Dave Kerpen - CEO & Founder, Likeable Media

Episode 42: How to Build a Likeable Brand Using Social Media with Dave Kerpen

Who is Dave Kerpenand the key takeaways in this episode?

If you want to think of someone who’s innovative and creative, Dave Kerpen is a guy that will blow your mind. He raised about $100,000 for his wedding out of sponsorships from big name companies like Smirnoff. That generated a ton of media attention for him, and that stunt started what is now his company, Likeable Media.

Join us in this fun interview that’s full of wise advice and tips and get to know:

  • How Dave pulled off a sponsorship campaign to fund his wedding
  • What he thinks about company culture and its relevance to businesses
  • Why he thinks your core beliefs and values are way more important than your business plan
  • What he thinks is the most common mistake that entrepreneurs make
  • And a gazillion more golden nuggets…

The Questions

[1:47] Can you tell our listeners a little bit about you, where you came from and how you got to where you are today; your journey so to speak?
Answer: I grew up in New York, in Brooklyn and went to school in Boston. I was there for a bit and I’ve been fortunate enough in the last eight years or so to build a couple of companies, get married to an amazing woman, do it all together and have a couple of amazing children.

[8:33] Hey, Dave, does your office – the physical part of it – match what you want for a culture? And I’m sure it does and if it does, how do you see that in your ability to retain and attract the people in the marketplace that you want?
Answer: Oh, it’s absolutely essential. You know, think about it this way – people spend more time, more awake time at work than they do, really, anywhere else. They spend more awake time at work and with their colleagues than they do with their families at home. And so, the place that people are going to come to and the people they’re going to spend their days with have to be awesome and it definitely has to match the culture. So, as I look around in our office, it’s wide open, lots of open space, lots of orange – which is our company color and my favorite color. Our core values are painted on the walls and yes, I think it’s a really, really great space and it absolutely matches our culture.

[19:31] What’s the most common mistake you see young entrepreneurs making when they’re building their companies?
Answer: Holding on to the wrong people. You’ve got to hire slow, fire fast. If you’re a startup you might even want to hire fast, fire fast… When somebody is not a good culture fit you need to let them go. They are poison and I don’t care how productive they are, I don’t care how good they are… I had a guy who was one of the best sales managers I’ve ever seen and he was very, very talented but he was also a horrible cancer to our culture and I wish I had fired him sooner. You know, people don’t like to hurt people but, you know, by not firing people you end up hurting a lot more people, you know, hurting your team. And by the way, you end up hurting that person for keeping him or her in the wrong seat. So, fire fast if it’s not a good culture fit. That’s a really, really important lesson that I’ve had to learn.

Culture According to Dave Kerpen:

Company culture is the set of values, norms, expectations and, most importantly, people that make up a company.

Go To Quote for Inspiration

Book Recommendations:

  • Rockefeller Habits’ by Verne Harnish

What Dave Kerpen Wants His Company to BE:

  • BE Transparent
  • BE Driven
  • BE Likeable

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Where to Find Dave Kerpen:

Connect with John on

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

John: Dave, welcome to BE Culture Radio. How are you today?

Dave: I’m fantastic. Thank you so much for having me.

John: I am so excited that you agreed to talk with us. We have a great show but before we start it, can you tell our listeners a little bit about you, where you came from and how you got to where you are today; your journey so to speak?

Dave: Well, that depends on how much time you’ve got but… I grew up in New York, in Brooklyn and went to school in Boston. I was there for a bit and I’ve been fortunate enough in the last eight years or so to build a couple of companies, get married to an amazing woman, do it all together and have a couple of amazing children.

John: Tell us about the company that you currently have because that’s pretty unique I believe and it’s what I’ve been able to share with my listeners when we bring people on like yourself that have done very unique things and really are one of one.

Dave: You know, I guess before I share about my current company, I’ll tell you about our first company and the wedding that started it eight years ago. Now, my wife and I couldn’t afford a traditional wedding, but we wanted to invite a lot of people, so we ended up partnering with a minor league baseball team and we created a wedding promotion and got married at the end of a baseball game. We raised about $100,000 in sponsorships from onehundredflowers.com who sponsored our flowers, Smirnoff who sponsored alcohol, [inaudible] who sponsored our desserts, and $20,000 for charity and, you know, it was a great success in generating tons of international press and social media press, blogs. And our vendor, they said: “This was great; what are you going to do next?” and we couldn’t get married again so we started a company instead and that was our first company. It’s called ‘Likeable Media’ and then two years ago we span off a second company called ‘Likeable Local’ that took what we were doing for big brands and applied it to small businesses using software. So, that’s much more scalable and it’s exciting. I’m much more passionate about helping small businesses, so… That’s what I’ve been focused on for the last couple of years.

John: So, Dave, was there a tipping point for you when you decided to… you know, when you decided, you know, the light came on – I’m passionate about helping small companies, I want to help entrepreneurs figure it out… was there a moment for you, as a lot of us entrepreneurs I have owned a small business for the last 12 years and walked away from corporate America after 20. I said I’m a round peg in a square hole and I want to make a difference in people’s lives. Was there something for you that happened?

Dave: Yes, you know I had a restaurant client named Charlie and he was really struggling and the problem was I couldn’t really afford to work with him with my agency because my agency was taking off and we went to work with big brands. And I had to fire him and that sucked but I knew I had to fire him to keep my business growing as it was, and from that moment on I thought to myself – there’s got to be a better way, there’s got to be a way that I can help small businesses like Charlie’s and still make some money along the way.

John: I want to ask you, to shift gears a little bit – can you define for my listeners what you believe company culture is?

Dave: Company culture is the set of values, norms, expectations and, most importantly, people that make up a company. So, we actually have done a lot of work with company culture. I just got out of a strategic planning session with my senior executives, and my Chief of Staff built a beautiful, beautiful culture deck that we’re going to be posting to Slideshare. I am talking about our culture… I’ve been a strong believer in culture for… really since we started, and we spent quite a bit of money and time and effort on building the most amazing company culture that we can. I’m really, really proud of it – we’ve won a whole bunch of awards, but what I’m most proud of is winning ‘Best places to work in New York’ for three years running. We’re on Crane’s List. Crane makes this list because ultimately it’s the people and culture that matter most, in my humble opinion, when you are building sustainable business.

John: Thank you. Can you share a story with us where culture accelerated one of your businesses?

Dave: Well, I think that culture affects everything. It certainly affects hiring and recruiting – you know, five years ago, just as our first business was starting to take off, I saw this episode of Oprah called ‘Oprah’s favorite things’ where she gives away all this stuff and I decided that I’ve got to figure out a way to pull that off. So, I tricked the whole company at the end of our holiday party. At the end of the year, I pulled out this deck that I said was going to be ‘50 things you need to know’, going into… I don’t know what year it was, maybe 2008 or 2009 – ’50 things you need to know going in 2009’ and the second slide was like ‘You’re the best and employees like you deserve a great surprise and then I put Oprah’s head on mine and I proceeded to give away all my favorite things so like the whole company got orange juice and then Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards and then some Facebook swag. Then we ended up taking the whole company on a cruise, on a trip to the Bahamas, and it was just awesome because, you know, obviously most companies don’t do that, but when you can do that with your team, I think people really respond and obviously those were people that are going to stay with you forever.

John: Just so my listeners know, I got to talk to Dave a little bit pre-show and the authenticity of the culture he has – it’s just the little things that I pick up and I see, the little interaction going on with one of his people, trying to get set up. It was so pleasant, it was so light, it was so engaging that they… you know, she really was trying to help you, not because it was her job but because she wanted to help you. And to me, that really speaks of the culture you’ve built in your organization and how you get… and I share that with my listeners so they know, we bring people like Dave on the show because not only that they know about it but they practice it and they are authentic and they get it. And I think they are saying “Hats off to you” because what I witnessed was truly how you live the culture and how it means to you as you interact with the people you work with. It was just a glimpse I saw but it was real to me.

Dave: Thank you, that means a lot to me and, as I said before, when talking about culture, ultimately culture is about people. People, people, people! People is number one, two and three and I’ve been very, very blessed with some of the best people on the planet that have joined our teams and it’s really all about them. It’s not me that makes the culture at the end of the day, it’s all of our team.

John: I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about the physical side of it, the facility side of it – because where we come from, my wife and I have built over the last 12 years an interiors business called ‘BE Furniture’ and we see a lot of people that don’t have alignment between what their media presence is and what their physical presence is and what their culture is and we try to… What we do is, we try to bring their culture and build their culture to match what it is they want. And we share a lot of information with people, like on this show. We have a lot of millennials coming to the marketplace and I’d like to ask someone like yourself. Hey, Dave, does your office – the physical part of it – match what you want for a culture? And I’m sure it does and if it does, how do you see that in your ability to retain and attract the people in the marketplace that you want?

Dave: Oh, it’s absolutely essential. You know, think about it this way – people spend more time, more awake time at work than they do, really, anywhere else. They spend more awake time at work and with their colleagues than they do with their families at home. And so, the place that people are going to come to and the people they’re going to spend their days with have to be awesome and it definitely has to match the culture. So, as I look around in our office, it’s wide open, lots of open space, lots of orange – which is our company color and my favorite color. Our core values are painted on the walls and yes, I think it’s a really, really great space and it absolutely matches our culture.

John: Dave, you’ve done a lot of different things and I am sure your people follow you… When you put your information out there for the public to see, are there things that you’re focusing on, certain messages you’re trying to get across, as it relates to your brand that are consistent with the culture you’ve created? And if so, how do you do that and could you share one or two tips with my listeners so they could gather that as they move forward?

Dave: Yes, well, I think you mentioned authenticity. I think authenticity and transparency are probably the two most important concepts to embrace when thinking about culture and sharing that culture with the world. I’ve been very, very blessed. I need to mention my books and my story, but you know, I wrote – my first book is called ‘Likeable Social Media’ about building a likeable social media presence and then I realized that all the things that I was writing about, listening, transparency, authenticity, storytelling, gratitude, all these concepts actually don’t just apply to social media, they apply to business. And so my second book, ‘Likeable business,’ was all about building a business based on those sorts of principles – authenticity, transparency, team work, storytelling, gratitude, etc. And then I realized, ‘Holy cow, this stuff isn’t just good for building a business, this is just good relationship in life stuff so, my next book is actually called ‘The Art of People’ and it’s all about applying these really, really simple principles to our daily lives and – you know, make no mistake, I’m no rocket scientist; none of these principles are complicated. You know, when I talk about listening and authenticity and transparency and team work and gratitude, these are all very, very basic things that you learn about in first grade. But somehow I think a lot of people lose them and a lot of people lose them as they build businesses and a lot of people lose them as they grow up. And I just want to bring back the basics if you will, because I think they add a lot to not only the business culture as you asked me about but to our lives.

John: You know Dave earlier when you’re sharing with us your journey, your story, you talked about the wedding and how you got sponsors, what struck me was you talked about the ability to have a fill in [inaudible] run through it and for me, the true meaning of culture for our company is that we have that here, you know, whether would be with an outreach program, the cancer breast walk. I do an AAU program for disadvantaged kids. Everybody here is allowed to have their own thing that they do that fulfills them and completes them. How do you see that in an organization?

Dave: Yes, I think it’s a fantastic thing, a friend of mine, Adam Braun started an organization called ‘Pencils of Promise’ and he has a phrase that he uses which is called For Purpose Organization – so, you know, maybe not – maybe you’re not a non-profit but you can still be… you don’t have to be for profit, you can be for purpose and you can have, you know, great causes that you really believe in. And you know, for us now corporately, we are focused on helping and giving access to the small businesses out there that don’t have the time and money skills resources that big businesses do. That’s kind of our purpose but to the extent that I think every business can think about what their mission is and how they can rally their team around that mission and really think big. You mentioned millennials earlier, and millennials more than any generation before them want to be part of something big; they want to be part of the mission, they want to be part of changing the world. I think anyone, no matter what business you have, could figure out a way to think they have a mission, have a purpose and cultivate a team that change the world together.

John: I couldn’t agree with you more, you know… about nine months ago I was in a meeting with our PR guy, Nick Bulwin, and Nick said he would ask me a question and said “John, what is it you want to do and why?” and I said “What I want to do is I want to leave the world a better place than I found it and I want to change the world one child at a time – to be able to affect one person, one child and leave the world a better place. And I want to do it with my company and with the people I’ve chosen to do it with and I think if I can focus on that, the metrics will follow what I’m doing.”  So he looked at me and said “Hey, John, how did that go over when you had that vision…” and I shared that I had the same vision for twenty-five years and I said “It didn’t go over very well in Corporate America, because the metrics weren’t there to support it.”

Dave: Right.

John: And so, I went off to being an entrepreneur with my wife of twenty-five years and my business partner of twenty-five years and she and I said “We can make a better place to work with, where everybody matters, everybody is valued and just because someone has the highest paycheck in the room, their opinion is not worth more than somebody else’s. And then we can make a difference in a child’s life,” and I just want to get your feelings on it, what your thought is because when I spoke to Jeff Hayzlett and I… Jeff was kind enough to come on the show and Jeff and I had a long conversation about this and it even turned into a whole conversation about diversity, how it plays out in corporate America and outside corporate America. Can I just get, can I get your feelings on that, Dave?

Dave: Jeffrey is a friend of mine actually. That’s fun that he was on the show, I didn’t know… I know Chris and Susan Linder(?) are also friends of mine so it’s always great to keep it in the family. So, yes, I mean I think the bigger the organization, the harder it is to stay true to your mission and to create a legacy. And for me, legacy has always been really important, leaving the world a better place. And I do think that if you do it in the public sector or the private sector, so you know, my plan is to continue to build our businesses and grow our business until the point that we may exit and then go into public service because I think that’s another way to really change the world. So, yes, I know who you talked to and… so much more an idealist than me, I’m a believer man and there’s a lot of cynical people out there and there’s a lot of people that are sort like, you know – all about me.  Believe that when you help others, when you use the platinum rule which is better than the golden rule by the way… The golden rule is ‘Do unto others as you want done to you’ but the platinum rule is ‘Do unto others as they want done to them’ because we’re all different so we can’t necessary project what we want onto other people. Anyway, when you follow the platinum rule, when you do go out there and help others, you know – karma is amazing and you do get taken care of.

John: You can talk a little bit about Chris and Susan, they’re amazing people… and Jeff – and I like to refer to it as you brought your tribe. In our show we talk about the tribe and I’m one of eight so I had no choice in this world. I was a tribe earlier on and I’m number six out of eight and I grow up with six powerful women and sisters. So, as they like to say, I was delivered to my wife housebroken, and I just believe that every great entrepreneur has a tribe and they continue to expand the tribe and it helps them as a complete resource to move forward in the world. And I’ve got to believe you got a tremendous tribe.

Dave: Yes, I think I’ve been very, very blessed. Yes, of course, Seth Gordon is a friend and mentor and he wrote the book, literally [inaudible] I’m a big believer, yes, I joined the LinkedIn Influencer program a couple of years ago, and so my guess, I’ve been very fortunate to grow my presence there and, you know, we have almost six hundred thousand people in that tribe now on LinkedIn and yes, I would say I’ve been very blessed to have served build a really nice tribe and it’s really not just about me. I think the more important thing now is that we’ve built a brand in Likeable that is bigger than me as individual and I’m excited about the tribe that we’re sort of building around Likeable and building a more likeable world together than I am about the sort of Dave Kerpen tribe if you will.

John: Well, tell our listeners a little bit about Likeable and expand upon that because I know I want to know more about it and I’m sure they do too.

Dave: Well, I mean, there are two companies, and three books and you know, a set of core beliefs around the kind of concepts that we talked about: around saying ‘Thank you’ and saying ‘I’m sorry’, about gratitude, better listening, and really listening to understand people versus waiting to talk and telling great stories. It’s about really engaging people and I know you believe in the power of storytelling and some of the traits that we talked about already from authenticity, transparency, the passion for team playing, these are some of the concepts that I read about and speak about and I tried to build into the cultures of both of our companies which happen to both be named ‘Likeable’ as well.

John: Dave, are there any – for my listeners sake – are there any rollouts, anything’s coming at us from Likeable that we should have our eyes looking for?

Dave: I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about. We actually have our first free-mium product that is launching – well, it might be in the app store now, depending on when you’re listening to this. It’s launching in a couple of weeks and it’s going to be a tool to make your social media life easier. It’s got listening built-in, it’s got – did you ever hear of Mad Libs as a kid, John?

John: Yes, sure did.

Dave: Imagine Mad Libs for social media, imagine thousands of updates at your fingertips and you can just fill in the blank to make them your own. It’s got that and it’s got landing pages. You can actually create your own landing page, generate reviews, referrals, promotions and the best part of it – it’s free! Certainly the startup product is free so you can get that at likeablevip.com and it’s my pleasure to put that out in the world so hopefully people will be excited about that.

John: Dave, is there any tip you can give our listeners and the entrepreneurs that are trying to build these strong teams and build these cultures? Would there be something that they could take away and say “I picked that up when I listened to Dave”?

Dave: Well, I would say spend a lot of time building the culture and building your core values and sitting down with your team early on and… if you don’t have core values – it shocks me how few entrepreneurs I know that have core values, mission written out… those are really important to me, those are way more important than your business plan. So, you know, the very first thing to do is spend the time coming up with your core values and what they are. The three to five most important things to you and to your team and then how you can live those values, day-in and day-out and who you hire and who you fire. It think it all starts with core values.

John: What’s the most common mistake you see young entrepreneurs making when they’re building their companies?

Dave: Holding on to the wrong people. You’ve got to hire slow, fire fast. If you’re a startup you might even want to hire fast, fire fast… When somebody is not a good culture fit you need to let them go. They are poison and I don’t care how productive they are, I don’t care how good they are… I had a guy who was one of the best sales managers I’ve ever seen and he was very, very talented but he was also a horrible cancer to our culture and I wish I had fired him sooner. You know, people don’t like to hurt people but, you know, by not firing people you end up hurting a lot more people, you know, hurting your team. And by the way, you end up hurting that person for keeping him or her in the wrong seat. So, fire fast if it’s not a good culture fit. That’s a really, really important lesson that I’ve had to learn.

John: I had a mentor once tell me – she wished them to be successful somewhere else.

Dave: Exactly! And you know what, it’s not a bad thing, you know… there’s a place for everyone. Someone that’s a horrible culture fit with Likeable may be a terrific culture fit somewhere else. So it’s better for him or her to move on, it really is!

John: I know you’ve been so kind with your time, I want to take you into the lightning round and close out strong here so, if that’s ok with you, we’ll move to the lightning round?

Dave: You got it! Let’s do it!

John: Ok, is there a book that changed your life?

Dave: There’s a lot, I’m going to go with ‘Rockefeller Habits’ by Verne Harnish.

John: I like that! And is there a quote you have for inspiration?

Dave: Once again, there are very many quotes. I’m going to go with Seth Godin. “How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?

John: What company do you admire the most as related to culture and why? Outside your own…

Dave: Great question! There are three companies that we based our culture on: Zappos, Google and Facebook.

John: Why would someone want to work for Likeable?

Dave: It’s the best place to work on the planet!

John: Good answer! Alright, Dave, big finish, here we go! You’re going to give me three adjectives that describe the culture of Likeable and you’re going to start with ‘be’ because you’re on BE Culture Radio.

Dave: I’m going to start with what?

John: Be! For example, ‘Be inspired, be creative… ‘

Dave: Oh, cool! Yes, sure. Be transparent, be driven and of course be likeable.

John: I like that, it’s cool. Now how can our listeners connect with you?

Dave: I am really, really active social media guy, like one of the most active out there, so you can look for my name, Dave Kerpen (K-e-r-p-e-n) on pretty much every social network I’m on. I get thousands of comments and questions every single week and I respond to every single one. One of my personal core values is responsiveness so you can hit me up with questions at any time and if you want to check on our companies or my books, just do a search for the word Likeable and you can’t miss us.

John: And just to let my listeners know, this is how cool Dave is. I just picked up the phone and called 30 minutes ago and we’re doing an interview right now. He said ‘You want an interview? Let’s do this now’ and you know what? You’re not going to find a lot of people with his stature that will just say “You know what, John, I’ll talk to you” and you know, I can’t thank you enough, Dave. You’re a true gentleman, and I never end a show without sharing with my guest my favorite quote, and it’s from Maya Angelou – ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. And I certainly hope we made you feel like you’re part of our tribe and we hope we made you feel welcome. And I just can’t thank you enough.

Dave: Thanks for having me. I do love that quote from Maya Angelou and it’s been a great pleasure.

John: Super! Hey, I hope you’ll come back and visit with us in six months and share with us the rollout, tell us how it’s going and just keep me in line.

Dave: You got it, John. I’ll see you on the internet!

John: Yes, sir! Thanks, Dave. Be well.

[End of audio]