t exist!
Now I remember when I was a kid, I loved the school supplies aisle. I used to stand there for what felt like hours just looking and trying to argue with my parents as to what I was going to buy. It was almost like the toy aisle for me!
When you walk down the aisle today, it just doesn’t feel like that. Not that the products were bad…they just weren’t particularly inspiring. So that was goal number one… how do we bring fun style back into the supply space whether it was school supplies, office supplies, or the home supply space, how do we make it fun again!

The second problem we wanted to solve was the idea around the lack of school supplies for kids here in the U.S.

We noticed that a lot of kids just don’t have school supplies for themselves to do homework, and a lot of families are struggling. We wanted to basically empower and democratize it because there is no reason why my daughter should have an advantage over a child at a school down the road because they have school supplies and others don’t. We’re talking about pencils, crayons, rulers, the basics in life. Almost like the brick and mortar of education. We wanted to solve that problem.

Through some of our Yes To (foundation) work, I saw these classrooms that either looked like a waiting room at a DMV or they looked like something out of the Wizard of Oz. Inevitably, we’d ask the teachers…”Why and what’s the story with the classroom?” Either the schools didn’t have the supplies, ran out, or didn’t have any budget. More than often, teachers spent their own money to provide a few extra supplies.

So we did some research and saw that the average school teacher spends close to $500 out of his/her own pocket for school supplies for her classroom. My mom was a school teacher, and I can tell you $500 is a lot of money when you’re on a school teacher’s salary. The second thing we realized was that if you take that $500…that works out to be $1.6 billion worth of teacher’s salaries a year. Now that’s a lot of money. This is something that is just unacceptable. Some teachers go out of their way and spend up to $2,000. That just shouldn’t happen. So we said how do we fix that problem.

3. What is the MOST important thing you’ve learned when trying to build and maintain the BEST team?

One of the biggest lessons is to set out a very clear and singular vision. Now every one of our companies today and going forward is built on 
Three Key Pillars: Incredible People, Kick Ass Product, and Awesome Cause

Incredible People includes the people that we employ, the people that we bring into the picture, the retailers that we partner with, etc.

The second is Kick Ass Products. Every product we put out onto the market is something we want to be proud of. A product shouldn’t just go by the wayside.

Lastly, Awesome Cause. Everything we do starts and ends with the cause. When you start a company that gives product away, it’s very easy to lose focus because a lot of people have their needs. But staying very firm to the need that you want to solve is key.

When hiring the team at Yoobi, it was so amazing. Today, when I look at the team, nobody is at Yoobi just for paycheck. People join Yoobi because they truly want to change the status quo for the products that we want to solve.

Hire the best from day one. The best doesn’t need to be from a CV, the best needs to be just the best people. Then make sure the best are engaged in the mission and be very open and honest with them about the positives, the negatives, and the way that you want to see the company going forward and empower them to help you get there.

When I talk about empowerment, I talk about if you hire someone qualified to do the job, let them do the job. Which means, give guidance, give direction, give empathy, give support, but at the same time, let them do their job.

4. How do you communicate the company’s vision to everyone? What do you do to create the right environment?

We have a thing in our companies which is very open communication about the issues that we’re facing, about the future paths of the company, and we make sure that everybody in the company, whether they’re the newest person or they’ve been there from day one, they feel like they can have impact on the company.

We have all-hands calls once a week where everybody gets a chance to tell the team what they’re doing. Then we do two major off-sites a year, out of the company. We do one which is local, and then we do one major one, which last year included a surprise cruise to Mexico. Everybody gets to go!

5. How do you create your company (Yoobi’s) objectives (KPIs)? How do you measure and plan for them?

We build an annual BIG ASS GOAL on what we are striving for. We look at it as…what is our five-year goal, our three year goal, our one year goal. And then we break it down and (in Yoobi’s case) because it’s product related, we set ourselves weekly goals together with our retail partner to make sure that we’re hitting our forecast. We adjust accordingly if we’re not. Sometimes we’re very pleasantly surprised by the forecast, sometimes less so. But for us it’s about setting a Big Ass Goal and getting everybody to follow each other down that path to get there!

You can Read the entire transcript of the interview here
Listen to the entire interview here

Be sure to follow Ido on Twitter.

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Thanks, as always, to Brian Ko, and Gina Domizio for all their help!

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