When entrepreneur Raphael (Rafi) Epstein founded StrataVAR, a fully integrated, cloud-based quoting management solution that streamlines the sales process, he had a global vision for the company.
Now, StrataVAR reaches customers all over the world, and Rafi himself is an international leader, building and working with multi-disciplinary, solution-focused teams that span geographies and cultures.
The industry leader joined us on the Trailblazing Entrepreneurs podcast to discuss his tips for building teams that can execute a unified vision, and the importance of cultivating trust, ownership, and perseverance as a leader.
What are habits you counted on the most throughout your career?
Rafi Epstein: First of all, listening is so important. We have two ears and one mouth, so God wanted to tell us something! Try to listen as much as possible and interpret what you hear. When you’re talking to customers it’s important to understand what they really mean. Always ask questions and dig deeper — at least one more level than you’re comfortable with. That’s what I tell all my employees: you have to be more thorough — even if you think you understand what the customer wants, don’t assume too much.
The other thing is what I call ‘extreme ownership’. If you own something, you have to own it till the end. You can’t just do your work and go home; if this is your attitude, it probably won’t last. You have to really see things through.
As a manager of a small company, you start off doing almost everything yourself. As it grows you need to learn how to delegate, and how to ensure that the quality of the product or the service still matches your expectations. I need to trust my team and know that they will own a problem until it is resolved or escalated. It’s a long journey, but at the end, you have a very highly operational machine and that’s a success, in my opinion.
What’s your trick for building great teams?
Epstein: It’s important to make sure that any new team member has proper onboarding. They need to understand the company, the vision, the product, the marketing, and so on. You have to help educate them and close the loop in order to make sure they reach where they need to be, but also let them learn.
The trick, on an ongoing basis, is to delegate. Always allow the team members to express their creativity and their ability to solve problems, and allow them to make mistakes. We respect mistakes but fail fast; understand the mistake, fix it, and don’t repeat it twice. At StrataVAR the culture is ‘do the best you can’, and there is an open-door policy — talk to whoever you need to. If you fail, you have to admit it, find the reason, analyse it, get back on track, and move on.
What do you look for when you are building a team?
Epstein: The team is the number one factor in achieving success. A great team can start with the wrong product, realise it’s wrong, and then redesign the entire thing. So, my preference is to hire based on potential and attitude rather than experience and an impressive resume. I always prefer somebody with the passion and ability to learn, rather than somebody who has a lot of experience and may find it very difficult to learn new things.
The whole industry, the environment, tools — everything — changes so fast that unless you have the ability to learn very quickly, you’re dead in the water. So potential is more important to me, and that has proved to be a pretty good parameter in hiring.
Sourcing talent is a challenge; as a small company, you compete against larger organisations with more resources to attract the best talent. So, you have to play it differently. The demand is much higher than the supply, and it is a major issue. I know that Salesforce is investing a lot in helping the industry train and educate in order to increase the number of people in roles such as developers, technical architects and business analysts. This is greatly needed in order to elevate SaaS startups and help them achieve their vision and drive success.
Hear more about Rafi’s journey in this episode of the Trailblazing Entrepreneurs podcast.