A CEO Mind-shift for Scaling Growth: An Interview with Henry Schuck

As a business grows, the role of the CEO changes.

Leaders who are able to evolve their mindset from survival to strategy are a lot more likely to find themselves among those 20% of businesses who survive beyond the first 18 months.

It’s a transition Henry Schuck knows well.

DiscoverOrg’s CEO has led the company for a decade – since its creation in 2007. What started as a couple of college friends with an idea has grown over the years from 4 employees, to 20, to over 500 as of this writing – with revenue growth of over 50% from 2016 to 2017.

In general, business growth steps through five stages:

  1. Seed and Development
  2. Startup
  3. Growth And Establishment
  4. Expansion
  5. Maturity

So how does a CEO’s mind change as the company grows? DiscoverOrg’s content strategist, Charity Heller, sat down with Schuck to ask about how he has handled DiscoverOrg’s evolution in the marketing and sales intelligence industry, from a scrappy startup to the industry heavyweight.

Here is what he’s learned about successfully navigating and scaling a fast-growing company through its evolution and maturity.

What needs to happen to scale a growing business?

Charity: What changes occur as a company grows – particularly from an “expansion” stage to a “maturity” stage?

Henry: Things that were ad hoc have to become systemized and processed.

For example, when we did demand generation as a small company, we’d build random list of people, cleanse the data, load it into our Marketing Automation Platform … and whatever came in – great. If it fed the sales team for a day, or a week, or a month – great.

Take our Sales Development team as another good example. When you have one or two people on the phone – whatever they bring in is great. But when you have a 32-person team, you need systems that you can count on to hit longer-term objectives.

You make every year by making every quarter, you make every quarter by making every month, and you make every month by making every day. You need to have systems that support and give you visibility into seeing how you’re doing at each of those levels.

Now, we’re continuing to optimize a highly tuned revenue engine that is running all the time. For us, that’s our inbound team – we expect a certain number of leads. Marketing doesn’t just do SEO when its convenient – you do it in a systematic way. You expect the output to constantly get better.

Business development is no different.

It’s a transition from ad hoc to systematized processes that creates a revenue engine.

Watch Schuck discuss Top Qualities of High-Growth Companies. Then grab our free, popular Growth Drivers report.

Charity: How have your priorities as the CEO shifted as DiscoverOrg has grown?

Henry: Two years ago, I was meeting with CEOs of large companies, and they’d tell me that the stuff that they were focused on today is something that won’t come to fruition for 12 to 24 months in the future. And I remember thinking, What a waste of time. I can’t imagine a world in where I’m just thinking about the future.

That IS the case now.

I’m thinking more into the future. Two years ago, everything I was focused on was month- or quarter-end. It was a lot more tactical and less strategic back then: How do we hit our numbers for this month for quarter? How do we hire more SDRs? Who are we going to promote next? Stuff like that.

Now senior management handles those tactical operations – and I can think about strategy down the road: How can we do things today that will cement our place in the market 12-24 months from now? What are the things that drive a company like ours?

Charity: Talk about that as a mindset change: How have you managed that, personally?

Henry: Before we acquired Rainking [a DiscoverOrg competitor, acquired in August 2017], the board would tell me to be more strategic. And I would always say, “How can I be more strategic when I’m coming in every day and going to battle with Rainking? How do we get people to realize our data is better?”

When you come in every single day going to battle with your competition, it’s hard to lift your head up and see the world.

But as soon as the acquisition happened – the very next week – I had an epiphany: The world of B2B data is filled with poor providers. I mean, there are companies doing $20-$30 million in revenue who are still selling a literal book of lead lists.

We have a great opportunity to disrupt the market.

As we go into new markets – operations, legal, HR, healthcare – we upend providers who’ve had the benefit of no serious competitor. We are playing in a big ($8 billion) market made up of a bunch of niche markets.

We plan on owning all those niches.

I had to think strategically.

We’re going to win them because we are going to enter with TONS more data, integrated into everyone’s systems. We have six times more data integrated into your systems, all with auto refresh, along with direct-dial phone numbers. Other provides have gotten away with not being superior because they haven’t had to chase innovation.

Schedule a demo today, and get free data on your target accounts.

Charity: What other companies have done the job of managing scaling and growth really well? Who hasn’t?

Henry: Coupa software filed to go public this year. They’ve seen good organic growth. They’re doing it efficiently, doing good job of scaling in a reasonable way – without everybody going crazy and trying to grow at all costs. You can’t build a sustainable business like that.

Box and Dropbox have done a good job of growth as well. They don’t buy into their own hype. They just built a solid business and finally IPO’d it. They were trying to upend major competitors. You won’t find an interview with their CEO where they bought into the hype. They didn’t drink their own Kool-aid.

You want to celebrate wins, but don’t believe your own hype. It’s a tricky balance, particularly in a sales environment. You want your customers to believe the hype, while making sure your employees are clear-eyed.

There’s a time-based element to growing and scaling that is unavoidable – or you bring in someone else to help. It takes time to cycle through roles.

You don’t want to be the CEO at age 25. It rarely works out to your benefit.

Business growing painshire smart people business growth

Charity: What has been your biggest lesson in scaling the business?

Henry: Hire really smart people. That’s your best and biggest lever. Make sure they understand the goals, and people will drive to those goals for you – because they’re smart and think in unique ways. Hire the best ones, point them at the right goal, and they will hit it.

[BLOG] Hiring SDRs? Use Maslow’s Hierarchy for Sales Development Teams

Charity: What’s been the hardest part?

Henry: The hardest thing is wanting to get a lot done in a short period of time. We’re awash in great ideas – that’s never an issue. Prioritizing them all and deciding on trade-offs is the most difficult thing. I have to make sure we’re back-logging those things so we don’t forget. In the past, I’ve used notebooks and reread them – and I’ll see what I was thinking back then, what my ideas were. Sometimes I’ll go back two years. We’re getting really good at backlogs, at focusing innovation, and at prioritizing based on our growth objectives and vision.

scaling business growth

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Charity: What’s a cool backlog idea that you’d like to do someday?

HenryOur platform will have the ability to crank through critical processes and add insights and data directly into sales and marketing engagement programs, campaigns, and databases – so you never have to think about it and can spend more time building great engagement programs and just selling.

The data that we generate should be the center of EVERY marketing, sales, and sales development campaign. Data should decide how you talk to prospects. It lives in DiscoverOrg right now, but it needs to be more embedded and drive actions in every system our customers touch. 

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Charity: What’s been the most fun part?

Henry: The most fun part … well, two things: First, hiring really great talent and watching what they do in their department. We hired [Katie Bullard, our Chief Growth Officer] and within a couple of months, we were running on all cylinders. Great people reshape the company. At some point, you start assuming departments are what they are; then you hire someone, and the whole face changes. That’s incredible to watch.

Two, watching talent that comes in young and hungry turn into great leaders. For example, [Patrick Purvis, our Chief Revenue Officer] came in fresh out of college, committed himself to the company, read, learned every day – and he’s now far and away the best I’ve met. It’s fun to get new eyes on the business and see what impact they make.

Charity: OK, so what would you have done differently to scale growth?

Henry: In all things, I would have hired faster and in more roles. I would have hired a CTO sooner, a CMO, a CRO sooner.

I think people tend to get attached to departments. If you understand them well and are intimately involved, it’s hard to recognize when you need to upgrade. That’s where a board is helpful. A board is always early on with this stuff.

What to do once you've got a board.We brought our board in at the perfect time. [DiscoverOrg investor] TA Associates came on at the exact right time. We brought them in when we’d been running business for seven years. It was clear that the business was going to run into speed bumps with growth. We wanted a board that has run over those speed bumps before and knows what’s coming, knows how to sophisticat the business. That’s critical.

We were able to change the business from being run by the gut to being run by processes and systems and data.

Charity: That’s sounds like a theme for DiscoverOrg: Data driving decisions.

Henry: Yep. It’s over-used, but it’s overused because it’s completely true. A lot of cliches sound stupid – like “data-driven” or “it’s all about the people” – but they’re cliches because they’re true. Investing in people is important. Data should drive decisions: It’s common sense, but not common practice.

We all have to come to that realization on our own, but it’s true.

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Charity Heller

Charity Heller is a content strategist at DiscoverOrg. She has 15+ years' experience in publishing, retail, and ..read more