Do you believe that companies should put people first? Austin Allison and Chris Smith have written a very personal book that explains what you need to know about the “people grid” that will transform your business … and your life.
PEOPLEWORK: How to Run a People-first Business in a Digital-first World
By Austin Allison and Chris Smith
dotloop, 192 pages, $24.95 (available on Amazon)
It’s almost impossible to mention Austin Allison or Chris Smith without attaching the words “charismatic” and “powerful” to both men. They are both socially prominent entrepreneurs, masterful marketers, and their reach in real estate is broad and meaningful. For many, they are the epitome of what’s new and right in the industry. They’re young, brash, opinionated and simply don’t take no for an answer.
Let me begin by saying that I know both Smith and Allison. I was Smith’s manager when we both worked at Inman News. He was the company’s chief evangelist, a role he was born to play. After leaving Inman in 2012, Smith, 34, went on to found Curaytor, an integrated marketing firm that focuses on top producing agents. He is also the chief “peopleworker” for dotloop.
Allison, 28, is the founder and CEO of dotloop, the “peoplework” company that has built a substantial business by managing the transactions of hundreds of thousands of agents. In its efforts to make the real estate transaction easier for all, dotloop has reimagined the process of collaboration between agents. Allison’s vision is that every part of the transaction will be managed in “loops” on the dotloop platform, speeding the process and eliminating paper.
Want a copy of Peoplework? • Be one of the first 10 people to comment on this post by February 1, and I’ll send you a copy of the book courtesy of Zurple.
It’s no wonder, then, that when the two joined forces to write Peoplework, it received an enormous amount of advance publicity and attention. Allison and Smith launched it with a Kickstarter campaign and raised some $73,280 to be used for project expenses. But it was also a brilliant marketing move; Allison and Smith promised to deliver webinars for backers who committed $1,500 and keynotes for $4,000-7,000. The keynotes will be delivered over the next few months, now that the book has been released. This will surely help sales.
dotloop even changed its tagline to “peoplework, not paperwork” in advance of the launch. The book is clearly intended to support dotloop’s new positioning, and has received heavy support from the company’s marketing department, social sphere and customers.
No Advance Copies
In an interesting move, Allison and Smith didn’t release any advance copies of the book to reviewers. Even the pair’s Kickstarter supporters (including me) received the book just hours before it launched and went on sale at Amazon. Thanks to all the pre-launch promotion, “Peoplework” pre-sold more than 10,000 copies (an enormous achievement by any measure — most books, mainstream or not, sell less than 1,000 copies).
In self-publishing circles, it’s not unusual to hold back advance review copies — but for a book with such great expectations attached, it seemed unusual to me. But if anyone knows how to leverage the power of the crowd, it’s Allison and Smith.
It’s as if they took a page straight from Gary Vaynerchuk (who also wrote the book’s forward). When the book launched on January 15, during the Inman Real Estate Connect Conference (another savvy move), few influencers had read it … yet everyone knew about it.
All of this made me wonder: How was the book?
Peoplework is a slim volume, with just 192 pages. The book lays out 10 “peoplework principles.” These principles illuminate the simple premise of the book: people will always count more than pixels.
The People Grid
Allison and Smith posit that technology has created a “people grid” that provides more people with more access to more people than ever before. People are more connected than ever through social networks and always-on devices.
Even though this grid is powerful, it’s useless unless you (by which the authors mean you, personally) understand that the individuals within it crave relationships above all else. Yet we’re all awash in digital effluvia — endless pitches and irrelevant information — that makes it harder than ever to connect with each other.
“We are always connected, we never turn off,” Allison and Smith say. “We also never look up to see who is standing right in front of us.”
Allison and Smith exhort readers to understand how technology can enable real-life relationships — not replace them.
“Sure, everything is now digital, and everyone is now connected, but no matter what you sell or do for a living, one thing we still know is that it involves people on both sides,” Allison and Smith say.
Friends and Family
If you believe that building a successful business, and having successful relationships with your friends and family are really not that different, Peoplework will appeal to you.
Allison and Smith say that companies that believe they are people first — and represent themselves as humans — will win because they will forge real long-term, powerful relationships with their customers.
Yet Allison, whose voice resounds in the book since most of it is written in the first person, says that not all friends and customers can get the same amount of care, because “that doesn’t scale.”
Instead, Allison says that every customer and friend can be treated with selflessness and respect, which does fuel growth by enabling you to understand your customers and build a long-term relationship. And that, in turn, will lead to a loyal customer base that returns the favor, understands when things go wrong, and will tell you how to improve your products and services.
“Most businesses think only about quantity,” Allison says, “while most humans think about the quality first.”
The bottom line, Allison says, is that “it’s not personal or business anymore, it is YOU.”
In this context, Allison says that revealing your flaws, being transparent and having genuine relationships is integral to building a successful business. Allison isn’t kidding around when he says this, and puts this theory into practice in Peoplework by revealing that he served jail time while in high school for a drug offense.
“Although I may not lead with this childhood memory in sales pitches or with the media, I’m not ashamed of it either,” Allison writes. “I made mistakes, I owned up to them, I learned from them and I became a better person as a result. Human businesses think about their imperfections in the very same way and become better in time by being themselves.”
Personal is Best
Peoplework shines most brightly when Allison and Smith get personal and offer insights that are unique to them. Although the book is rife with case histories of companies that the authors feel embody Peoplework (Apple is profiled and cited numerous times), none of them are more compelling than Allison and Smith’s own success in putting their theories into practice.
One of the best chapters in Peoplework is explains how Allison and Smith built a powerful tribe for themselves and the book.
“The key to building a community is that they are involved on day one, and beyond,” say Allison and Smith. They go on to explain how, on virtually one-by-one basis, they engaged the individuals who bought into the Kickstarter launch of the book.
It’s a practical, meaningful look into the mechanics of building a community and buzz around a company. Since Smith serves as “chief peopleworker” for dotloop and also runs his own company, the principles defined here read like a blueprint for the social architecture of Curaytor and dotloop. In fact, both dotloop and Curaytor are provided as case histories in this chapter.
Allison and Smith lay out the principles to build a strong community around yourself, and your business. First and foremost, the community must exist for a greater purpose, not to sell products.
“Communities are built around passion and purpose, not features and functions,” Allison and Smith say. When a community believes in a company’s vision, it has momentum — the kind of power that draws new members into the “tribe” and facilitates long-term, productive relationships.
This chapter is worth the price of admission on its own.
Peoplework is a valiant first effort from two people who are passionate about business, people and life. It’s at its best when the insights are original.
Yet poor editing lessens the impact of Peoplework. For example, I found myself wondering whom “I” was whenever the book got personal. Ultimately, I came to understand that I could attribute the “I” to Allison, but I honestly wished that Smith had gotten as personal as well. As a friend and fan of Smith, I would have relished more of his insights, as well as clarity as to which of the two authors was speaking.
The book also provides plenty of examples of companies, from Apple to Square to Tom’s Shoes, which Allison and Smith believe engage with their customers the Peoplework way. But I found myself wishing for profiles of companies that were new to me, since as a long-time Apple follower and an avid reader of the business press, I was already familiar with the vast majority of the companies that Allison and Smith chose to feature.
Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a book to help you define the key values of your business, Peoplework is a thought provoking work that may help you. I found it most useful when it got personal and practical.
Allison and Smith clearly put a lot of effort into developing checklists to help you build and manage a community, deliver better customer service and change your company (and yourself) for the betterment of your clients. And that, regardless of whether you choose to call it peoplework or just good business, is time well spent.