Things We Love: Getting it Great with a Service-First Approach
Our CEO, Sue Thaden, gives her personal account of the years of experience and innovation that built From Now On.
Sue Thaden is the CEO and founder of two thriving businesses. She is a mother to three daughters, and a wife to a former varsity high school basketball and football coach. As a business leader, Sue is quick to find humor in the little things, a lover of lists, a firm believer in a service-first mentality and a proven sales pro. In a light and entertaining Q&A -- the first installment of our series #ThingsWeLove -- our CEO shares her journey and her vision for From Now On.
AS: Talk about your personal background. How did it serve you as a would-be business owner?
ST: As the fifth of seven kids. I've always been very confident, very driven and motivated. I got a paper route in fifth or sixth grade, became a hostess in a restaurant and eventually a waitress. I love leaving my customers happy, and I love the ability to see the results of great service and hustle. That’s still the person I am today, and that service mentality has helped me succeed and kept it fun through the duration of my career -- as a salesperson and a business leader!
AS: Client Resources Inc (CRi) was your first entrepreneurial success. How did you build the company?
ST: I was in sales for an IT staffing firm that was going through a significant transition, and I saw the opportunity. I had just turned thirty, had one child. I bought Business Plans for Dummies, and was fortunate to find four investors and raised about $350,000. My husband decreased his hours, so things worked out nicely for us. I learned from many great mentors, reading books, watching other people. The staffing business is a straight forward, beautiful business.
AS: Describe your unique leadership style.
ST: I am a curious, green and growing, do what’s right kind of person. Steve Jobs’ quote, “find smart people, hire them, and then trust them to do their job,” has always felt right to me. So when we are lucky to attract great people, like Delana Rauterkus who heads up our product development group or Tori Young our Managing Director at CRi. They always deliver high-quality work that leaves our customers and team happy. We all stress the importance of delivering outstanding service, every single day.
AS: What defines company culture at CRi and FNO?
ST: As part of our employee onboarding, every new employee reads the book Inside the Magic Kingdom by Tom Connellan. Reading this book prompts our ‘front-stage backstage’ training. Front-stage backstage is about building a team that understands how to provide service that is above and beyond expectations, and being able to execute their work in a way that leaves the unnecessary elements ‘backstage.’ This concept is applied daily -- in our meetings, our training webinars, in everything we do. That’s what we strive for here, and it’s something that I firmly believe in. We spend a lot of time being specific about what that means in our company.
AS: How did “Get It Great!” come to be the motto for your companies?
ST: When we first started Client Resources, Inc. in 1999, I felt we needed a simple motto to help us make fast, people-related decisions. So we started with the saying “get it great!” It’s kind of a “be generous” mentality where we want our team to go above and beyond in their efforts. The team really took to it, and we launched with a GiG logo that has stuck ‘til today.
AS: How does the GIG motto serve your business and your customers?
ST: I believe that all people want to be part of a winning culture. Whether they are employed by CRi or FNO, every day you hear our staff say, ‘way to GiG!,’ or ‘we have visitors today, let’s all GiG for them!’ It’s simple, very special and everyone gets behind it. In my role, I love getting it great for the internal team at CRi/FNO and for our clients, partners and fans. Each day, we say ‘lets get it great’ for each other, for our schools and for their fans. We GiG for our clients and our candidates so that they can GiG too. It just makes sense!
AS: What are some of your passion projects?
ST: I am so passionate about my family, my husband and daughters -- the self-proclaimed “sisterhood” -- we dedicate time to community service. It’s shocking how many are in need. We are involved in a local center that provides food, clothing, health care and a way forward to people severely affected by poverty in the Omaha area. Every year, a group of us from CRi/FNO serves others through this organization as well. It’s a great way to give back and keep things in perspective.
AS: How do you demonstrate leadership in the community on behalf of CRi & FNO?
ST: IT workforce in this country is something that’s very important to me -- for women and for everyone. I helped launch an initiative in Omaha led by University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) College of Information Sciences & Technology called Code Crush. This initiative brings IT career awareness to 8th and 9th grade females and their teachers. At a national level, I am currently the Chair of Government affairs for a group in DC, TechServe Alliance, we work hard to keep elected officials aware of the shortage in IT workforce in the United States in effort to stimulate programs, immigration and awareness.
AS: How have you been able to evolve and stay relevant over the years?
ST: I listen to smart people and read a lot. I talk to business owners that are ten steps ahead of where I am and try to learn from them. Lists are a favorite thing of mine. I have always written things down in list form -- goals, ideas, plans. As I keep adding to them, they get clearer over time. I am always looking for the roles that will help us do better, partners that will add incremental value to our offering, and when the time is right, I bring those people in and trust their expertise. We are fortunate to have employees innovating, which is why we started the CRi Innovation Lab in 2014.
AS: What is the CRi Innovation Lab?
ST: In CRi we have an active Innovation Lab. How it works is team members pitch ideas and projects they want to work on. It has to be emerging technology and either good for our clients or good for our community. If the project gets approved, they draft team members to join the project. They get 4 hours a month of innovation “GiG” time to work on the project. We have launched many great things out of this lab -- some internal tools and some external products.
AS: How did From Now On -- your second venture -- come to be a reality?
ST: In 2015, outside our office windows, UNO was building a new $80 million dollar sports facility. Our innovation team had just developed a mobile platform, rich with notifications, geofencing and wayfinding technology. We pitched the product to UNO as a way of engaging their fans in a whole new way as they opened the new facility. As UNO said YES!, we pulled the platform out of CRi and incorporated From Now On. We named the platform FanX, and we have been fortunate to GiG for college athletic departments, professional sports teams, high school teams, conferences, events, venues and bowl games since then.
AS: What is your dream for From Now On and FanX?
ST: As we speak, we have over 70 schools on the platform. Together with our current and future customers, we are focused on making FanX THE gameday app of college athletics -- fueling fan experiences that are second to none. I love college sports and creating great experiences. I really love the idea that we can help a school generate revenue and improve the fan experience at the same time. Schools are rich with amazing tradition and are doing so many great things around athletics. We provide the mobile communication platform to further communicate all the amazing things they are doing. I think we can help impact the issues of student engagement and student retention by delivering a great product that allows athletic departments to communicate through the channel students prefer -- mobile. As we expand, we want FanX to become the bar -- the mobile platform that everyone in college sports recognizes.
AS: What makes FanX different from other apps that serve college athletics?
ST: When we look at our product roadmap, we always prioritize the items that are good for both our schools AND their fans. Our schools and conferences tell us every day that the FanX push notifications and the ability to personalize the app are big differentiators for them. We are providing college athletic departments - and their university marketing teams - a way to consolidate what is currently a fragmented experience for students, alumni and fans. It brings all of their communication channels onto one platform, and their current processes remain unaffected because we layer their partners and processes into the app. FanX is very flexible that way, and we seek to expand the product suite as we grow with new features like FanX Rewards, which we launched last August.
AS: What are the next big things on the horizon for From Now On?
ST: We are focused on creating amazing experiences through maintaining mobile products that are easy to use, scalable and that allow us to continue to GiG for our customers. New features like FanX Reality and FanX Plus are direct responses to our customer needs and the direction of the sports and entertainment industry. Our FanX Connector Program -- new this summer -- allows for outside integrations with companies like Ticketmaster, CUE Audio and Experience to name a few. We’re green and growing, and the future is bright!
Amie Sheridan @amie_sheridan is a content strategist serving sports tech startups.