Working as an executive with some of the world's biggest sports team brands, Vincent Ircandia noticed a challenging trend in the industry. As technology expanded and fans had nearly endless options for engaging with their favorite teams, no existing tools were reliable in helping teams deeply understand their fans and what they cared about. Vincent says the pandemic exacerbated the issue.
90% of fans, on any given year, don't actually set foot inside a sports venue. The journey of being a fan involves everything from visiting a website to opening an email, following on social media or streaming a game online. There are so many touch points now. We want to help sports teams create personalized experiences to get the right messages in front of the right fans
StellarAlgo was founded in 2016 and in a short time, has become a go-to solution for the sports world. Today they work with the world's iconic sports brands like the New York Yankees and have inked partnerships with the NFL, US Open and Ironman Triathlons. All this success scored them a US$16.5 million Series A funding round in November 2021, which Vincent hopes will fuel even more growth. v, says Vincent.
“We've always been a company that's grown exponentially year-over-year. In the last twelve months our staff has grown 147% from a headcount perspective, says Vincent.
The Cost of a High Growth Technology Company
Ask any startup founder and they’ll say fast growth can be good for the balance sheets but it can quickly unbalance the company's performance. Vincent was a seasoned executive in professional sports, sometimes responsible for hundreds of people, however, he says running a software startup was a completely different challenge.
Until recently we had a strong founder-led culture. After our raise and then subsequent growth, as a company, we were at a critical moment. We needed to start transitioning management capabilities to our next group of leaders. And those leaders were still emerging. It was vital for StellarAlgo’s success that they were ready for what was to come. We really have a big vision as a company, so foundationally for us, there's nothing more important than investing in the people that will help you get there.
Vincent says the challenges to guiding the team when it was just a handful of people, were very different when the team nearly tripled in size in just a few months. As the professional sports market continued to evolve and the needs of customers with it, StellarAlgo recognized it needed to rethink its playbook.
“One of our core values is having a growth mindset. We’re constantly trying to learn and discover more about ourselves. Always looking for new frameworks and strategies to get better”, says Vince.
Finding the Right Fit For Leadership Coaching
StellarAlgo’s people team began searching for outside help to address their challenges and concerns. However, Vince says none of the services or resources they initially found spoke to StellarAlgo’s situation - a rapidly evolving business with progressive philosophies on culture.
The first programs I saw just weren't a fit. They didn't seem to understand the pressures and challenges of what we were facing. We were trying to build a plane as we were flying it”, says Vince
Having built leadership training programs of her own, Jana says many of the existing programs are dated and limited in thinking, “Leadership training is a huge space. There are programs for Executives put on by large firms or consult-ing companies. Universities have their own version as part of their business schools. And there are other smaller or solo consultants. There are endless options but so few that make sense for companies like StellarAlgo. They're not purpose-built for a fast-growth startup”, says Jana.
Coaching Individuals and the Company
Like all companies who work with Unicorn Labs, StellarAlgo had access to the in-depth virtual leadership programs. But StellarAlgo decided to take things a step further and engage Fahd and his team for personalized leadership training. Jana says the decision was easy.
“Fahd has worked with high-growth companies in the technology sector. We don’t have to explain the quirky uniqueness or the particular challenges that we're facing. He is fully versed in that, bringing knowledge through lived experience and I would say extremely practical advice”, says Jana.
Unicorn Labs coaching programs are designed to enhance a team's unique strengths while building agile systems for rapidly growing businesses. In other words, helping you prepare for the constant evolution of your corporate culture. Coaching programs consist of three parts
Leaders are most effective when aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Unicorn Labs 360° review and assessments generate insights on a leader's capabilities, across three primary domains: Character, Relationships, and Influence
Unicorn labs work with emerging leaders to co-curate a learning plan to ensure we’re focusing on their needs and gaps
These consist of monthly coaching calls and bi-weekly virtual check-ins, where leaders can bring up questions or issues they have, learning objectives to take on or simply take stock of their journey.
Unicorn Labs has also been working specifically with Jana, running monthly coaching sessions to discuss the myriad of challenges that startups face. Whether it’s helping develop new systems, policies, or structures for performance reviews, Jana says these sessions have been a lifeline for the team.
“We would bounce a challenge off of Fahd or discuss new approaches to performance management or career development. There was so much value in having his devoted attention, spitballing ideas, receiving constructive feedback on our ideas and then figuring out a framework to possibly implement them”, says Jana.
A Team Of Leaders Ready for the Future
The team at StellarAlgo says the before and after of working with Unicorn Labs has been transformational. The frameworks and strategies developed with Fahd have touched nearly every facet of the business. Vince says the organization is more aligned and focused than ever before.
“People have a better understanding of the strategic planning and direction we want to move in collectively. Everybody really understands the vital questions like: Where are we going? What are the goals that we're trying to achieve for this year, for this quarter? It’s been a game-changer in that regard, especially as the organization continues to evolve”, says Vince
StellarAlgo now has a depth of leadership capacity within the company that didn’t exist a year ago. Three separate cohorts have worked with Unicorn Labs to date, helping new hires or other managers develop their potential as leaders. Vincent says as they continually onboard people into different roles, at different stages of their careers, working with Fahd has created consistency in an environment where the landscape is always changing.
“The impact has been in the overall effectiveness of our team as they face a challenging, high-pressure, high-growth environment. They’ve shown resilience and thoughtfulness in helping us realize our goals. It feels like proof that we've built a great place to work”, says Vince.
More proof of this can be seen in StellarAlgo’s retention rates. During the pandemic, the attrition rates of employees in technology companies skyrocketed. It was commonly being called the “Great Resignation” as talent constantly shuffled around. According to Jana, StellarAlgo has seen the exact opposite of this trend.
“It's the most competitive market in history for technical talent. Yet you can count the number of people who have left StellarAlgo on one hand. We have not seen the attrition that other companies have. Our satisfaction rate from employees is very, very high,” says Jana
The biggest change, according to both Vincent and Jana, is how they’ve taken the learnings from Unicorn Labs and consciously created a culture with a positive, human-first approach, yet still grounded in a growth mindset. Their core values have been operationalized in the day-to-day, with a continued focus on learning and development.
“When you look at our employee's engagement surveys, which we do quarterly, a major theme that comes out, is that people know this is a place where they can learn. Where they can develop their careers, and they can grow laterally”, says Jana.
“Working with Unicorn Labs has provided us with a forum to think through the demanding problems we have faced over the last two years. It provides this really safe, stimulating environment, where we can debate and improve how we work cohesively as a leadership team.”, says Vincent. Vince says the lessons he’s learned as CEO, in conjunction with Unicorn Labs program, have completely eclipsed anything he learned leading previous teams three or four times in size.
“When I spoke to Fahd, his passion and knowledge of what our team was experiencing at the time, really sealed it for me. He gets it.