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Business Success from Building Bonds: Why Meeting In-Person Still Matters

Coming from all over the world, almost all members of the Propel team convened to kick off FY24, the majority meeting each other in person for the very first time.

Though most companies in the enterprise software space hope to bring teams together in person for company kickoffs and sales kickoffs, we know from recent events that it’s easier said than done. Especially now, in a remote-first world.

There are obvious benefits, of course, such as interpersonal networking, education, enablement, and training. But for Propel—this year more than ever—it meant much more than that.

Despite a rocky economic landscape, our company continued to grow in 2022. As co-founder of Propel, I’m proud to say we doubled our customer base over the past 18 months. As you would expect, we’ve also hired a lot of employees to help manage this growth. 

Most of those new hires were remote, so more than half the employees at Propel today are remote. And the overwhelming majority of that half had never met any of their peers and collaborators in person. They worked with people on a daily basis who they had never physically met!

For that reason alone, we knew having a physical event this year would be a game-changer for team bonding and for building momentum.

Speed to Success

Our theme this year was “Speed to Success,” which felt appropriate because, throughout 2022, we continued to outpace our competition by 2.5 to 3 times their growth rates.  

But it’s important to note that our theme was not just about achieving our own outward success, there was also an equally prominent inward focus as well. A focus on our customers.

From Day 1, a core tenet of Propel has been to strive for 100% customer success. In almost eight years, we have never wavered from that value, and we can attribute that achievement to a talented team who are consistently working together to answer the question, “How do we help our customers grow their companies and become wildly successful?”

As our teams talked about the direction of the company for the year ahead, we always underscored the point that our milestones and challenges are directly tied to the milestones and challenges of our customers.

“Speed to Success” therefore refers to not only an inside-out view but also an outside-in view. We know that any amount of success starts with a deeply collaborative team. With that in mind, we couldn’t wait to gather in person to kick off our fiscal year together.

Winning the Race with Collaboration

Woven throughout the event’s presentations was the imagery of racecars to literally drive home our “Speed to Success” theme.

During my own session on the history of the company, I emphasized the point that growing a great company requires a resilient team, able to tackle any new challenge and execute a solution flawlessly—similar to the swift, highly skilled work required of a pit crew.

With general management driving the racecar (i.e. the product), your business wouldn’t get anywhere without the entire racing crew working together to help cross the finish line (i.e. business success).

And while the emphasis on “speed” was primarily our own internal theme for the Company Kickoff, it was also echoed by our guest speakers including partners and customers.

Danny Kohnen, Director of Digital Transformation at Samsara, stopped by to talk about his team’s commitment to constant innovation—made possible by efficient collaboration within Propel’s fast, flexible enterprise solution. 

"Propel moves at Samsara speed, which is faster than other solutions in the market." Kohnen explained that Samsara is focused on 100% user adoption because the more people who are collaborating within the platform, the more value Samsara is able to deliver to its customers.

As he put it, "I want Samsara's teams to innovate. Not be PLM admins."

My takeaway from the chat with Kohnen is that their success was driven largely by the same ingredients as Propel’s: building a talented, tight-knit team with a shared focus on positive customer outcomes. 

The name of the game in both cases is shared vision and flawless execution.

Momentum Fueled by Trust

Of course, none of these goals for an in-person company kickoff could be achieved without an agenda designed to build trust.

Aligning on programming and positioning is important, of course, but our company cannot grow if we aren’t doing so together as a team. That’s why we packed the three-day schedule with activities designed to boost team bonding. 

We held contests, selected team names, gave out awards, and even chose mascots. From building bikes for children in need to sharing a team dinner at Levi's Stadium (home of the 49ers!) to celebrating each other’s wins—the event was a bonding marathon.

With so many team members having just met for the first time, they had never been able to truly orient themselves and their role in the broader context of all the other stakeholders in the company. 

After all, how can you know how successful you are if you don’t have a clear understanding of what you do, or even who you are, in the greater context of the business?

Consider the pit crew analogy. Each individual needs to know their timing in the race and which part of the car they’re in charge of. Once all of those pieces fall into place for each individual member of the team, everyone can then situate themselves on the team level and push each other to be the best.

These smaller group bonding events were truly a microcosm of this practice in action. Within each activity, team members came together to solve a challenge and execute it quickly and flawlessly. Not to mention they had a blast doing it.

This year’s company kickoff accomplished the mission of bringing everyone together to learn and share insights, but we came away with so much more than we bargained for. Now, when it comes to supporting each other to collaborate on success for the year ahead—we’re firing on all cylinders.

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Post by
Ray Hein
Founder & Board Member, Propel

Ray is a SaaS veteran with 20+ years of PLM, development and product launch experience in both hardware and enterprise software organizations. Ray has held multiple executive positions at companies such as Agile Software, Apttus, Vendavo and Centric Software.

Fun Fact: Ray volunteers about two weeks a year with organizations like the American Diabetes Association, Family Giving Tree and Second Harvest Food Bank.

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Ray Hein