From Startup To Life-Changing Exit – The 4 Secrets Behind Ruby Receptionists’ Amazing Success

A study of Jill Nelson offers a Master class on what it takes to build a thriving business.

As an entrepreneur, you will cross paths with many fellow founders. Some will inspire you, others will draw inspiration from you, and occasionally you’ll encounter a founder whose every action leaves you utterly astounded.

Jill Nelson is in that rare third camp.

In 10 years of knowing Jill through EO Portland, I’ve enjoyed a front-row seat to watch what she did and discover how she did it. She is truly exceptional, and I owe a lot of my own success to what I learned from her. Read on, and you might, too.

Our Forum thinks so highly of Jill that we nicknamed her JBoss — an honorific she more than earned. Here’s her story.

Jill worked as a business broker for a few years after college, where she noted the operational wins and woes of a wide variety of companies. In 2003, she started Ruby Receptionists, a one-of-a-kind virtual receptionist company where high-tech meets great people and 5-star performance. The service is so seamless that you would never realize the receptionist was not in the same office as the person you called. And, no matter what time of day the phone rings, one of Ruby’s personable team members answers and provides your customers with exactly what they need — making your company shine.

Jill is likely one of the most decorated entrepreneurs in Oregon’s history, with more than 30 awards and accolades, including being honored as Entrepreneur of the Year by three different, well-respected organizations.

In 15 years, Jill grew Ruby from four receptionists — yes, she was one of the four — to 630 employees, building such a phenomenal company that an investment group purchased a controlling interest, allowing her to exit with a nine-figure valuation.

The 4 Secrets that Made Ruby a Gem

I interviewed Jill to gain insights into the key elements she deployed to create such remarkable success. After thinking deeply about her journey, here are four things she shared that made the difference:

1. If you are not super-passionate about your business idea, don’t bother.

“I was driven by the actual work, not the eventual outcome. When I started Ruby, I was driven to create a service I thought could be very valuable to small businesses and prove that it would work. At my core, I am a creative, and I love bringing original ideas to life. Entrepreneurship, fast growth, and change fed my creative itch. I was enthralled with the actual process of creating the business — getting the fundamentals right first so we could build on them over time. Growing a business is like running a marathon at a sprint pace, so if there’s not something in your core driving you forward, it’s not easy to last.”

2. Choose a business model that is set up to scale.

“From the beginning, I wanted my company to be a subscription service business because I hated the idea of starting over with sales every month. I knew that if I could keep customers happy, they would stay, tell others — and our business would grow. Fortunately, the model proved the very thing that allowed us to scale: The market was massive, and since we received revenue in advance of providing the service, it allowed us to scale economically. In addition, our revenue was super-predictable, customer acquisition costs were modest, and capital costs were very low.”

3. Focus on knock-your-socks-off service for both customers and employees.

“That’s just how I wanted to roll; I want to make people happy. Practice Wowism is the company’s core value espousing this. Truly attending to the customer helped create a competitive moat for us, and was a key component of company culture that helped attract and retain a stellar workforce. Employees were proud of the company they worked for, and felt empowered to do whatever they deemed necessary to make a customer happy. As a result of our employee focus, Ruby was listed as a best place to work multiple times. That turbocharged our ability to hire more great people.”

4. Be fanatical about the entire organization having access to live, accurate, key business metrics that provide actionable insights.

“We performed high-volume, small, repeatable actions (fielding phone calls). In order to perfect our service, keep employees happy, and get money to the bottom line, we needed real-time feedback to make data-driven decisions in the moment. The financial rigor of knowing our numbers via a dashboard that detailed hourly, daily, and weekly performance increased predictability and also helped us scale. It probably didn’t hurt that I was an accounting major!”

Lessons Learned While Business Brokering

Jill’s preferred scalable business model was a result of her experience as a business broker. When she started Ruby Receptionists, she was hyper-aware that most businesses are held back by their owners. To prevent that, she implemented systems and processes that intentionally released her own bottlenecks so that Ruby could grow and scale freely.

Her tendency toward financial rigor resulted from recognizing that business owners who really used and knew their numbers were better able to sell their businesses. As a result, her team could access an astounding level of real-time data that fueled exponential and record growth. Ruby was named one of Oregon’s fastest-growing companies for 13 consecutive years by the Portland Business Journal.

Evident in every step is her strong belief that 100% of success depends on people: both your team and happy customers.

The Journey as Destination

Jill’s journey leading Ruby Receptionists is a master class on what it takes to build a thriving business. Her JBoss secret sauce was the intrinsic passion that fueled her ability to integrate past experiences with operational foresight and technological savvy to create a truly exceptional company.

If you are super passionate about the customer value you deliver, pick a model that can easily scale, knock your customers’ socks off, and weave live metrics into your fabric, you too can build a gem and achieve the entrepreneurial dream exit.

Contributed to EO by Barry Raber, a serial entrepreneur, president of Carefree RV Storage, a 22-year member of EO Portland, the founder of Business Property Trust, and an EO Portland Entrepreneur of the Year. He shares his successful business secrets at Real Simple Business. Read his previous blog contributions on Implementing A Collaborative Approach to Strategy, 3 Steps That Create a Bigger Future for You and Your Business, How to Run a Company With Two 10-Minute Weekly Meetings and Post-It Notes, 5 Questions to Get Your Brand Crystal Clear, 3 Gratitude Habits For Business Leaders To Motivate Your Team — and Yourself, and Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better: 4 Benefits of Staying Small.

This post first appeared on Brainz and is reposted here with permission.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog.



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