Our Company’s Implementation of the EOS Framework Based on The Book Traction
One of the most important things for any company, especially a startup, is to have a clear vision.
I lacked a solid vision for Direction.com for many years, with three questions that constantly came up, which I struggled to create answers for:
- What are our long-term goals?
- What are our core values?
- What separates us from the competition?
I knew that answering these questions was critical to developing a solid vision for my company. That’s where the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) came in, and it all started with a book called Traction.
Once our mission became clear, EOS helped us develop the framework for communicating the vision within the company, as well as the most vital piece — how to execute. The company is now fully running on the EOS model. We have a clear strategy, and exciting growth in the company.
Business Operating Frameworks
There are many business operating frameworks such as Pinnacle, OKRs, and Scaling Up. Each framework has its strengths. EOS, based on the book Traction, along with an entire library of supporting books, is the framework with which we are now building a solid, well-run organization.
The Entrepreneurial Operating System model provided a simple yet effective framework for creating and communicating our company’s vision to our employees, contractors, and customers. As a result, we’ve been able to maintain better focus and alignment as we scale our business by getting everyone on the same page with where and why we’re going there.
No matter what you’re looking for in business, whether it be growth, joy, clarity, simplicity, or even for less time in the business, the book Traction and its EOS principles can provide it.
The EOS Journey
In this blog series, my leadership team: Ian Dawson, COO, Connor Wilkins, CMO and I break down the implementation process of EOS for our company. We’re going to get real here with both our successes and our struggles.
Every company will have a different EOS journey. By reading ours, you’ll gain insights into the process, learn what worked for us (that may also work for you), and get a better understanding on what kind of impact EOS can have on your organization.
We hope to share our story as gratitude to everyone who has helped us along the way, as a testament to the power of this framework, and as an entertaining, informative story that provides transparency into who we are as a company.
My Entrepreneurship Attempts
I was nine years old when I discovered I could make money online. I’d run around to yard sales in the neighborhood, offer small amounts of money for random items such as books, calculators, and other electronics, then sell them on eBay.
While I was making hundreds of dollars by age 10, it wasn’t sustainable. Having to convince my parents to drive me to the post office multiple times a day when my dad worked full-time, and my mom was busy with three other children, all of whom were younger than I was, caused me to run an inefficient online store with terribly long shipping times (if only I had EOS at age 10!).
Fast-forward to when I was 16. Speeding cameras were being installed for the first time throughout the state of Maryland. I purchased a few hundred bottles of reflective spray from China for less than $1/bottle. I then went from parking lot to parking lot selling them for $8/bottle.
Little did I know that tampering with a license plate is illegal. Well, at least the police officers who confiscated my inventory were convinced I had no clue about the illegality of such a thing. People still bought them, so whatever.
After attempts at multiple jobs, entrepreneurial pursuits, and college by the time I was 20 — I had no idea what I was doing with my life. So, I joined the US Army. By the time I was 23, I was going on missions with intelligence agencies, meeting with foreign diplomats, and seeing places around the world that 99.9% of Americans will likely never see in their lifetimes. It was AWESOME.
After my first two deployments to Afghanistan, when the opportunity to go to Iraq came, I jumped on it. As a 24-year-old US Army linguist who could speak multiple languages fluently, excelled at shooting, was at my peak physical fitness, and was being recruited by various 3-letter government agencies — I thought I was unstoppable.
I also believed I’d be doing that work for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until the reality that the chaos in the Middle East could kill me, hit me — literally. With rockets and gunfire landing too close for comfort (and too often), I realized something needed to change.
While I made it out relatively unharmed, I didn’t want to gamble my life away for a paycheck at the whim of a politician. If I’m going to take risks, I’d prefer to make way more money in the process and take those risks for myself.
How Hard Can Running a Business Really Be?
My journey in starting a company has been a wild ride. I remember it like it was just yesterday. The day I started Direction.com. September 9th, 2016.
I was excited, nervous, proud, confused, scared and motivated. I was on the way out of the secure military and government world and onto the unknown path of entrepreneurship.
While there are plenty of reasons why I believed the company wasn’t gaining traction, many of them “weren’t my fault.” Instead, I thought it was all just part of the entrepreneurial journey that every business owner faces. I also believed that eventually, not taking a single day off and working 70+ hours a week would pay off. I had a lot to learn.
Over the years, I’ve learned more about leadership, myself and people than I ever imagined. I’m still learning. The company’s first few years were basically a sh*tshow of never ending hurdles that became more challenging as my efforts to grow the company would continue to fall flat. I had lackluster systems and processes, in 2018 I went through a messy and expensive partner buyout, and by 2019 I had rebuilt my team from the ground up multiple times.
When the company got to the first million dollars in revenue in 2019, it was not because I was great at sales (my CRM was a whiteboard), not because I hired the right people, nor because I worked 70+ hours a week of chaotic, unorganized firefighting.
I truly believe that the only reason the company got to its first million is that in a world of confusion around the offering of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) — Direction.com provided clarity and tangible results. Not only did we acquire new clients through our own SEO efforts with hundreds of top rankings in Google, but we also grew our clients, who, in turn, grew us with increased budgets and referrals.
Issues with Scalability
I knew that doing great work, just as we said we would do for our clients, would only take us so far. Dedicating endless hours to campaigns where there was no such thing as “all the SEO work is done” was not scalable. On top of the severe lack of scalability, I was still dealing with just about every typical business issue.
I was left with three options:
- I could work myself to death
- I could shut down the company and get a high-paying government job
- I could set my ego aside and learn how to control the chaos that was my company
Over the years, I fell in love with SEO. Plus, I gave up my life as a wannabe James Bond. There was no going back at this point (literally, I got a huge arm tattoo so that I could never change my identity, thus eliminating my ability to do the government work I could have done). I selected option 3: I’m ALL IN.
When Chaos Hits [Via A Global Pandemic]
It was March 2020. Confusion about the world was killing everyone. Our local governments locked us down. Companies were yanking entire marketing budgets.
The news instilled fear into anyone who would listen. It seemed like the sure end of any business that wasn’t stockpiled with cash.
It was coming down to the wire. So I turned to my newly found business group called Entrepreneurs Organization. I was in the Washington, DC, chapter. Most people in the group of about 200 were just as lost as any business owner regarding how to navigate the pandemic. Nobody had planned for this.
But there were some who, despite all odds, seemed quite confident they’d pull through. Of those people, there were three prominent commonalities I found;
- They were strong leaders
- They had the right people in the right seats
- They had a mission, a vision, and well-established values
I had to know how to save my company. Not just from the pandemic but myself. I had a lot of learning, understanding, and growing to do — and I needed more time to do it. Especially since I was still fully involved in all of the day-to-day business activity, just trying to keep the company together through a pandemic.
Getting Traction Through The Entrepreneurial Operating System Model
The definition of Traction: the support, drive, interest, etc., needed to make something happen and succeed.
The book Traction couldn’t have been named anything better. I read it for the first time in April 2020 after learning that many companies in my local EO chapter had great success running their business on the operating system described in the book.
It’s an understatement to say I needed to be faster to implement what I learned in the book. While it certainly takes anywhere from a few months to a full year, it wasn’t until 2022 when we fully implemented EOS. We’ll get to that in a later chapter.
After reading Traction, there was a specific chapter that vibed with me more than anything else. And that was the chapter on people, roles, and the terms “Visionary” and “Integrator.”
A lightbulb went off in my head. I knew what needed to be done, and I had to begin executing.
A new phase of the company is now in play, and being built into a work of art. We now know exactly where we’re headed. We have a plan of action, and a team that I’d give the world for.
My true understanding of people, empathy, and leadership — all of which I’ve had many struggles with — continues to grow.
A Glance into How EOS Works for Direction.com
Many people self-implement the framework taught in Traction, and we also tried. Although, after about six months, I knew we needed to utilize the system to its full potential. After hiring Byron Attridge, a professional EOS implementer, I only wish I had done so from the get-go. Hiring a professional EOS implementer is, and will always be, in the top 3 best decisions I’ve ever made for the company, right behind the decisions to focus solely on SEO and build out our software, Direction Local.
EOS is based on using simple tools to solve complex problems. It’s designed to help businesses clarify, simplify, and execute their vision to achieve their goals. The system is comprised of six key components:
1. Core Values
Core values are the fundamental beliefs that guide company decision-making. Our core values here at Direction.com are to:
Once we solidified these, the results for our culture were amazing, and our culture only continues to strengthen as time goes on. We ensured that our core values were few in number (3), clear, concise, and easy to remember.
2. Solving Issues
3. Meeting Rhythms
The scorecard is the way we track progress toward 3-5 specific company numbers per person. Our scorecard includes financial and non-financial numbers to get a well-rounded view of our company’s performance week over week. We do not set these numbers in stone, and have changed the numbers we track a few times – and continue to, as the goal is to find the 10-15 absolute best numbers to track which reflect our company performance week over week.
5. Quarterly Themes
6. Team Roles & Responsibilities
More on The Entrepreneurial Operating System
There are many different business operating frameworks out there. Here at Direction.com, we were primarily looking for a way to:
EOS has been a godsend for us in many ways. It’s a simple yet effective system that has helped our company develop and achieve goals faster than I ever imagined. I am excited to see what the future holds with our company operating on this framework. Check out the next chapter to learn more about our EOS implementation struggles and successes, Hitting The Ceiling.