This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Mereo. Over the past 10 years, Mereo has been blessed with great clients, great principals and lasting impacts. I sat down with Jay Mitchell, the founder of Mereo, and we talked the start of Mereo and what has sustained it over the years.
Jay, first — congratulations on 10 years. What an accomplishment.
Thanks! It is hard to believe it has been 10 years. I am filled with so much nostalgia and gratitude this month as I reflect on the crazy and unexpected ride this has been.
Let’s go back to the start, to 2007. What happened that caused you to want to branch out on your own? What was your catalyst for starting Mereo?
I had been thinking for a while about becoming an independent consultant. As an employee, I came to the realization I could only help one company at a time. But as a consultant, I had a platform to help more companies, and thus more people.
For a lot of consultants, the motivator is money. Starting Mereo was never about making more money. An entrepreneurial vision cannot survive if it is based on income. Passion should drive this decision — and for me, it did. The financial stuff takes care of itself.
Really, in 2007, it was just the right time. I was at the right place in my career and saw multiple opportunities.
What was your greatest challenge when you first started?
When you start a business, you are always stuck with the challenge of knowing if what you offer is worthy of landing that first client. Ultimately, it is about listening to prospective clients and aligning your services to their needs. That said, I can admit I kept looking inward, asking myself, “Do I actually have something here that is worthy of serving a client?” That is the temptation. Fortunately, we won business with Microsoft a few short weeks after launching and that set the balls in motion.
Have any significant client stories stuck with you over the years?
There are so many! But let’s go with Ariba. Ariba is a client that was sourced out of me doing something I’ve always done — connecting with other people. I had a contact I had built great rapport with over the years – Tim Minahan, who was CMO at Ariba at the time. He and I had stayed connected over the years and shared value when we could with one another.
When I was on a business trip and reached out to him, he invited me to a last-minute breakfast, which turned into me changing my flight home so I could spend some time with he and his team whiteboarding. This one breakfast turned into about 20 more clients for Mereo over the years. Not only was that a huge revenue opportunity for Mereo, but I personally have built lasting friendships with each of the relationships that came out of this one connection.
Why did you decide to bring on a team of principals?
With the team, we can serve more clients and bring more value to the industry. As principals, we share a common goal and vision. I’m blessed that a number of the principals on the Mereo team I have worked with and for in previous roles — so I knew their capabilities and knew them on a personal level. Mereo works well as a platform for the principals to impart their expertise and savvy on clients’ situations – so we share the common goal of serving first.
The common goal is major to Mereo. The “Seek to Serve, Not to Sell™” philosophy drives everything we do. How has this sustained itself throughout the last 10 years?
My family ran an auto parts store in Texas when I was growing up, and my dad and grandad would always preach, “The customer is always right.”
I carried this sentiment over in leading sales and marketing teams throughout my career and then when I started Mereo. I wanted to use it as a way to create more value for clients. Seek to serve started as a vision — but it has become the backbone of Mereo. Our revenue, the fact that we’ve made it 10 years, is the outcome of serving first.
Speaking of shifts, a lot has happened in the B2B industry over the last 10 years. Can you talk to the major things you’ve witnessed and how you stayed atop them?
The 2008 recession was major for a number of reasons. For sales, it created a catalyst for fed-up clients and buyers to finally push back on the traditional sales process. For decades, sellers had conditioned buyers on how they were going to buy B2B solutions — epitomized by monthly or quarterly cycles. The recession allowed buyers to push back to put more governance in place. The buyer became empowered in how they wanted to buy. Buyers research more now and engage more sellers.
When I started Mereo, the seller was in charge. Today, the buyer has the upper hand. It should have always been this way — because this way helps shift sellers to truly serve the buyers, to seek to serve.
What major things have happened to you personally, over the last 10 years through this business, that surprised you?
I never expected to make so many friends and to feel so loved along the way. Mereo, its principals and its clients — has become an extended family where we support each other and make this work about more than just dollar signs.
Over a decade now, I have had the pleasure of crossing paths with incredible people I never would have known in life if it hadn’t been for Mereo. We exchange Christmas cards and call each other when things are tough or to celebrate the highlights in life.
While I had personally witnessed this time and again before starting Mereo, I’ve found that putting others first professionally has actually created more value for all parties. And, more often than not, you will sell more eventually – funny how that works. You will grow your business and have more clients, but it starts with serving. Everyday. Even when it’s hard. Being others-centric doesn’t always come naturally, but it is the way forward.
Check back in a few weeks to hear about Jay’s vision for the next 10 years of Mereo — and beyond. In the meantime, check out our e-book celebrating 10 years of Mereo, “Seek to Serve: How and why to put buyers first in a customer-centric society.”