Jason McCann – Co-Founder & CEO of Vari
On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow, CEO and CoFounder of Vari, Jason McCann shares his struggles of building his first company, the moment he realized that he struck gold with the VariDesk, and what he thinks the workplace will look like post-pandemic. Listen to this episode to hear how just one product can have the potential to not only change your life but the lives of others.
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Mentioned in the Episode:
Jason McCann’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jason-mccann-vari/
Kara Goldin 00:00
Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin Show. And I’m super excited to have my next guest here. We have Jason McCann, who is the co-founder of one of my favorite companies. I’m actually sitting in front, I could be standing at the moment, I am sitting in front of my very desk, not to be confused. It’s not one company. It’s very is the name of their company. But it is a desk. And so and it’s a great desk, and it is a beautiful wood. cash. I can’t remember the name of it. But it’s, it is so gorgeous. I wish I could have
Jason McCann 00:38
got a butcher block and a reclaimed or
Kara Goldin 00:42
what’s your block? Yeah, it’s so nice. And I get so many compliments on it. And especially since I’ve been living in my little guest room.
Jason McCann 00:51
Kara Goldin 00:51
my very has, has either. And again, I can sort of transform my day by saying today I’m going to stand or sit or it’s just a whole lot going on. So anyway, I love it. I love it. And we have the co-founder and CEO of very here and Jason McCann very, very excited to have you here.
Jason McCann 01:12
Oh, thanks, Kara. So excited to be here. And we’re huge fans of you. And so you were kind enough to do a book club for my team just a couple months ago. Right?
Kara Goldin 01:22
Right before the holiday for my book on donta. Yeah, love
Jason McCann 01:26
it. So great to chat with you, my team still talking about it. And they’ve all been everybody got a copy as part of Barry University. And so I love what you’re doing out there. So thank you for pushing the entrepreneurial journey for everybody.
Kara Goldin 01:41
So great. Well, I really appreciate that, and back and you founded co-founded the company in 2013. And so ahead of the curve, I remember knowing about you guys, but then I really got to see you I don’t even know if you know this at eBay at the Entrepreneur of the Year. Anyway, it was it was so exciting to actually see you.
Jason McCann 02:07
It was such a surprise to to win was so humbling to get out there and win for the emerging category. And it was like a whirlwind tour, an incredible moment in my journey. So
Kara Goldin 02:21
I love it. Well, I got to Northern California, but you made it one step further. I was a little jealous. I’m not gonna lie that night, but it was. But honestly, the the idea of seeing somebody that has disrupted an industry, go and get that honor, I was so excited for you guys, because sometimes you see some people. I mean, let’s just talk quietly about this, but you’re like, what is that company? What are they doing? And so when you see one that you’re a consumer of and you know, you know that they’re fighting the fight anyway, I was I was cheering you on, and saying Yay, so great. So anyway, lifelong entrepreneur, Jason has more than 20 years of experience building and running successful companies. And I’ll let you jump into this. So what were you doing before co-founding this company?
Jason McCann 03:14
Yeah, so I was president of a company called Jimmy industries. And so Jimmy makes all those giant inflatables. You see out there on people’s yards, Halloween and Christmas. And Woz is also known for making the singing Big Mouth Billy bass fish. And so Dan Flaherty had founded that company back in 1985. And he and I met and went boom and bust together during the.com craze in 99. And he had the year big mouth, Billy bass fish. And so I joined him to help him sort of build continue to build his business. And he and I became very, very good friends, and became president of his company. And Dan was the one that actually had the back pain and stayed at the cardboard box. It gave us the idea for the varidesk. And that kind of got us into this chapter.
Kara Goldin 04:02
So that’s actually how it started, just from the backache.
Jason McCann 04:06
Yeah, so Dan was standing there at his cardboard box, I’d walk into his office. So he was, you know, still chairman of Jimmy and I was president, we were kind of, you know, right across the the area from each other. And I walk in there, and I go, what are you doing, he has to have this back pain. And so I’d stand up at this at this box, and I just feel better. And so I went to my doctor, and she said, Well, then you need to stand up more. That was he goes, Okay, so I need to get like a standing desk or something. And rosemary, who is our assistant that and she was online on Google and doing what everybody does searching for what’s a sit-stand desk, or what’s out there. And all these crazy boxes would start showing up six or eight weeks later, and Dan would call me go you got to see this thing. And we would start taking apart these boxes. And the two of us are putting these contraptions yet. It was horrible. And so Dan is very good at product. And he said, Well, what if we If I come up, I’ve got I’ve got an idea for a product. So I said, Hold on a second, I grabbed one of our designers, David Patton, who had joined us and the three of us sat there. And Dan started describing something that would slide out of a box, he could put his laptop on top or his monitors. And David started drawing in that three hour conversation, it turned into what became the first idea for varidesk.
Kara Goldin 05:24
I mean, this was still at the idea stage, you hadn’t made the decision, okay, we’re gonna go build the company together, you you were just a group that were hanging out, chatting about this.
Jason McCann 05:34
Yeah, just sitting here running a whole nother company. And, you know, we’re running a Christmas and Halloween business, I love and dance heaven backpain. And so we’re solving the riddle of death, dance back pain. And that became the product idea. And I think that’s kind of starts the journey of thinking about when you can address pain points, and come up with solutions. And products are one way to do it, technology services or others. By coming up with that product idea. He became the Genesis or what what could we create?
Kara Goldin 06:07
I love it. Well, and I think that those are really the best companies to your point. And it’s, you know, I, I always share with people I’m an accidental entrepreneur, because I had worked for lots of not lots, but a handful of entrepreneurs. But my goal was never to go. Some people go down a path where they go and work for entrepreneurs thinking, Okay, one day, I’m gonna go and launch my own thing. I never really thought about it. Did you? Did you think you were gonna go and launch another company? Or what? What was sort of your thinking?
Jason McCann 06:43
Yeah, you know, I had grown up my, my mom was really the first entrepreneur, I knew she owned a hair salon in Galveston. And so I assumed entrepreneurship was an opportunity. I assumed women could be CEOs and leaders of great companies. That’s was, you know, the first job I had was sweeping the floor and my mom’s, you know, at the hair salon, and Dorothy was teaching me how to fold towels in the back and do the laundry. And, you know, one day she, she said, Well, you’ve got to go get a job, you can’t just work for me. And I was, you know, doing all this stuff of, you know, setting up the, you know, the coke cans in the vending machine thinking that wasn’t being an entrepreneur with my brother. And she’s like, No, no, no, you got to get out of here and go find your own thing. And she was driving me around because I was too young to drive and it was, Burger King wouldn’t hire me and McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, but the manager of Pizza Hut had a brother that under beach chair and umbrella company in Galveston. So I started working for him and just started to learn the hospitality industry and said, Well, I’m gonna lease my own beach and buy my own umbrellas. I’m gonna figure this thing out. And a couple years later, I was lucky enough to go into the beach chair and umbrella business. And it was sort of that’s where I got the first taste of it, of watching my mom having those conversations. And then working for another entrepreneur and then trying it on my own, and risking everything. I think it was 5000 bucks. I sold my car and my little Volkswagen convertible and bought a beat-up van to hold all the umbrellas and said, I’m gonna go for it. And those were, those are those learnings that you have early on. You kind of get the bug for it.
Kara Goldin 08:23
Yeah, definitely. And probably learned about seasonality too, right. I mean, things that, you know, what you learned about beach and beach chairs, I guess a Galveston is probably less, I don’t know, maybe there’s less seasonality,
Jason McCann 08:37
oh, no, it’s the same. It’s just like, you know, it’s Memorial Day, Labor Day, and July 4 is amazing. It’s that the same and if the Houston economy was strong, it was great. And if the oil bust happened, unfortunately, nobody was coming to Galveston at the time because it’s just south of Houston. And so, but I thought, you know, I was going to be in the hotel, hospitality industry, I think hotel was on television or something glamorous about it. And I was looking for schools to, you know, I’ve got to learn I got me and my mom said if I had to go to school, so I was, I went to the University of Houston, they have the hotel program from the Hilton college and had an incredible, real fast three year sprint. I just wanted to get through and start making money. That was sort of my mindset there. And so I did everything, you know, waiting tables and sold glow necklaces at the Astrodome when they had the rodeo. And that’s how that’s how you make money. So glow necklaces in the dark. But you start to learn all these things about just trying to survive and get through and I went back to Galveston and I started partnering with the gentleman, Mike Dean that owns a restaurant called Yaga is and at the time Yaga is was kind of when Susi and masa, mon all those t-shirts were really popular and Yonkers was a reggae themed restaurant and I was like, I’m gonna open up a Yaga is and so that was sort of the, that was the strategy. And we partnered up and opened up a Yaga is in Houston. And I didn’t know anything. And you realize that when you tried to just jump into it both feet first and literally opened up a restaurant and nightclub had about a year of experience borrowed every bit of money I could from everybody I knew. And we did it for about two and a half years. And I realized one day, the restaurant nightclub and seven nights a week of live bands was not for me personally just wasn’t my calling. And so I reached out, and my partners bought me out. And I said, I’ve got to learn finance and marketing and some other stuff, I was a little bit lost, because I hadn’t made any money was a little, you know, it’s kind of a dark period. I said, I’ve got to do something different. I wasn’t feeling it. So I started studying it. And you have, he had an MBA program. And so I jumped in there. And they had kind of the early phases of their entrepreneurship program, which is now rated number one in the country. They’ve done some incredible job there. I love them. But and so I studied there, and one of my former employees owed me a little bit of money and was struggling, and he was selling Pogs. And those are those little tiny cardboard circles with with markings on them. And I helped him sell them and he paid me back. And I said, Oh my God, we got to go into business selling these things, these will be great. While I’m getting my master’s, we start selling Pogs all over Texas. airframes come in on Continental Airlines. I didn’t know anything about the toy industry. And I’m distributing Pogs all throughout Texas,
Kara Goldin 11:30
that is so funny. Well, and that’s the thing. I mean, I share this with so many people, I share it in my book, but I also just have shared it with so many people along the way that it ends up actually not having experience. I don’t know if you’re more tuned in or I mean, every time you you probably got a little success. It gave you confidence to say, Okay, well that kind of worked. And then you just kept going right? And but I but I think when you know the rules, and you know the way that you’re supposed to do things, that’s not going to allow you to go and have the hockey stick, right? That’s gonna, that’s going to put the rails on and do things the way that you’re supposed to be doing things. And it’s the same story for a hint. I mean, as you and I have talked about over 50% of our business is direct to consumer. I mean, people are just starting to do direct-to-consumer in the beverage industry. And it’s just it to me, it just seems like where have you guys been? We’ve been doing it for seven years. I mean, it’s been continued to continue to grow. And you know, and really, you have to grow that business the right way. You can’t just dump it on people and say, Okay, we’re here. I don’t know, I just I feel like not having that experience is really no matter what. And now you went into Pogs and then you went into desks, you had no experience and and the desk world. And so talk to us a little bit about that. So you started out. So you had the co-founder, you knew you guys were gonna go do it. And did you guys quit your jobs or? No, no. So
Jason McCann 13:07
so we you know, we’ve Jimmy’s one of the largest Christmas and Halloween companies in the country. And so what we did today, we were just like, well, what is this and Do people really love it? So we we built some prototypes, Dan started feeling better when he stood with the first prototypes. And the whole goal was, we just made something we would love. And so we started showing it internally to our, current game employees. And we didn’t have enough for everybody to have one. But as soon as we took it from one person and gave it to another person, the person we took it from say, Oh, I’m a little tired. This afternoon my back’s hurting. And I didn’t know if they were blessing me because I’m the president. And they’re just being nice to me. Because it’s, you know, it’s like our baby we created or if they were being genuine. And so we got to show I said we got to show somebody outside these walls. And they’re like, who knows somebody that has a call center that has a lot of desks. That was our strategy. Yeah. And somebody knew somebody that knew the new president of Verizon, in Irving just down the street and could get us a meeting. And we’re like, Okay, sounds great. And Dan, and I just shared a plane and we’re sharing the Wall Street Journal, and Dr. Levine from the Mayo Clinic, it just twice coined the term sitting is the new smoking. So I’m like, Alright, we got a meeting, we got a date, we got a prototype. And we said we’re gonna go in and see the president. And so he was kind enough to see said, we come walking into this meeting and the night before I was sitting down, laying there in bed, prepping just like you do for a meeting. And I said, What’s he going to be thinking on the other side, I said, we’re going to do three things. We’re going to try to create happier, healthier, more productive workspaces. That’s a win for you as a president. It’s a win for your employees in your organization. And that’s what we went with with our presentation like, hey, sitting is the new smoking according to the Mayo Clinic. We have a product and it’s going to help create a happier, healthier, more productive workplace. face. And he goes, I have no idea why you’re talking to me about this. But let me get my economist in my head of HR. And I looked at David Pat. And I was like, what’s in her economist? He’s like, oh, let’s sit-stand, you know, the carpal tunnel, Oh, God, I had no idea where it got him this was, and they come walking in and they’re like us is great gives us feedback. And the head of HR says this is a huge issue. You know, obesity and work missing work. Back Pain is one of the number one reasons people miss work. And we’re like, everyone, I’m making notes. And we’re getting feedback. And they said We want someone how much are they? And we’re looking at each other? Like, how much would you be willing to pay? We have no idea how. And so we started with, and that’s how we did it. And you know, the The Container Store is also their headquarters is right down the street. And they were and I said, Well, they’re going to give us feedback if it’s ugly or not. They make cool products. And so we went in there and the same thing. They have such a great culture. And I walked in there, and they already had standing desks in some of their spaces. And I didn’t realize when they bought alpha that they started making their own office furniture. And I was like, shit, this is like, Pogs, this thing’s a fad. We’re dead. We already missed it. And they said We want to buy some. And I said why? And they said, Well, people are all different heights, they were different choose, they want to be able to move their space, our product, you can’t move it or change. Flexibility is key. Okay, light bulbs are going off. It’s addressing back pain. Number one thing, it’s now adding flexibility of the workspace, we’re onto something, How the hell do we sell it and bring this thing to market?
Kara Goldin 16:32
That’s amazing. And at that point, how long did it take to get your first product out the door?
Jason McCann 16:37
Yes, we were probably about 120 days, and we started selling products. And we didn’t know how, you know, I was thinking, how are we going to sell it? You know, retailers? Or what are we going to do? And so we started buying ones and twos and 10s, we went up to the biggest trade show for office furniture is called neo-con. And we started said, well, we’ll show it there. And so I you know, rented six booths. And so I put three across from each other. So it looked like we had nine booths. And I told him I people were going to wear big varidesk t-shirts and stand in the aisle and look like you know, you can’t get past us without pitching our product. And this is all on the sidecar while we’ve got Jimmy and Christmas and Halloween and people walking down the aisle on their suits. And we look totally out of place. I didn’t, I didn’t know anything. It’s all architected designers, and they’re all very nice. And the dealers came through. And they said we have to, it’s called listing discount, you got to raise the price and sell it at 50 off. And you have to sell it through a dealer. And I said I don’t. And they said if you want to bring it to market, this is the only way to play. And Dan and I were like, well, if this is this reminds us of the toy business going bust in the 90s. If this is how it’s going to be then I don’t even want to do it. We’re going to do a website, he and I joked we’d never do another calm together. But we did. We turned it on [email protected] and said, we’re gonna start selling it direct, and bypass all these people. We started doing $10 a day on Google ads, and then 50 and 100. And just all of a sudden it started to happen. People started to buy it. And we were coming back from a flight and we were passing around if you remember SkyMall magazine in the playoffs. We’re
Kara Goldin 18:12
trying to see you guys in it. I know I love this. I love it.
Jason McCann 18:17
So we’re sitting there, Roger, one of our he’s now President jemmy says be funny if y’all did an ad in Sky Mall like us be great. So we call up they were like, you guys have any ad space? How does it work? They’re like for 25 grand you can buy three months remnant and I’m like, okay, deal done. And all of a sudden, our phones light up like crazy. We’ve become the number one selling item in sky malls history. People are ripping out the page. It’s you know, my boss wants me to buy one of these for him or her and it was like, Oh my god, there’s something out here like we can advertise we can have this direct relationship with the fan. That’s how we want to build this thing. Forget the dealers forget everything else. You know, look at the way that Elan Musk was disrupting the way autos are sold. Look at the way Amazon was pioneering. Look at the way you look at the way Craig Hall selling direct wines. Like, look at all these other great companies. And now fast forward to today we have over 3 million people in 120 different countries that are using that original product. I mean, it’s over $11 million. Plus it’s crazy. Crazy.
Kara Goldin 19:23
That’s That’s amazing. And you know, the fact that you’re sitting in an airline seat, that probably really sucks, right? And then you’re really thinking how much your back hurts. Now you guys need to put the standing desks on the airlines once we get flying again.
Jason McCann 19:39
Hopefully not right would
Kara Goldin 19:40
I know that’s the next piece of it. So so you get the company going. That was really So was that the moment the Sky Mall? Was that the moment that you really thought you Gosh, I got a business here.
Jason McCann 19:54
Yeah, I think at that point what I what I talked to Dad, I said we need to spin off the company and separate because we’re the beauty of having the idea inside of jammies, were able to incubate it, nurture it, leverage the internal resources. But at some point, you know, there was now 10 and 15 and 20 employees focused on varidesk. Inside, it’s like, Okay, we’ve got two polar opposite businesses. And so we spun off the company, from a legal standpoint, started to invest more and more nice. So what I, what I think we’ve got here is an opportunity to build something fantastic. And so after just a couple of years, we realized this thing could be a rocket ship. And what, what do we want to do? So we took this little two, three-year-old business, and so we got to move on, we’re gonna move into a new space, we’re gonna move across the street, in building out its own office, and truly see if very, can take off and become something on its own. And that’s when we realized it was starting to happen, you know, we were doing that we went from, you know, we were so excited the day we did three orders, and it was 1000 bucks to suddenly, we filled an entire FedEx trailer. And you know, we’ve got hundreds of 1000s of dollars going out a day. And I have no idea what I’m doing. You know, we’ve got third-party logistics companies that we’re partnering with. We’re printing labels and driving them over using Uber drivers to all these different warehouses, slapping labels on and we’re like, we got to do something, we can’t just operate this thing on QuickBooks, we’ve got a got to figure out if we’ve got something here. And so that’s what we decided we split off the company and started accelerating the growth.
Kara Goldin 21:27
And so how many products did you actually launch with? Initially,
Jason McCann 21:30
we had two products. And at first, we call them the single and the dual. And then we showed everybody they’re like, well, a duel sounds like you’re at a gunfight in Texas. So we rebranded we came out with the Pro. And then we made the keyboard tray lifts. So we launched the Pro Plus, and that was before the iPhone, I joke with our friends at Apple. And that was that’s how we started two products. And you go to today, we have a little over 200 in our offering. But it started on that journey of listening to the fans. And they we started getting emails and people saying, Do you have anti-fatigue, Matt, and I was like, why, and they saw him standing on concrete. I’ve been standing all day, I’m standing on hardwood floors. And so I did what I did RND the old-fashioned way, I went onto Amazon, and I bought every single product, every mat that people were bundling with our desk that had a decent review. And I lined them all down the hall. And I started standing a mod on them. And I was like, well, we’re going to sell other people’s products through our channel of distribution, or we’re going to create our own. And David said, I can design a better mat and a better packaging and a better experience. In our in jemmy. In the business, we make more pumpkins almost than God. And we make all those polyurethane pumpkins you see at Michaels store. And so we said, we’ll create our own mat. And that was when the light bulb went off that by having that direct relationship with the fan, we can create more products. And we’re not just building a relationship with the customers, but its fans. And so it became then monitor arms and there Jerry rigging them to our desks. And we said, Sure, we started building on monitor arms. And then people said, We want a full desk and I was like, Oh my god, there’s all these other companies already making electric desks. Why are they going to? Why would they buy it from us? And so we did what Apple did on the mp3 product and we took everybody else’s desk apart from their full electric desk. We want one that you can assemble in five minutes. Like it’s true.
Kara Goldin 23:24
You can assemble yourself in five minutes. I mean, it’s amazing. And did you ever see the video that we had? Did we send you guys? Yeah, yeah, it was awesome. Yeah. And it really is super, super easy. Because I’ve I’ve put lots of stuff together. And even when they say it’s simple, like the IKEA stuff. It’s really not.
Jason McCann 23:47
Oh, we always joke that IKEA is like the worst Saturday of your life. Yeah. And to build that stuff. It’s so stressful in our relationship.
Kara Goldin 23:54
Yeah, that was it’s, it’s so true. So just I always talk about the first product because I think you can get in analysis paralysis, and, you know, everything’s got to be perfect as your first product perfect.
Jason McCann 24:10
No, and even listening to each customer and tweaking it and getting it better. That first year God was just a little shaping, but we’ve I think we’ve changed it now. 22 maybe 23 times the original product, improving it, you know, it was interesting things like I’d never shipped so much product via FedEx and UPS. And they were arriving damaged in certain markets. So we started figuring out our packaging was wrong or corners, right? So we started repacking all the product and then we would ship it back out and the ones to DC made it but the ones to Portland didn’t Okay, what do we do differently in those two markets? And so we listen to the customers and we just fixed it. You know, I believed what Tony Shea was doing over at Zappos and said, if you don’t like it, we’ll take it back. But I’d rather you reach out to me and talk to me. Tell me about it. And so I can fix it. But that allowed us to make the product better. And then it allowed them to say, hey, do you have could you make? And we’re like, Yeah, why not? You know, it started to just elevate my thinking on product ideation doesn’t just have to be whatever word is in your head. It’s listening to your customers, having their relationship and trust, and then try it. And so as we got the monitor arms, for instance, Uber was one of our largest customers. So we sent out about 100 of them to all these different Uber offices. And I said, Please try them. Let me know what you think we don’t quite have a perfect jet, but we’re trying and they just started emailing back. Oh, we love it. This one was great, you know. And instantly, we knew we had a hot item because then they wanted to buy a bunch of them. And that’s how you figure it out listening to the fan, tweaking improving. So
Kara Goldin 25:49
I think I think that’s so important. What do you think was the biggest challenge that you faced? When you got the product on the market?
Jason McCann 25:57
Yeah, I think the biggest challenge is, I think it was initially awareness. And so you know, the there was that sort of whack a mole effect that people were joking about one person would be brave enough to bring it in to their office and stand up and sort of be above the cube farm and be standing there, and then all their friends are looking at. So initially, it was, you know, is their awareness for it. But then once one person stood up and felt better, and that word of mouth spread, that ripple effect, became huge. Then we experienced other growing pains, like, you know, our largest customer was, yeah, we were, as far as a customer was selling it through that SkyMall magazine. And so I kind of got addicted to it, and said, Okay, we’re going to do the spread. And then they started, they would take the money, we would ship the product, and then they would pay me. And I didn’t really watch it because we had QuickBooks, and we were running really fast. And suddenly, they owed us a bunch of money. And the CFO and the CEO are on the phone with me. And they said everything’s gonna be fine. But I wasn’t really paying attention to the details, because I was rapidly growing. Two weeks later, I get this email and says, we file bankruptcy and we happen to owe you $670,000. Now, I’ve been through bankruptcies before, but that would have bankrupted me 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have been in a position to survive it. So my CEO, CFO, Craig story reached out, we sold it for roughly 50 cents on the dollar to the first bitter, and we moved on. And so each step along the journey has been learning. And you turn that learning and that pain into something you can monetize, and learn from it and elevate your teams and your culture.
Kara Goldin 27:40
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think at some point, you just have to put stakes in the ground to figure out when you’re moving forward. So and Craig and I went to college together, you know that story. So it’s lots of fun to he’s an excellent CFO, our listening is there,
Jason McCann 27:56
just the bag is a blessing from God, I’m so grateful. He’s been with me.
Kara Goldin 28:00
Yeah, he’s awesome. Well, you said so many things in just sharing that story. I think that the other thing, the idea that you actually get on the phone, with customers, but you also are really looking at how can I learn from this mistake and be better going forward? And I know that a lot of people, especially during sort of this, this challenging time of the pandemic for everybody in 2020, what is the How do you think about the pandemic? And what advice can you give to people just who were sitting here saying I should now and I should have done this? I should have, you know, not allowed my receivables to go on for that long? Or what, what are some of the key things that that you’ve learned over time?
Jason McCann 29:00
Yeah, I think you know, the biggest thing I think, like everybody, we had to pivot overnight work from home. And so we like you thought it would be for weeks, and then maybe a couple of months, and then for a long time. And so we immediately went down to I realized, one a crisis creates clarity. And so that was a moment for us to develop a rallying cry. And say that, you know, we’re going to keep rolling until the wind catches our sails, and we’re going to power through this COVID storm. And so being that voice of clarity and optimism for your team members, I started daily emails, I started weekly zoom calls, those were the types of communication things tactfully or tactically. I started to say, okay, we reached out to our employees said, What do you need to work from home? What do you need? And we turn that into reaching out to all of our fans and how do we help you get through this and that became products like your wit today? It’s like, Hey, now you’re home for a while. How do we set you up? And so there’s all this data now where you know, maybe 10 to 15% of Companies have kind of got to work from the home strategy. Most of them don’t. And so now you’re sitting there going, Okay, what are we going to do for people? But while that team started to go out, I started to look at our office and go, Well, what are we going to do when they start coming back? You know, we now create workspaces that elevate people, what am I going to do for my people. And so I had the designers come in, we reached out to our teams and agents said, Let’s redesign the headquarters and put, you know, we use move walls that move in our space moves it, we literally transform the space, so that we can welcome our team members back and be safe about it. And then we reached out to our customers that, hey, this is what we’re learning and so that, taking ideas that work for you now reaching out to your fans and saying, How can I serve and help you, as you think about transforming your culture, getting through the storm, these are the things that are working for us. And so just like this podcast today, we need, there are ideas that all of us as leaders and CEOs are looking for. And so that those are the things to share. Some of those can turn into things just sell and monetize and create. And so I think that’s how I think about getting through this COVID chapter.
Kara Goldin 31:03
So you rebranded Talk to me a little bit about that. So the very desk to very, so obviously, you’re doing more than just desks, and so I wanted to kind of branch out, but talk to me a little bit about that. And what are the challenges of rebranding? I guess, and are there challenges with rebranding?
Jason McCann 31:23
Yeah, you know, we started off the company is Vera desk, and all of a sudden became the number one recognized office furniture product. nobody’s heard of some other great brands out there. But you asked consumers, what do you think about office furniture, and they know varidesk. They may say IKEA, or some other words with like, well, they know varidesk. But what we recognize is when people would walk into our headquarters and do tours, and they started to see all the different products are from soft seating and standing conference tables and walls and moving LED lights and sound machine. It’s like, suddenly, you’re much bigger than that. Why are you called the desk? And in elevating our vision, as we started to think about creating the workspace of the future to have a positive transformation on cultures and really providing space as a service? What are we going to do? We’re already down this road, until we reached out to layin door and they helped take Federal Express who my kids have no idea who that is to FedEx, and other great organizations to simplify and focus. And they took us through a process and said, with all the research of current customers and fans, potentially competitive, you know, nature very works, you own it, it’s your trademark, you own the website, it works globally, you ought to go for it. And so we want an 18-month journey to figure out how to do it and pull it off. And the team worked tirelessly to get there cleaned up the logo, we added a little square, you see my ball cap here, I love it. No, you can’t. But it’s like that’s a little Ode to the box. And just all the little details that went around the branding. We celebrated it, we had a multi-million dollar TV campaign all started hot out of the gate, January 2020. Thinking we are going to be direct to the end-user or come as very where your newest is varidesk. And we’re going to transform your workspace, your corporate offices in 28 days. And that was sort of our messaging that went out. And it worked incredible, obviously for eight weeks. And then COVID hid in the world changed. But the brand is resonated. And we’re so excited. And now we’ve got like, very swag and my kids all got it for Christmas. They just think it’s cool now, I love it. We’re in so it’s working. And we’re pleased that it can allow us to elevate our vision for what we want to do.
Kara Goldin 33:40
Yeah, I think it’s it’s a really natural Trent transition for you guys. And I think it’s one where even when I heard that you had rebranded I thought oh, I just always call them a very desk, but maybe they were always very, yeah, right. And I think I think there’s probably a lot of consumers like me out there. What would you say to advise entrepreneurs who maybe are dealing in these challenging times? I mean, you touched on this a bit you’ve been you’ve seen a few companies right? You’ve seen the success you’ve seen the challenges? What but yet I wish you could see Jason because he seems very Zen and devout this time and I think what do you what would you say to your I don’t know your younger self or your first-time entrepreneur self however you want to view
Jason McCann 34:39
it? Yeah, you know, Craig turned me on to Ryan Holiday and the obstacle is the way it’s been an interesting chapter to, to sort of just one remain very grateful for whatever position you’re in. Recognize there are probably billions of people that would trade places with you today, no matter what position You’re in. And so I sort of wake up with that, that thought process and grace that I’m starting it zero every day, and I recognize it. And I do like you, I recognize I’ve, today I’ve got 350 families that count on the decisions I make, and I don’t take them lightly, it does take a personal toll just on stress and all those things. But starting off with recognizing, you know, be grateful for what you have, and trying to find those opportunities out there to be successful and continue to look for the winds and the small wins. And, you know, for us, leaning on the team and continuing to find ways to serve others. And so, you know, we have a volunteer time off program that allows team members to give back, we give a lot of furniture away, I think we’ll pass $5 million here of furniture that we’ve donated over the last couple of years to nonprofit organizations. So finding those little nuggets, or we can inject optimism and hope and serve others suddenly feeds back to everybody. From a strategy standpoint, I think it’s reaching out to the fan. So recognizing your team members, your employees, your customers are all facing the stresses, and how do we work together and lean in together on each other, to get through this. And I think by doing that, it’s allowed us to grow our fan base grow our trust in each other, really is that I’ve watched the team become even stronger and lean into our values. And be more adamant about the mission that we’re on. It’s very different from the journey, but it’s still an incredible journey. So I, I would say, you know, keep doing that. And then the little stuff that I didn’t do years ago, where you where I meditate, and I forced myself to go on long walks, that allows me personally to recharge, because if I’m not healthy and recharged, and in a good place, my team members are gonna feel it totally. So I’ve got to recognize I gotta get I got to take care of me too. And that’s, that’s something I didn’t do 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, so any of those little things you got to take care of yourself to help your team get through this.
Kara Goldin 37:02
Yeah, totally. And I think staying healthy and, and I always call it staying a little selfish, right? And because I think that that ultimately helps your team as well, your family, by you getting that time to be able to have a little bit of just kind of get yourself out and get on a walk, get on a run whatever you need to do in order to do that. I think it’s totally important. Obviously, you’ve seen competition over the years. How How do you view competition? Because that’s always a big question, right? I remember when I was first starting out. And again, I had never been in the beverage industry and so we went out and raised money and were turned down by a lot of people who we were trying to raise money from because they were terrified of the cokes and the Pepsi’s out there. And I really wasn’t afraid of them. Because I felt like we were really focused on water and health and innovation and very, very different. But it was still hard, right? convincing these people. And then when the first kind of knockoff product of hint came out. And ultimately we got kicked out of the major retailers, but this knockoff product and I thought, Oh, it’s gonna be terrible. And then, you know, what I realized is that sometimes competition actually increases awareness. And if you just focus on what you’re doing every single day and doing it really well, and creating great products, and that are just quality and better and great customer service and servicing the customer. That’s really the most important thing, the competition can actually be a great thing, that it can actually just show the customer that you’re doing better. I’d be curious what you think about that?
Jason McCann 38:53
Yeah, I think we always operate under the mindset you have to innovate or die. And you’ve got to leapfrog yourself when you think about innovation. So we started as a desktop, you know, on top of desk riser, to then saying, Hey, could we do a full office? Could we disrupt the entire way that office furniture is bought, and sell it directly without a middle person involved? And we said okay, so we started to figure that out, and then elevated our vision to could we buy buildings, lease out office space, be fully furnished, and create a space as a service model. And so, innovating and constantly elevating your game has allowed us to not only what I believe survive this current chapter, but allow us to thrive and position ourselves to be one of the great brands out there. And I said, I want to build a company that can live beyond my lifetime that can be beyond me, that’s much bigger than me, and I’m 51 so you know, I only get a few more bites at the apple here. So I want to enjoy the second half. But as I think about it, so constantly innovating, and I think that’s allowed us to expand the product, the offering has allowed us to also create those moats in our business. So it’s not just product, we’re now providing service through various space. And for various spaces. Now we own giant buildings that you picture what you’ve got, like Verizon and Microsoft are customers, but also some amazing, you know, headquarters we’re in, there are some great companies, and they lease out fully furnished office space, we treat it like a giant ideation lab. So now you we’ve got fortune 100 that work out of there, we’ve got startups that work out of there. And we’re different in that we provide enterprise-level space as a service. And so by innovating and constantly challenging ourselves, it’ll allow us to now create even more products. I think we’ve got probably 200 different products in our pipeline that were sort of ideating. Here, I brought about 200 to market. And now we have three more to various face locations that are up, we just announced our third, we’re actually building one that’ll open in summer 2022. And again, I think you’ve got to constantly push to innovate and come up with the next thing. My mother always joked that the Wii only changes for the lead dog. So it’s very important that you run really fast,
Kara Goldin 41:10
and learn every aspect of and learn every aspect of the business to write. Are you still involved in innovation?
Jason McCann 41:18
Oh, absolutely. I think you know, even Dan, Dan, is even more so. Because it’s not just the product, right? It’s the process. It’s the way you talk to customers and fans. It’s everything as we continue. So even our technology team is going through an S for HANA implementation. That’s innovation, right? We went through five different websites. Our first one was a 3d cart. Now we’re on a full Salesforce platform. I mean, things that we’re innovating are not just products, but it’s now What else could we do? And how do we create a better business and a business relationship with our fan base? And so I, I think innovation and sprinkling that out throughout the entire organization is critical.
Kara Goldin 41:58
Yeah, I always talk about and actually I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago and LinkedIn about this, that if that the challenge, I think for executives is and particularly C suite executives is that they don’t know this about themselves. But as you move up the ladder, you don’t learn anymore, right? You teach and you manage. And so I think that even in building my company, I’m very involved in innovation because I’m curious. And I’m, I love the idea of learning. I mean, during this pandemic, we decided I was so tired of smelling bad hand sanitizers, I was calling them rancid before, you know, anybody was actually they were getting recalled. I’m like, there’s something up here. And then we created an amazing hand sanitizer, and part of it was my own curiosity. And I literally, I was calling some of these plants just trying to figure out how do I get it done. But again, I think that, selfishly, for me, I wanted to learn, and I wanted to understand that business a little bit better. And it sort of took me back to my roots of being an entrepreneur in the early days of, you know, trying to figure out how do I, what’s the supply chain? Is this you know, is it different? Is that the same and bringing kind of that complexity, or simplicity back into what we were already doing? And it sounds like you’ve been super involved in that as well.
Jason McCann 43:32
Yeah, I think you know, you the beauty of having, whether it’s listening to customers are experiencing the pain points yourself, it starts to spark all these great ideas. And when you surround yourself with other people that are also curious, and they’re sharing ideas, and what if and what if, and, you know, one of our core values is believed it’s possible. So there’s this natural desire to dream even bigger, and could we create something different? And so I start to think about those things. And so, you know, before the pandemic, we were sitting here going, Well, we believe, you know, the workspace should be like a canvas and should move and like, when you tour the Google and Facebook headquarters, it should feel like that and the energy is incredible. And so with COVID hits, and it’s kind of like you, it’s like, well, now it’s on steroids. It’s like it’s so obvious, and everybody wants walls that move and spaces that change. And so, you know, some of these things, it’s like, you know, hard work meets that opportunity. And some people define that as luck but it’s you continuing to try things and test things and learn. And then all of a sudden the timings right, the idea hits and it’s even bigger, but then you got to keep going. You got to keep leapfrogging yourself and you know, because I know you’re working on other stuff over there. You’re not you haven’t stopped to just hand sanitizer.
Kara Goldin 44:47
Now we’re constantly
Jason McCann 44:48
lock fans out there that are looking for stuff that smells good. Yeah,
Kara Goldin 44:53
we’re actually are launching the big one that we’ve been doing since the beginning of the pandemic is a larger system. bottle, which is actually launching, momentarily. So I love that. So it’s been a lot of fun creating that and trying to figure out the efficiencies. And anyway, it’s been, it’s been a ton of fun doing that. So. So getting back to the office, and who knows when that will happen for everybody. But what were you touched on this? But what do you think the new office looks like?
Jason McCann 45:28
Yeah, it’s definitely all built on flexibility. So one, safety is going to be number one. So as vaccines start to roll out, definitely going to be you know, it’s going to change the way people think about trips and all these things. But the idea of an office or a space that is for collaboration, communication, culture, and so thinking about spaces like that for organizations, because people like being alone and working on a project, but there’s that human nature side of, are we smarter, and can we create bigger things and ideas when these the sparks happen is where together. And so I think that the workspace of the future is definitely around flexibility, we always thought about it, as you’ve got to recruit and retain talent, it’s an energy of it is what the energy of your culture and your team are going to be like, now you’ve got this extra layer of what’s it going to be like in the future. And other pandemics or other things will probably happen. So we always think about walls that move, you know, so like we have, we have glass walls that you saw in our space that you can move as opposed to sheetrock that just set it and forgets it, you got to toss in a landfill like could spaces morph and change, just like cloud services came out, you know, in the last 10 years, and everything’s in the cloud, we think of space being like that. And so that’s why we’re really excited about just dreaming about having that positive, you know, impact on culture and people through a healthy environment. But then it’s flexible, it’s got to change it, you can’t come into a cube barm and think you’re gonna be stuck there for the next five years of your career. It’s not how the world works today or tomorrow.
Kara Goldin 47:02
So I think Jason adding half of the filters, that’s your next you just need to develop that actually one of the podcasts that I just did if you haven’t, it’s I think it’s luxury today, actually, Frank Stephenson, you know who Frank
Jason McCann 47:17
No, No, I
Kara Goldin 47:18
don’t. So Frank, Frank, and I were speaking at NASA when it right in your backyard? Oh, yeah. So far away. And a few years ago, and there were 30 entrepreneurs that were invited to come and I just went because I wanted to, you know, sit inside of the shuttle and, and then suddenly, I get tapped on the shoulder by this guy who’s like, wait, so you develop this product. And we were, you know, of course, I had to send in product to NASA in hopes that I could get somebody to actually put it on the next shuttle or
Jason McCann 47:55
send it up there.
Kara Goldin 47:56
And so he anyway, we had a very nice conversation. And then after a few minutes, I said to so what do you do? And he said, So have you ever heard of the Mini Cooper? And I said, I mean, do I look really stupid? And I said, I said is and so then, you know, once we got over that hump, he said, I said, So did you work on the Mini Cooper? And he said I did. And I told him, my son, my 18-year-old loves cars, and he’s always figuring out he’s rebuilt a couple of cars. And he’s always talking to me about there are certain things that should be in cars. And anyway, so I said, Oh, I’m going to text my son and tell him that I just met the guy that did the Mini Cooper. And he said, and so I text him, Frank Stephenson, and he said, Mom, he developed the McLaren. And he’s been working on the newest Ferrari. And he did the beat. Oh, yeah. And I, I was I looked over at him. And I said, so is the Mini Cooper all you got? I mean, seriously. And
Jason McCann 49:11
yeah. And so something a little faster.
Kara Goldin 49:13
I mean, come on. And he’s so modest. And he’s so interesting. And anyway, you have to listen to that podcast. I can’t wait. He talks about and so now he’s doing he’s worked for all different. I mean, pretty much every company and he finally decided that he wanted to do his own firm and do some different things. So he’s been working on the flying car for Google and with the pandemic. He’s been invited to come in and really re-envision what the car of the future looks like. Do you have plastic, I mean, very similar situation to you, in many ways, only it’s much harder because it’s closer? Right? If you have somebody in your car, I mean, do you want plastic In the car and between you or do you figure out what is really the solution? Is it help the filters are it and now he’s been invited to? He talked about this on the podcast to buy different cities and you know, London as well as New York on the subways, and how do we keep people safe? And so yeah, and he talked a lot about learning. And so every one of these, I think you get to a point where you’re okay. He knows nothing about subways other than the fact that he goes on him. Right. But he said, just the idea, how is it different? How is it similar? What can I bring in? And that’s the thing that I’ve really learned about successful entrepreneurs. And even though he hasn’t actually built his own car, I mean, he’s been working for companies in some ways, he really is an entrepreneur, right? where he’s sort of figuring this stuff out the first model of lots of different things. But I think he really touched on this, and you definitely have as well that, you know, you just don’t know what you don’t know, right? And you just go in, and you start trying, and you start developing that relationship with the customer. And you learn, and that’s the most important thing about, you know, really being successful, right?
Jason McCann 51:23
Yeah, I’ve heard you know, the term intrapreneur, you know, getting inside an organization and having that entrepreneurial mindset. And by having people inside your organization that are like that, they’re dreaming it up, you know, they may not be the tip of the spear that’s trying to run the organization as a true CEO. But they’re inventing the next thing. And so getting people around you that are curious and solving problems and applying it, it’s fine, I think is it’s fine. Yeah, it’s, it’s really what I think this life’s journey is about, you know, at the end of the day, it’s the memories we make and the positive impact that we have. And so if you can do that, and make some money, have a good time, make a positive impact, and create some amazing things with people you love and respect. I don’t. That’s, that’s what it’s about.
Kara Goldin 52:11
Yeah, I totally, totally agree. So Jason McCann, very, where do people find you? And very, where’s the best place?
Jason McCann 52:21
Yeah, so very, it’s a ri.com is probably the best way to just reach out to us. And we would love to help you sort of creating the workspace of your dreams. We do free space planning and design. So we can design it and ship it out for free and deliver it. It’ll be incredible, so and
Kara Goldin 52:37
so easy to build. And you’re on LinkedIn, and
Jason McCann 52:42
LinkedIn is definitely the easiest place to find me. Yeah, if you’re looking for it. Yeah,
Kara Goldin 52:46
I love it. Well, everybody gives great reviews to this and go buy a desk, you need to have it because you need to have that great standing desk and go ask your employer to pay for it too. Why not blame it on us? Listen to this podcast, and invest in your team, invest in your team. We’ll give you all of the buzz terms that you need in order to make that happen. So well. Thank you so much, Jason. carrier. Awesome. Yeah, you too. You
Kara Goldin 53:19
Everybody stay safe and come back every Monday Wednesday. We’re doing lots of great interviews like this. So thanks, everyone, for listening.
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