As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Beck.
Jeff is the Chief Executive Officer and President of Leaf Home Solutions, a leading provider of home products — such as windows, gutters, home safety, and more. With over 16 years of industry experience rooted in information technology, operations, project management, and leadership, Beck has transformed the internal business operations, implementing innovative technology that has fostered unmatched scale.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started with LeafFilter Gutter Protection as the director of technology in 2014. Since then, the company has now grown into Leaf Home Solutions — and LeafFilter is just one of our lines of business that help homeowners. What initially drove me to this company was the core belief in developing custom software applications. Back then, the company was paper-driven. I always wanted software specific to LeafFilter, and that’s what I set out to build.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Back when I was rolling out our new technology, I was a team of one, and I accidentally deleted all the data from our system. This wasn’t funny at the time! Our call center was down, and panic ensued. I am the one who had to deal with it and own my mistakes. Even in my role now, I make mistakes every day, but I’m able to quickly correct by owning it, embracing it, and moving on.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would say Matt Kaulig, the founder and executive chairman of LeafFilter, is my mentor. I was always the person who was going to do my own thing and have my own business, but when I met Matt, we clicked. Our skills just complemented each other: traditional sales meets tech. He had the ability to see where the company needed change and brought me in to make the company even more successful. We have an incredible partnership.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think our purpose has ever changed — we’re still focused on helping people keep their homes safe. Sometimes I think of a person struggling to get in and out of the bathtub or who isn’t physically able to get on their roof and clean their gutters — that’s where we come in. We are truly in the business of helping people and finding unique ways to make their lives easier. It’s what drives our entire team.
Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
We are a leading direct-to-consumer business that takes pride in providing high-value, need-based solutions for consumers and their homes. Our products not only keep homeowners safe, but they preserve and enhance the value of the home (think windows, kitchen/bath, gutter protection, water filtration systems, and more). Having a wide range of services and areas of expertise allows us to deliver the best products and services to our customers.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
The home solutions industry isn’t known for its technological advancements, which is a problem. Leaf Home Solutions does much more than provide our clients with products that enhance their homes. At our core, we’re a technology company, which isn’t typical for companies in our space. While 2020 was a strange year, our success has nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with our technology: We’ve always had significant growth year over year because we’ve worked to build technology tailored to our brand. In 2019, our revenue was $585 million; we doubled that to $1.1 billion in revenue in 2020. Without our end-to-end technology, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve that level of success so seamlessly. Our technology platform touches all business points, from customer support to installation. This allowed us to build a 60+ person internal tech team that processes all things AI and ML and enables us to have 25 million lines of source code at our fingertips. When you look at our competitors relying on external SaaS technology, you can see that our custom platform has disrupted the industry because it’s allowed us to grow at an untouchable rate.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Our aha moment was really leaning into our homegrown technology. As our company grew, we scaled the tech team — now, we are over 60 people to support and fully protect customers’ data. We always knew we’d expand into other verticals outside of our initial gutter products and services, so we built our technology platform to be able to handle that.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
We saw record growth in 2020, largely due to our technology and data insights. For example, our data allows us to see which ads will perform best in which markets and tailor them appropriately. Our “spring is coming, you need to get your house ready” ad performs best in the southeast part of the country when we include shots of people cleaning pine needles; in California, the homes need to have terracotta roofs. We overlay that with who we are serving the ad to — if we’re targeting younger couples, the ad text needs to be about spending less time on your weekend cleaning your gutters; if we show an older couple, the message can be about ladder safety. Our data helps us make these marketing decisions faster and more strategically.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
For me, it comes down to trust on all levels. Once you’ve established credibility with your team, it’s easy to move ahead with changes. When leaders have trust in their team, there’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that you have the right people in place who can deliver. We have leaders who embrace change and aren’t afraid to make mistakes. If it doesn’t work, we have the right group of people to drive the changes we need.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale?
When leaders embrace change, employees follow suit. When COVID first hit, we were fortunate that we already had the technology solutions in place for us to be 100% remote. Culturally, I am not a big fan of being remote — face-to-face interaction is important to me — but our leadership team embraced it. Our sales demos used to be inside our customers’ homes; we shifted to demos being done outside or through a screen door. We did what we had to do, and our team didn’t panic about it — we simply pivoted.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Continue to focus on that “never-ending improvement” mentality. We are an odd company in Northeast Ohio that is more like a Silicon Valley company. We’re different, and we didn’t get there by accident. You need to have the mindset of always wanting to improve, be different, grow, and push boundaries.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- People mold their business to their software solutions. This is a huge mistake. New technology versions and vendors force you to change your internal process, and if your internal process is working, why change? Technology is supposed to make things easier.
- Companies ignoring agility. I hate using agile because it’s a buzzword, but it’s true. When you control your software destination, the ability to control all facets of the business is incredible.
- Being overwhelmed by data and not using it to grow. The more data you have, the better. You need analytics. Right now, we have over 2,000 active digital marketing campaigns running at any given time — and we learn from the data that tells us which ones are working and which aren’t.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I would say, “Today, not tomorrow,” which is our motto at Leaf Home Solutions. Our team even wears rubber bracelets with this quote. It’s all about keeping the train moving and getting the work done — not putting it off. I would do anything for our team; that’s why I go to work every day. I want our team to be happy at work, and for me, it comes down to getting the job done.
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