Ironclad Brand Strategy [logo] Ironclad Brand Strategy

North Star Leaders Podcast

Frank Mycroft

Season 2 Episode 4 14 May 2024

Transcript

Frank Mycroft:

This is the one I struggle the most with, but I think it's the most important is you look at almost all the great leaders out there. They've gotten really good at saying no, to constantly saying no, which is harder but better to do than just being smarter or giving the right answer all the time. It is just saying no to most things.

Lindsay Peterson:

The world needs what only your business can bring, and as a leader, it's your job to deliver. But where do you focus? Where do you direct your time, your team, your budget, and your emotional energy? We are learning this together on the North Star Leaders podcast. I'll be talking to purpose-driven leaders about the choices they make to create audacious economic value while also realizing their distinctive purpose. I'm Lindsay Peterson, brand strategist, author of Forging an Ironclad Brand and host of the North Star Leaders podcast. Let's get to it.

Today I am really happy to be joined by Frank Mycroft. Frank is CEO of Booster, which provides energy delivery, integrated logistics, and solutions for decarbonizing last mile delivery. Frank, welcome to the show.

Frank Mycroft:

Lindsay, thanks for having me.

Lindsay Peterson:

So good to see you. Frank, to start us off, I want to ask the question, what is your favorite thing about what you do?

Frank Mycroft:

It's got to be the team. Just getting to wake up every day, today's actually employee appreciation day I learned, from my team. But it's something surreal about getting to wake up every day and work with a team of passionate folks that are here because they want to make a difference, have an impact. And getting to see that grow and evolve and get nurtured over now eight plus years, it's really special.

Lindsay Peterson:

I love that. As you have been leading this purpose-driven, impact driven company that is Booster, what have been your tools for keeping that north star in mind, for keeping it visible for yourself but also for your team?

Frank Mycroft:

Yeah, I think it's not always easy. It's easy to get sucked into the weeds. It's easy to get sucked into the short term challenges. I think as a founder you've got to be able to go low and then you got to go [inaudible 00:02:40] up to see the forest. I do a couple things. I start really every week, month, year, reminding myself of why I started this company. I start every board meeting actually with a reminder to our board members about what brings us together, this shared mission. And I start every all hands with the same message. I had a mentor once that told me, "You almost can never over communicate something as important as your North Star. So keep repeating it, repeating it to everybody, and only if somebody pulls you aside and says, Frank, okay, that's enough. We get it. Only then have you maybe gotten to the level you need to of saying and chanting the mission and the message and the importance of it enough."

Lindsay Peterson:

I love that almost like encouragement to almost try to make it so communicated that just see if you just test the waters to see if it's even possible to get to the point where people think that it's over communicated. What do you think that is? Why is it that it just can't be repeated enough?

Frank Mycroft:

There's all sorts of studies that say, right, people only absorb maybe 30% of what you say. And a lot of really, I think smart intellectual people, you want to explain everything. And so you want to go into the details, but you got to realize people are busy, they got their own problems, they got their own situations. They're going to be feeling your emotion as much as hearing the words that you say. And so I just think it's really un-intuitive for most people to say things enough for them to actually get processed and communicated effectively, and that goes for business and in life with family and kids and friends as much as I think as it does colleagues.

Lindsay Peterson:

Huh. Right. It's like especially I think of as a leader, but also a leader of a family, as a parent, as a friend, it might be very close in your mind because you are the leader and you're thinking it a lot, so you might mistake your audience or the people around you from being just like you and it may not be true. They might actually not think about it as much as you do, and therefore that repetition just brings attention back to the thing that you want everybody to be attending to.

Frank Mycroft:

I think there's some famous syndrome where people will say, "The more you know, the more you think that what you know is in everybody's head already."

Lindsay Peterson:

Yeah, the curse of knowledge. Is that the curse of knowledge? Yeah, it's a phenomenon.

Frank Mycroft:

Yes. It's like why relatively knowledgeable people think that they know less than others, and unknowledgeable people sometimes think they know more than others. And you got to watch out for that trap and just try to keep it simple as a leader of an organization and just reinforce the same mission, values, purpose, again and again and again

Lindsay Peterson:

And what is it that you say when you start these meetings? When you do repeat it, what is the north star for Booster?

Frank Mycroft:

Our real mission here is to really eliminate the need to go to the gas station and bring mobile energy to the world. So what we mean by that is we think nobody enjoys this hassle and headache of having to refuel a vehicle, but when you look in the supply chain of how we've been doing this for a hundred years, there's actually a lot of problems with it. It's very expensive to build brick and mortar infrastructure and it's really held us anchored into this fossil fuel world. And so if we can find a way to use technology to connect supply and demand, build really dense delivery routes and whatnot, you can enable whole supply chains, fleets, transportation infrastructure to go green and save time and money.

That's really our mission is bring mobile energy to the world, meet our customers where they are at and take them where they're going, take them where they're going literally as in we're fueling and powering their vehicles. And take them there figuratively, meaning we're going to take you on this de-carbonization journey from wherever you're starting.

Lindsay Peterson:

Well, and I notice in what you're saying that there's a very functional anchor around saving time and money, convenience, so-called convenience. It's very pragmatic. And then there's also this loftier more emotive element of being part of this green future. And it's interesting to me the dynamism between those two things because without that functional anchor, it's kind of hard to get head space with somebody, but at the same time, if you linger on convenience too long, it's hard to defend that moat. Am I getting that right?

Frank Mycroft:

I think increasingly you need both, right? A little before we first met, Lindsay, I was working for a company that was incredibly involved and was trying to harvest resources on asteroids, and that was so far out there. It was so visionary, but it didn't have enough real-world application for folks. And so when I started Booster, I had this instinct which is really don't build a startup off of a startup or don't build a startup off of just a vision and a dream. You've got to meet people in the arena where they're at right now and solve their immediate pain point, and if you do that well, that gives you permission to build towards a dream, but you got to do both.

Lindsay Peterson:

Yeah. Is there synergy between the two or is there tension between the functional benefit of convenience and the more aspirational goal of climate improvement? Do those two things build on each other or do you sometimes have to pay more attention to one to one at the expense of the other?

Frank Mycroft:

A lot of businesses that have struggled, they do so because there's too much tension between a big vision of de-carbonization and actually helping people's daily lives. If you end up having to ask a customer, Hey, I want you to pay more and spend more time, but you're going to go green or you're going to save the planet, that's a really hard ask. And so at Booster we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is the customer value proposition where we can really save them what they care about in the moment, but enable them to go on this longer inspirational de-carbonization journey.

If you're going to get it right as an entrepreneur, you have to actually focus on the practical a lot more than the inspirational. You got to get in with your customer, know their problems intimately well, let their problems drive your innovation and find the flywheel where doing that actually helps with the greater good. That's the most sustainable path that I've seen where you're not beholden to government regulations and handouts to achieve your objective.

Lindsay Peterson:

Yeah, it makes me think of the Richard Thaler book Nudge and just the insight that we humans have a hard time conceptualizing decades and decades into the future or even years, sometimes even months into the future, and so we have to do these things on the daily kind of granular, non-sexy basis, like contribute automatically to our 401k because we have a really hard time picturing ourselves needing money in 40 years or 20 years. And so it makes me think of that here too, that almost the more abstract or far into the future or aspirational that emotional goal is the more anchored, like equal and opposite, it has to be in something very functional and day-to-day. And I mean it doesn't get that much more functional than gassing up your car or providing energy to your vehicle. That dynamism actually feels striking just the right place.

Frank Mycroft:

I think there's a lot of success you can have in building something new if you've picked something that's dull and boring maybe but part of everybody's pain point in their life. But I also think you got to find something that, yeah, every day you can say, "We can increment a tiny little bit in the right direction," and the human brain can't perceive how that compounds. There's a little bit every day for a decade and all of a sudden you've made insane progress. So you got to kind of figure out, am I actually making progress every day or am I staying flat because the difference between those two drives everything.

Lindsay Peterson:

Yeah. I think it's interesting too, I think you used the word dull, a product that on its face might not seem sexy. But the thing is that as human beings, our own lives are the most interesting thing that there is to us. And so if there's something that's happening with me, if I'm spending time and cognitive energy doing things that don't benefit the things that I care about in my life, that actually is not dull to me. It's the thing that's going on in my life. So you could look at it as dull because it's not, I don't know, candy or something like that, but human beings are inherently interesting, so it's kind of not dull at all if you think of it from that angle.

Frank Mycroft:

I do think as human beings, you can look at the world with the eyes of a 6-year-old and be just flabbergasted and amazed by everything that we do every day, but I also think when I look at the world of where people work and what kind of careers and jobs they get, there is this fascinating supply and demand of just people passions and jobs where I do think there are whole industries that are viewed as really sexy and everybody wants to go there, but that actually makes it really hard to make money. I was in this world when I worked for NASA and there's so many people that would love to go do this really cool thing, but it actually makes it incredibly hard to build a good business doing that. Whereas if you want to reinvent waste management, we're going to find a way to be really successful with that. It's going to be a lot easier.

Lindsay Peterson:

It's like a secret weapon to see that and to be okay with it not being NASA and asteroids or we're surrounded by really cool, sexy things, kind of flavor of the day. And if you cannot chase after that, that actually becomes the very thing that creates value.

Frank Mycroft:

I've got three little kids and I think about how to help guide them in their careers and there's a lot of allure to going to that new exciting being the YouTube influencer or being the amazing scientist, but there's also a lot of allure to just solving a dull, boring problem that everybody has. I kind of want to make sure that my kids know that both are okay. They both can be great outcomes.

Lindsay Peterson:

And there's a lure for any of those. Just depends on what angle you're looking at it from that anything is going to have allure if you're looking at it in a way that lights something up in you.

Frank Mycroft:

Yes, a hundred percent. And the fulfillment, the value to society, they all can have that.

Lindsay Peterson:

When you are giving air cover to your own team, the employees at Booster, to make decisions according to what matters most to Booster to make decisions according to the north star, how do you encourage people or model for people to adjudicate based on the north star as opposed to some other metric that's important but not as important as the north star? What does that look like, an example or a practice?

Frank Mycroft:

I think the risk always is leaders can want to just get into the weeds and do the work themselves, which is dangerous. And I think we're still figuring this out, but what I like to do is we've got values that really don't change as a company. We want to make sure that what we're doing is aligned with those values.

And then every year we've got goals and so we want to make sure that whatever folks are working on, they understand not just their own goals, but the top-level company-level goals and objectives for the year, and we try to keep them simple. We try to keep them to three or four, but that way as things evolve and change, anyone on the team can think back to, "Okay, is what I'm doing having the maximum impact on those three or four things that I know the company cares about?"

The third thing I'd say that we try to help with folks is tenets. And so if someone's really struggling with or they're starting a project or they're trying to figure out some trade-off, instead of going in deep myself or my leadership team, we might say, "Okay, let's come up with four or five tenets on what we believe as a company that can kind of guide the work at the direct hands-on level." That's been pretty helpful.

Lindsay Peterson:

I'm so intrigued by this. So what would be a tenet, an example of a tenet here?

Frank Mycroft:

Yes, so let's say that we're trying to figure out our pricing for a new product or service and we're struggling. We want to be able to make money, but we want to be able to also have customers that are delighted by the value that they're getting. We might come up with a set of tenants and we've done stuff like this where we might say, "Okay, we want pricing to be simple and here's what we mean by simple. We want it to be transparent. We want people to really be able to understand what they're getting." We might say, "We want it to be flexible. That we know that our customer's needs ebb and flow and that too rigid of a structure can hurt both sides." So that kind of thing of saying, "I don't want to tell you how to price, but I want to give you kind of how we think about the tenets that if you are meeting these, you're doing a really good job of likely being on the right track to developing the right-thinking and roadmap."

Lindsay Peterson:

It seems so empowering on both ends of this, so from the person receiving this, it feels very empowering because if I have these tenets then I can bring my wherewithal to this decision abiding by these tenets. It also feels like it enables you to push decision-making downward and therefore to scale yourself because if you have tenets that are almost like a proxy for leadership or a proxy for what's the right decision, it's good for you and it's good for the other person's development and sense of engagement and empowerment of what they're doing.

Frank Mycroft:

Hundred percent. And I'm a big believer you got to try to find ways, mechanisms to push that decision-making down to the front line. I also have found it saves an unbelievable amount of time of just people sitting in meetings arguing about stuff because then that person, instead of just arguing their opinion, they can cite, they can themselves point to the company values or the company tenets and say, "Reminder, here's our guidance for this. I'm focused on this." And it results in I think much more constructive, productive, and efficient use of time to get to the right answer.

Lindsay Peterson:

I love that it's efficient, it saves time, it saves emotional energy and which therefore is going to create a virtuous cycle of development and empowerment and efficiency for everybody. It also it seems like some of the magic of what you described is in removing some of the subjectivity because subjectivity is what can cause a lot of that inefficiency, like we're chasing our tails. But if you kind of lock it into a few things that are, nothing's like a hundred percent objective but into principles, then yeah, I mean it's a north star. And again, it creates that beacon for this is where we're heading, this is where we want to head. These are the trade-offs that are worth making or not worth making.

Frank Mycroft:

That's the goal. It's relentless. I think in this day that we're increasingly trying to be more a hybrid remote too, the more you just need to document and be religious around, instead of just sharing with you verbally my thoughts today, let me formalize them and share them in an accessible spot where anybody can read them, process them and use them.

Lindsay Peterson:

I love that point that in creating an artifact, whether it's a tenet or whether it's your mission or whether it's your values in creating something, whether it's a verbal promise, that it allows you to scale. But it also allows you to get away from the requirement of face-to-face conversation or even synchronous conversation because it transcends that and it transcends geography.

Frank Mycroft:

One little learning we've had that I think it took us a year and a half to really fully adopt but I think it's gotten us to be much better is instead of having lots of long meetings, looking at slides, and a little bit of this has some Amazonian DNA, but we will write a document or the owner of the meeting will write a document. And then we'll schedule time before the meeting that everybody has to read the document and then we'll actually schedule time so they're reading, everybody reads the document, they have to comment in the document, and then before the meeting there's another slot of time where people have to respond to those comments.

And so by the time we have the meeting with everybody in person, I'd say 80% of the stuff has already been addressed on the questions and people have read those questions and responses. And so sometimes you turn an hour long meeting that could get very frustrating into a 15-minute meeting where you just go, "Okay, all of this has been addressed. Everybody's read it. Great, one or two more questions then we get back to business."

Lindsay Peterson:

It also strikes me that in shifting that placement of cognitive energy to an asynchronous place, people can choose when they're at their best if it's six in the morning or six at night, I mean to some extent anyway, that a meeting at three PM in the afternoon for me anyway is not going to capture my best cognitive energy. And so it also seems to just bring out the best in our thinking to allow people to choose how they weigh in.

Frank Mycroft:

I find that you get a whole high bar of accountability that everybody is reading the materials ahead of time, which by the way requires you got to make sure people send out the materials with enough time so that people can pick that time of the day when they can engage most fully. But when done right, what I don't love is getting into a meeting and feeling like, "Wow, I just spent an hour of how many people's time, 15 people's time, just debating and wandering." That drives me nuts, and so I can't remember the last time I felt that way because if we're going to have a meeting, everybody's pretty aligned by the time we get in and then we just get to have the rich debate that wasn't able to be answered easily asynchronously.

Lindsay Peterson:

I love that. Well, you're getting to a question that I have, which is just what are you like as a leader? How would you describe your leadership style or how would your teammates describe you as a leader?

Frank Mycroft:

Yeah, man, you should probably ask my team instead of me. I know. I definitely come off as a rather intense, knowledgeable. I like to go deep. I like to go deep and audit, kind of trust, but verify and then pull back out and then let people be if things are going really well. I'm a big fan of the Frank Slootman quote of, "Increase the velocity, narrow the focus and raise the bar." I think that's kind of the three things that a leader is supposed to do everywhere, and so I try to be around everyone and increase the velocity, raise the bar and narrow the focus, help people do that.

Lindsay Peterson:

I wasn't familiar with that quote. I love that. So raise the velocity, so how rapid the feedback loop is. Raise the bar, how high the success bar is.

Frank Mycroft:

Yeah, it's like if you can get something done today instead of waiting, setting up a meeting next week, let's do it. How do we just get this done today? Raise the bar. Got to set really high standards, got to let people know that you're disappointed if something comes back and it was kind of done in a halfway way. And then I think the most important one is narrow the focus. Is I tell everybody on my team, one of the hardest things is I'm going to throw a lot at you and it can get overwhelming. You got to feel comfortable coming to me or coming to your leader anywhere you are in the org and saying, "Here are my priorities that I've been given. I think I should be on this stuff. I don't think I have time to do this stuff. Do you agree with that focus?"

'Cause I think what happens far too often is people don't have that conversation and then both sides lose. One side is working to death on stuff that doesn't really matter that much. And the other side, the manager is like, "Where the heck is my stuff?" So just solving that problem by being open and saying, "I've been told to do this stuff. I can do this with high quality, or I can do this much with lower quality. What do want?" Let's have that discussion so that time is not wasted and people aren't unhappy on both sides.

Lindsay Peterson:

It's interesting that focus is a number of things in a way because it's shining the spotlight on the most important thing, but it's also darkening the things around that. If I think of a flashlight, it's easy to say yes to good ideas. What's hard is saying no to good ideas that aren't quite the priority, and employees have a role in that, especially when they have tools and artifacts like you're giving them, and you as the CEO are also the one who gives them air cover to say no to the things or to deprioritize things that are not in that super focus realm.

I have a lot of heart for leaders choosing a focus because I hear so much from employees how much they're absolutely yearning for it. They want it, they want to perform well, they want the company to perform well. And that permission to focus on a few things that are really, really important that we've chosen are really, really important, and therefore to not focus on these other things is such a significant unlock both from a value creation but also from a human engagement standpoint.

Frank Mycroft:

This is the one I struggle the most [inaudible 00:28:16] but I think it's the most important is you look at almost all the great leaders out there. They've gotten really good at saying no. To constantly saying no, which is harder, but better to do than just being smarter or giving the right answer all the time is just saying no to most things.

Lindsay Peterson:

It's so hard, especially when those most things are good ideas. It's maybe even greater ideas, just not as on strategy as the rest. I know you mentioned earlier, and I know that you have kids, would they describe you as a dad the way that your team would describe you as a leader? Intense and so on?

Frank Mycroft:

Maybe a little bit. I'd say I'm definitely cognizant and the one that is trying to raise the bar with my kids and enforce the discipline around excellence with my kids in a way that gets them to understand the why behind things. With my team, I'll talk a lot about, I don't want know-it-all's I want learn-it-all's. With my kids I'll actually ask them at the end of every day, "Hey, what questions do you have for me?" And we'll spend just whatever last 10 minutes in bed, just you can ask me any question in the world and I want to answer it for you.

Lindsay Peterson:

Frank, I absolutely love that. You're celebrating their curiosity and you're also demonstrating this huge openness and that is so neat. I love that ritual.

Frank Mycroft:

I always hope my kids will have some profound questions, but it usually is something like, "Did pterodactyls poop?" Or some random question, I'm like, "Let's look it up. Let's learn."

Lindsay Peterson:

I was going to say, if it doesn't involve bathroom humor that I'm going to be really disappointed. Yeah, I love that. Well, this has been amazing. I have a few rapid fire questions to end us with one word answers or so.

Frank Mycroft:

Okay, let's try.

Lindsay Peterson:

Are you ready? Okay. Your favorite vacation destination?

Frank Mycroft:

Ooh, I'm going to go with Italy.

Lindsay Peterson:

Your favorite type of exercise?

Frank Mycroft:

Running in the rain. Long distance. Yeah.

Lindsay Peterson:

Oh, what's long distance? Like training for-

Frank Mycroft:

No, 10 to 15 miles for me, like an hour and a half, two hours, just weekend. Get out there and it's like when I do all my thinking and...

Lindsay Peterson:

Just let it rip. Love it. What is your favorite meal?

Frank Mycroft:

I love dim sum. It's probably where I'm happiest. Go take me to some dim sum place. Get all the dumplings. Yeah, that's good.

Lindsay Peterson:

What is something that is worth splurging on to you?

Frank Mycroft:

Ooh, I'm a very frugal person, but I would say anybody that gives you leverage on your time, right? We invest a lot in help with the three kids. That way the time we've got with them, my wife and I, we can try to make the most of it and I'd rather live in a small house and be densely packed together, but have quality time then try to stretch it on the mortgage or whatnot and be doing lots of work.

Lindsay Peterson:

Yes, I love that. Okay, last rapid fire question, are you an introvert or extrovert?

Frank Mycroft:

I'm an introvert. I get recharged by being by myself, not by being with other people. So Lindsay, this was exhausting.

Lindsay Peterson:

I was going to say, do you need to take a nap now? I'm an introvert, too. An introvert with a very high social drive, so it's-

Frank Mycroft:

Yeah.

Lindsay Peterson:

... it's a tricky place.

Frank Mycroft:

I feel the same way, yeah.

Lindsay Peterson:

I love all of your rapid fire answers. I loved this whole conversation. Thank you so much for having it with me.

Frank Mycroft:

Thank you.

Lindsay Peterson:

If folks want to learn more about you or about Booster, where should we send them?

Frank Mycroft:

Yeah, I mean they can go to Boosterusa.com, learn about the company. You can find me on Twitter, I think @FrankMycroft. Dm me directly, whatever. Happy to chat. This has been fun. Thanks, Lindsay.

Lindsay Peterson:

Awesome. Thanks again, Frank. Thanks for listening to this episode of North Star Leaders. Make sure you don't miss an episode by subscribing on your favorite podcast app. For show notes, transcripts and newsletter signup, visit ironcladbrandstrategy.com. Please join us again for another episode of North Star Leaders.

Lindsay speaking

About Lindsay

Lindsay Pedersen is a bestselling author and brand strategist with a scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She has advised companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Coinstar, and IMDb.

Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered in Lindsay a deep appreciation for the executive’s charge: increasing the company’s value. There, she led mature, billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita. In each case, she was solely responsible for increasing the business’s value.

Thanks to this executive perspective, Lindsay demands that brands be hard-working, disciplined and rigorous in growing a business. Her brand strategies are tested in the crucible of her proprietary Ironclad Method. Lindsay arms leaders with an empowering understanding of brand, and an ironclad brand strategy to guide choices as they grow.