B Corp framework helps software consultancy realize a profitable purpose
How and why would a stressed start-up embed generosity into the company from its earliest days? And now, with 30% average growth and nearly 100 people, what are the key aspects that keep it humming?
Our CEO Deep Dive with software consultancy Ad Victoriam Solutions’ Jeff Jones has plenty of insight for companies of all sizes, tackling B Corp as a framework for their purpose over profit that pays off.
From gutsy launch to double-digit growth: Ad Victoriam Solutions’ origin story.
It’s been interesting to see how the organization becomes different with each growth phase, more people and clients impact the dynamic, but we’ve always valued purpose over profit and it has paid off.
My co-founder, Brian Mize, and I were working at different firms and both saw the Salesforce solutions opportunity clearly. He told me if I’d quit my job, he’d quit his. So, I resigned as President of my firm and then he had to go tell his wife! As President, I was ethically compelled to quit that company without doing any foundational work on the new idea, which was hard.
We knew from the beginning we wanted to create a firm that was different from all the other consulting firms we’d seen. As a services firm, our people are the most important thing; we knew we wanted to hire and keep the very best people.
The first eight months were rough. I think we had one sale. And the first two or three years were 24/7, seven days a week. But now we’re achieving steady double-digit growth and have nearly 100 employees.
Why did you choose to become a Certified B Corporation, and what can other businesses learn from that?
We’ve always measured and valued purpose as a way to solve what was wrong about other consulting firms. We valued communications, enabling the team and taking great care of them, giving them volunteer time off, and making decisions on suppliers that address environmental concerns.
The B Corp movement has identified and set standards for overall social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. We found that we liked these standards as a framework to implement for ourselves. Then, in January of 2016, when we were only about eight employees, we went to the Net Impact Club in UGA’s MBA program and the students helped us measure and implement the practices we would need to eventually gain certification. And we were recently recertified, which you have to do every three years.
We find that by holding these standards as our guardrails, maintaining ongoing measures, we stay true to our intentions… and the resulting recertification doesn’t require a hard scramble.
What are three key recommendations that you would advise others to consider for success?
I’d say start implementing purpose as early as possible. It’s easier to scale up as you grow, and helps you retain superior talent. We still have most of the senior leaders we hired in the very beginning, so the value is clear. Stay with it. It’s not easy but trust the process and continually iterate for the health of the business.
Do a lot of listening to your people. You can’t please all people all the time, and the adage “No good deed goes unpunished” is true. So, you want to know what they’re thinking and valuing to guide your work. Make and communicate choices that are right for the good of the whole team.
I’d also say that having an internal person responsible for culture and also with business acumen who can grow into a role with the company has been vital for us. We hired Nathan Stuck, who’s now our Director of Corporate Culture, out of the UGA MBA program. At first, he had essentially two jobs because he was running operations while also contributing to this effort out of passion. His business acumen is key because you need someone who brings recommendations that are realistic for your company; there’s no purpose without profit! As the company grew over time, his operational duties shrank, and his time spent accountable to our culture and purpose grew.
How do your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) impact daily decisions?
We have three main KPIs we keep front and center.
Community involvement. Volunteerism and pro bono work are some of the most important things to our staff, so we’re active with allowing them time off, and bringing them opportunities to volunteer as they wish.
Staff diversity. We’re proud of our conscious work to attract women into the firm and into leadership roles, and we’re working to ensure our staff better reflects the racial diversity of the community.
Influencing our industry. We’re working on helping achieve broader diversity in the tech industry, working with Goodwill of North Georgia to train up people for tech careers, for example. And providing varying forms of support (curriculum, resume workshops, donations…) for HYPE (Hope for Youth by Providing Education) and HBCUForce. We even pressured our office complex to install and implement a robust recycling program for the property.
Thoughts on ROI?
You don’t do this for ROI, but you find it. For example, we kept salaries in place during the global pandemic and recession, and let profit be hurt. But now we’re fully staffed up and ramping up big client growth with ease.
Don’t look for a 1-to-1 ROI, but as the organization and its efforts grow, you can feel the investment paying off in many ways. And our EBITDA is better by percentage points.