Max Farrell

Interview by
Published on
April 5, 2022

In this episode...

Without trucks, without truck drivers, America stops moving. It is important to make sure that the trucking industry’s heart and soul are always heard. But the reality of the situation today is that there is still a high turnover rate with truck drivers - they work for a company for a few months, then they seek opportunities elsewhere. There could be a lot of factors that lead to this - but what if we could do away with assumptions and get actual feedback and data? That’s what Max Farrell, CEO and co-founder of Workhound wants to accomplish for America’s truck drivers and company owners. Workhound gathers feedback from the drivers, compile it into information, and provide this to company owners, who now have a more concrete set of data that they can use to foster better relationships and form stronger bonds of partnerships with their drivers. Life By The Mile talks to Max about the step-by-step process of Workhound and how big of a help they have been to several companies in the trucking industry. What did you like most about this conversation? Let us know in the comments section below. Life By The Mile is delivered by FreightWorks.

Max Farrell

Max Farrell is the CEO at WorkHound


we plan to start workhound uh we initially were planning to call the company shareback share back yeah like sharepoint like share back feedback it didn't really land with people when uh uh whenever we pitch proposed the idea so we started to look at other names and where count we knew we could get the uh the domain pounds are really good about sniffing things out and so sniff the issues out at work and so workhound became a thing

we're here at the mid-america trucking show it's the 50th anniversary this is life by the mile delivered by freightworks i'm butcherball be the host i am so thrilled that we have the founder co-founder and ceo of workout max farrell with us today and i know this is going to be a great interview i i could already tell it we'll have fun talk a little bit about the start of the company yeah you you had a co-founder i mean you hear all these stories like fred smith starts fedex and i guess in harvard business school yeah maybe it's an anecdotal story it's like the teacher said this will never this dog will never hunt yeah or st or uh michael dell starts in a garage or how did you start how did the two of you start yeah so um i'm really fortunate to have to have andrew kerpalani as my my co-founder and then he's rode this wild ride with us um the uh so in uh 2015 um yeah i'd i'd actually quit my job a few months prior because i was really interested in figuring out how to launch a corporate innovation consulting firm how do you take the energy of a startup and apply that to big corporations because it dissipates often doesn't it oh for sure yeah you know big companies have the opportunity to to innovate in the biggest way possible it's just that they're often missing the framework and so um i was out there in the market i made some money but i realized i was selling a vitamin and i really wanted to be solving a painkiller problem and i'm fortunate that a mentor in my network told me about the challenges in front line workforces like trucking and said you know look at the turnover rates here look at the shortage look at the average age of drivers here there's room for improvement and i love operating with speed simplicity and focus i was in our original business plan it's in our company values and uh and so that's a big thing for us so we said let's laser in on and being really great at serving one market so over time after doing research ride-alongs that sort of thing i talked with my co-founder andrew over a beer um and i saw a sketch down on a napkin hey i've got some ideas for uh for this i want to put our name down on an application for this tech accelerator in omaha nebraska because they wouldn't take me seriously if i didn't have a technical co-founder so i put our names down he said fine do it we didn't think we'd get in but they called the next day and said we actually really like this concept we think you guys would make a great founding team uh we'll give you twenty thousand dollars to start if you move over here to to try and so i'm i'm grateful he he quit his job we moved to omaha for three months and uh stayed in this uh half put together house in one of the neighborhoods there and just every day rolled up our sleeves did a bunch of interviews to understand the industry built the first version of our product got our first uh companies on board to use it and then moved back to des moines and uh kept hustling ever since you know a lot about branding you got it right there let me ask you this question how did you come up with the name

um so uh when uh actually not a lot of people know this but when we uh planned to start workhound we initially were planning to call the company shareback sharebank yeah like sharepoint like shareback feedback and uh and what we found was that one it was gonna be hard to get the domain for it but then two it didn't really land with people when uh uh whenever we pitch proposed the idea so we started to look at other names and where account we knew we could get the uh the domain you know having the dot com was always really important but you know hounds are really good about sniffing things out and so sniff the issues out at work and so workhound became a thing and we're really fortunate a guy named brian Sauer out of des Moines Iowa helped build the uh the logo and the branding and so we've loved it ever since we started in 2015. i've got a dear friend scott beck he helped launch um einstein bagels he was oh wow he was involved in boston chicken which became boston market extremely entrepreneurial when did you know you were an entrepreneur did you have a business when you were young what was your first visit so i'm i'm really fortunate that both of my parents are entrepreneurs uh my my dad built builds custom furniture for living and my mom built up a uh a publishing company um in arkansas and so i got to see everything so genetically it was entrepreneurial i don't know if it was genetics it's certainly environment helps but you know i saw my mom coming in on you know at 10 11 at night on as i grew up i saw my dad having to go into work on the weekends because he had to to knock some some things out and that's that was just the work that's what i saw um yeah the the con i never got exposed to the concept of a of a nine to five was just hustle but beyond that i've uh you know certainly i'd say one of the things that was really big for me as far as entrepreneurship was hip-hop uh so i don't know how many folks know this but um before digging into work hound i was big into rap music and in high school i threw shows um and uh would sell cds at high school promote in the community go do press and um you know share the stage with some who uh share the stage we're too short uh guru from gangstar jizza from the wu-tang clan so hip-hop is probably the most entrepreneurial musical genre there is and the unofficial fifth element of hip-hop is business and so getting that getting a chance to to create something and then sell it and market it was was probably the big first entrepreneurial endeavor for me and so i've always loved the business side of it and this has been a really great place to then scale that business passion in new ways well you know what it's so interesting uh from my reading and then of course the experience at freight works we love our workhound relationship thank you we really do let's talk about we're going to talk about the difference between vendors and partners you're a strategic partner of ours but you know what the the profound lesson that it's important to listen so many companies have failed to learn that basic lesson haven't they oh for sure and especially in this market right now you uh you think about you know we're at a truck show there's an entire pavilion dedicated to recruiting and for years this industry has been focused on how how do we fill this leaky bucket uh for us what we've seen is that we got to go patch the holes on the bottom before we start figuring out how do we fill the top and uh so you know right now in this day and age retention is the new recruiting and companies really have to to embrace that otherwise they're going to get left behind you know when you see bankruptcies about why companies shut their doors some of them they say they couldn't attract or keep talent well you got to evolve to make sure that you can stay relevant and stay ahead of the curve well you know soon after i came on board with the company with no background in trucking or logistics at all one of the first things that joyce did is she started sending me the weekly reports which i read religiously that's awesome i i read them every single week and it's data driven finger on the pulse of what's happening with the employees we call part of the family tell me what was the incubation for you and your co-founder what yeah what caused you to want to come into this space so yeah i'm a big believer in operating with empathy and i'm fortunate my background was in sociology so i love solving people problems and some of the best ways to learn about that is to to go in the field and experience it firsthand what are what what's going on in the minds of people uh and so before we ever started workhounds um we actually went in the field so we sat with dispatchers we sat with the executives you went on a truck yeah you showered it yeah i've read so both both my co-founder and i was really important for us before we ever dug in and wrote a line of code or made a sales call we we'd both done ride-alongs across the country so that we could be able to share with people hey we know what it's like on the road uh to uh to to see and really have that perspective and what we saw was that turnovers high in an industry like trucking certainly that that problem exists in other industries as well a lot of people quit because they don't feel respected and they don't feel like they have a voice and historically the only options have been exit interviews or annual surveys so we were trying to figure out how do you help a company become proactive instead of reactive and addressing the issues of their people and uh and that led to the the birth of war count where it's all about how do we create a real-time feedback loop but understanding that in industries like trucking there is a fear of retaliation and so it's really important to to have anonymity so that people will share those honest insights instead of uh just you know getting glossed over about what's really going on and uh you know at this point what we've seen is that anybody out there can go get feedback it's it's pretty easy to go do there's plenty of tools out there the hard stuff is understanding that data and then doing something with it and that's where we really differentiate ourselves well and you know joyce gave me the opportunity to look at a recent dashboard with all the indicators and i love data anyway it's so much better than guessing or so much better than saying well i think it's this right how do you get and by the way real quickly for a layperson describe the utility describe exactly what the tool is yeah so uh workhound is a real-time feedback platform uh so what we do let's take the trucking industry since we're here at uh in louisville at mats we we prompt drivers to share feedback weekly via text message so there's no app there's no downloading we know the demographics of this workforce so we want to make it really simple for people to share so in that text it'll say you know hey tell us how work is going at freight works your anonymous feedback helps once they click that link it takes 90 seconds to share i'm not driving here's how i feel about work here's why i feel that way and it's all open-ended and so it's not your traditional survey because surveys create bias it's management saying hey we think we know what the issues are but we know the average turnover rate in this industry and so if your turnover rate's hovering around 100 you have blind spots and often we don't know what we don't know so let's let our eyes and ears on the front line tell us what's really going on exactly and uh and so um once uh drivers are done sharing feedback then that information is updating in real time throughout the day and word count helps analyze it so companies can see what are people saying about one of a dozen different themes pay equipment communication people whatever it may be and then where are they saying it inside the business is this a under a certain manager is it a certain location and then what's the sentiment behind that feedback and so then once we get that then the important thing is not only digesting that data and what the trends are saying but how do we do something about it so we certainly have a few different ways to act on feedback as well that we could talk through you know what's really interesting is joyce actually shared some data from a recent conversation that happened with our partners at workhound and so for example and i want to give this as an illustration of course you know freightworks the comments uh per unique worker 4.61 comparable to an average of about 3.03 from what she was saying positivity 39.41 versus 29.7 so we're able to benchmark against industry standards but also identify where are the lurking quiet cancers that if we don't deal with them are going to metastasize into a culture that's not healthy for sure we're going to see people moving out the door for sure and and i love the way that you guys are thinking about it because you know so many companies will say um you know oh our turnover rate's good enough but they're not asking the question but can we be even better and uh and so i really admire companies like like freightworks where you're saying you know we have a culture of curiosity we want to understand what are our people wanting and needing out there and also where are we missing the mark so that we can do something before it's too late because a lot of times if uh if you got poison in the well it takes months to get it out if you can it's really tough so i applaud you all for being proactive well you know the uh article that we had the opportunity to to be a part of i i referred to this incredible tool that workhound has as being like a digital ongoing focus group and i'm a licensed focus group facilitator so i've done a lot of those through the years but it's so great to have that real-time feedback we are so all over that it's one of the reasons why i never go to an office i hang out in the driver's lounge you've got to and the reason i do is because i learn so much and it just helps really determine what's really what's really going on here how what do you do to encourage management because tools you know the software and platforms are only as good as their application for sure by management why do some companies take it to its full use and others don't um i mean of course a lot of these things start at the top you have leaders out there that are hungry to to get better and they know that that they either they choose to take feedback as a gift instead of as a curse uh because there are leaders out there that bury their head in the sand and say you know we've always done things this way why does somebody want to do it differently or they're just a discouraged angry driver they just made pictures yeah exactly that oh they just don't get it they don't understand instead of saying okay well yeah embracing extreme ownership of oh where did we miss the mark in our communication that they may have this perception but perception is reality so how do we get aligned and what the the actual truth is um so that's one of the things where uh companies i think miss the mark and we're not going to be a great fit as if their their leaders are you know like this instead of really leaning in to understand how they can get better and so where we spend a lot of time even is we're trying to map out potential partnerships and i think your term of you know it's not vendor customer relationship it truly is a partnership it's figuring out how do we make sure we're an operational and cultural fit where the the leadership from the top down is interested in making a commitment to listening and doing something about the data so another another challenge that we'll run into is where maybe a a non-senior person inside the company will have a budget but doesn't necessarily have the authority to make change and so if you're asking for feedback and doing nothing with it that's that's not great still getting feedback is good but doing something about it is better and telling people what you did that's the cherry on the sunday and so that's the thing that when we reach that that peak level of maximizing the value of the tool and really fulfilling a partnership it's we're doing something about the data we're closing the feedback loop with our people and we're figuring out every single week how do we become a better version of ourselves exactly that is so good now do you feel like the marketplace of trucking and logistics is desperate enough to take feedback seriously um it's growing you know one of the things that's been a lot of fun for us is uh educating the the industry and just sharing the story of companies like freightworks that see the the the realities of the market now and are knowing not only is this good for our bottom line to listen to our people and make the adjustments in real time but it's also just the a good thing to do for the industry and good for us as a as a company and so even outside of roi i think more companies are are realizing how do we do the right thing just because not just because it makes economic sense and so the companies that take care of their people those are the ones that will stand out and will stand strong i think kovitch showed us that you know one of the things that really was eye-opening was that companies were remembered how people remembered how they were treated during covet and if companies neglected them or you know didn't listen to them or didn't factor in their needs then you had the great resignation and some companies have just gotten a tremendous gut punch over the past year with people leaving and either leaving that company or leaving entire industries and so it's a really big moment for for companies to reflect um what do we do differently now now that we're in this this different era how do how do you uh as somebody that helped birth this company how do you uh answer the question what kind of employees do you hire yeah what are you looking for um i mean for us the the biggest thing is our values so from from day one my co-founder and i said before we hire anybody we should have a set of values and so ours are be nice create value be transparent and win or learn and we put that in all of our job postings it's something we review with people as they they onboard the company and talk through here's the values here here's why we we put them in there and make sure that people are as aligned to that as possible so that's one of the big things the second thing is then figuring out are people a culture ad you know a lot of times people talk about a culture fit but that's how you wind up with a bunch of the same type of people inside a company i don't think that creates a great organization if you don't have diverse people diverse thought diverse experiences and so we always think how does this person become a culture add to us where we become better because they joined us um and so those are some of the things that really help us build a strong company what do you see going forward for workhound what would be some of the uh additions the enhancements you know pick up uh you've got the canvas hear the paints paint the picture yeah the uh you know like i said earlier one of the biggest things that we we see uh is that yeah feedback is easy to get you know you can use all sorts of tools out there to do it but understanding that feedback and then doing something about it that's the hard stuff and so for us at workhound that's where we spend a lot of our energy it's it's helping companies really slice and dice and understand that data so they can make better strategic decisions take those individual actions and and find effective ways to communicate better with their people and so a lot of it's just doing more of that so on the the data analysis side it's it's really helping uh creating better reporting and enhanced analytics so that companies can understand how how are we trending in different parts of our company in different themes and then also how are we comparing to our peers in the industry um you know people love benchmarking they they want to make sure that they're not the fattest kid in the gym so yeah we'll certainly good way to put it it's true and uh and so we'll certainly continue to uh to improve on on those fronts but then also finding new ways to help companies take action and so workout i think is really unique in that you can take action on every single piece of feedback that you get if so somebody is anonymous you can request to reveal their identity to directly address the issue even if they stay anonymous you can still send a one-time communication to be able to say hey we don't know who you are but we can help and then you can send messages out to the entire workforce that you're engaging to close the feedback loop and say hey here's what we're doing here's what we're thinking about doing here's some of the miscommunications and continuing to enhance some of those things are going to be uh be really big for us what has been so great for freightworks max and i'm sure joyce has communicated this to your team is that there's the opportunity not just to say here is what the situation is but the response of the organization to whatever the anomalies are the issues are the problem the crisis may be says a lot about the character of the organization to listen and then solve problems so i tell her they're giving you the opportunity to reflect the largesse of your management style absolutely and reinforce things yeah you're spot on the uh i think a lot of companies will say well oh we don't want to ruffle any feathers but what we know is that perception is reality and in the absence of clear information people will fill the void with their own worst thoughts especially in this industry very powerful and especially in this industry when people have windshield time there's a lot of time to think about all the ways that somebody's getting screwed over so if if you as a person or as a company aren't controlling the message somebody else is going to and that person may very well catch up somebody at your company at the right time and recruit them away so it's in a company's best interest to you know listen take action but tell people what you did because if you don't tell them what you did they'll assume you did nothing at all that is so powerful and you know part of our culture of course which has a spirit uh spiritual dimension to it is that you know we believe believe you need to live truly and speak truly right and those times where we communicate to a driver we didn't handle that the right way yeah we're sorry and you know we're going to make sure we don't do that again right that actually engenders trust it doesn't have somebody saying well look they messed up right i i agree completely i mean that's that is why we put win or learn in our our company values because if we are if we're not screwing things up we're not moving fast enough and so we we we have to mistakes will happen that is inevitable but we aren't going to point fingers we're not going to to place blame we'll say what did we learn from this and let's go win the next time exactly and you know people that are paralyzed by indecision they don't realize making a mistake you don't want to make mistakes all the time but making a mistake quickly and learning from it and adapting actually the cycle time there is so important that's that's that's very true you can uh you can always make a new decision you can make a new decision i read something here where only got uh a handful of minutes left i read something here that was so powerful your grandfather said you can do more with friends than you can with money yes now you just got another round of funding right yes yeah we're workout just raised our uh series a we got uh 12 million dollar injection from level equity that that is that is just tremendous it says a lot about the confidence of capital markets in definitely what what are you going to do with that uh so a couple different things one you know we're thrilled for the the opportunity you know certainly it was a lot of work to get to this point and so we've we've certainly had to pause and and celebrate um and just reflect that you know we're really proud of our progress we're hungry for more but we're really proud of because you're not an old company say it again you're not an old company well it depends who yes in the startup world we may be old we're at coming up on seven years but in the grand scheme of things but you're morphing you're changing certainly but yeah that's the i'd say any great company should be in a continuous state of evolution because that means you're getting better hopefully so we'll do a couple things the first and foremost it's making sure we we take care of our team you know our team has rode with us through covid and highs and lows of figuring out a product market fit for our company and so we've made sure we we take care of them and that they're supporting it as we enter this next phase but then the next thing is is making sure we we grow and that's not only bringing on new people to the team so we are hiring if if people are interested in uh joining the where count team and you have hustle and heart we certainly want to have a conversation with you but we we also want to create growth opportunities for our people and that's one of the fun things about growing the business that new challenges pop up there's new ways for people to lead or new ways for them to specialize and that's the really fun thing for me is is watching people become a better version of themselves you know and we get to be you know shoulder to shoulder and figuring it out of course we're going to be improving the product there's a lot of enhancements we want to make we work with over 80 companies here in north america and so we get to work with them to help shape up what is the next version of our product look like based on their feedback and you know these are leaders in the industry's telling us here's what we need to get better so that's a really great product roadmap for us max when you're not being entrepreneurial and envisioning what the company and a whole industry can look like what do you do so what is the side of max that folks don't know i i try to keep it real with people so i i don't know if there's anything hidden but um yeah i know that this is a a marathon not a sprint like one of the things that we set up in 2020 was we we set up every other friday off for our team we saw that people weren't taking breaks myself and my co-founder included and so we set up those days where people would take breaks and we kept hitting our goals quarter after quarter so we saw no reason to stop it and so we we do try to make sure we take breaks so you know some of the things that that i'll do i i do enjoy hiking and just going out in the woods in nature and not looking at a screen for for a little bit uh you know my uh my wife and i um enjoy sleeping in on on the weekends make breakfast together uh enjoy traveling too yeah so uh get a chance to we traveled to europe for uh in august we eloped in italy um and so we we certainly try to have our travels uh you know we find moments of joy in that that's wonderful that is so good you're in chattanooga i live in chattanooga tennessee what do you love about chattanooga if you're the chamber of commerce for chattanooga what would you say yeah it's uh i mean it's a couple different things of course chattanooga always highlights the the fast internet but for me it's uh it's a midsize city so i don't have to deal with too much traffic um and there's you know enough food and restaurants there that are tasty that uh you know check the box but it's the the access to uh to escape so if i want to go hike in the woods and you know be in solitude that's you know five minute drive down the road and then i'm on a mountain or you know drive down the road and go kayak or something like that so really just having it where there's the uh quick access to an escape and it it's a comfortable place and you can pop over to freight waves i i can there their office is about four blocks from ours really oh yeah yeah do you do you sing over there like trey does i haven't been over there as much with uh with covid but uh yeah they're nearby neighborly so as we round the home stretch here yes um what would be one final thing that you would say if you had 50 ceos of trucking and logistics companies what would be your elevator pitch not to buy your services yeah license it what would you say to them what would you encourage them what would your administration be well you know certainly a big theme that we we've talked about today is uh the the importance of of listening to your people and you know since we started the company that was a a big thing it's that you know a lot of people that are anybody in a company is closer to the work than the leader is and so why would we not create the space for uh to understand what those people are experiencing so that the company can can get better and learn from that you know some of that is just institutional knowledge that is going by the wayside because companies have not made a commitment to active listening so the best advice i would give is make a commitment to listening to your people and put a plan in place to take action and tell them what you did and good things will happen this is max farrell ceo and co-founder of workhound the marketplace leader in listening interpreting and guiding management teams to do the next right thing it's been a joy to have you now comes the part where i don't know if you wear hats or not but i can definitely put on a hat today well put on a hat you wear a lot of different hats that's come through in our interview today this is a life by the mile hat it's got the patriotic theme there that's our gift to you max thank you so much our partnership together we want to grow together and we look forward to the days ahead thank you so much for being on this life of the mile delivered by freight works make sure you like subscribe comment and share be part of this journey that we're going to have in the days ahead thanks so much for being here thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to this channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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