New Ventures for Our Founder Rod Williams
New Ventures for Our Founder Rod Williams
CorporateLodging.com’s Founder, Rod Williams, is making waves with his entrepreneurial spirit and ground breaking ideas. In Q4 of 2016 Rod sold his interests in OilfieldLodging.com in order to pursue new ventures with an entirely new team. Not only does Corporate Lodging have some great news, but founder Rod has also launched a new company called SeniorLivingSearch.com. Senior Living Search will be providing referral and placements of adults age 55 and over in North America and in Canada. We sat down with Rod to discuss the new business and get the scoop on his new company, the impetus that spawned the idea, and the team behind it. You can read the conversation that the interviewer (LeeC) had with him below.
LeeC: Hey Rod, it’s good to see you today. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing the last six months since you sold your previous venture, oilfieldlodging.com?
Rod: After selling Oilfield Lodging, the first few months were dedicated solely to spending as much time as possible with my 3 1/2-year-old and my wife. Admittedly, I’m not inclined to sitting around without much to do, so often I woke up thinking, “What is my next business move?” as well as brainstorming when I found myself waking up in the mornings with a slightly ‘bored’ feeling. I like solving problems, and I wanted to help people by doing something that matters, or at least make a difference in my or someone else’s day. Those first few months were relaxing of course, but as of late I’ve been dealing with trying to find a good senior living facility for my mother. Unfortunately, many of us in our 40s and 50s right now are dealing with the same query/question, “where are our parents going to live next?”
In December I started talking with an industry expert from the senior living industry. We spoke in depth about the problems that he sees in the industry today, especially with the placement firms. While in looking for a place for my own parents, I started speaking to sales managers at the different communities and asking questions- what the problems were, what they’d like help with, what could make the industry better etc. So, the last four months I’ve been performing my due diligence and talking with the experts, and thoroughly enjoying being able to play with my son daily.
LeeC: How did you decide that this was it- and made you choose Senior Living Search as your next business?
Rod: Here’s what led me down the path initially; I started calling different senior living communities in Conroe and Austin, Texas, and other surrounding areas. I found a company that operated as a search service for senior living facilities and as soon as I gave them my contact information, they sent it out to about 20 different senior living communities. My phone blew up for six weeks and I got emails all day every day. It was ridiculous. So, after that ordeal I thought to myself, I could do a better job than this company. I’m not going to release anybody’s information and we can deal directly with the communities to book viewings and tours when someone is interested. Simple as that.
LeeC: Yikes, that’s a whole lot of calls and emails to deal with. Can you give us a little bit of insight on your research into the current state of senior living and the industry as a whole?
Rod: One of the first things I always do when I’m starting a new company is look at the business or market place and find a niche. I start by asking, “Where are people going and finding limited solutions?” Of course, if you can be the solution, or that specific solution, it’s worth digging deeper. The kind of research we needed covered a lot of things: What’s the market cap? What is the competition? How much is the entry point? What are the legal blocks? What software will I need? Is it available?
It’s a lot of data, and a lot of work. Fortunately, I’m working with an incredible new team that I met over the last couple years here in Austin. I’ve also had incredible guidance through my EO group.
LeeC: Could you explain what “EO” is?
Rod: EO stands for Entrepreneurs Organization. It’s a group that operates globally around the world, and of course in this beautiful entrepreneurial city of Austin, we have about 159 CEOs as members.
LeeC: Sounds like a pretty helpful network! With the niche- that’s something I’ve never done before, but I bet it narrows down all that research work and helps you find your footing a little more quickly. Now, let’s spend some more time on this new team that you’re talking about, how did you go about building it?
Rod: Well as anyone with kids can probably tell you, having my son home during the day made it fairly difficult to get anything done at the house. I didn’t need- or want for that matter- to go sign an office lease, but I needed to get out of the house (laughs). I was in the middle of reading Gino Wickman’s book Traction, and with each section I was scolding myself for the blunders and mistakes I made with my last company. Some I realized, like culture, were things that needed more time and attention, while others were time I had just made a bad call, plain and simple.
The first thing I wanted to focus on was culture. In order to develop a healthy culture of my own, I had to figure out what businesses have a good culture- one that I would want to emulate. I found that all companies that build co-working spaces (like WeWork, Galvanize, and Industrious) all focus on Great Culture. The key components to Traction were about vision, people, data, dealing with issues, building business processes and tracking. You’d think it comes natural to entrepreneurs but it didn’t with me. If I had been dealing with the Traction methodology- also called EOS or Entrepreneurs operating system- I wouldn’t have encountered some of the issues we had as a startup.
Bottom line, I started searching for offices with great culture paired with cool working spaces in Austin. That’s when I found WeWork. What an eye-opening experience that was. I was surrounded by this wonderful mix of millennials, GenZ, IGen, GenY GenX, and everyone you can think of- but they were all happy and sharing. It was a real community, a culture of good. Now that I had an idea of the kind of company I wanted to build, I looked back at my mistakes to see what I could learn from them.
This seems like a long answer to a short question but bear with me- it all adds up.
Based on the EOS methodology, the first ‘rule’ is to hire and fire based on core values. Truthfully, I have never written core values for my company. Of course, I had an idea of my values so I thought I knew what they were, but I’ve never really gone through the exercise of writing and crafting it the right way, because I didn’t know the right way. After I did the exercise of core values, I had to take a serious look at the past and think, “where did I make a mistake in hiring or not firing?” It seems so simple, and I laugh now, but if I had listened to my wife and her first impressions of some of the people I hired in leadership positions we could have avoided a lot of issues. Not only her impressions, but noticing things like their lifestyle choices or what these employees were hiding, all could’ve saved me a lot of wasted energy and wasted money. Because I previously didn’t hire based on my core values, I decided I’m going to do it right this time. And that was the beginning of how I built my incredible team.
Surprisingly enough, my team consists of several digital natives, meaning they were born after 1994, as well as a couple of board members who are top level senior executives in the senior living placement and search industry. It’s an interesting mix of people, but the one thing we have in common is that we all share the same core values.
LeeC: So, what you’re saying is, as a result of basing your hiring off of core values, you’re working with people under 30 to find housing for people over 60?
Rod: That’s a funny way to look at it… but you’re not wrong. I’ve got people of all ages helping everybody out, the best part is, again, we all share the same core values.
LeeC: So, does that positively affect your culture?
Rod: Absolutely it does. Everybody respects everybody. We don’t have any tyrants in our office, we don’t have any jerks. Every member of the team has a valued feedback within this office and the way we are doing business. We are a culture of doing good. We help people every day with tough and extremely personal decisions for their loved ones’ futures. It’s a tremendous strain on families, and we are to be there to hold their hand through it.
LeeC: Let’s hear a little more about that strain- not everyone has had to be the sole decision maker or caretaker for a loved one who is no longer able to care for themselves. Help me understand what that looks like to most of the people you help.
Rod: The biggest strain we see is caretakers’ fatigue. It’s usually the child or children of the person, or some combination of loved ones caring for an elderly family member. Nevertheless, there is always a certain event that prompts their search for senior living communities. When I say event, I mean that usually something more serious has happened; The loved one may have fallen or had a stroke, it could be Dementia or Alzheimer’s, they may have recently become widowed, it could be a heart attack- there are many different types of aging-related problems that are the catalyst of these searches.
LeeC: That makes a lot of sense. Then, with these families, their loved ones and the vast array of senior living available- how does the Seniorlivingsearch.com process start?
Rod: It starts with an email or a phone call coming in, either from our website or some type of community outreach like a church referral. It’s almost always someone calling in blindly because 90% of the time they’ve never made this call before. They are lost. They’re in fear. Many of them may be insecure about what to expect or how to afford it.
LeeC: You get the email or phone call and you talk to these distraught and hesitant people about the future of their loved ones- what does that conversation sound like?
Rod: The first thing we do is find out who we’re talking to: the family spouse, sibling, child or adult child. Then, we find out about the potential community member/loved one that we may be placing. Who are they? How old are they? Has there been an event? What type of care will they need? Have they ever stayed at another community? And so on. This is the most important part, in my opinion, getting to know the potential new member. We need to find out what the problem is, and what type of care they may need. Are they looking for Independent living, assisted living, memory care, full care? Or are they looking for all of those as they progress with age? It’s important to get as much information as possible to get them the best fit. Once all the decisions are made, we also must prepare them for where they’ll be staying.
LeeC: How do you prepare them?
Rod: Once we have thoroughly interviewed them, or essentially figured out what their needs are, we will send them to a community or communities that we think will be the best fit. We “prepare” them for the first 90 days, it’s almost like dropping your first grader off for the first day of school. Fear of the unknown, or loneliness cause many people to be nervous, so it helps to have a familiar face around. They start off going into a place where they don’t know anyone, and a lot of time it’s a widow, or someone with few friends.
For example, at lunch time they want to find their place to sit in the dining area, but somehow the seat they chose has been another member’s spot for the last 6 months. They could be asked to move and before you know it they call their son to come pick them up. In cases like these, we have to educate the son on how to deal with it before he ever moves his mom the first time. We also must educate his mom. We must manage everyone’s expectations. Eventually within 90 days the loved one is so busy with activities and having fun that the son will have to make a scheduled visit to come see his mom.
LeeC: Do seniors always tend to become “busy”?
Rod: When I was a kid, I remember going to see my grandfather or great uncle in an “old folks home”. It was probably exactly what you imagine, it was very boring and sad. Lately however, since I’ve been touring communities now for several months I’ve seen some incredible things. These places are nicer than singles apartment complexes that you’d expect to see in college campuses for young adults. They have concerts, exercise activities, pools, and even full gyms. Many have off-site events, with buses to take them to the mall or grocery shopping. It is an endless the amount of effort that these communities make for the seniors.
It’s kind of sad because in our society we forget about our seniors, and they are the last story tellers from the past that we have to learn from. But at some of these communities that I’ve seen here in Texas, I am blown away with the effort that they make for our loved ones, and the respect that they give them. That gives them dignity.
LeeC: So then, what’s next for Senior Living Search?
Rod: We are building inventories in communities in the US and Canada right now. We have to inspect each property and certify it to our own standards. It’s not an easy process, but we believe it’s the only way to do business when you’re dealing with someone’s quality of life. This is about seniors living, not seniors waiting. We want to hold their hand and help them all the way through the process. We build relationships, and like I said before, we are building a culture of good.