Ruby was founded in 2003 on little more than a humble SBA loan and a big idea. I remember the day our tiny Portland-based studio “opened” for business, and how we waited nearly three weeks for our first customer. I had no previous experience managing people, let alone starting up and running a business. But what I did possess is creativity and the desire to problem solve. I knew that the service we were offering was valuable to people — the question was how to go about getting it to them. 

I worked tirelessly, and sleeplessly, on this puzzle for the next five years. And somewhere in those early days, a friend recommended Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. As a person who generally prefers to figure things out for herself, I wasn’t particularly interested in picking up a “how-to” business book. Around the same time, my customers and fellow small business owners urged me to join the Entrepreneur’s Organization. To do this, I needed an annual revenue of at least $1 million. So, I strung together 12 months of revenue that amounted to a million and joined Portland’s chapter of EO. 

Again, and with little surprise, Verne Harnish’s work was in my orbit. EO itself was created by Harnish, and my peers had found value in his book. Alas, semi-begrudgingly and with little expectations, I picked up a copy of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. 

Turns out, I couldn’t have caved at a better time. With 2008’s recession on our heels, this book set Ruby’s success in motion. All of the resting potential energy that had been building since our very first phone call suddenly had a place to go. For the second time in Ruby-history, we were off to the races! 

The Planning Pyramid  

Verne Harnish handed me a blueprint to running a business with The Planning Pyramid. One of the first questions posed by the Pyramid is around purpose. Why do you do what you do? What is your motivation for getting up and coming to work every morning? How can you set goals to lead up to something bigger when you can’t name that overarching theme, that all-encompassing reason? 

For Ruby, our purpose was to create the kind of real, meaningful connections that enable small businesses to flourish. So when the recession hit, we decided that if we were going to go out, we were going to go out swinging. We turned up the volume on being there for our customers to make them feel a little less alone. We started our WOW program, began systematizing what it means for Ruby to go above and beyond…and gosh, we actually started to grow. 

And then, after not only surviving but thriving through an economic downturn, we set targets. Big targets. Verne refers to these as Big Hairy Audacious Goals in his book. We asked ourselves where we wanted to be ten years down the road and what we needed to accomplish within the next 90 days to move the dial. Every day, every week, every quarter we thought about the Planning Pyramid. In fact, a decade later, we still show the Pyramid at our quarterly staff meetings and design our next-steps around it. 

Exceptional customer service has always been table stakes for Ruby, but when we doubled-down on our purpose and developed systems that could support us in our effort to really show up for our customers, we were reminded of how special our mission is. I wanted my team to feel this, to have a set of values that accurately reflect the spirit of what we did every single day. 

Cue the creation of our Core Values. 

Core Values 

Ruby had a set of core values before the impact of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits could be felt within our company, but they were lackluster and, frankly, borrowed. I can’t even remember them now and was hard-pressed to recite them then, but they embodied the same sort of forgettable, generic language that any uninspired work might. 

With a clear purpose, a struggle, and a couple of wins under our belts, we set to work in writing, as Verne puts it, a constitution for our company. We knew who we were, the reason for the work that we did, our goals, and the kind of people-powered culture we were cultivating. In understanding these foundational characteristics of Ruby’s identity, our first four Core Values were born: Foster Happiness, Create Community, Innovate, and Practice WOWism

Since then, we’ve held ourselves accountable to these values. From big business decisions to every-day actions, when in doubt we ask ourselves, “Does this align with who we are?” 

It was an exciting day when we were able to add ‘Grow’ to this list. When our team suddenly sprang to over 300 hundred strong across three different offices and we were in step with our growth goals, the addition felt pretty natural. 

Just last month, I was able to retire (well, “retire”). And when I left, we had over 10,000 customers across the country, over 600 employees, and a self-perpetuating culture that often leaves me at a loss for words. There was a moment when all of this could have failed, when I could have failed. But, in taking a little advice from my friends and cracking open a book, we were able to really open Ruby up. 

What could a book like this do for you? 

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Reading time:

When I founded Ruby Receptionists more than 15 years ago, my initial goal was to help small businesses become more efficient by “offloading” their phone duties. As with most small businesses, those early days were both exciting and filled with gut-wrenching worry about whether the money would run out before the value of our service was discovered. Thankfully, we found a small but raving customer base who put their trust in us early on and were critical in helping us not only get the business off the ground but also revealed the true value of what we did – that by providing real human connections over the phone backed by excellent service – we could help small businesses grow.  We found that simply by being a friendly voice, providing great service and making connections that we could build trust, foster customer loyalty, and help our customers win new business. And that’s exactly what we, a small business, were aiming to do; just as the millions of small businesses around the world aim to do.

To this day, I still clearly remember signing up our first customer.  He asked me how many customers we served at the time, and my response was “we’re working up to 20”.  As a team of 600 people today, Ruby’s commitment and focus to serve our small business customers is just as strong as when we were a team of two.  Just as strong as when we were serving “up to 20” customers, and now, I’m grateful, humbled and thrilled to say, serving more than 10,000 small business customers! Today, 10,000 small businesses in different markets across the country – from attorneys to roofers to marketing firms to non-profits and everything in between – trust Ruby to be the frontline of their business.  And now with both receptionist and chat services, we can make great first impressions on their behalf over the phone and online.

I think, how did we do this? How did this all come together? I know the answer is simple. It’s our small business roots. It’s our humble, boot-strapped beginnings that shape every aspect of how we run our business and deliver our services.  It’s having come from being a small business that helps us to understand what the needs of our small business customers are. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit that we hold dear that runs deep in every corner of our now 4 locations, in both Portland and Kansas City. What was once a small, two-employee business answering phones in a tiny studio has flourished into what Ruby is today—an organization where all Ruby employees care not only about the growth of our small business customers but are inspired by the businesses we serve, share in the joy of their success, and commiserate on the inevitable tough days.  I didn’t consciously set out to focus our business on creating “WOW” experiences every day, but it was intrinsic to how we served customers, and over time, it became a defined core company value and a natural part of our DNA – because it worked!

Our 15 years of serving small businesses, along with our own small business roots, keep us connected to our customers and help us understand what keeps them up at night. It allows us to anticipate their needs before they even know they exist. I’ve never worn a more honored title than the one I held back then: Small Business Owner.

Every day I’m inspired by our customers, and I’m proud of our commitment to help in their success. Just as in the early days, this commitment brings a level of unity and pride in what we do every day – a collective effort to listen, learn and help. And in these ways, I hope Ruby is telling each and every one of our 10,000 customers, every day, “Thank You.”

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*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the cancelled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner.