Solid Interactive: A Story of Open-Book Management and Open Leadership

Founded in 2007, Solid Interactive is a full-service software development firm specializing in web, mobile and television apps. Co-founders Jesse McCabe and Travis McHattie met while working for another company and saw firsthand how a small organization can be mismanaged. With similar business philosophies and a natural curiosity, the two founded Solid and sought to change the way the world thinks about technology.

Co-founders Travis McHattie (left) and Jesse McCabe (right) at JuntoNight 2014

Co-founders Travis McHattie (left) and Jesse McCabe (right) at JuntoNight 2014

After operating for seven years out of offices in Elgin, Illinois and Portland, Oregon, Jesse and Travis were looking for opportunities to grow their networks and themselves. Solid enrolled in the second Junto cohort and quickly engaged in all aspects of the program. Travis asserts that “it came at the right time. We had operated a while in a very consistent way [and] wanted to invest in ourselves to grow. In business, no one tells you what you’re supposed to be doing or the model. It was nice to hear other perspectives to see the commonalities and differences.”

As the one running the Elgin office, Jesse said “the primary reason was to grow our network...get downtown...get more connected. Anything else would be icing on the cake. We quickly realized what we were getting ourselves into. Then we got passionate about engaging more.” That was the emotional intelligence (EI) component of Junto, which impacted Jesse and Travis to a great extent.

After every JuntoForum, the Apprentices are assigned a habit to practice every day before the next Forum session. The habits are on a variety of EI topics and challenge the Apprentices to reach beyond their comfort zones to gradually get better at who they are and what they do. Jesse notes, “Every time I followed a habit, I saw value in what it provided.” Similarly, Travis found that they were “making time to focus on ourselves and our business” as a result of practicing the habits.

After going through some challenges last year (primarily related to closing the Elgin office), the company adopted open-book management and has seen their culture shift to one of collaboration and alignment. Though they did not realize it at the time, their attendance at two JuntoClasses influenced their decision to run the business differently.

Nick Sarillo of Nick’s Pizza and Pub (left photo) teaches the class on Operations and Metrics and Tom Walter of Tasty Catering (right photo) teaches the class on Company Culture. Each company follows open-book management, especially principles based on the book, The Great Game of Business. Since both classes are field trips, Nick and Tom literally walk the JuntoApprentices through their companies and do a “show and tell” of their practice of open-book management.

In Solid’s case, it turned the business and its culture around. “Every single person on our team now is a critical piece of our cog and involved in making business decisions,” Travis says. Jesse adds that, “without the experience [at Nick’s and Tasty Catering], we wouldn’t have known about open-book management.”

That exposure has also led to a more open way of leadership and building company culture. Jesse says, “It fits really well with Travis’ and my character. We’ve never been demanding or dictators. We like a collaborative culture and people coming up with ideas. The structure/culture we had before limited it. Now it’s completely open.”

The Solid founders also utilized the relationships they built with the JuntoTribe to help them through their challenges and make better decisions. “Whether or not we had gone through the program, would we still get to where we are now? I can’t say yes or no,” explains Jesse. “But being able to talk to someone who has gone through it puts things in perspective and helps you put together a strategy rather than throwing in the towel. We were able to leverage our network and what we learned in the program to feel more confident. We were different people making different decisions; [today] our team is making decisions differently.”