Mikael Lauharanta is a digital media authority and the co-founder and COO of Smarp, an employee advocacy company of 60 employees globally. Recently he has focused his expertise on growing the international teams in the UK and the United States, playing an imperative role in sales training and recruitment.
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- Startup Digest and Gary V’s Youtube Channel – Mikael’s small business resources
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Mikael’s Top Business Book
- Smarp – Mikael’s website
- Follow Mikael on Twitter
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3 Key Points:
- Do NOT be afraid to share your ideas.
- It’s very important as an entrepreneur and leader to TRUST your employees.
- Be slow and decisive in your hiring process.
Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:09] – Smarp was built in 2011
- [01:14] – Mikael has spent the past 2 years in London
- [01:27] – He’s all about employee advocacy and sports
- [02:12] – Mikael’s area of expertise is the role of employees in social media
- [03:30] – Separating your personal and professional life on social media
- [04:23] – JLD’s personal example regarding his employees on social media
- [05:36] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: “The key is: show trust in your employees”
- [06:17] – People are scared of talking about what they’re doing
- [07:09] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: Having to let go of one problematic employee just before Christmas
- [09:41] – Upon learning about his termination, the employee was in disbelief
- [10:50] – Be slow and decisive in your hiring process
- [13:07] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Mikael’s first client had 30,000 employees, 7,000 of which were already on LinkedIn. The goal was to help the company communicate with their followers and create interesting content. Mikael realized if they could create software that helps companies communicate with their employees and followers, the company was going to reach 26x more people.
- [16:27] – Do some research
- [17:35] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “It is companies showing trust to their employees…”
- [18:40] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Nothing”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Share your ideas always… and you should always, as an entrepreneur, try to surround yourself with smarter people than you are yourself”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Diligence”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Startup Digest and Gary V’s Youtube Channel
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – The Hard Thing About Hard Things
- [23:11] – Follow Mikael on Twitter and on his website
- [23:43] – Surround yourself with smart people
Mikael: Yes, John, I’m locked and loaded.
John: Yes. Mikael is a digital media authority, and the co-founder and CEO of Smarp, an employee advocacy company with 60 employees globally. Recently, he’s focused his expertise on growing the international teams in the UK and the US by playing an imperative role in the sales training and recruitment. Mikael, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Mikael: Yeah, John, thanks for having me, super-excited. Yeah, my name is Mikael. I’m one of the founders of Smarp. Started this company in 2011, so five years ago and running.
Spent the past two years in London, really growing the team there, nowadays based in New York, really love to be in the United States, best city in the world.
Yeah, about myself, really into, obviously, employee advocacy, engaging employees, empowering employees, participating in the online communications of the companies and clients that we’re working with. Personally, I’m really into sports, played a little bit myself, but nowadays more into following. I really enjoy craft beers, good craft beers, too.
John: Yeah, that’s what happens as we get older, Mikael. We started getting less involved in the physical aspect, more in the consuming aspect, and by consuming; I mean both sports and beer.
John: That’s just the natural progression of life. Mikael, take a second, step back for us, for Fire Nation, and give us a pretty good break down, pretty detailed specifics, on what your area of specialty is.
Mikael: As a company, really, we’re the innovators and, really, the original employee advocacy software provider. The whole concept didn’t exist when we started the company.
What we were working with from the beginning was what’s the role of employees on social media. What the in it for them for being more active on social media, and then how does that positively reflect on the entire brand of the company.
We’ve been doing that all along, and later on in this interview, we’ll get into more detail in what actually sparked the whole employee advocacy concept, and us to create a software around it. That’s really been our key priority and specialty throughout the history of our company.
John: Alright, so let me break this down, and let me see if you agree with how I understand this. Basically, you’re saying, “Hey, there’s employees in a company, they’re working for a company, they might be doing jobs X, Y, or Z in different industries. How should they be acting on social media?”
Is this both personal and professional, their personal Facebook page, how they’re interacting professionally on their Facebook, LinkedIn profiles? How does that exactly look?
Mikael: Good question, and a great point because nowadays, it’s pretty much intertwined. It’s hard to separate, nowadays, your personal and professional life because if you’re on LinkedIn, you’re gonna be representing the company that you work for.
Same thing, perhaps, on Twitter, but obviously, you’re gonna want to share something every now and then that’s more about you personally in your own voice, but every now and then, obviously, depending on was your role and your goals are on social media, you might wanna share something more professional or work-related, whether it’s about the company or about the industry that you’re working in, or just something that’s of interest to you as a professional.
John: Okay, let me break in here for a second. What I want you to headache sure you’re getting, Fire Nation, is listen, if you are a solopreneur or an entrepreneur with a small team, this is really important information because this is gonna be how you can communicate and train your team to act on social media.
I’ll give an example personally, and this is real, and I think this is kind of important. I mean, I have my virtual assistants do a lot of posting and commenting on our behalf, and they’re Team EO Fire, and to be Frank, a couple of my virtual assistants had pictures in their profile that I just honestly didn’t feel was befitting of Entrepreneur on Fire, the brand.
I reached out to them, I said, “Listen, we can go one of two ways. You can definitely either keep what you have right now as your personal profile, but I need you to create another profile that you’re using when you’re posting as EO Fire, or you can just change your actual profile picture to something a little more classy, and then we can go forward, and you can continue to use your personal profile.”
These are the things, Fire Nation, that are going to affect you an your business as you’re growing your team, and, of course, if you’re an employee right now you’re an intrapreneur, this is going to be great information so that you can probably shine, and your boss will be like, “Wow, this person actually gets it, and we haven’t even trained our employees on that,” and you’ll be a step ahead.
On that note, Mikael, give us one value bomb. What’s one unique tip, tool, or tactic in this area that we’re talking about right now, your area of expertise that we done know as entrepreneurs that we should?
Mikael: Probably for me, the key is that, really, regardless if you’re a small team, or a bigger team, or a bigger company already, I think you need to show trust in your employees, trust they’re gonna do the right thing, and let them use their own voice and share things that they see are fitting to the company.
Of course, sometimes you might wanna have those profile pictures or bios aligned a little bit to show the kind of brand to the external world, but really, I think key is to trust your employees.
John: Let go deeper, Mikael. Trust, we know trust, that’s important. Everybody knows we need to trust. What’s something we don’t know?
Mikael: One of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as an entrepreneur is sometimes, people are a little bit scared of talking what they’re doing. For me, at least, as an entrepreneur, never try to protect your idea from somebody. Always and always, wherever you are, talk about your idea, get some feedback. Don’t be afraid of somebody’s gonna snatch your idea, if there’s competitors are gonna copy something. Always, always talk about your idea and product, no matter at which stage it is, really.
John: Share your ideas, Fire Nation. That’s how he will figuratively, and potentially literally, catch fire. Mikael, let’s go to move into what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. Take us to that day. Tell us that story.
Mikael: I had to give this a little bit of thought. This is a really tough one for me because obviously, there’s a lot of bad days, a lot of really good days as an entrepreneur. Probably for me to date, the worst day, the worst moment, was having to let go a little bit problematic employee right before Christmas. Christmas was obviously closing in. We had made the decision that we’re gonna have to let this one person go.
John: What were the reasons behind needing to let that person go?
Mikael: This person was working in business development. This person had already sold something, so it was not performance-related as much as it was the cultural fit, and also not following some of the orders that we had given this person, and also just thinking long term, some of the tactic and methods this person was using, I don’t feel like they reflected our values and the values that we wanna show.
John: Okay, so Christmas is coming. You know it’s gonna happen. Bring us to that day.
Mikael: Invite this person to the meeting room, start the discussion, and it’s almost like a regular one on one or feedback session, and start talking about the thing that I liked this person has been doing for our company. It’s still a rather small team, so everybody’s pretty close and open about everything.
John: Yeah, let’s be honest. They probably have a suspicion because if you’re starting your conversation just lathering them with accolades, they might be like, “Uh oh.”
Mikael: Yeah, one of the reasons it was the worst, probably the worst experience, was that this person was for quite a bit of time pretty oblivious to the fact that I was about to let that person go. When that moment sunk into that person, the whole expression changed, and the attitude and it started this vicious cycle of going from anger to denial to pleading, and, “Christmas is coming,” and everything.
I’m just trying to stay professional, trying to stick to the facts and stay calm, and explain it over and over again, “These are the reasons.” Took ages, and –
John: Alright, let me break in here for a second. What kinda reaction did this person have?
Mikael: Probably the first thing was just disbelief and denial, like, “This is not happening,” like, “I have done some things. I’ve produced a little bit,” and things like that, and then it just went more into the anger side, and, “You can’t do this,” and, “Can’t accept this,” and –
John: Keeping this moving forward right now, Fire Nation, what I really want you to be taking that away from this is, listen, we all know the adage of hire slow, fire fast. You need to really make sure when you’re hiring somebody, you’re hiring them for the right position, for the right fit, for the right cultural fit. Take your time on these things because it is so hard to unwind things once you’ve started, and then, of course, fire fast.
You hear those words, the first time you should fire somebody is the first time you think about it. Well, I got news for you Fire Nation. It’s easy to say, impossible to do. You’re not gonna do t.
We’ve all thought about firing somebody in our team at some point, and none of us have done it on that first impulse because that’s just impulsive, so we don’t do that.
The reality is this: You need to be decisive. You need to be slow and then decisive in your hiring process, and quick and decisive as possible in that firing process because if Mikael just let’s this person keep going on, and on, and on, they would have had some more anger even built up because they would have just continued to invest time, energy, and effort into a company that they were then being let go of.
It’s best for everybody involved. Let this person who’s not the right fit go on and do something that they maybe are a right fit for because it’s obviously not your company. That’s my big take away, Mikael, from your story. In just one or two sentences, what do you wanna make sure that Fire Nation gets from your firing story?
Mikael: I absolutely agree with everything you said. I don’t think there’s ever been anyone who’s, after letting somebody go, thinking that, “Oops, oh, I did that too fast,” so you’re probably never gonna regret firing somebody too fast. Also, I’d like to continue on that and how it went for us after the initial anger, and slamming the door, and not feeling so good about it the first couple days.
We then exchanged a couple emails and phone calls, so it’s all good now. Even if you’re letting somebody go and they don’t take it so well, try to keep a good relationship with them, and be helpful towards them in finding a new position because you know it’s probably gonna come back to you one day. You never know. Don’t have employees for life, but have relationships for life.
John: Yeah. In the solid side, though, Fire Nation, that you do need to realize, especially when you’re running a real company and these aren’t independent contractors anymore, but these are employees, potential, whom you’ve hired full-time with salary, maybe with benefits, there’s a process you have to go through.
You can’t just wake up one day and say, “This person’s horrible. I’m firing them,” there’s a process. You need to document things, and you need to make sure you’re doing it the right way, so make sure, if you have an HR team, or if you use a company like Zenifits, who’s a company that has no affiliation with Fire Nation or EO Fire, but I’ve heard some good things about them, you need to consult them so that they can tell you the laws and the rules, and you do things the right way.
Mikael, let’s move forward into one of your greatest ideas that you’ve had today, one of your ah-ha moments. Take us to that day, ask tell us that story.
Mikael: Really interesting question, too, and probably for us, it was the moment when we were working on our previous software product, and previous software idea, and as a kind of side product.
We were doing some consulting and supporting the companies in aunching that, and really focusing, like I mentioned in the beginning, the role of the employee, ask really looking at what companies are doing on LinkedIn, which is probably the most professional social media that a lot of companies are using.
Our first listed company client was already pretty active on LinkedIn. They had 30000 employees globally, and 7000 already on LinkedIn, so a pretty solid number for not a super media-sexy industry at all. They were doing heavy-machinery and mining and thing like that.
They had 10000 followers for their LinkedIn company profile, and he were more interested in, “Okay, how can we help them communicate to that follower basis and create interesting content for them?”
Then, actually, we learned that those 7000 employees that they had on LinkedIn had 260000 unique first degree connections, and that really hit us big time, and we realized that, “Okay, so if we can create a product that actually helps that company communicate with their own employees, and then those employee share that knowledge forward to their followers, and they’re connections, and their friends, the company’s actually gonna reach about 26 times more people than through just sharing content as a company on LinkedIn.
That really hit us and threw our consulting work in the previous product, realizing all the benefits that exist an are there for the individuals for being more active on social media, whether they’re in sales, or marketing, or recruiting.
We really felt like we identified this potential for a huge win-win solution for organizations for communicating both internally and externally.
John: One of the crazy things, Fire Nation, is that there are things right now in our businesses; I’m talking about mine, Mikael’s, yours, that are working, that are working really well. Guess what? We don’t even know because we just haven’t done the research. We haven’t sat down and really fleshed thing out.
Leverage and scale are two incredible words that we need to be focused on when we’re going our business, especially if t’s an online business. Take a step back. Look at your business, and find areas that are currently working right now, and then say, “How can I amplify these areas? What can I do to amplify, to pour some igniter fluid on this?”
Mikael saw those contacts in LinkedIn, those uniques, and all of that. He said, “Wow, we can douse this with some igniter fluid, and we can just watch this baby burn.” That is huge, Fire Nation because, again, we all have these opportunities in our business whether we know it or not, and the sad thing is a lot of us don’t.
Mikael, that’s my big take away. Again, in just a sentence or two, what do you wanna make sure Fire Nation gets from your ah-ha moment?
Mikael: As you mentioned, you need to do some research, and don’t just be happy with what you’re doing right now. Always think about ways, “Actually, how can I really make this bigger?” Then, throughout our existence, too, we faded out the previous product that we had, so we had to really make a tough call, if we wanna continue doing what we were doing before.
If we actually wanna go all in with this new finding, and the ah-ha moment that we had. We took the risk, and it really took off, and we’ve been growing really fast ever since. Sometimes, you need to make the hard decision and do a pivot, but it might pay off big time if you’re moving to a more scalable business model.
John: Fire Nation, here’s the challenge: step back from the day-to-day stuff that’s just drowning you, the emails, and the meetings, and this and that. Not forever, just for five minutes, and try to look at the the overview of your business, and maybe spot some ideas and some trends that you can do a little deeper dive into these areas like where Mikael just shared his ah-ha moment came from. Now Mikael, was is the one thing today that you are most excited about in this world?
Mikael: We’ve been discussing it already a little bit. I think for me, it is companies really showing trust in their employees, moving away from, “Hey, let’s not allow our employees [inaudible] [00:16:17] media,” but actually turning it upside down and thinking, “How can we engage our own employees on social media?
“How can we get them to share and encourage them to participate, whether it’s collaborating on some internal communications, or external communications, and really making them understand the company’s values a little bit more, who are really feeling more engaged to the company and part of something bigger,” so really showing trust in their employee, and thinking of ways of getting them involved in the strategy instead of just keeping to themselves, or keeping it to just PR, or the marketing department.
John: Well, Fire Nation, we’re not just gonna get engaged to the lightning rounds. We are going to marry the lightning round, so don’t you go anywhere. We’re gonna thank our sponsors. Mikael, are you prepared for the lightning rounds?
Mikael: I hope so. No, I know so.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Mikael: Nothing, really. We founded a company straight out of university. I don’t have any kids or anything like that, so now was the chance for me to try it out. I often hear people say, “Yeah, but I had this and that,” but there’s always probably might be more opportunity or a better moment to start your company, but if you never really give it a go, then you’re never gonna figure out if you have it or not. For me, I don’t think there was anything holding me back, really.
John: There’s always going to be reasons not to do something, Fire Nation. Mikael, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Mikael: You should always, as an entrepreneur, try to surround yourself with smarter people than what you are yourself. Don’t be afraid that, okay, if I’m in charge of marketing, for example, I’m gonna hire a better marketing guy, then what’s gonna happen to me. It’s really hard to be successful as an entrepreneur as a small team. Really, everybody you hire needs to be exceptional and be able to carry their team and really be the best at what they’re doing.
John: What the a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Mikael: I’m really diligent. I feel like we complement each other pretty nicely, the founders of the company, and my role is being the diligent one. If I get some security or compliance-related questionnaires or something, I really wanna make sure that we’re covering all bases and really just not leaving anything halfway done, so I’m really diligent.
John: Can you share an internet resource like Evernote with Fire Nation?
Mikael: The Startup Digest compiles nice articles. I think it’s curated by Tech Stars, or owned by Tech Stars. There’s articles on getting funding, articles on what are the most important metrics if you’re a software service company, thing like that. It’s leek, “Come see our inbox every week, or whenever you want it,” so that’s good.
Then, another one is Gary Vaynerchuck’s YouTube channel. He’s a pretty funny guy, really aggressive, strong opinions, so he’s like a good person to follow. He’s reminding that entrepreneurship is not necessarily for everybody, so I think if you have what it takes, have a look at some of his videos, and get fired up, really.
John: It is like Christmas morning when a new Daily V comes out. I literally wish it actually was daily. Unfortunately, they do one a week, but when it comes out, I mean, I just love that. Side note, Fire Nation, back in November, the Freedom Journal was featured in Gary Vaynerchuck’s newsletter, which was awesome. Mikael, I wanna ask you for one book that you’d recommend, and why.
Mikael: The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I think by Ben Horowitz, and it’s just a really good book about just managing start up, and we’ve been discussing some of the really hard decisions and the hard things you need to make and make calls on when you’re a manager at a small start up. Certainly, that’s a good book to read if you wanna learn.
John: Have you read Chaos Monkeys?
Mikael: I’m not familiar with that one, but that’s probably something that I need to read now.
John: You need to check it out. It was great, about a start up that got acquired by Facebook, and just all the things that happened in between. The Hard Things About Hard Things and Chaos Monkeys, Fire Nation. Check it out.
Mikael, let’s end today with on fire with a parting piece of guidance, the best we that we can connect with you, and we’ll say bye-bye.
Mikael: Best way to connect with me is probably follow me on Twitter at mlauha, and, of course, our company at Be Smarp. There, you’re gonna get a lot of good tips about employee advocacy, employee engagement, how to really involve your employees in communications and making sure that your employees stay informed of everything that’s going on, both internally and externally.
John: What’s that parting piece of guidance?
Mikael: Surround yourself with smart people. Fire people. Don’t hesitate to make the correct call, even if it’s a tough decision, and share your ideas all the time to everybody. Don’t be afraid.
John: Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you have been hanging out with ML and JLD today, so keep up the heat and head over to Eofire.com. Just type Mikal in the search bar. That’s M-I-K-A-E-L, and his show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. Best show notes in the biz, Fire Nation, time stamps, links galore.
Mikael, I wanna thank you for sharing your journal with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute, and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Mikael: Thanks for having me. Take care.
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