Paying It Forward Produces Surprising Returns
A message from ReluTech CEO Mark Metz
I started writing this blog several months ago, but due to other demands, I never finished it. Since then, Relus Cloud has been acquired by Cloudreach, who highly valued the people, teamwork, and the culture that we had built over the past few years. I have often been asked about the secret to our success and how we built such an awesome company in such a short amount of time. Maybe this is the answer - paying it forward.
When we started Relus five years ago, we decided early on that "Paying It Forward" would be one of our core values. It was an unusual choice! I have talked to hundreds of startup technology firms in Atlanta, and few, if any, technology companies ever declare "giving back" as part of their mission at the time of company launch. Perhaps the reason for that is obvious: startups usually spend 110% of their time merely trying to survive.
The most common year-one goals of entrepreneurs are probably about transformation, getting investment, producing an MVP solution, landing first customers, hiring key employees, and developing strategic partnerships. Key Performance indicators from startups center around users, customers, revenue, social followers, etc. I have seen hundreds of pitches from entrepreneurs looking for investment, seeking a customer or partnership. Giving back, and the giving of one’s time or hard-to-come-by funds, seems counter-intuitive, perhaps even irresponsible. Potential investors might even cringe if told that a substantial sum of their invested capital was being donated to charity.
Relus was no different than other startups. For years, we struggled with cash-flow, stressed over deals, hoped for funding, and prayed for increased revenue, all while dreaming of future profitability. Success, though, did not make our decision easier – quite the contrary. Over the past five years, we have grown at nearly 100% per year. High growth adds even more pressure on the most endangered resources of a startup – time and cash. And yet, during this hyper-growth period, not only did we remain committed to our original value of “paying it forward,” we never wavered. We instilled this core value into our entire team, but it wasn’t easy.
One of my favorite events of the year is our annual shopping trip in support of Toys for Tots. Every year, we have participated in this program just before Christmas, which also occurs at the end of our fiscal year. To be honest, charging over $15,000 to our corporate credit card instead of using these funds for the business has often stressed me out, but it is my favorite day of the year, and I always justified it because it pays dividends to my soul.
I never thought that “paying it forward” would be the best investment Relus ever made. Last year, that investment included 40 Relus employees and three partners spending several hours shopping for 1000 toys – all while Relus needed every hour and every dollar if we were to have any hope of achieving our budget.
Surprisingly, though, I think the two were connected. Over the next couple weeks prior to the year end, our team accomplished something remarkable. We delivered world-class engagements, delighted customers, transformed businesses, and met challenging deadlines. Customers wrote letters praising Relus employees for “saving the day” and proclaiming Relus as the “best partner they had seen in a decade.”
I don’t know for sure, but I think giving 1,000 toys resulted in a 10-fold return on investment over just two short weeks. In our Toys for Tots participation, Relus team members knew they were part of something special, and customers felt it too. It wasn’t the only charitable event we did during the year, but it was certainly the biggest single day charitable event, and It could not have come at a better time. We ended up having a great December, which included hitting our budget.
At Relus, it is was never enough for the company to just write a check to the United Way or join in an annual canned food drive. We were proud of being a positive part of our community, with perhaps the highest percentage of employees “paying it forward” than any other company in Atlanta.
Some of our activities in 2017 included:
Coat Drive for Peachtree Elementary
American Red Cross Blood Drive
Volunteering at a homeless shelter
Volunteering and donating to the Norcross Cooperative Missionary
Our choice to give back turned out to be one of the best things we ever did. I am proud of Team Relus for their participation in "paying it forward," and for making our company one of the best places to work in Atlanta.
UPDATE: Our Relus Cloud team is now part of Cloudreach, backed by Blackstone, with the mission to become the world's most successful cloud consulting company. Furthermore, part of the Relus team (the non-cloud division), was rebranded as ReluTech and remains committed to carrying our same values and culture forward under a new banner.