Interview with CEO of EBTH, Andy Nielsen

Your house is full of stuff that you want to sell, but it’s difficult. CNBC writer Beth Corsentino explains, “Estate sales can be an adventure for buyers, but for homeowners, they can be time-consuming, awkward and emotional. Most people shudder at the idea of strangers traipsing through their home, touching everything and haggling over each item.”

If I were in your shoes, I would not want strangers walking through my home interrogating every item. What if there was a better strategy so that potential buyers could have access to your things without having to come to your house? Everything But the House (EBTH) might be your solution, CEO Andy Nielsen explains to Corsentino, ”You call us when you are going through a downsize or loss of loved one situation, we send a team in, and we'll coordinate junk removal, items that will be donated and then anything that's left saleable we actually list to our platform.”

While EBTH provides a solution for your issues, I am also curious how under Nielsen’s leadership the company has grown 1,200%.

So, Andy what’s your story?

Originally from Cincinnati, I graduated from Miami University in 2007 and helped launch Riverstone Development Group, a development and construction company, where I served as Director of Acquisitions & Marketing until 2012.

Motivated by the desire to move fast and build a really powerful consumer brand, my brother, business partner, and I approached the EBTH co-founders with a plan to scale this unique company that helps so many people navigate difficult times. We formalized our partnership in 2012, and since then, we’ve produced 1,200% growth, hired 1,000+ employees, expanded from our local Cincinnati presence to over 20 seller markets in the U.S., and have grown our audience to more than 150 countries around the world.

Throughout this growth process, we’ve raised $84.5 million in funding from backers including Greycroft Partners, Spark Capital, and Greenspring Associates and have been on Inc.’s list of 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies for three years in a row.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

Leaders motivate and drive others forward – and I believe the best leaders lead by serving those around them. In the case of business, this means serving your customers, shareholders, and employees. Your first responsibility is to communicate the "Why," and it means building trust with those you need to follow. Without trust and conviction from your team, you'll never succeed as a leader.

What is more important to you, the traditional hierarchy (director, manager, the boss, etc) or how teams are formed to get the work done?

While the traditional hierarchy plays a key role in driving decision-making and accountability, you need the right people in the room. Functional silos driven by a traditional hierarchy create internal and external confusion and deteriorate the level of work and overall customer experience. As such, the critical component to delivering impact is actually team collaboration and communication – especially when you're moving fast.

In this case, it's less about title and more about fostering an environment where everyone knows they're "in the room" for a reason and are empowered to act accordingly. To support this, I believe a transparent culture is key – open lines of communication from top to bottom and vice versa. We hold company-wide “Town Hall” meetings to keep the entire company up-to-date on company performance and activities, and assign specific, cross-functional teams to high-level priorities.

We truly value staying connected to each and every one of our team members across the country and always make ourselves as available and approachable as possible. The hierarchy ultimately helps drive a sense of responsibility and accountability, but impact is generated at the team level.

Are you open to the nontraditional ways that teams can get work done? Can you site one example you are currently fostering?

I'm a firm believer that there is immense power in a fresh perspective. As such, we often deploy resources from one team to help address a high-priority issue in another. It's not that we distrust the team that's ultimately responsible for performance, but we know that natural blindspots and biases build up over time. There is power in bringing in a neutral participant who will drive the best customer experience.

In specific, we have recently tasked our New Business team with a customer experience project. While they aren't directly responsible for the customer experience, they have a unique lens with which to evaluate our current service offering and entire customer journey. Their perspective is invaluable, and will uncover key customer insights that will deliver short-term customer happiness and insight into which long-term new business initiatives to prioritize.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

Identifying candidates who have performed well at a specific growth stage is absolutely critical. It's not uncommon to replace team leaders every 18-24 months in the early days of hyper growth. The talent profile simply changes throughout the evolution of a company. In order to combat this, we look for "Player Coaches", those who are willing to play for a bit, but they really want to coach (and have proven the ability to do so). This strategy allows us to hire senior talent that can execute in the short-term, build certain capabilities, and then construct the team to scale.

In the competitive market of product creation how do you manage your “No’s?”

The art of saying "No" is one of the most critical capabilities of today's CEO. While technology moves fast, you must focus on the most critical element: execution! And you can't execute well if you try to focus on everything possible.

Developing and agreeing on an overall strategy, a list of business priorities, and the supporting product initiatives that layer up is key. Once your team is aligned, you focus on execution and delivering the best customer experience. Then, as unforeseen challenges or opportunities arise, you adjust accordingly. By embracing the "No," the "Yes" becomes so much more powerful and you can pivot fast.

Growing a company 1,200%, hiring over 1,000 employees, and expanding your audience to more than 150 countries around the world, are involved achievements. Each of these events requires an intimate understanding of, “No.” Seth Godin illustrates the point beautifully:

“If you can't do a good job, don't take it on. If it's going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass. If it benefits you but not the people you care about, decline. On the other hand, there's an imperative to say "yes." Say yes and build something that matters.”

While I agree with Godin, I have found that saying “yes” to an opportunity is not just your responsibility because you are not that smart. These types of decisions require team input. Otherwise, you are destined to make poor choices, decisions that could ruin your company.

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I am curious about having strategic conversations on how leaders leverage a latticework of mental models to not only make better decisions but evaluate the number of unique scenarios which impact their companies.

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