Lena Requist – COO of ONTRAPORT

[quote style=”boxed”]I’d take more time off. Actually, for the first time in my entire career, I took two weeks off and, for seven of those days, I disconnected the Internet. That was just superb.[/quote]

Lena Requist established herself as a powerful force in business before joining ONTRAPORT as COO in 2009. Her background in corporate finance and business development has helped grow the ONTRAPORT organization 5,000 percent, landing ONTRAPORT at No. 102 on the 2012 Inc. 500 list. Lena has a passion for helping female entrepreneurs and is the founder of a virtual Women in Business group, where empowered women can share their strengths, struggles, and triumphs.

What does your typical day look like?

Our work at ONTRAPORT is divided into two categories: business maintenance and projects. Every single member of our team is allocated three hours a day for projects that help grow our business and departments, as well as organize us and optimize our organization. Ideally, they’re projects that speak to people’s unique skills sets and talents.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Anyone in our organization can submit an idea. We maintain an email address for team members’ pitches; our system creates a ticket for each email.

As part of the pitch, submitters have to answer four questions: What’s the challenge or opportunity? What difference is this going to make to the organization? Is this a one-time project or an ongoing project? What kind of resources would you need to implement it, and how long do you think it will take?

Every Monday, we hold managers’ meetings, where all the department heads get together to talk about resources and get information for the week, and in that meeting, we review all the pitches that were submitted the previous week.

The submitters’ answers to the four questions give the managers an idea of what these projects entail and whether or not we should move forward with them. From there, we flesh them out a bit more. For all of our projects, we write a detailed directive, which is a one-page summary that includes timelines and milestones.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m seeing a movement toward a self-directed management style in business. Everybody who comes to work at ONTRAPORT is really motivated and engaged; they know they can essentially do anything they want as long as they’re providing value and making a difference. It’s really fun when you have employees excited about the business and striving to come up with new ways to help your organization.
I think it’s a really cool way to harness the power of the human spirit and also create a fun, exciting place to work.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was a cocktail waitress for exactly two days! I am so considerate and generous toward people who work in the restaurant and hospitality industries because they get all sorts of requests and complaints. It’s really hard to make everybody happy.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’d take more time off. Actually, for the first time in my entire career, I took two weeks off and, for seven of those days, I disconnected the Internet. That was just superb.

Being offline for a week was an exercise in giving up control. It caused me a bit of anxiety, but in the end, I felt reinvigorated and recharged. I had a completely fresh perspective on the organization. It was really amazing to allow my team the opportunity to solve problems for themselves and rise to the occasion.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I follow a schedule every day. If I don’t have my time organized in a particular way, where I’m working on these projects here and doing these things at this time, I’m honestly a little useless. I’d pick and choose random things to work on that weren’t the most important or most effective use of my time.

So I create and follow a schedule and get a ton done. When I leave the office, I leave the office. It’s really nice to put work behind you, knowing you got done what you needed to.

What is one failure you had as a business leader and how did you overcome it?

I’ve made many mistakes where I’ve cost businesses a few thousand dollars. For instance, I’ve hired the wrong people.

In business, the most important thing to remember when these failures or mistakes happen is that nobody’s going to die. Business is not brain surgery. It’s business, and it’s really easy to recover. You have to focus on getting back up on the horse immediately and learning.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’m starting to see a return to the old-school customer service approach, where you meet with clients face-to-face and mail out beautiful products and paper goods to show appreciation to clients. I’ve noticed a really amazing return to service, and I think a company designed to be experience-focused could really capitalize on the current marketplace. Offering an exceptional customer service experience for companies — that’s a really great business idea. I’d hire that company.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would change our educational system. The modern educational system was created back in the Industrial Age by leaders of industry, like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford, with the intention of creating a nation of assembly-line workers. They thought America didn’t need more free thinkers or philosophers.

Unfortunately, after a couple of generations of that, America was left with subpar training and education; people left high school and even universities without any translatable skills. They didn’t know how to think for themselves, and employers were left with the job of teaching them how to think about problems and how to create a framework for conversation.

I would fix this by creating an educational system that includes conceptual learning — taking a theory and applying it — as well as practical learning. I would then have the students teach that skill or theory to the generation or grade following. For example, if you’re learning how to read in second grade, you would go to a kindergarten class and work with those students to teach them the alphabet.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I’m a good beatboxer.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Jing: It’s a free app that takes screenshots and also records videos. It’s much easier to show a visual representation — with notes — than to try to explain a design concept verbally.
Wistia: This is a video-hosting facility that tracks how many times someone’s watched your video and when. For example, we can track and see that nobody watches a video if it’s longer than three minutes. That’s very useful information.
Smartsheet: This is an amazing, really inexpensive project management tool. We use it in our business for managing bigger quarterly projects.

We have a list of to-dos on it, and contributors can update it. They can attach documents to it, share links, and make comments. It offers reporting with reminders, which is really fun.

What is the one book you recommend our community should read and why?

Les McKeown’s book, “Predictable Success,” spells out the three main archetypes in business. It clarifies who is who, identifies the problems you face with each archetype, and explains how to overcome those challenges in order to establish a successful business. I’ll read anything Les writes.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I saw this quote the other day that said, “Have you ever noticed that when you’re tired, everyone else is stupid?” I laughed out loud because that is so true.

Who is your hero, and why?

I have people I look up to, but there’s no person I want to be just like. I look up to Audrey Hepburn in terms of her grace and commitment to philanthropy. I look up to Marie Forleo for being authentic with who she is and what she’s trying to accomplish in her life and business.

What’s the most unusual business practice you have in your company?

We have three hours of silence a day throughout our company. We focus on the most important creative projects for our business. Email goes down, instant messaging is shut off, the phones are silent, nobody’s talking, and we’re just working on our most creative projects for three hours.

What do you eat for dinner?

I eat popcorn and dirty martinis for dinner. I know it’s not the best habit in the world, but I love it, and it’s light. I usually get home from work so late that I don’t want to eat a heavy meal unless I’m going out.


Lena on Twitter: @ontraport
Lena on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/lena-requist/8/358/9b6
Lena on Google+: