318 - Leading Fast Growth with Aron Ezra - John Laurito
Episode 318 Leading Fast Growth with Aron Ezra Tomorrows Leader Podcast with John Laurito

318 – Leading Fast Growth with Aron Ezra

In this episode, host John Laurito talks with Aron Ezra, Chairman of the Board at Plan A Technologies, about leadership and the importance of trusting leaders as an organization scales up. They also talk about letting go of control and how empowering your people can make a difference in how you lead them. He also shares how he leads his entire organization as they grow rapidly.

Aron Ezra currently serves as Chairman of Plan A Technologies, an award-winning software development firm with offices in the US, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Plan A tackles software challenges for organizations ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. 

He was previously CEO of OfferCraft, a B2B software company used by retail, entertainment, and financial services businesses. He led OfferCraft’s team through its successful funding and through its exponential growth over the following years. OfferCraft won the Platinum Award from the G&L Roundtable for the best technology in the gaming industry; was named Startup of the Year by the Best in Biz Awards; was named one of the Top 20 Most Innovative Technologies of 2017; and was profiled in over 200 news stories published in places like The New York Times, Forbes, Quartz, and Business Insider. 

In 2018, he orchestrated the successful sale of OfferCraft to NRT, a Toronto-based FinTech company that processes over $20 billion annually. As part of that deal, Aron agreed to serve as the Chief Marketing Officer at NRT for 18 months and to assist with OfferCraft’s integration into NRT.

Prior to that, Aron was CEO of MacroView Labs, a mobile software startup used by hospitality, travel, healthcare, event, and retail customers. Aron grew MacroView from a tiny startup into a multimillion-dollar software-as-a-service company with millions of users globally and dozens of industry awards. In 2011, he led a successful M&A process that resulted in multiple bids; MacroView was ultimately acquired by Bally Technologies (now part of Scientific Games NASDAQ: SGMS), one of the largest casino and game companies in the world. After that deal, Aron was named VP of Mobile & Interactive at Bally, where he led several major initiatives.

Learn more about Aron and Plan A Technologies at:

[0:00] Intro

[1:58] How does he lead an organization through the aggressive growth path?

[5:12] Having the trust in the leaders as an organization scale up

[8:30] What’s the downside of letting go of control?

[14:31] What’s the difference between management and leadership?

[17:03] Looking ahead and what leaders need to be ready for to be relevant and effective

[20:35] Where does he see their company going with his leadership?

[23:15] Learn more about Aron and Plan A Technologies

[24:12] Outro

Get a copy of “Tomorrow’s Leader” on Amazon.

John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on an insatiable quest to learn everything I can about leadership. What makes the best leaders so good? After running companies small and large over the last 20 years, today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name is John Laurito. I’m your host, and I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this very topic and what makes the best leader so good. Welcome to tomorrow’s leader. All right, tomorrow’s leaders. So today’s guest is Aron Ezra. He is chairman of the board of a company called Plan A Technologies, a company that’s growing incredibly fast, like they’re hiring a person every other day and doing some phenomenal things there all over the world. And Aron is an example of a true leader. This guy has a great leadership background, served as CEO of multiple companies and just a very real, authentic leader, very in touch with what it’s all about to influence large change and very forward thinking. So I really love this conversation that I had with him. We could have gone a lot longer, but I know in this relatively short period of time you going to get a lot from it. So here is Aron Ezra. 

John All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep on all things leader related related to leading yourself and leading others. I am John and to your host here with a great guest, I’ve got Aron Ezra, who’s the chairman of the board for a great company called Eight Technology. Aron, welcome to the show. 

Aron Thanks so much for having me. 

John Yeah, pleasure to have you. There’s a lot that I want to pick your brain on, my friend, because I know you’re doing some phenomenal things now. You’ve done some pretty amazing thing. You’re very things. You’re very successful entrepreneur. Very successful leader. Let me start with one just question about success. It ties in into success in your organization. Planet Technology has grown fast, really, really fast. And I find leaders sometimes kind of, for lack of putting it a better way, get over their skis, you know, something goes, starts getting a little out of control. Share with the audience a little bit about how you lead organizations through that aggressive growth phase and what are the most critical things that you have to really be keeping your eye on? 

Aron Well, I think I think when you’re gearing up for a really, really aggressive growth path, it’s really important to make certain that everyone is aligned. First of all, so you don’t have different people kind of working towards very different goals because things fall apart quickly when that happens. And second, that you have a true vision that everyone knows they are aiming for that’s really, really, really clear. So at Planet Technologies, we’re a software development company, so our vision is to really be building the future of technology. We say everywhere, Hey, we’re coding the future, we’re building the future. And we want people who are fellow builders, people who really, really love that, people who are getting behind that. And that dovetails very, very nicely with the idea of growing our own company, because not only are we helping to build all sorts of super cool stuff for lots and lots of different Fortune 500 companies and startups and other organizations around the world. But we’re also getting the chance to sort of drink our own Kool-Aid and build our own thing and create our own company as we are helping these other companies, too, to build what they want. So it starts there. And then, you know, I think a lot about, you know, as you are growing like that, you need to think about once you have that vision, you need to build the machine. So for a company like ours and most of the companies out there, you really have to think about, all right, how do I get new clients and keep our existing clients happy? So you have the client side of the machine or customer side, if it’s a B to C company and then you have the people side. So how do I get all the great people I need? How do I keep these people over here? And so as you’re scaling super fast with a company like ours where we’re hiring a person every other day and many weeks, person every single day, we need to make sure that that machine is healthy, that there are leaders in charge of everything who understand the vision, who are looking out for for issues and problems. We you know, one of the folks I was talking to on our team who was an account manager was trying to tackle all these different things himself. And I said to him, listen, you know, you don’t have to do everything yourself. You have a whole team behind you supporting you. Think of yourself as the person on the watchtower looking out for forest fires along the tree line. You need to let us know when there’s an issue and make sure everybody and within the company, everybody who’s part of that machine understands their role, how they can help, and knows with great confidence that the rest of the company is going to be backing them up and helping them. So that process of building the machine and making sure you have the infrastructure there and the people who are energized and excited about the vision is is really what it’s all about. 

John So and that’s super helpful. And what I’m hearing from you is a few different things. One is, you know, a big part of this is the leadership team that you have in place. I mean, my guess also is what comes with that, not only the the crystal clear vision and alignment with the vision, but I’m also assuming it’s not like one or two people are controlling everything. You really need to have the trust in your leaders. And you need to give that trust. You need empower them to make the decisions. Otherwise you’re never going to scale, right? 

Aron Yeah. Yeah. Well, that that’s that’s actually one of the real points of tension for a lot of startups as they start to scale. In my first startup, I was a little bit of a control freak where, you know, I just felt like I had to do every darn thing, you know? Like if there was a client problem, I would get involved every single time. If there was a personnel issue, I would get involved every single time. And I thought that’s the way to do it, you know, to to be not just the coach, but the captain of the team kind of getting in there and doing everything that, that, that needed to be done alongside of everyone. And I thought, this is going to be great because this is going to really help the team to feel like, man, Aaron’s got my back is there for me. He’s, he’s, he’s everywhere I need him to be. And in reality, that’s partially true. But you’re also then not empowering these people. They kind of feel like they can’t make any decisions without, you know, Aaron getting involved or the boss getting involved. And so people start to feel more helpless. And it’s like raising a child. You can’t do everything for the child. You have to teach the child what to do, and you have to give everybody the chance to shine and be their best selves, and otherwise they don’t have ownership over it. And so that’s a difficult balance to find when you’re when you’re kind of a first time CEO starting out. But but yeah, you know, I think I think having a leadership team that is, as I mentioned, aligned with the vision and and you know, one of the things I talk to folks about a lot is the idea that leadership is really made up, both of, you know, inspiring people and being that, you know, trustworthy, inspiring leader, but also kind of the day to day core staff of management. So leadership is a little different than management, and you need to make certain that the leaders understand it operationally. These are the frickin things I’ve got to do and get done every day versus here are the things I can do to listen better, to be empathetic, to try to create a better structure for for making everybody a success on the team and so on. 

John I love it. And and, you know, a couple of things I want to go back to a minute about about being a control freak is you’ve got a lot of control freaks are listening some to some of them are are aware that they’re control freaks. Some would not call themselves control freaks. But I see that honestly as one of the biggest issues that really does prevent a company from breaking through and scaling, and it just slows the whole organization down it. Just to to your point, you hit it right in the spot. Those eight players that are on those, the team that are that are leading, when they’re not empowered, they’re feeling helpless, they’re not developing, they’re not growing, they’re not making an impact. They’re frustrated. They feel like their leader doesn’t have faith in them and confidence in them. And ultimately they’re going to go, that’s how you lose a players. So for the control freaks that are saying, okay, I get it, I need to change, what’s the downside that they need to be ready for? So if they say, okay, got it, now I’m going to start pushing authority, you know, distributed authority and empowering people. What should they be ready for? What is the realistic downside potentially to doing that? 

Aron Well, I think there’s always a very delicate balance that needs to be found, because on the one hand, you have the control freak folks that we’re talking about now who want to do everything. But then you also have on the other side of the spectrum the people who are usually coming from a very, very large company environment where there are sometimes tens of thousands of employees. And management is often less about execution and more about being a fantastic traffic cop and the coordination of multiple other people. And so you end up with these situations very often where a small company gets somebody who’s used to and only capable of working in a big company environment where they’re trying to, like, tell everybody what to do. And the small companies like, hey, you’re not actually doing anything, man. Like, you got to, like, actually get on this. And then you have the other side where you have the people who have excelled because a startup, when it’s in its little tiny baby stage and it’s first getting going, kind of needs some control freaks to some degree. But you need people who are all in, who are doing everything all the time, and that works and helps at a small scale, but then obviously doesn’t scale up at all and completely falls apart as you get as you get, as you get bigger. So to answer your question, I think the first thing for people who are feeling like, oh, gosh, I think I might be a control freak, are you telling me I’m a control freak? What do I do? Is to really, I think, understand what that leads to, like logically play out and show yourself. And this is what I did for myself. I had I’m a very, very highly logical thinker. I had to think like, wait a minute, yes, I am capable of doing all these different things. That’s great. There’s other people who are like that in the world. I’m not the only one, but I’m actually holding us back and remembering to think about. There are only so many hours in the day. You need many, many, many people who can do these things for an organization to really scale. That’s a big kind of first step. And then I think rather than trying to just wholesale overnight be like, All right, I’m changing everything, it’s all going to be different here. Everyone’s going to be totally confused. That’s never going to work. But doing things in a piecemeal way where you say, All right, first, what I’m going to do is on the recruiting side, I’m going to let the recruiters do what they need to do. Or you’re in a totally different part of the business. On the manufacturing side, I’m going to not trust these people to take on these tasks and slowly beginning to give more responsibility and trusting. But verifying is always a great one. Big cliche, of course, but trust your people to do things, verify that they’ve done it. If somebody messes something up, that’s okay. Give them a chance. Or to do like do those mess ups, help them, teach them, you know? And those things, if done in a slower, more gradual way, I think, can help people to suddenly feel a lot more comfortable. And just speaking for myself, you know, once I started to do that a lot more, I found a lot more success and I was a lot more relaxed about my life. My wife was a lot happier as well. 

John So well, you know, it’s so funny. You bring it up. I mean, that’s that is a real interesting observation that as I’ve worked in you, you yourself have worked with so many leaders, I see leaders in every industry at all different levels, very, very successful ones. And most of them, unlike what people would think most of them are when if they’re really effective and they’re really good, they’re not running around with their hair on fire and beads of sweat dripping down their head and beet red and barking out orders and highly stressed and working 100 hours a week. That’s not what they’re doing. That’s not effective leadership. That’s a great sign of somebody who’s a control freak and not empowering the ones that are really effective. I mean, they’ve got balance in their life. They’re less stressed. You know, they’re having they’re passionate about other things in their life and and doing other things outside of work. I mean, it’s it’s fascinating. That was one of my big aha moments as I really start to got obsessed about figuring out this whole, you know, what are the best of the best really? 

Aron Do I think that’s absolutely right. And and I think there’s also a a real it’s one of the additional realizations that I came to at least was that that happens once you had sort of a medium sized business that when you’re running a small startup company in those first years, it’s okay to be totally freaked out, running around like crazy, because a lot of people are like, I don’t understand, what am I doing wrong? And then I’ll say, Look, this is this is how most little startups actually finally get to that stage. You know, I often think about how in business there are and, you know, it’s almost like the laws of physics, where there’s the normal laws of physics, there’s the normal laws of how business works. But then when you’re really small and just starting out, it’s like the quantum level. There’s all sorts of different rules. Everything’s all different at that super tiny stage. And I feel like that’s how. That’s how things go for a lot of companies where, you know, when you’re at that little stage, don’t beat yourself up. If you’re putting in the crazy long hours, you know, that’s just kind of what’s needed. Not all the time, but for most start ups, at least that I’ve seen too, to really get to that next level. But then once you get to that next level. Amen, brother. You don’t want to keep running around like that. You’ll have a freaking heart attack like you need to come up with infrastructure to be able to grow in a more systematic way. 

John Yeah, that’s a great point. You know, the what the person is in the first couple of years of a start up and it’s this, you know, there’s their own baby that they’re bringing up from birth here. It’s not you know, you’re all of a sudden working 30 hours a week and, you know, expect success. You got to put in the time for sure. You talked about the difference. And I agree there’s such a difference between management and leadership. And I think about what some of the what some of the critical elements in those categories of if you thought about like as a leader, here’s what top level leadership. Here’s like the one or two really big things that stick out to me in terms of characteristics of great leadership. And then also on management, the same thing, you know, what’s one or two? What somebody who’s really great at management, what does that maybe look like just to kind of hammer that point? 

Aron Yeah. You know, I think when I think about management, I think like these are the people who are getting it done. Those or those are the tasks that you need to do, I should say, to actually like do the work, you know, hey, we need to fix this issue that we’re having with invoicing or we need to, you know, we’ve got a an issue on that with our supply chain that we need to address or we need to, you know, renegotiate certain clause in a contract like the nuts and bolts of like this is the stuff that needs to happen and it needs to happen in a smart, effective way. And I wouldn’t call it the boring stuff that’s really like a massive part of every leader’s job. Like, Yeah, you’re responsible for those things. You got to make sure that those things are happening and happening in a, in a good way, leadership. I think of much more as, you know, the the person who gets everybody together in the room and is able to rally the troops and inspire people or, you know, seize the individual contributor who maybe hasn’t been recognized and has been overlooked and is able to go to that person and say thank you and give them a bonus or whatever the person the act of thinking ahead and saying like, huh, this looks like something that could be pretty freaking disruptive to our industry. I better make sure that we start a little skunkworks team to try to address that, or maybe reposition ourselves or try to acquire that or partner with them or whatever it is, you know, thinking ahead about those things. So it’s kind of the when I think about leadership, I think these are the obviously the people issues, who you are and all of that. But also, you know, thinking ahead and really just trying to look out for, you know, am I steering the ship in the right direction? Is that is that crew okay? Are we are are all these different things happening that that should be happening as we look ahead over the next year, the next five years, the next ten years and so on? 

John Excellent. I love it. As and speaking of looking ahead, as you look ahead and you think about how things in your mind are going to change moving forward over the next few years, what do leaders need to be ready for? What do they need to be staying a couple of steps ahead of in order to be really relevant and effective? 

Aron I mean, you just talked about the thing that keeps me up at night all the time that I think about a lot. So great question. You know, I think that there’s obviously a major shift happening right now in the way that companies work and the way that work is is done. A lot of the move toward remote everything is a real massive shift in how you recruit, how you foster connections between people and a sense of belonging to an organization. Our company is almost entirely remote, and so we have to come up with all sorts of interesting games and activities and teaching sessions and lots and lots of different stuff that we do to try to keep everybody engaged. There’s also a much bigger move towards internationalization. And so our company has staff members from, I think, 17 different countries now. And so that is different for some people. And you need to think a lot about, all right, how are we creating information that is going to be not only understood, but but interpreted correctly by everyone? You know, we just just had this morning a conversation with one of our staff members who said, hey, we’re getting compensated on this. And so some of the people thought they meant cash compensation, but other people locally thought that meant they were just getting extra days off. And so little things like that you have to think about in a big way. This globalization really changes how an organization needs to think. And I think that’s going you know, there were always these massive multinational corporations, but that was the case. But I think globalization is happening on a smaller and smaller scale. So that’s a big one. Obviously, the advent of, you know, the ability for workers to communicate with each other, see, go online and see Glassdoor, reviews of what everybody thinks and what everybody’s earning and everything else. There’s a level of transparency today that I think is very healthy, actually, and fosters a lot more competition. But for a lot of more old school companies, they’ve got to think about that a little bit. You know, and what you know, the old days of of a boss completely losing it and doing whatever we wanted to do, and then the team members having nowhere to go as those days are are disappearing. And then, of course, all of the cool new technology that enables some very, very cool new ways of communicating with each other. You know, that’s changing. And like all of the impact of AI and how that’s changing so many different industries from a leadership perspective, you know, the ability to understand with great depth what your customers are doing and what they want, what your employees are doing and what their pain points are. You know, all of those things are having some really, really interesting impacts which we could probably spent 2 hours talking about. But, you know, just as a quick high level, those are some of the things I think. 

John About, great insights. I love it. And obviously, you know, you’re you’re a you’re an impactful, engaged leader that’s really certainly got a great pulse on what’s happening. And you’re also, you know, planning technology is doing phenomenal things. I know you’ve done phenomenal things. I know you’ve got a big vision. What is that vision? Where do you see the company going with your leadership and the other leaders and the great teams that you have put together? 

Aron Yeah. So, you know, for for our company, my last two companies that I built and sold were products companies, and those were fun and exciting and I had a great time doing it with Planet Technologies. Our goal is really, as I started to say a little bit earlier, to just we’re builders, we love creating new things. And so our our first mandate is just build new, cool stuff for the future. And so that’s a that’s a great vision to attract people. It’s a great vision for our clients. The other big thing that we try to do a lot, and I’d say more than half of our customers today are companies that were having trouble in some way with a piece of technology. Sometimes it’s not much trouble. Sometimes it’s horrible, horrible problems or something just got hacked or something’s been unsupported or something has just crashed and everybody’s freaking out. But a lot of our clients come to us when they’re like, Yeah, you’ve got to save us. You’ve got to fix this thing. And so, you know, that’s something that we absolutely love. It’s really, you know, as a bunch of people who are huge fans of technology is very, very fun to get to be the superhero that flies in to save the day and says like, all right, what’s what’s the issue? Let’s dig in. Let’s figure this thing out. You know, we’re people who love puzzles and challenges. And, you know, the the stakes are very, very high for a lot of our clients. When they are coming to us, they’re often losing a massive amount of money or huge opportunities or many of them are afraid they’re about to be fired when they select us. They’re kind of like, please, please don’t mess this up. There is a lot at stake for them. And so that is something that we take very, very seriously. You know, we’re kind of that often the technology equivalent of emergency room surgeons where people will come and say, like, oh, my God, this this thing’s been shot and run over and had a house dropped on it. Please save it, save it, save it. And so, you know, that is there’s high adrenaline. It’s really exciting and it’s fun to get a chance to actually then save it and not only save it, but actually make it better and enhance it and all those other things. So, you know, we look forward to getting a chance to continue to do that, expanding into more places, continuing to hire more folks and, you know, bringing that that expertize to more companies around the world. 

John That’s great. Well, I love your story. I love what you’re doing. I love what’s happened. And your trajectory is phenomenal. So congrats on that. If people want to learn more, they want to learn more about plan a technologies or engage with you. What’s the best way for them to do that? 

Aron Yeah, just head over to the website which is planatechnologies.com. And there’s our phone number or an email and everything over there. 

John Awesome. Terrific. Well, Aaron, I appreciate it. You are a insightful guy with lots of wisdom. I appreciate you sharing that with the audience. I’ve picked up some things for sure, and I love to chat with you and I hope you come back another time. 

Aron No, I would love that. And thank you so much for the kind words and for having me on the show. 

John You got it. And thanks a lot for joining today. We’ve been here with Aron Ezra, chairman of the board for Planet Technologies. All the links are in the show notes, so be sure to check them out. Be sure to engage. Phenomenal company with a bright, bright future ahead. Doing some great things, as always. 

John Appreciate you listening today. Like share, subscribe, all that kind of good stuff. Go down below, give a five star review and we’ll see you next time. Take care. Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. For suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching, reach me at John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks, lead on!

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