The Path to Startup Culture: Q&A with Roundtable Companies' Corey Blake


At exaqueo, we’ve always believed that the earlier you define your culture, promote that culture –the good and the bad – and hire to it, the more effective the role talent can play in your growth.

Today we’re continuing our series on companies not only passionate about culture but making the effort to pull that through. Our goal is to show you talent not only matters but can be the difference between success or stagnation.

This week I sit down with Corey Blake, President of Roundtable Companies, a storytelling and publishing company that develops and distributes books that change the world.

Susan LaMotte. exaqueo (SL): You’ve had a [excuse the pun] storied career. And now as a company founder, you’re paying close attention to the careers of others. In your mind, why does talent and culture fit matter?

Corey Blake, Roundtable Companies (CB): Talent alone can be a disaster. We actually hire based on culture fit more than anything because there is plenty of talent available. The combination of the two sets the stage for us all to pull the rope in the same direction and create work that matters.

SL: It’s always surprising when you find diversity of talent with similar behaviors. As you’ve gone through this process to understand and strengthen your culture, what have you learned the most?

CB: Investments in culture require faith because they produce results that can often be difficult to measure. But every time we invest in culture, we generate more happiness among our people who then turn around and serve our customers with more enthusiasm, dedication, and brilliance. Lesson learned: investing in culture requires a leap of faith.

SL: That leap of faith isn’t always perfect though, right? Tell me about a time you felt company leadership went wrong. What did you do?

CB: As the CEO, I was handling too much of the day-to-day operations earlier this year. But as an entrepreneur, I'm not best suited to management. I was cranky and financial fluctuations gave me anxiety that I spread all over. My other executive team members sat me down and we had some tough conversations on how to make the necessary shifts so that I wasn't infusing our culture with fear and anxiety. Our conversations around my anxiety resulted in us making a major shift. We moved me out of operations and our VP moved into the COO role. He is steadfast and our staff responds to him beautifully. That shift gave our staff more comfort (because I am too much of a roller coaster), while it freed me up to get back to my own zone of genius which is being an entrepreneur and building something new. Since then I have spearheaded the launch of our community. An all around win.

SL: Now that you have the right foundation, what will you do to grow the company you want to grow?

CB: At this point, our staff and systems are working at a high level. Our future growth will come from exposure of our work through our new community. We feel we are one of the best-kept secrets in the business world and the world of storytelling, so our growth will come through the use of a bullhorn and inspiring people to share the work we're engaged in.

SL: Looking back, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs about starting a company?

CB: At all costs remain true to your word. And do what is right, regardless of the cost. Become known for your integrity. You'll learn some painful lessons that force you to spend large amounts of money to remedy, but that will teach you how to hire the right people, how to care for your customers, and how to build systems that support doing things the right way and to an incredibly high standard. That will in turn sell your business.

SL: Well said. Thanks for your time Corey!

Corey Blake is the President of Roundtable Companies. He has been storytelling for almost two decades since he graduated from Millikin University with a BFA in Theatre in 1996. Learn more about Corey and Roundtable Companies.

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

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