Ray Grainger – Founder and CEO of Mavenlink

Early morning coffee, getting outside, and getting exercise are the best ways to get my ideas flowing.

Ray Grainger is the Founder and CEO of Mavenlink, where he is leading the mission to reinvent the way businesses do work. He has dedicated his career to helping clients succeed, and brings over 25 years of experience in software and high technology consulting to Mavenlink. Ray began his career at Accenture, where he spent 17 years honing his expertise in professional services management as Global Managing Partner.

Where did the idea for Mavenlink come from?

I initially had the idea for Mavenlink more than twenty years ago, following years of client service work as a Global Managing Partner at Accenture. My time there instilled in me that great service delivery required having access to experts, a knowledge base, and talents linked across networks. However, it was a different time, and the tools and methodology to deliver services looked radically different than they do now. Once the internet became a widespread tool, the services industry experienced a major shift. People were suddenly traveling less, able to leverage other firms’ expertise, and work with multiple clients at once. These changes required new tools. I saw the need for a digital infrastructure that would enable firms to better facilitate the management and mobilization of resources, access specific skills and resources needed on demand, and allow organizations to expand their talent networks across the globe. The great enabler was new technology that has profoundly impacted how people, ideas, and systems connect. When SaaS emerged as the new business model of the 21st century, along with the social web, it was clear this was the right time to introduce the concept of a single, digital infrastructure for the $3 trillion services industry, and help change the way the world conducts business.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

We are doing business with people all over the world, so my typical day starts at 6 A.M. and ends at midnight. But it’s not all work. I believe flexibility is key to managing a rapidly growing business, and that means having a happy personal life. Luckily, technology today makes it easy to have both. That wasn’t always the case.

To make it productive, I believe that communication is the key. Things are moving so fast that you have to stay connected, and communication is the glue. I start every day with a standup with my cofounders, followed by a standup with the management team. This way, we can all lay out expectations, and then go about our day with the same goals in mind. It’s also a good time to express if you need help breaking down any roadblocks you are experiencing.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I do a lot of ideating on the weekends. Early morning coffee, getting outside, and getting exercise are the best ways to get my ideas flowing. There is just too much going on during the week to come up with ideas, so, Saturday mornings are often my favorite time for ideation. It’s about funding alone time to let the ideas flow. Oh, and airplanes. There’s something about a flight that makes you want to brainstorm.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I am really excited about is what is often referred to as AI. There is enough research and examples of AI in business applications that we can envision a near future enhanced by this technology — and it’s more predictive, insightful, with unimaginable productivity levels. It’s also going to make business applications so much better to use. It’s completely transformational.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am always thinking in terms of systems. I was a systems engineer by education and was deeply ingrained in systems integration for more than 20 years while at Accenture. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to build a scalable company, and I believe the most effective way to do this is through systems.

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

One of my first jobs was delivering flowers for Armstrong Garden. I was only 16 years old, and on the very first day on the job I crashed the delivery truck. When I came in on my second day and had to tell the managers about the crash, I learned the power of having integrity in business. I was young, no one really expected me to be honest, and I learned that if you own up to your mistakes, that is the best you can do.

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

The one thing I would’ve changed is the timing of when we launched Mavenlink. Only months before the start of the 2008 recession, we decided it would be a good time to get this thing started. We had to really bootstrap and stretch our seed capital thin to support us through those early years during the recession. This forced us to be overly cautious, and I wonder how that affected our early stages of growth business. On the flip side, financial responsibility is a really important quality helping to drive our success today.

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

Talk straight. Get your head out of the sand. Communicate.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Early partnerships. As an entrepreneur, you quickly learn that as an individual, you are a very limited resource. Look towards partners to begin your journey. Who compliments you? Who is aligned with your business goals? There is no better way to start your growth than by standing on the shoulders of a giant.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

It’s not necessarily a failure, more of a learning, but I believe that we could’ve — and should’ve— started to monetize the business earlier. We were overly cautious. We didn’t start really charging until more than 2 years in.

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

I believe we need more transparency in the hiring process, something like a Glassdoor in reverse. People spend lots of time trying to hire the right person. I believe this has the potential to elevate the workforce tremendously.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I just got The Nest Learning Thermostat which isn’t exactly $100, but with the rebate I was sent back, it’s pretty close! This thermostat uses smart technology to learn your energy preferences to reduce spend. Within the first month, I was able to cut my electricity bill in half. Most importantly it reminded me how easy consumer technology is today. I got one for my father, and he was able to get it up and started within minutes. Consumers have these same expectations for their business technology. As an industry, B2B technologists need to think how to make things simple, how to create great integrations, and just make things work right out of the box. I didn’t expect to have that revelation when I bought the nest, but it has completely inspired me.

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

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins. It’s just one of the best.


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