Scale-Up Breakfast with Jeff Arnold

On March 30th Endeavor Atlanta held its first Scale-Up Breakfast, an intimate gathering for high-growth entrepreneurs focused on learning from successful founders. Serial entrepreneur and Endeavor Atlanta Co-Chairman Jeff Arnold took the stage to talk about scaling culture and talent in high growth companies. Jeff reminisced about his early days as an entrepreneur, founding and scaling WebMD during the dot-com boom, and his vision for his newest venture Sharecare. We were fortunate to have Hala Moddelmog, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, moderate the conversation, while Dawn Whaley (Co-President, Sharecare) and special guest Dr. Mehmet Oz (Co-Founder of Sharecare, The Dr. OZ Show) provided additional advice on scaling talent. Below are highlights from the conversation! 

Demonstrate and Maintain Culture

In 2010, Jeff Arnold and Dr. Oz founded Sharecare, a health and wellness technology company that provides consumers with personalized resources to live their healthiest lives.  Since its founding, Sharecare has acquired 11 companies, several of which were outside the United States. Jeff found one of his biggest challenges as CEO was instilling Sharecare’s unique culture throughout its 2,400 employees around the world, many of whom joined the company via acquisition. Jeff highlighted the importance of having the CEO and executive team drive the culture. It’s important executives not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. 

Being in the healthcare industry is an important component of Sharecare’s culture. Their executive team works tirelessly to remind employees that they can change lives and improve the company every day. One method Jeff and his team use to communicate their unique culture is through quarterly all hands meetings. The gatherings highlight company successes, opportunity areas, and the status of annual goals. Most importantly Jeff and team use this meeting to ground employees in Sharecare’s culture. At each all hands meeting Jeff or Dawn highlight a story they call “Sharing Care” which is an inspirational story from the healthcare industry to showcase extraordinary acts of kindness. The goal is to highlight life changing moments in their space and how Sharecare can be a catalyst for these events. For example, Q1’s story was about a nurse at a partner hospital who adopted one of her patients. The Sharing Care videos also set the tone for what comes next; a quarterly culture theme. In Q1 the theme was #NotMyJob. This theme was used to remind employees that everyone has a voice and that all employees are responsible for making things better. 

Hiring and Retaining Talent

Scaling talent comes with its own set of challenges. Jeff discussed how founders and CEO’s need to constantly evaluate talent at each stage of company growth. This requires founders to oftentimes step back and work on the business versus in the business. 

Dawn believes hiring at different growth stages requires different tactics. “When you’re less than 100 employees, you can hire through your personal networks. Then you get to that 100+ employees and you really rely on external recruiters to get any type of scale. At Sharecare we have now gone full circle. We’re at 2,400 employees and this is the first time in my career that I find we are too big for external recruiters, except for very special employment opportunities or executive hires. We have brought a team in house to do the recruiting.”

Jeff mentioned that founders, including himself, are oftentimes too optimistic during the hiring process. To counter his instincts, he often removes himself until the final interview stage. When he does conduct interviews, he focuses on evaluating two areas. First, skill diversity is extremely important in Sharecare’s hiring criteria. Jeff believes the best teams consist of leaders that challenge one another. The second item Jeff is looking for is chemistry. “We're all working really hard and you have to like the people you're working with and have similar philosophies”, Jeff said.

Dr. Oz spoke about his experience as he hires and scales his team. He highlighted the importance of addition by subtraction. Early in his career, a colleague told him he’d never regretted firing an underperforming employee. Hiring slow and firing fast is important. “Oftentimes you’ll find that after letting someone go, employees feel like there’s justice in the world. Paradoxically it helps morale. You’d think the opposite but employees recognize they are being appreciated for their good work.” 

When hiring new team members, Dr. Oz recommended pulling in great talent from their existing jobs. To build a top-notch team, leaders should continually identify and recruit top talent from other companies. “Go get someone who’s already doing a good job and build around him or her. You really want to get to a point as a company where you’re like a magnet attracting needles versus searching for them in a haystack.”

Lastly, Jeff reminded the entrepreneurs the importance of retaining talent. The effects of keeping your best people are important not only to support growth but also to improve profitability. Jeff shared a story to illustrate the potential savings from retention. “We employ over 750 nurses and have about 220 nurses in Maryland. Two years ago, the turnover rate was very high. Through some tactical changes, we reduced turnover by 43% last year. It was simple changes like getting them all on the same benefits package. Oftentimes it’s the little things that make the difference. When you reduce churn, it has massive positive financial ramifications on the business.” 

Endeavor Atlanta would like to extend a huge thank you to Jeff, Hala, Dawn, and Dr. Oz for spending time with some of Atlanta’s best high-growth entrepreneurs. And thank you to Cherry Bekaert and Cushman and Wakefield for sponsoring the event.