Unlocking Our Investment In People With Travis Hawkes


So, I'm excited to talk to you. The political thing's interesting to me because I actually just started working with a politician running for Congress recently, and I haven't done a lot in the political sphere, but it's super fascinating to me. So, what was that like? I mean, we're here talking about unlocking the potential of people, unlocking the potential of what's in us, unlocking the potential of business organizations in our country. What was that like in the midst of working on those campaigns?


Yeah. So, I always had just been interested in politics even as a kid. So, got into that first kind of as a fundraiser and later into some more strategy stuff. I loved a couple of things about it. I mean, I really do love the competitive sport of it, the strategy of it. It's like a giant chess match that you're doing, and I've always loved that aspect of it. Then, with the fundraising on the national level, I didn't get into it for this reason, but I realized after I got into it that it was just a great network build opportunity because I'd be involved and go to these different meetings where all these top fundraisers from around the country would come in and just met some amazing people through that.

Back when I really first started doing that in 2007, I was the youngest guy in the room and it really taught me that ... I mean, nobody in that room asked me for my resume or a copy of my bank account or what college I went to. I mean, they accepted me as a peer, and I was able to network that way. It really taught me a lot that I didn't have to be limited in the aspirations I could have or the deals I could go out and put together because it really is just about relationships. If you have relationships with people, people want to work with people that they know and have relationships with, and they're always open to that.

So, there was a lot of benefits from it, a lot of cool moments along the way. Meeting the sitting President of the United States back when George W. Bush was president and some of those cool things that happened along the way, but it's tough. It's definitely gotten to be a tougher environment in these days, so that burned me out a little bit, and so I decided to retire from politics and focus just on business.


So, in your experience, you've had lots of experience with different companies doing different things and different groups of people, different types of leaders. How has that impacted the overall growth of the companies that you've worked with? Have you seen a difference? How's that produced revenue for you? What's that done for you having the right people in the right place?


Sure. Yeah. I think that's really the most critical component that we look at. In fact, one of the things we always say is, "We invest in people." We don't invest in companies or in projects. We invest in people because, without the people, you're not going to be successful and it can be a great idea, but if it's not the right people in place that are going to be able to execute a plan and inspire people around them, draw talent to come work with them, it's just not going to be successful. So, that's really always the first thing that we look at when we're looking at investing in a company. Whether it's a startup or whether it's an existing company, we're always looking first and foremost at the leadership of that company. A lot of times that may be just an entrepreneur, a founder, a CEO, and then we're looking at the other people around them.

As an example, we invested in a company about a year and a half ago where, when we first started meeting them, they were pretty small. They only had a couple employees, but there were these other people hanging around the office, and in talking to them, they were people who weren't even being paid because there was no money to pay them yet, but they believed so much in this leader, in the founder of the company, that they just said, "Hey, I'll work for free up until the time you can pay me because I believe in the product and I believe in the leader." That company now is up to 27 employees. They're up to almost $2 million in ARR and their culture is so strong of those people. They would all just run through a brick wall for the founder.

We loved the idea. We loved the tech, we loved the product, but ultimately, what sold me was that entrepreneur because he was a great leader that we knew could recruit and retain talent and people love to work with them. So, that is so, so critical because I've seen other companies where there's this revolving door of people coming in and out, and it's really difficult.


So, what does that do for your mindset as an investor coming in, you see higher turnover, you see maybe not as much cohesiveness in that organization, what kind of flags does that throw up for you?


Well, it throws up a lot of flags because I think if you can't get everyone running in the same direction and retain those people that help you to do it, I think it's just so hard to accomplish the end goals, and I think you're just setting yourself up for failure. One of my favorite quotes is, "Vision without action is just a dream." So, you really need both components. You need the vision and that's going to come from the CEO or the founder or the leadership of the company, but then you need the action and, a lot of times, that action is going to be carried out by other people in the company. If they're not cohesive, they don't believe in the vision. If they're not willing to run through that brick wall, the action's not going to happen.

So, then you're just back to, "Hey, yeah, this was a great idea. It could have been successful, but we're not out executing." There's really always those two components to success of you have to have the vision and the plan, but then you have to go execute it, and you see some people who never can really get the vision and the plan, and so they're just running around in circles, but then you get other people who can get the vision and the plan, but they can't go out and execute it. That mostly comes down to people, having the right people and people that are willing to go out and do it.


Brilliant. Yeah. I love it. When we talk from an internal brand standpoint, I always coach people on the vision, mission, values, purpose, and what that drive is, and a lot of people are like, "Oh yeah, yeah. We got that." And I'm like, "Okay, what is it?" And they're like, "Oh, I don't know." They can't quote it. They can't quote their values. They can't quote their vision. It's the paragraph that's stuck on a poster of an eagle flying into the sunset in the break room. It's just some statement they did one time as part of launching their business because somebody said you have to have a vision statement, so they made one. But the problem is, and what you said about that one company that you invested in and the people were working for free, because they believed what the company believed or what the CEO believed.

They had a belief system that is more important now than almost ever. The older generations used to work for the paycheck. It was like, "I want to make sure paycheck is here and I'm going to work out. More money, more money, more money." Now, it's almost the mindset of these younger generations are coming along and saying, "That's cool, but I'll even take less money if I believe in what you are doing." Have you seen that?


Absolutely. Yeah. I think it's a combination of believe in what you're doing and also just happiness. I mean, I think like you said, the older school mentality was, "I'm going to punch the clock. I'm going to work at this company for 30 years. It's a means to an end." And I think now you're seeing employees valuing their work happiness, their work-life balance. All of those things, they're valuing at the same level as their compensation. So, you've got to have all components of that. Absolutely.


So, what things have you seen working with these various different companies? I mean, you've worked in the political sphere, so you've seen leadership and culture in that. You've seen them in the companies you've started and that you own stake in. You've seen companies that you're investing in. What works and what doesn't?


Yeah. So, I think that one of the things I feel is really important is that there's good communication and honesty with the employees. I think what can be really frustrating for employees is if they don't feel like they're given a pathway to succeed. Someone's always mad at them, a manager or boss is mad at them or saying they're not doing it the right way, but maybe they haven't been trained correctly. Maybe the expectations haven't been set. So, you're really putting them in a position to fail, and that's really frustrating because people don't want to fail, first of all, but then second of all, they're going to get frustrated because they say, "Well, I haven't been given a chance to succeed." So, I think that's really critical.

I think another thing is finding the right spots for an employee. We've had employees that we thought were the right fit for a certain job and then we got into it and we were like, "Well, this isn't the best fit for their skillset, but they're hard workers, they're good culture contributors. We don't just want to fire them, so let's reshuffle the deck chairs and find the right spot. Put them in a position to succeed instead of just beating on them to do a job that maybe they're not best suited for." So, I think that's really critical.

I think that employees really appreciate the chance to just share how they feel. So, one of the things we do in the companies that we own is we have real sit-down evaluations where one of the questions that is always asked is just, "How do you think things are going?" And you'd be amazed at the information that will come out from them. I think what is most concerning sometimes is when you have an employee that you really like that you would never want to lose, and then through that setting, you find out there's some sort of unhappiness or some sort of issue. That's the great value of those types of meetings, is you can discover it, you can fix it because you don't want that employee to leave.

Sometimes people get the little sliver in their finger and it may be a small thing, but it just eats at them and eats at them and eats at them, and then, all of the sudden, they leave, they quit, they go find another job and you're shocked what happened. Well, if you're shocked, it's because there's not that open communication and dialogue with the employees, which is super critical. Depending on the size of the organization, it may not be the CEO having those conversations with every employee. That may not be feasible. But if it's not, then it's got to be a manager who understands the purpose and is doing that same thing, and then you need to follow up with that manager and go through what was said and all of these things and get a report back.

I think doing those types of things really helps the employees feel like you care and that they're listened to and that they're really part of it. I mean, I think employees want to feel like they're a part of a success, so along those lines too, I think sharing with them, even entry-level employees, we try and share as much information as we can so that they feel like they're part of it. It's not like, "Hey, we're talking about all the important secret stuff in the conference room. You just go do your work." It's like, "Hey, here's the great things that are happening. Here's a client we just landed." Or, "we had our most successful month ever and you're a part of that." Those types of things I think help a lot.


Yeah. I just read a Forbes article. It was talking about transparency and communication, which you just said, that were really, really important for that culture. I also want to pick up on something else you just said there at the end is communicating the wins, helping them feel part of the investment because if you have people that maybe are working for free or that aren't working for as much of a paycheck, but they're there because they believe in the system and they believe in the product, they believe in the mission of what you're trying to accomplish, then keeping them informed just saying, "Hey, this was a win."

Because I think that some entrepreneurs, and tell me if I'm wrong with some of the people you've worked with or even personally, but I know me, I have a hard time celebrating the win because I'm always on the move. I'm always moving, moving, moving. So, I don't take the time to sit there and go, "Guys, well done. That rocked. We killed it. What did you guys like about that?" It's always like, "Okay, cool. But what can we do better next time? And then let's go on to the next thing." But helping them feel like we did it, we accomplished this thing is going to help them want to do more. You agree with that?


Absolutely. And that's a great point. I'm similar that way, where when I have a big win, it's like, "Well, I should have accomplished that, so I'm not going to sit around and celebrate it. Let's move on to the next thing." But I do try and take the time to show to the team, 'Hey, this is a big deal. This is a big win and we can't take it for granted." We need to celebrate the wins and again, with the whole team. We've definitely tried to do that with our own employees and our own companies is just saying like, "Hey, let's celebrate these great wins. Everyone was a part of it." And we really believe that even the newest entry-level person is still a part of it because everyone is contributing. I think that goes a long way. I think that the employees appreciate. They want to feel valued and they want to feel validation and that's one of the ways that you can convey that to them.


Yeah. I think that human resources has become more important than probably it ever was or is being looked upon now as something different. Now that COVID has happened, the black lives matter movement is taking more of a public eye, that human resources and the way we are building our cultures and our value systems inside of organizations. Now, everybody's like, "Oh yeah, we've got values." Like, "Oh yeah, we are inclusive. I promise." Now, the dust is being kicked up and companies are having to really walk the talk, and we're seeing the companies that aren't and the companies that are, and the people that belong to those companies that are and have always felt loyal to that, are going to stay loyal to those companies and the companies that are calling them out, that's what's happening. It damages businesses' futures ongoing. That relationship, that ability to drive revenue and drive good relationships with their clients and customers ongoing.

You've seen leadership go in and out. And sometimes with these companies, you may be like, "Hey, we don't have the right person in the right seat. We need to reevaluate this leadership role." How do you recruit and retain that good talent?


Yeah, sure. I think that is super critical. I think the first part of it is finding talent and finding good people, and I think if you're in a position where you're growing businesses or hiring people or those types of things, you have to always be looking for talent no matter where you're at or what you're doing. An example of that is, we have an auto loan business that we own, and we just hired a guy who he's 24 years old and he is running our outside sales in another state. I first met him when he was 16 years old, and I met him when he was 16 and was really impressed by him and the way he interacted with me as an adult and the conversations we had and his goals and just his charisma.

At the time he was 16, I was like, "That's someone I want to work for me." So, I also have some retail stores, so I offered him a job in one of the retail stores and he worked for me. Then he left. He went away to school. He did other things. We reconnected just about six months ago and now I've hired him for this job, but that all began when he was 16 years old, as far as always being out there identifying talent. So, when I'm out, I've tried to hire or have hired people that I've run into at restaurants or businesses or other things, because you've got to always be on the lookout for people, as well as just through networking. I think that's the thing too, is there's people that I'll meet and talk with and network with and I'll think, "Okay, that's someone that I'm really impressed with that I would love to work with in some capacity, so I'm going to file that away and when the right opportunity comes along, I'm going to call that person."

So, I think the finding is really critical and that you can't only look for people when you need them. You've got to always be looking for people. Then, as far as retaining them, I think a big thing is just making them feel like they are a stakeholder in the business. If they really are through equity or options or something like that, that's even better, but even if that's not feasible, just making them feel that way, making them feel like, "Hey, you're critical in running this business. You're not just someone put in place to execute what I say. What you think, what you do, is critical to our success." Really, empowering them in that way I think just makes a big difference.

Then, of course, the third thing, which just goes along with everything we've been talking about is just that job satisfaction. I mean, I think now more than ever, if people aren't happy in their job, they're going to look around and they're going to go do something else. So, make sure they're happy, make sure there's some balance in what they're doing and what the expectations are, and help them along the way. I think that goes a long way through retention is just, do they feel valued and are they happy in what they're doing?


Love it, man. Love it. That's really good. I really appreciate you. I mean, there's a lot of things you've said. I mean, based on some science that we've looked at, we determined about 82% of people in the workplace feel not valued, not heard, not understood. What we've talked about here and what you've mentioned a lot about transparency, communication, helping them feel invested, and making sure they're happy is all part of that. Communicating clearly expectations and those roles, making them feel like they aren't a failure, and investing in them to say, "You know what? You're not performing at your best. We're not just going to cut you. Let's figure out why and let's figure out what we can do to shift this thinking in maybe your role and responsibility?" So, Travis, super grateful again, that you could come on. Where do people find out more about you and what you do and how they can get in touch with you and further that conversation?


Sure. Yeah. I mean, you can go to our website. It's just www.capitaleleven.com. The 11 is spelled out. You can email me from there. Or also, you can find me on LinkedIn. Travis B. Hawkes, and you can message me on LinkedIn. I check those messages. Sometimes there's a lot, but I check them because you just never know. You never know what's going to come in, so either one of those ways are a good way to catch up with me.


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