By her own admission, Sarah Goodall struggled at school. “I’m not an academic. I’m just not. I still struggle with math,” she says. Yet she also knew she wanted to run her own business one day. Today she is the founder and CEO of Tribal Impact, working with B2B leaders to digitally connect their employees to customers. Her clients range from an adhesives manufacturer to litigation lawyers; her team is 17 strong with 30 contractors and Tribal Impact is growing in double digits annually. So much for school.
Sarah and I met at SAP when we worked on one of SAP’s first social advocacy programs, back in 2008. “Probably first in the industry!” Sarah interjects. Every day she came to our calls with a new idea that improved the program. One of those ideas was, if SAP was benefiting from an employee advocacy program, wouldn’t other companies too?
“Social media was just kicking off,” she says. “I remember walking into an office in Norway when I lived there. And I said to somebody, what do you make about social media? They said, ‘It’s just for celebrities’.”
It was her lightbulb moment. When SAP offered a voluntary redundancy program, she took it, bootstrapping her business for the first two years.
What are you most proud of?
I’m so proud of the people I get to work with. I have the best team ever. The people we attract into the tribe, they grow, they challenge me, they keep us fresh. Because of that, we have great customers. I’d never be here today if it wasn’t for the tribe I have.
But we also have a fan tribe, people who are not customers and don’t work with us, but they sing our praises and share our content. That’s pretty cool.
Is there a tension between maintaining quality and ensuring the company grows?
Quality is something we never sacrifice, because that’s what we’re known for. A customer said, ‘You know, I’ve looked at you and some of your competitors, what you deliver for free, it’s just amazing. It helps educate me and build a business case.’ I remember thinking, we must never, ever, fail on that. We must always keep high standards of quality.
How do you deal with founder dependance, or what’s your exit strategy?
We had this conversation with a customer not long ago because they were like ‘We thought we were buying you, why aren’t you delivering the webinar?’ That’s a classic, founder dependence situation.
My attention is focused mainly on a growth strategy. I’m really lucky that I have a team of experts. Raising your team, putting your team in front of the logo, showing the expertise that you have, supporting them, spotlighting them, that’s more important than brand.
You didn’t take a salary for the first two years – what tips do you have for investing or growing what you’re earning?
For the first two years I reinvested everything into growing the business and I still have that mentality. We’ve never had any VC funding. We’ve grown organically. We’ve been growing double digits every single year.
What’s your advice for people just starting out as business owners?
Get someone else to do all those things you’re not good at and pay them. It’s worth it. Your time is best spent doing what you do well. So finance, I’m terrible at so we very quickly plugged that gap. And I wanted to grow a good team, you get HR experts in. You get experts to help you run your business. It is an investment. Don’t think of it as ‘Oh that’s money that I could be earning that I’m giving to someone else.’ You got to invest in that early on. Think hard about where you spend your time.
Which world leaders, public figures, executives do you admire?
I’m a big Bill McDermott fan, I’d follow him off a cliff edge.
Bernard Looney, CEO of BP – I admire him for his work on Instagram. He’s out there as a leader because he wants to listen and learn.
Carsten Knobel, CEO of Henkel – demonstrates acumen as a social CEO
My new marketing chap is challenging me big time on digital marketing techniques. He’s introduced me to Dan Sanchez and Chris Walker and I like that – disruptive!
What do you want your legacy to be?
I was never good at school. I’m not an academic. I still struggle with math. But I do believe in giving people a chance. I was given a chance in my year out after university. And I loved it. I designed a product, did marketing, photography, PR, events. They trusted me and gave me freedom. I have a philosophy now that we will do the same in our team. I just want to give people a chance to grow and learn, because that’s the chance I had.