Welcome to TripleLift’s Publisher Spotlight Series. Every month we share an interview with one of our publisher partners, highlighting unique stories and uncovering valuable insights. This month, we’re featuring Kurt Donnell, President & CEO of Freestar in a two-part spotlight. Read on for Kurt’s insight on Freestar’s impressive growth, what attracted him to the company, and what it takes to remain devoted to client satisfaction.
Thank you for speaking with us! Can you tell us about your role at Freestar?
Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure working with TripleLift over the years.
My role as President and CEO has continued to evolve since I joined the company in January 2019. When I started with the company, we were still under 30 people and needed to build or formalize a lot of areas of the business from both a systems and employee standpoint. In the first year or so, I spent a lot of time working to ensure we had a scalable foundation in place for some more basic things like accounting and HR and automated a number of time-intensive processes. I also was hyper-focused on building a very customer service-oriented business, both from a culture standpoint and hiring the right teams, which has paid dividends as evidenced by our NPS scores that are consistently above 70 on a monthly basis. Of course helping to chart the long term vision and direction of the business has been a huge priority since day one.
As we have continued to grow, now over 75 employees, my focus has shifted a bit more to hiring, team structure and leadership development. I always want to ensure we have the right people in the right roles, and that they have the bandwidth and tools to execute at a high level. Accordingly, I spend a lot of time with employees at all levels of our organization to understand and alleviate their pain points and do a lot of work with our management group to encourage accountability and ownership.
What attracted you to the company?
With regard to what brought me to Freestar, I met the founders of Freestar early in their journey and almost joined them 2 years before I eventually did. Perhaps foolishly, I decided to go another direction and joined YogaWorks as EVP of Partnerships and General Counsel where I had the chance to help the company through its IPO and significant growth through acquisitions. Throughout my time at YogaWorks, I stayed in touch with the Freestar founders and was continually impressed with what they were doing and the way they were doing it. I also realized I missed the constant change and need to adapt in the world of ad tech, so it was an incredibly easy decision when the founders asked if I would be interested in coming on board to help lead the next stage of growth.
Being able to join the company when I did was truly a blessing. There were already so many good bones in place, we just needed some operational and administrative improvements that we have thankfully been able to implement. The last two years have undoubtedly been the most fulfilling of my career and it truly feels like we are just getting started.
Freestar has seen unbelievable growth over the past few years. How has the company changed since you first started?
We have certainly changed a lot from a headcount standpoint in the last couple years, tripling in size and hiring 39 new employees in 2020 alone. During that time we went from having offices in Phoenix (our headquarters), New York and Los Angeles to a majority remote team in 2019 when we shifted our focus to hiring the very best people, no matter where they were located. Our early adoption of remote culture unknowingly set us up incredibly well to become a fully-remote company in 2020, which we plan to continue indefinitely.
With our decision to hire employees outside of cities with offices, we had to evolve our culture to ensure that we were still growing incredible employees despite not seeing them daily. We instituted a number of things in 2019, like full company offsites, which we have since switched to very successful virtual retreats in 2020, an ongoing monthly speaker series, new women’s and diversity committees, and more.
Another major change was weaving our obsession with client satisfaction into everything we do. Much of our success – such as being the number 1 fastest growing company on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list which we followed up with a number 36 ranking in 2020 – has been driven by retention and growth of existing customers, not just new customers. We spend a ton of time and energy to improve our processes and we never allow ourselves to rest on our laurels. Be it increasing headcount on our client success team, improving our external dashboard, building new ad products or making upgrades to internal systems, we always strive to get 1% better each week and make our customer’s experiences with us remarkable.
We’ve all learned over the past year that prioritizing mental health is important. What are some of the things you’ve been doing lately when you need to take a break?
There is no denying that the pandemic has taken a toll on all of us in a myriad of ways. While working from home certainly has its perks, it is very easy to instantly be at your desk when you wake up in the morning and find yourself there until well after dinner time. As a result, my team and I have taken a deeper look at our home office lives and have been trying to set the example that getting outside and taking mental health breaks is important. I personally make it a point to try to walk or hike most days of the week, squeeze in golf whenever I can, and take road trips to get a change of scenery while flying has been out of the picture. Like most companies, we have also been extra flexible for our employees with children, allowing them to work schedules that match up with the needs of their family which is ultimately the most important thing in their life.