Brian Roland is a Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Abenity, the 6x Inc. 5000 Company that’s powering corporate perks for top brands including U.S. Bank and Mastercard.
And while Abenity provides millions of subscribers with private discounts, the company’s social mission is fighting extreme poverty with every program they deliver.
Abenity recently exceeded a million dollars of total giving and hired a CEO to accelerate growth with their fully remote team.
Brian lives in Scottsdale with his wife and 3 daughters and is investing his time in efforts that help like-minded entrepreneurs establish a social mission of their own. Stick around, and we’ll provide Brian’s phone number at the end of the show so you can connect with him directly.
Brian, welcome to The Lucky Titan podcast!
And Brian's call to action / giveaway:
"BrianRoland.com > text code ""Rules"" to +1 (615) 802-6853 to receive Brian's free Rules of Engagement to help you build a more connected remote team.
Abenity.com > Set up a perks program for your group with code Lucky150 to save $150 off your first month's service"
Josh: What is up everybody, Josh Tapp here again and welcome back to the lucky Titan and today we're here with Brian Roland this guy is the founder of Abenity, it's kind of like a melody with a B took me a minute to figure out the name but this company is growing like crazy, they've been around for over 10 years now it sounds like which by the way, congrats, Brian on that it's a big deal, six times, Inc. 5000. Company, I mean, these guys have really proven their growth and their ability to actually run a 90% remote team or almost 100% remote team, which is nuts with the size of company they are so Brian, excited to have you here, man say what's up to everybody, we'll hop in.
Brian: Thanks, looking forward
Josh: let's do it, man so I want to kind of kick this off with an epiphany moment from you, I want to know kind of what that that moment was that you realize this is this has some legs this idea has some legs and can grow because Abenity was your baby. Right?
Brian: Yeah, yeah, that's that's a great question. Um, I think for me, the epiphany moment you know, there's that leap of faith where it's like you have the idea and you have to share it with somebody I needed to get my brother's buy in because he's the software developer guy as a marketing kind of sales guy and I was he was a surprise he was surprisingly in you know, we're in our young 20s at the time, so he's probably I'm I'm 26, he's 23 he's still getting his master's degree finishing that up, I'm in my first few years and full time job doing sales, I think my first epiphany moment was when I went to I went to the client that I was talking to about having a corporate perks program so we we, we volume, negotiate discounts on everything from pizza and the zoo, to movie tickets, oil changes, car rentals, and hotels for people to offer to their employees as a benefit, we do that for large groups such as US Bank and MasterCard and these big fortune 500 companies all the way down to we have small business plans for less than 150 employees for as low as 150 a month and they all get access to the same the same discounts and we brand those programs to look like the company. And so my epiphany moment was at I remember exactly where I was I was standing in the parking lot on my lunch break at my my current job at the time and talking to a customer and I said hey, you know, we could it's it's a program, perks programs free because that's the model that was kind of out there at the time, now it's not currently our model, we discovered we could add a lot more value for the people by subsidizing by giving the deepest discounts away to the employees we didn't take from backend revenue we give the back end revenue to the employees as savings requires us to charge a low subscription fee to the clients and it allows us to offer deeper discounts than AAA and AARP are offering which makes it a really good value prop for companies but yeah, back in day one, I was kind of like well everybody else is doing it for free so I said you know weekend, it's free to have access to the perks, however, if you want we can put your weekend drop our logo, and just leave your logo only so it's almost white labeled for you and that's just, you know, X dollars a month and I was I was trying to build the value towards just getting the signup and getting the free program and just like encouraging them that there is more value to be had but I was shocked that they jumped in they're like yeah, we'll pay the monthly fee and so that was kind of this first aha moment that it's like okay, so you know, the value here is not only for the employees to have access to all these great savings, but also for the brands, the companies that we're serving to represent the discounts in a way that brings and elevates brand loyalty for their company so that it builds trust with their employees and is driving retention and and all those things that we live in all the time and just kind of this loyalty space that we're in.
Brian: great question.
Josh: Well, it's kind of funny to find that like a lot of times it some people it's you know, the apple hits him on the head and you know, the idea just comes out of nowhere some people it's like what's logical, what's just yes it and I love that.
Brian: Yeah, exactly.
Josh: Like your story is literally that it's it's like, you know what, it just made sense. Yeah, it was a pretty easy, easy sale it seemed like
Brian: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Josh: I think We can all remember that first sale too with a lot of you know, excitement because that was one of those moments where you're like, Okay, it's worth it like people are people are interested. That's Well, that's cool. So I want to ask you this, because I think this has been the two big topics I want to discuss with you, I really like how you built the community, but also you built your team to be a community. How did you attract such a massive community of people to be so interested in what you're doing because, and I don't mean this to be offensive, but it's a pretty unsexy industry, right, the benefits industry. It's like, people are like, yeah, you know, we'll just we'll offer it to our employees, like, how did you build a community around that?
Brian: Yeah, well, that's one reason that we really stick out in this loyalty and benefits kind of space is we're not, we're not selling insurance, we're not an insurance provider, we partner with brokers and other folks to do that so you know, a lot of the HR folks that we sit down with, you know, they're come we're coming to talk to them about hey, you know, here's we got free chips and a drink at every quiznos for your people this year, we got 30% off at Papa John's free people this year, we've got 15% of oil changes at Jiffy Lube this year, you know, did the Disneyland discount just went up by another percentage point or two, which now we're offering e tickets at Six Flags, so your people can have your logo on a ticket they take straight in, you know, so we're always talking about things that are kind of that are pretty entertainment driven, you know, we kind of call our space entertainment benefits, because we're heavily focused in those recreational things that people are doing but the yeah, the really, from there, we have a fully distributed team, fully remote team have been doing that since day one and for us, you know, we didn't, we didn't expect it to become this way but on day one, my brother and I started really a social mission with our business where we defined an output to a cause for every input into the business and, you know, we pick the biggest thing we could think of at the time, which was extreme poverty and extreme poverty is, you know, you think about poverty and you're like, I mean, that's a big deal. And it's a big problem but extreme poverty is, you know, kids who are walking five miles for their family to get water for the day or two and because of that, they're not able to go to school, and the water is not clean so they're still getting sick and the parents are deciding which of their kids, they can feed today, that that's extreme poverty, that still affects about 500 million people worldwide and so it's a big problem and the United Nations kind of has it scoped out to eradicate it by the year 2030 so we're 10 years in, we get 10 years left and it's a pretty exciting thing to be chasing after so that gave my brother and me a motivation that was outside of our business to fight for and as we built our team, and communicated to our team members about this, we were really interested to see that they were equally as passionate about having a cause outside of the brand to fight for and get excited about and with that, that really not only aligned us aligned our why as a company, but it created this shared purpose as a team and then that shared purpose started kind of oozing out around on the people around our people so it hit mark and hit our merchant partners and our suppliers, it touched our clients, it you know, it makes it all the way down to the members in some cases, and that really formed this community and we're registering around 1500 new members every single day in our program from the companies we serve and so this community started really forming a bond around around what we're doing and what we were most surprised to find after all of this was that it gave us a competitive advantage in our space and, and instead of just an apples to apples comparison, it made us very different and made us stand out in our space, it made us stand for more and that made us really attractive to a lot of companies that chose to use our services and something we're really serious about and as of last year, we just crossed over $1 million of direct giving towards that cause directly from that same formula that we created a decade ago so that was a really exciting thing.
Josh: that's a huge, huge deal, I mean, most companies who do that, even the massive ones don't even past that point a lot of times you know, it just kind of reminds me you know, your story is like That Tom's right are these ones where it really is directly tied to a social cost I think gives a lot more people, enough of a feel good but I want to play devil's advocate here a little bit with you. How do you how do you keep from, how do you keep that from making you look like a nonprofit and feeling like people are you almost have to ask for donations instead of sales. How do you how do you bridge that?
Brian: Yeah. So the social mission is really just a public service announcement, it's like, this is what we stand for, this is what we're doing. You know, and then we try to just walk the talk kind of thing and so, you know, when you're, when you're going through a demo, and looking at our program, we talked about the product all the way through, and at the very end, it's Oh, by the way, we want you to know that we care about more than just perks, we believe perks are about people and we, you know, whether you're an orphan in the developing world, or an employee at a fortune 500 company, we want people to know they're valuable, what they do matters, they can make a difference and so that's kind of the last slide that just kind of hangs there and it's not a call to action, it's not anything, it's this, this is what we're doing and then, you know, we were just very consistent with it and I think that's what a social mission requires, is this consistency that builds trust, with the constituents on either side of the equation and, and that just leads to this the community. You know, at the end of the year, we, we let our our, we partner with a group called worldvision, to kind of funnel all the support, and they have an annual catalog of like handcrafted artisan gifts and so we we let all of our clients choose a gift from the catalog that we pay for, for them, that worldvision ships to them, it gives them a takeaway, it brings them into the mission, we're not asking them for anything, we're just grateful for their support of our brand and our services and, and we take it from there and and you know, I think there are many, many nonprofits that should be for profits, there are many nonprofits that should be social enterprises, we because many nonprofits, and I know the founders of several are just started by great entrepreneurs, they're great starters and they're fighting after a cause but the end game for any great entrepreneur and a nonprofit is a full time fundraising job, because they're not building a sustainable model that grows the company and if they're really successful, then they built a really big organization that requires a lot of support and the person that everybody wants to hear from to fundraise that support is the founder in you have to make a huge leap to get to the size of nonprofit where it's not founder driven fundraising and so that's, that's a hard path and I try to encourage as many people as I can that have an an altruistic idea to say, hey, you know, find a way to support your idea with a sustainable kind of for profit model, it'll pay off in the long run,
Josh: right yeah, and I completely agree with that. It's, it's interesting to watch a lot of people go, that nonprofit route is almost like a holier than thou thing but unfortunately, they go from a mission driven organization to just a fundraising organization, and their cause gets lost in the fundraising, it's kind of sad to watch that were in a case like yours, like, Hey, we're a for profit business, but we're taking a percentage of our cash to put towards this to make sure that it's solving.
Brian: yeah, absolutely
Josh: and in million dollars, right a lot of nonprofits will never even hit that and donations.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, it's, and it takes time, it took us 10 years, and it was just all about consistency at one thing, so I kind of, I went back and I created a one page document called the impact plan, just it's kind of the five areas that people should think about if they're thinking about putting together a social mission of their own and just and because the big idea here is you can be very generous, but not but you're leaving a lot of impact on the table, if you're just waiting till the end of the year, and you're cutting your check to whatever group you decide to support and you're you know, you're supporting different groups along the way and because if you're doing that you're you're very generous, but you don't really have a story to tell to share with others, you can't really rally other people around it and get behind it and so when you focus your generosity around a social mission, that consistency builds a lot of trust and gives you something that gives you a lot of momentum that you can use to drive to drive that mission forward and that's really the difference I believe, and a social enterprise and just, you know, kind of generosity as a founder or corporate social responsibility where you're just trying to check a box to, you know, make sure the community feels good about what you're doing
Josh: right, I mean, it's like you're saying it's almost like interwoven into what you're doing. It doesn't have to be like the entire purpose of what you're doing.
Brian: Yep. Yeah, exactly.
Josh: So so for you, you know, we talked about you kind of touched on this a little bit, but you've been running this team remotely, right and you have a large company and so I want to know, how you're effectively managing those people, you've written articles on this and everything as well but I want to know, like, how you're scaling quickly but on top of that, how you're managing that that growth?
Brian: Yeah, well, that's a great question so I was in the fortunate position a year and a half ago, February 2020, to be able to hire a CEO to take over and run our business and promoted our CEO to President and that really set set us up for kind of this next level, where we're intentionally exiting this kind of entrepreneurial environment in favor of the kind of more mature growth oriented company that we've become and I said, Hey, guys, your first, your first task is to go global, manage a global pandemic, like good luck, because that just swept in run shortly after these new roles, that was a lot of fun and, you know, for us to get where we are, I wrote an article on my BrianRoland.com website called stop sending internal emails and the kind of the big idea of a fully remote team is that you need to have a certain set of rules and engagement for communicating, you know, being fully remote requires a lot of trust and respect on both sides and so that's really important to obtain and so gaining that trust is not just easy, you don't extend the trust without good reason to extend it and so we are in the habit of as far as possible, hiring within two to three degrees of separation of any existing team member first and, you know, when you're not limited by geography, that's a pretty big talent pool, you know, if you if you think, you know, the average person's got a couple 100, Facebook friends, you know, times 30 people that you're working with, and their spouses that they're working with, that, you know, you you've got 1000 people pretty quickly that are way more than that, that's in this talent pool and so the big idea is, hire people that have an affinity for your organization already so they're in close contact with you and that builds this foundation of trust and respect, the next big idea when managing a remote team is very counterintuitive in the business world and that's essentially me coming to you and saying, Josh, for you to be successful working here, I need you to make sure that you're prioritizing your personal life, over your work life, are you going to be able to do that effectively and you're going to be like, sorry, it sounded like you just said, prioritize my life over prioritize work, I was like, yeah, that's what I said because if if your life doesn't, you're working from home, in your environment, only you have jurisdiction over your own environment and if you can't have control over your own environment, you're not going to be able to get done what I need you to get done and so that means I need to trust you and respect you enough to let you manage your time effectively, which means if you need to do a bus run to the bus stop in the afternoon to go pick up some kids and that takes 30 minutes away from folks and across different time zones. It's slightly awkward or inconvenient. It's like we just have to deal with that because that's what that's what it takes for you to be healthy and that and so that's the next biggest piece is this kind of your life takes precedent over work life, because nothing else works, if it doesn't, from there, these rules of engagement for remote teams are really important and that's where this will stop sending internal emails headline comes from, we haven't sent an internal email in a decade, the big idea here is use the right communications channels so you know, you don't need to send emails to your team, you need a chat manager for quick questions, you know, if you need somebody to do something for you, you need a task manager like an Asana or something like that, if if you can't get your quick questions, figured out from the task with a quick with a quick chat well, you need to do something very traditional and pick up the phone and talk to them and, and I recommend picking up the phone and taking a walk like do that, one thing that I think is highly effective for leaders is with remote teams is to do what I call No, no agenda phone calls so once a month, once every other month, once a quarter, as we got bigger, you know, we put more time in between them, it was just a no agenda call. Sometimes there are less than five minutes, sometimes there are 45 minutes, but you have to realize you mostly only talk to your people when there's a problem and so you you've got to break that cycle and so you got to talk to people when they're you're not putting out fires, so you can figure out what's really going on and make sure they're in a healthy spot, video conferencing, you know, zoom fatigue is real, like you are for sure, my brain right now is working twice as hard as it should because, you know, I see you but my brains like he's not physically there and so somewhere in there, I'm spending a lot more energy reconciling the fact that you're not really in front of me, but you are in front of me and and you feel that when you do a lot of these video meetings so keep phone calls, phone calls, as much as possible when you have multiple people involved, go ahead and make it video because that's helpful for multiple people but I'm not all for video all the time and I'm very much against text messaging, I've learned this one the hard way but text messaging is extremely disruptive to your workflow to your your work life balance, you know, a lot of sales folks love to give out their phone number for text messaging, that's great when things are great but when things go bad, somebody has a direct line of interruption straight to you and you don't want that and if text messaging is important for you to pull off your roll, and I agree that it's as a lot of advantages for getting things done, or invest in a second phones so you can leave that phone at home when you're when you're not working so that you're not constantly disrupted by the people that aren't worried about your office hours and so those are kind of simple rules of engagement and again, I've got a one page guide for those, if I can, I'd love to give out a number they can text to get my one page rules of engagement,
Josh: yeah, please do.
Brian: And my one page impact plan. So if you'd like either one of those, enter the phone, my phone number area code 615-802-6853, text the word rules there and you'll immediately get a PDF back when my rules of engagement, text word impacts to get my one page impact plan and it is not lost on me that I just gave a great sermon on not sending text messages and I am now asking you to text me, this is a community platform that's like a social media deal that automates it and kicks it back and helps me build relationships without interrupting that flow and like I said, like I said, have us have a separate device as a separate channel for managing tech, nobody can argue text messages powerful and really good, it just needs to be managed so managing community is a great platform that helps you manage that as
Josh: well. Yeah, they've done a great job with that platform so make sure you you text that over the number 615-802-6853 make sure you guys text him and get access to those and Brian, just to kind of wrap up this interview with a beautiful bow, could you give us one final parting piece of guidance for our audience?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. I Man, I think my best advice for entrepreneurs because it gets hard things happen that you don't expect to happen and you really need to position your why why am I motivated to show up to work every day, you need to shift that from inside your business, from inside yourself from inside your family, from inside, you got to get it out of all those things, because all those things are gonna let you down at some point and this is the big idea of the impact plan and having a social mission is you need to have something you're fighting for that's outside of those things so that when you know when when times get tough, when we're talking about we're talking about legal issues that come up at work, when you lose a key employee, when you've got a broken relationship, like all those things are major D motivators, they create anxiety and stuff in your life, like you need to have something up here these picture frames behind me are about a third of the kids that we sponsor through World Vision, you know something is like look if I stop trying You know these kids won't continue to get the support from us that they are and so that's the best advice I can give folks in starting a social missions the the best way I found to do it.
Josh: I love that and thanks so much for that Brian, I think that's such an awesome way to really just end this interview and I don't want to ask you I just want to say to everybody here really that you know if you are looking for help providing benefits to your your company as well but also for supporting such an awesome mission, make sure that you head over to abenity.com he actually gave you all a discount code to to get $150 off. So that's basically a free month to use their service, which is pretty cool and the code is lucky150 so make sure you go over there and check that out and also if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and rate this podcast and we'll talk to y'all soon, thanks, Brian.
Brian: Thank you