Focus Lab + EOS with Genina Ramirez - Part 2

This week Mitchell continues his conversation with Genina Ramirez, Chief Growth Officer at Focus Lab, a branding agency that has embraced the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS®). Genina and Mitchell get further into their discussions about Focus Lab's experience with niching down and focusing on a service offering that really made sense to them. They talk about how EOS enabled this courageous act. They also talk about a new brand recently launched by Focus Lab called Odi which provides even more focus as they target a specific market segment and client profile.

Full Transcript

[Music] Welcome to the Solspace podcast. Thanks for listening.

Mitchell: Welcome back, everybody.

Welcome back to the Solspace Podcast. This is Mitchell Kimbrough, founder of Solspace. With me today for a second time, Genina Ramirez from Focus Lab, Chief Growth Officer. I mean, I don't know how I rank this high, but the kind of people that come on a podcast would never just talk to me on the phone. If you say you got a podcast, all of a sudden people will visit with you. So I really appreciate you being here again.

So we're talking about EOS, talking about how Focus Lab just disappeared from my view years ago, once you guys implemented EOS. I didn't forget that, but I was too immature to actually embrace it and say, what do those guys do? Why is it working so well?

And why are they not on my radar anymore? In a good way. So Genina, tell me again what Focus Lab does.

I hear something about branding, but I don't even know what that means. Maybe you could talk a little bit more about that. It'll turn into a useful plug for any possible clients listening.

Genina: Oh, yeah. So Focus Lab is a global B2B brand agency, and you're like, cool. So you're a marketing agency.

It's like, nah, we are not a marketing agency. Brand is what comes before marketing. So brand for us, that is how the world perceives you when someone is talking about brand.

So as an agency, we really focus and specialize on branding B2B organizations. So for us, branding is taking the realm of typically establishing a really strong visual and verbal identity. So both sides of the coin is what we like to say.

So how you communicate who you are visually as well as verbally. But brand is different from marketing in that it starts internally. So that's where a lot of our conversations start, is looking inward and then having a conversation of what that means in terms of your future trajectory, business objectives, that your brand needs to help support, and then making sure that the brand that's built is incredibly authentic to who you are as an organization and who you want to grow into and be.

Because it's not just about thinking about this moment, it's about the next five years, the next decade. It's creating a really, it's like a strong foundation in terms of like a house. If you have that, you can grow and change and build as needed, but you really need that strong foundation to do that.

So that's where we really come in as a brand agency.

Mitchell: So how much of that definition was a result of EOS work, the core focus work in EOS, and how much of that was just defined well enough before that process?

Genina: So before EOS, so there's like a couple of phases because Focus Lab rebranded, like our rebrand launched in April of last year. Last year? No, 2021.

I forget that it's 2023. I'm really good with time, guys. In April of 2021.

Wow, that feels so long. Yeah, so long ago, but yeah, so that's when we rebranded. But before we rebranded and we went through that entire brand process internally, we had gone through this implementation of EOS.

And a part of that is, you know, finding your why. A part of it is really also having a conversation for us that led to a positioning conversation, right? Like how are we positioning ourselves in the market?

And before all of that, Focus Lab was, you know, a design agency is how a lot of times we were referred to, right? We did branding, we did web, we did a lot of things, we did some video work, motion work. We were good at a lot of things, right?

And that's how we justified that, like we're taking on all these projects. It's really great. But a part of EOS was also kind of leaning into that why.

And then a part of it coming after that was us really focusing on a new position, really niching down, which is scary, right? That's as soon as you say, like, no, I'm not going to do all these things, that gets a little scary because that you start to wonder, well, if I close all these doors. Who's going to be left?

Mitchell: Yeah.

Genina: And you have to actually flip the script. It's when I stop attracting all these people who aren't my ideal audience, right, who aren't our ideal partners, you give all this room for everyone who is, and they can flock without a problem, right? And EOS really helped us start that conversation and start that journey.

Because that was definitely a big one, and it was not something that happened in like three months, right? I mentioned in the last episode that the EOS was kind of brought to the team at Focus Lab. I believe it was like mid 2019, summer 2019.

And we worked, continued to work through that. And then in 2020, you know, when the world ended, we actually decided to a lot of that groundwork was there. We then decided to rebrand Focus Lab to speak more to that, to the belief that we were a brand agency, right?

We had started to kind of use that terminology, but we really hadn't put it out full force, like that we are a brand agency, we're not a web dev shop, we're not a video production agency, like we are not a marketing agency, we're a brand agency. It's where our expertise lies. It's where we believe we can truly unlock the potential in the people around us, which is also our why.

So we decided that our why, partners did, Bill, Will and Eric, that the why of Focus Lab is to unlock the potential in the people around us. And we do that through the power of brand. And just having all of that crystallized allowed us to really go through these next phases, so allowed us to properly rebrand Focus Lab, allowed us to roll that out, to hire a team that spoke to these updated values, right, to really kind of grow our audience and put out content that spoke to them in a way that actually resonated.

So it was definitely like, it was a multi-step process, but it's so worth it. I mean, I can very clearly tell you that we would not be where we are today if we hadn't gone through the, if we hadn't adopted EOS, if it hadn't been a big part of this, if it hadn't been the catalyst to making all these other changes.

Mitchell: One of the things that's really challenging about it is it demands a level of courage that you're not necessarily, it's a muscle, courage is a muscle. If you don't use it, then it's not there. But it demands that you do a lot of things that you didn't necessarily previously have the courage to do, like niching down, like being accountable, holding other people accountable, all these things that are just fundamentals of being an adult in the world.

But this question about niching down and being really focused on a specific position and a specific offering, I think anybody looking at using EOS or ignoring it because it's too scary, we all have to face this thing. And what you touched on was how freeing it can be to take a good hard look at yourself and what you want to do and say, I actually don't want to do all that other crap over there. Doing it because I think it keeps the lights on.

But I would really, really rather do this because this is the thing that I think has a future. This is what we are passionate about doing. This goes back to the hedgehog concept, which is sort of baked into the EOS paradigm.

And we're facing this, too. So we've gone through the process, the initial process of determining what our core focus is and really refining that and getting clear on it. But the distance from where we are right now to that future state is there's so much that we need to eliminate that we're currently doing.

It's pretty terrifying. Like any tips, suggestions for me and anybody else out there that you could offer would be really appreciated.

Genina: Courage comes easier when you know who you are. And I think we see that in life as people, right? We usually like to tie that to an age.

Look, at X age, I got stronger, more courageous. And it's mainly because we start to unapologetically understand and know who we are and embrace that. And I don't think that that's different in a business.

I think that knowing who you are gives you a lot of just gives you legs to stand on. It doesn't make everything easy, but it does give you a stronger foundation to push forward on. And I think that's why you kind of have to start inward first, right?

That's a lot of the stuff that Leslie talked about, too, right? You kind of have to start like it's not just about you start with implementation, right? Like L10 meetings, like you start with gaining that traction, but you ultimately have to have a conversation around who you are, your why, what the future looks like to you.

You have to dream a bit because. I don't know, everything needs a little bit of soul, right? Like, and I think that for so long, we've thought that doing business well means taking it out of business, right?

And instead, and I think people would be like, what are you talking about? EOS sounds like some like. Acronym and this weird framework, but when you have this set of tools that give you the ability to really understand and sit down and say, it's OK, you're supposed to do this.

You're supposed to dream. You're supposed to know who you are. You're supposed to have something to strive towards.

That gives you a lot more courage in the moments where stuff gets rough because everyone is rowing in the same direction. Everyone's fighting for the same dream. So then it's not about, you know, Bob on one side and Susan on another and them fighting for their departments.

Instead, we're having a look at these annual goals, these annual rocks which hit towards a larger 10 year target, five year target. And when we all sit there and realize that what matters is getting there and it's something that we're all bought into, it's so much stronger. Courage just kind of starts to build on its own.

Mitchell: Yeah. Is there is there any big change in the future for Focus Lab or was that a big move that was done in this relaunch that you described? Like, where are you in the trajectory of the company with regard to where EOS is guiding you?

Genina: Yeah, so our rebrand in April 2021 was the moment we told the rest of the world who we are. And that was kind of this next phase in our journey, in our story, right, because for the first time, we were really telling everyone like who we are, why we're different, why maybe you want to work with us and why maybe you don't, right? Because a lot of that is also saying no, as often as you say yes, you're also saying no, right?

Yeah, but it's definitely just that next start in the journey, right? We actually recently just launched a sister agency to Focus Lab called ODEE. And I guarantee you that would never have come across if we hadn't had this larger vision, right?

Because that's the thing. We have a larger vision driving us and we have this bigger dream and this goal and that's what's really pushing forward. And so we just launched that, right?

It's like kind of the next, the next brand in our brand family.

Mitchell: Well, tell me more about that. What is ODEE? What's that about?

Genina: So ODEE is a brand agency like Focus Lab, but Focus Lab's audience tends to be growth stage companies. So companies who've typically raised at least a series A in terms of a round of funding, they're at a certain level of maturity. They are at a point where they're having, I kind of alluded to those brand challenges, right?

They're starting to realize that they need to really take a look at how they're speaking about them, how they are speaking, you know, how their brand is speaking about them, how they are being represented visually, because there's a lot of growth and opportunity that is just out of their reach because their brand is starting to slow them down as opposed to being this catalyst, this big springboard for growth. So that's a specific kind of client.

Focus Lab has not always been serving that audience. I mean, when we got started, we worked with a lot of early stage startups. So companies that were pre-seed, seed stage, angel, and we haven't really had the opportunity to work with them because the process, the service that we've cultivated and really refined over the years isn't meant for them anymore, right?

It's longer, it's more intentional, it's for someone a little further down the road. So we started to realize that we could still serve this audience, but we needed to do it through a different process, through a different agency. We could take the same belief that brand is incredibly transformative and has the ability to unlock the potential, but we had to make adjustments to uniquely serve this new audience.

So thus came Odie. So Odie is more of a streamlined process. It focuses just on the core visual identity because the way that I see it is Odie is a, Odie helps early stage companies start a race basically from like a starting block.

It's the difference from starting just on your own two feet versus starting with a starting block. It gets you right out, gets you going right out the gate. You get ahead of the competition because you actually, you start to look like a company who understands who they are, who can really visually clearly say like, this is how I differentiate, right?

In a particularly crowded market, helps you attract new team members, right? Because it actually seems like, oh, they have it together, right? Like they can start to see through the work that we've done with brand that it's actually a company worth paying attention to.

So it really helps them get a strong foundation for future growth, right? But it's not this like really much longer process that's our focus lab process, right? So we realized like we needed to make something uniquely for them.

So we created a sister agency. It's got, you know, process and services and its own team. And we just launched that and that feels pretty great.

But I mean, that would have seemed so daunting without EOS.

Mitchell: Yeah.

Genina: Like that would have been like, what you want to do? What? And I mean, if I, considering how, how this all went, like having been a part of it pretty much every step of the way, like I'm really impressed with us, but you know, we had ODL 10 meetings, right?

We had rocks specifically, uh, surrounding OD, right. We had things we had to report on. We had annual goals for it.

So it absolutely was a part of this process. And again, we were able to achieve it because we had the tools to make sure that as an organization, we were healthy and moving towards it. Right.

So yeah. Bananas that we did that last week. How was that last week?

Mitchell: Um, so this, and these clients are going to become focused lab clients if they continue, you know, if they're, they're businesses.

Genina: Yeah. That's the hope is that we create a, a great relationship and when they're further down the line, when they're at a point where they can tell that like now their brand needs communications, it possibly needs some adjustments because they have changed and grown, right? So many companies pivot and change in those early years, which is also why it doesn't make sense to do like an incredibly large brand project, right?

Because the ground is still shifting. They need to have enough flexibility to move and change. And if we're also telling them, they need to invest this incredible amount of time in doing this type of project.

Like that's going to hamstring them as opposed to giving them the flexibility to move. So that was the goal with OD is that it gives them the strong foundation, but it also gives them the flexibility to change where they need to in those early years to really make the best decisions for their business. But the hope is that, yeah, when the time is right, they can come back and work with focus lab.

Cause we're just, it's just different points on the journey.

Mitchell: Yeah. Um, do, do these brand new businesses do, do they ever watch them implement EOS or they, is it too early for them?

Genina: Absolutely. The, I, you can't separate anything that we do. I think at this point from EOS, like we OD absolutely runs through EOS.

Like that's how we work. That's how we thought about the structure. Like that's how we planned for it.

And that's how it's going to be successful. Right. Also like it just makes, we're a relatively small team, right.

At focus lab where, Ooh, 34 now, I think that sounds right. Uh, and EOS allows you to be so much more efficient as a smaller team. Like what we get done.

I mean, we wrote a book last year, like comes out in August, like Bill wrote a book and that was not a situation where Bill went alone, our CEO, people aren't aware, Bill went alone to like a cave and wrote a book for six months. Like he was still running the business and our weekly meetings doing the thing that you need to do. But you know, that was one of his rocks was writing a book.

So he was reporting on it and it was a big part of it. And now we're all going to get to see that this year. I, those are all would have just been dreams, like just like ideas that we threw against the wall.

Not something that we did in addition to also running and working on this business, but that level of predictability and cadence that we get to work within with EOS really allows us to structure our days accordingly, and then also set the team up appropriately. Right. So everyone also knows what they need to be reporting on and focused on.

Mitchell: So what's the, you know, EOS has one, five and 10 year goals. What's, what's the 10 year goal right now for focus lab? Are you allowed to say it?

Sometimes it's secret.

Genina: So it's not, it's not even so much that I can't say it. I actually, we're, we're revising, so I don't have a new one for you yet. We actually, like, I think that's one of those things that you have the opportunity to make those changes, right?

Like just something, just because something is written, like as you grow, you're like, maybe that's not the right one for us anymore. Yeah. So we're actually in the process of, of revising that, which is exciting because now, like I mentioned, I started obviously in 2017 and I actually started.

I was the second sales hire and it was a relatively entry-level sales role. And I've kind of grown and been a part of this team since then. But this past December was the first time I was in the, what we're now calling the executive leadership team, because I started as CGO in January, I got to be a part of our EOS annual session.

And that was really exciting. Like that was a really exciting moment to be a part of. Leslie facilitated it, right?

It's implementer. That was really great having somebody else kind of take us through that. Cause that's one of those things too.

Like, even though we've been on this EOS train for a while, we acknowledge like in that moment, now that that annual planning session had five of us, as opposed to three, because our new COO, Jesse Gilligan also joined me. Like we both came up at the same time. We're all in that meeting now in that session.

Now having somebody there to guide you allowed all of us to kind of sit on the same side of the table, so to speak. Right. Cause one of us wasn't facilitating and that was really nice.

It gave us just even more ability to have great conversation, right? Like discuss, disagree, talk about, be vulnerable. That was really great.

So that was really exciting to be a part of that.

Mitchell: How do you see the, you know, something we haven't touched on within the structure of EOS is this idea of visionary and integrator. Is that big in your experience of EOS at Focus Lab? Is it, how does that scale in comparison to some of the other tools it brings to bear?

Genina: Yeah. We absolutely do have a visionary and an integrator. Bill as CEO is our visionary and Eric, which of course we've mentioned plenty, is integrator right now.

So Eric was COO, Jesse, as I mentioned, is now COO and Eric is now partner and integrator. So that has always been a part of it. They have meetings where they're having conversations.

It's definitely a part of our structure as well as in, uh, in our weekly ELT, L10s. Wow. That's a mouthful.

Someone's probably like, is it something on the periodic table? And be like, yes, it is.

Mitchell: It's radioactive indeed.

Genina: It is definitely radioactive. Um, so yeah, that has definitely been a part of it. I can't speak to it as closely as the two of them could, right.

Cause they're the ones who sit in those roles, but as far as how we see it come to life, it's definitely, that's definitely been a part of, that's definitely been a part of focus lab, how we operate and how our kind of, how our accountability chart, God, sometimes I cannot say the words accountability chart, how our accountability chart also kind of flows and works. Um, so I can't speak too much to their like relationship together. Cause there is, there are things that they do as visionary and integrator together, right?

Like they'll have specific meetings together to have conversations because they have, if you look in your EOS books or guides, it gives a very clear, like breakdown of like what they each should kind of be like tackling, like what they're responsible for. Um, and it makes sense kind of sitting where they are and who they are, that they're filling those roles.

Mitchell: Yeah. One of my favorite things about EOS is that it matches up with my experience as a manager in the sense that, um, I, I, I tell, I tell my team that everybody's got something. Everybody has some kind of frailty at minimum one, usually multiple things that, um, that they get hung up on or that, um, prevents them from doing the best that they want to do at any given time.

And this aspect in EOS of visionary integrator really spoke to me because, um, I'm not necessarily, I don't identify as visionary with the positive aspects as much as I do with the negative descriptions of that type of person. The things that I not good at, don't follow up. Well, don't confront.

Well, don't hold people to account very well. I would rather look into the future. Um, Hey, we're about to be out of money.

That's going to be okay. Three months from now, everything will be fine. Don't worry about it.

How is it going to be fine? How are we going to get there? I don't know.

Always works out. Yeah. So you're a visionary.

Good for you. Here's a pat on the back. You need someone to fill in for the broken parts that aren't working in, in you.

So you, you get together with a team and you make each other better. That's always been true at Solspace, but it's, it's, it's codified now, but there's like a structure to, uh, to sniff it out and actually put systems and people and seats in place where we make each other better. So my integrator slaps me around early every morning and says, that's great.

Lovely idea. We can't do that. We can't get anywhere near that because we did not finish these things, this three, three ideas ago that you had.

So it gives us that structure. So I was just kind of curious how that plays out in inside. Have you had that experience of EOS, um, allowing a team to sort of mesh together better so that we all make up for our deficiencies and play to our strengths?

Genina: Yeah, it definitely does. Especially now that I think of us like kind of all in that leadership group. It definitely does.

I will say that it's very rare that one of us has to kind of hold the other. Hold anyone else's like feet to the fire, which I think is really great. And I think, again, that's also from like utilizing being so ingrained in EOS for so long.

Like we're all aware, like we're usually raising our hand being like, I didn't, I didn't catch that. Like I didn't finish that thing. Let's talk about it.

Right. So it's really helpful in that way. I will say one other thing though, that we do at focus lab, like we don't find all of our answers in terms of personality, just through EOS, we use a lot of tools to understand one another.

So we use disc assessments, Myers-Briggs. We've recently started using working genius, which I'm super excited about. So we use a lot of things to also just get a better understanding of who we are, how we work and how we best contribute.

Right. So we focus more on the areas, on the things that do, that we're great at. And then we bring others in.

Right. Like who should we hand something? Should we hand something off to a different person?

Because that's their strength. That's their skillset. That's what they live in.

Right. So that's been something that we've always done. Like we've, we haven't been the agency where we've also always used EOS as like an end all be all.

When I say that it's a set of tools in a framework, I fully believe that because it's, there are other things that we then lay on top of it. Right. So the more that we learn about one another, we then take that and then use that with that level of knowledge within the framework.

Right. And I think that's really great, but no, I think the more, the more you will find that you, that this becomes second nature, right. All of these kinds of aspects of EOS, the weekly reporting, the accountability, the ease with which you can just kind of have these conversations, rock setting and hitting on rocks.

Right. Yeah. All of that just becomes, you don't think about it as much.

Right. Like I have on my schedule every Thursday, I have like either an hour or 90 minutes, usually an hour blocked every week for rock work. I know during that time block, I'm going to get whatever I have on my weekly rock plan, right.

Which is how you break up, how you're going to get to your rock. That's my time. Like that's just on my calendar.

I know that that's what it is. You know what I mean? So you just, things just start to become second nature, which is, and anyone can see that on my calendar, like, Oh, nope, that's important.

You know what I mean? They understand that that's a thing I should be focusing on.

Mitchell: Yeah. Yeah. We need a language, you know, we need a language for this, for, for traction.

It's well-named, you know, we want to go in the same direction for a long period of time to get to a destination. And in order to do that, you have to have, you have to have a language that everybody understands that becomes second nature. So it's, you're making me feel optimistic.

This will, this idea of rocks and sweating it, I'm about to have to report that I did or didn't do it. All that kind of stuff is going to be, it's going to become easier. Those muscles will be more, more flexible, more strong.

So, yeah.

Genina: I think it's also because you don't have to do anything fully alone, right?

Mitchell: Yeah.

Genina: No, you're not like, you're not in a meeting by yourself. Like there's somebody there you're usually reporting to another person. And I think that's also the big part of EOS.

Like, again, there's like all these things that may be like, we don't necessarily think of, but when everyone is aware, no one is alone. Right. When all the stuff is out there, instead of it being a scary thing, it's just a thing we're all working on together.

Mitchell: Yeah.

Genina: And then it just becomes something like, if I'm aware that my teammate has been struggling on a thing, the mindset is not, why can't she hit this thing? It's, Hey, do you need a hand? Do you, can I help with that?

Let's talk about it. Like, it's just about, it's, it's not, it's about reframing the way that you look at things because we're all working together because in one way or another, what that person is doing is affecting me, hopefully positively. So instead of sitting there and being upset and throwing that person on the bus, why am I not reaching out a hand or having a discussion or just taking a moment to be like, let's talk about it.

Let's talk about it in this meeting. Let's IDS it. I love an IDS.

If IDS isn't a verb yet for you and your team, it will be. It's to the point where I've used it at home. And my husband's like, what? And I was like, we'll just IDS that later. And he's like, what are you talking about? And I'm like, JK, just kidding.

But we should like, but we should IDS it. So it's definitely, it's definitely a lot of it. I think a lot of it is looking at things and reframing them and realizing that a lot of it is just taking away the silos, which meaning that, which means that to your earlier point in the last podcast, like I can do it, I can do it alone.

But the answer is, but why?

Mitchell: Yeah. Why? Why?

Like you, you don't have to, you reach a certain size and the load is too heavy to carry by yourself. Um, yeah. And even if you're a small business, you shouldn't carry some of these things by yourself.

Genina: The idea, especially if you're a small business, like I feel like small business, right? If you're a small business, odds are like, if no one's looking, you're carrying, you got like 75 hats on. You only got one head.

Mitchell: Yeah.

Genina: What, what are you doing? Like, and that's, and that is where it becomes second nature to so many people. If they've, if that's their experience is working in small businesses, right?

Cause you gotta, you have to be, you have to be pulling your weight. And usually that means you're doing a whole lot of things. So this just lets everybody know, Hey, I see all those hats.

Maybe five of those, you don't even need to be holding at all. Like those might not even be like, I looked at like looking at the accountability chart, looking at things like maybe that isn't what you should be doing, like that's a different role. Like that's a whole nother seat on the bus.

Mitchell: Yeah. Yeah. Well, Genina, this has been really, really great.

Really informative. Um, I'm talking to some veterans who are using EOS and getting reassurance that we're headed in the right direction. And, um, other people out there listening are, are getting similarly reassured.

I just want to say, I really appreciate your time. And thanks for joining the podcast.

Genina: You are so welcome. If you, if you keep with it, if you all pull in the same direction, if you all really believe in it, man, there's no limit.

Mitchell: Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you again.

Genina: Thank you.

Mitchell: All right. Best of luck to you guys.

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