Propeller recently celebrated its 5th birthday and we wanted to recognize this milestone by interviewing our co-founders, Jeff Foley and Amy Weeden, about the start of Propeller. Jeff and Amy started thinking seriously about partnering together to start their own firm after Jeff's car broke down one evening and Amy stayed to help. The extra time gave them the chance to discover they both had similar thoughts on what a successful firm would look like. At 5 years old, Propeller has become one of Portland's largest management consulting firms, has grown from 1 employee to 70, and has opened a second office in San Francisco.
Wow, 5 years is a big milestone! Is Propeller today, with offices in Portland and San Francisco, what you envisioned 5 years ago?
Amy: Jeff and I were very diligent about putting together a detailed business plan that included revenue forecasts and business pro formas. We are both incredibly optimistic people and I’m proud to say that we have exceeded our expectations in so many ways. It was much harder to envision the people that are part of Propeller, both employees and clients. The relationships that we have developed over the past 5 years have been so gratifying and exceptional: it is what has made the Propeller experience so meaningful to me.
Jeff: It is a big milestone! I recently reread our original business plan before answering and it was interesting to reflect on how we saw the business back then. Since the very beginning, we knew that talent and a culture of high performance would be a key aspect of the firm. We also discussed expanding outside of Portland naming both Seattle and Sacramento as possible target markets. I’m proud that we actually exceeded our original revenue targets by over 50%, considering we are both very optimistic by nature. The level of collaboration that Amy and I had working through the original business plan and pro forma financial statements set the tone for constructive dialogue, commitment to the best ideas no matter where they came from, true partnership, and respect. Those themes continue to this day. We weren’t 100% right on everything, but our original vision has been pretty accurate for the most part.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?
Amy: Trust your instinct; it’s most often on the mark.
Jeff: We received advice from friends and colleagues when we first started, so there weren’t too many things that surprised us. The advice I would give myself is to delegate early and often. Building the firm is a team effort and I was initially slow to let others take on things like writing proposals or other tasks I was used to doing myself. It’s scary to let go, but doing so allows others to step up, take more responsibility, and grow their own careers.
Propeller is focused on people and culture, two big reasons why employees enjoy working here. How do you foresee our culture changing as we grow?
Jeff: The culture will morph as new people enter the firm but I don’t see it fundamentally changing. There are core tenets that we captured in our Culture Manifesto that we’ll always refer to. The first example is promoting from within which helps ensure leaders fully embrace the culture, and the second example is expanding outside of Portland. The geography expansion is a big part of our overall growth strategy and captures the spirit of the principle, “Move Forward”. Above all else, we’ll always be committed to doing the right thing.
Amy: Ultimately, the people that join our firm represent our culture. We do an annual offsite with our team and at the last one, we took the time to reflect on what our firm will look like in 5 years, as guided by our culture manifesto principles. The vision that stood out most was a firm that continues to be human, innovative, and full of “energy bringers”.
Tell us about the expansion to San Francisco. What are the biggest challenges businesses are facing in the Bay Area?
Jeff: Starting the San Francisco office is very similar to the early days when we first launched Propeller in Portland. Recruiting stands out as the biggest difference. Candidates have a lot more options of where to work because the San Francisco market is larger. Overall, I am very proud of the team we have created so far in San Francisco.
Amy: We are very excited about our growth thus far in San Francisco. We are developing relationships with some very prominent clients and are building a solid team that includes some talent from Portland. I think the biggest challenge that is facing companies in the Bay Area is finding the right talent that can commit long enough to accomplish something meaningful. The talent market is very transient and exceptional talent has many options.
Every time we hire someone new, we always ask their references to describe them as an animal. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
Amy: Hmmm. I think I would be a raven because of their use of logic in problem solving and their ability to soar high above the trees. Ravens also work with other animals, like wolves and foxes, to reach their goals. It sounds a lot like consulting to me.
Jeff: This took a bit of research but I’d pick the Harpy Eagle. First, it flies so it reflects my personal hobbies. Second, they are heavy lifters able to capture prey as big as they are, and third, they eat sloths! Businesses should always be more like the Harpy Eagle than the sloth.