My ‘a-ha’ moment.
It is 2007 and Steve Jobs had just unveiled the first iPhone. His description was provocative and groundbreaking: “an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator.”
I remember being awestruck. And thereafter wrestled over the fate of my trusty Palm Treo smartphone. That functional Qwerty keyboard had helped me punch out thousands of emails, but its utility was overshadowed by terrible aesthetics and a bizarre, obtrusive antenna. Not surprisingly, I got the iPhone.
“Great story, Arden,” you might say. “But, so what?”
To me, that iPhone introduction represented a historic milestone. Beautiful, simple, enjoyable and fast web connection and communication accessibility set in motion the new paradigm of global business. At this point, I realized: the world would never be the same again.
Arbitrary industry or market geography limitations dissolved in a flash. As broadband connectivity exploded worldwide, this tiny tool meant a macro shift in commerce, collaboration and connection.
Business ambitions were going to be global.
Companies and people were going to push the boundaries of where and how they interacted.
While I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, in retrospect, it was clear: everything from sales, to hiring, manufacturing, development, partnership, operations and supply chain would be revolutionized. Unfettered global accessibility would become the new norm.
At the time, I was a director at a “Big 4” global accounting firm. Daily, I was buried in projects to build and support clients’ international finance operations. Our corporate charter was to make everything “world class”; a term used so regularly and loosely that few people actually knew what this truly meant.
Then, in 2009, the Great Recession hit.
Clients’ businesses failed or were consolidated. My co-workers and friends were laid off. The rest of us were sequestered to big projects, advised to cram as many billable hours into our weeks as possible to “make the numbers”. This was certainly not in the client’s best interest and made our teams miserable. But KPIs and cash were all that mattered. Morale eroded, attrition rose, and any sense of team, mission or passion evaporated.
While these issues were taxing, they became a blessing. My outlook changed completely, and I saw what a healthy, collaborative culture could do to build value and productivity. I saw what happens when companies and their service providers truly partner and enjoy a shared mission.
The revolutionary shift ushered in by the iPhone and the cultural, collaborative vision I had come crashing together.
My eyes opened to a new, possible reality. One that I was eager to create.
In that moment, a new entrepreneurial course was set, and two convictions emerged. These laid the ground work for Blueback Global today.
- Corporate politics and a culture driven by the pursuit of big, brand names and more and more dollars left me physically, emotionally and mentally depleted. No one, and I mean no one, thrived in that reality – clients or consultants alike.
- Big multinationals were paying millions of dollars to tap Big 4 expertise and expand their global operations. Technology and timing were ripe for small companies to do this too. I asked myself, “what challenges are smaller startups facing as they eye international expansion?” Who out there is supporting their dreams, their ambitions and their growth prospects?
I was going to build a company that aligned with my core values, that put clients first, that hired enthusiastic and passionate people and helped the world’s scrappiest, most innovative and ambitious companies expand internationally.
And we were going to leverage the readily accessible technology and innovation that visionaries like Steve Jobs were creating. The playing field was finally level for this new wave of upstarts.
Putting value first
My enthusiasm and sense of purpose were wonderful motivators, but they didn’t pay the bills. The beginning of Blueback Global was challenging. I was sole founder and the only employee. The company had no brand or reputation. It had no investor funding and we were operating within an environment that was just coming out of an unprecedented economic recession. Convincing staff to join and companies to spend on international expansion was tough. I designed the website, got the coffee, printed our business cards, interior-designed our office, hauled furniture into the office, took out the trash and handled business development. Hustling to build a business was both terrifying and exhilarating.
In spite of it all, I never wavered on my convictions.
I knew we had a model that mattered. Companies would absolutely need a trusted partner, with deep international finance and operational expertise, to help them affordably and compliantly expand their businesses. More important, I knew companies wanted a partner that held their best interests in mind. This would be our differentiator.
I believed in this and sold this.
And, several months after Blueback’s inception, I signed our very first global expansion client – a special shout-out to Liz C., if you’re reading this. Thank you for your trust in us. The model worked, and the passion, partnership and value were real. (That valued first client continues with Blueback Global today, by-the-way!)
Through that first client engagement, I started using a phrase that would become our rally cry. See, the business was created to provide value for growth companies. In everything: value, first.
One day, in a moment of inspiration, I thought up catchy way to capture my value first belief.
While the value first acronym is an easy way to display our company value proposition, it remains a deeply held, central part of how and why this business operates.
Practically, it means:
- We will be flexible in our pricing and offerings. We will not prioritize being the cheapest, or most expensive offering. We deliver value through how we engage clients; giving them what they need, when they need it. We avoid huge retainers, long contracts and unnecessary, bolt-on offerings to add a few quick bucks. If a prospect walks away based only on price, we accept that. A race to the bottom harms us and them. We want to hire the best, offer exceptional service and make engagement flexible and value-rich.
- Integrity is infused in all interactions with clients, our team and vendors. Simply, we treat others the way we want to be treated and we just don’t cut corners.
- Responsiveness shows itself in little and big ways. From our commitment to never let a day go by where we don’t respond to client calls or emails, to humbly receiving feedback and improving our partnership, we listen, connect and act.- The pace of global business is unprecedented. Upstart companies need to use agility and speed to out maneuver the big competition. Speed in solution and service execution, combined with precision and quality, is a formidable combination. This is accentuated by our global offices across U.S., Asia and Europe, that allows us to execute with lightning speed, without compromise.
- Open, honest communication is the only path to trusted and enduring partnership. We commit to being transparent, even when it hurts our bottom line. Clients’ businesses deserve to know what’s going on and why. Team members and partners should expect the same.
This vision for value first shows up in everything we do.
It’s why we’re known to provide great user and client experiences.
It’s why our team is always smiling — even on the hard days — because we love what we do.
It’s why everyone in Blueback, regardless of title, budget or seniority, is respected and professional.
It’s why we believe in our mission. Because, quite literally, this is our calling.
It’s why we take work-life balance seriously and our default posture is trust and encouragement.
It’s why we embrace the diversity of our backgrounds and skills. Collectively, we trace our roots everywhere from the US and UK to Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Singapore and beyond!
So, to every one of you: thank you for the role you play in making this happen.
I look forward to sharing more on Blueback Global’s culture soon.