Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

News
NZ7YT
September 13, 2022
The Atlas Team

Published in Authority Magazine, September 13, 2022

As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Hammell.

Rick Hammell is the founder and CEO of Atlas. Rick founded Atlas in 2015, from his dining room table after noticing gaps in the existing marketplace for solutions that enabled companies to expand into new markets simply, quickly and compliantly. Through his commitment to simplifying expansion, Rick pioneered the Direct Employer of Record business model aimed at supporting companies with global aspirations.

Under Rick’s leadership, Atlas has grown from a local startup to a global tech firm with the capability to support clients in more than 160 countries. Atlas has since developed proprietary cloud-based software platforms further supported by a worldwide network of experts helping clients to navigate the complexities of international HR, payroll and local compliance.

Rick is the author of “Getting Sh*t Done!: The Millennial CEO.” He was named an Ernst & Young (EY) 2021 Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year winner, distinguished for his entrepreneurial spirit and impact on the communities he serves. He serves on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. Rick has been a member and active participant in the Society for Human Resource Management for the past 15 years.

Prior to launching Atlas, Rick served in senior HR leadership roles at HCBR Group and P.A.R.T.S Inc. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in HR from American Intercontinental University and holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in the hospitality industry, where I had an experience with a manager that left me with no choice but to leave my job abruptly. The environment I was in was toxic and volatile. The organization offered little in the way of protection or resources to employees like me who were mistreated by their superiors. That experience kickstarted my way into human resources. I wanted to help people.

I’ve since held HR leadership positions at multinational companies and had some great mentors along the way. That’s when I noticed a gap in the marketplace that made it difficult for companies to compliantly onboard, manage and pay global talent. The technology aspect came when I realized we needed one simplified, streamlined platform to complement the experience and expertise I gained throughout the years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Being a minority founder wasn’t always easy for me because I wasn’t always given the same opportunities as others. I had a preconceived notion of what a CEO and founder should look like. And in the early days of starting this company, I decided to present myself as a VP of Sales rather than the CEO of the company.

It was a profound moment when I finally realized it was okay to refer to myself as the CEO and let my clients know. I knew I was able and capable of starting and running a successful business. Today, we’ve been able to grow as a company and an industry regardless of the challenges.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hiring friends and family. When I started out, I thought this was the best decision for my family and my company. I thought family members would be the most loyal employees with the best qualities. Of course, I learned that combining business and family isn’t always the best business decision.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I started Elements Global Services (now Atlas) when I was 27. At that time, when I envisioned a CEO, I saw what we saw as the traditional CEO leader of a tech organization: straight, white, older man — a stark difference from who I am. I used that as my reference point for what a CEO should be, leaving me with my own insecurities and fear of not meeting expectations. I constantly questioned what clients would think of me, my age and my perceived lack of experience. Would they feel comfortable with me? Ultimately, I was afraid my identity as a young, black, gay man might hamper my company’s ability to land contracts and grow.

For two years, I referred to myself as the VP of sales. After those two years, I realized I did the hard part of founding and leading this company to early success. So, telling a client I was the CEO should be relatively simple. Their responses were indifferent. While my fear didn’t go away, it relieved some of the pressure I put on myself.

As with this situation, I embrace the fear and hard times that come before me. I now know how to control that fear and shift that into fuel to get through rough patches and to be an inspiration to others as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early in my HR career, I was fortunate to have a mentor named Crystal Brooks. She taught me nearly everything there was to know about HR and helped me navigate this then-new career path. I learned the day-to-day duties of HR work and more importantly, I learned the purpose being it — the human element. That foundation laid the way for me to connect aspects of HR with innovation. And here I am today, the founder of an HR technology company.

My grandmother has also been a significant influence on me and my success. She grew up in Georgia, where her father owned multiple businesses, putting the family in the crosshairs of the KKK. Her strength, compassion, work ethic and nurturing character are attributes I admire of her. So, she was the first person I thought of when I left my hospitality job without another job lined up. She influenced me to stand up for myself the day I chose to quit my job and seek out a career where I could help people and when I was in doubt, reminded me that I come from the best of the best and the strongest of the strongest.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Get sh*t done! This is a personal mantra I follow, which is also the name of my book: The Millennial CEO: Getting Sh*t Done. This has encouraged me throughout all phases of my life and my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve come to understand that hardships are an inevitable part of life, but I know my goal and vision. So, I work through the challenges and get sh*t done!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Because of the country’s early and more recent past, we’re now at a point where we are very aware of race and diversity. And, as a global business, it’s clear that to be successful we must have a diverse set of thoughts and ideas, and that typically comes from different kinds of people.

As an employer, we must be fair and equitable in hiring and supporting talent. I often consider, if we’re hiring the best candidate, can I do so blindly? By that, it’s crucial to put aside the innate biases that many of us have — including cultural and language biases. While we have reached a boiling point time and again, it’s important to focus on putting in place practices that can alleviate this problem — whether that’s in the product or solution you’re providing customers or in our own communities.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I speak from my experience of envisioning a CEO as a straight, white, older man. I knew I could lead a company to success, but I was afraid of what others might think. Part of that is because I didn’t see many people like me in leadership positions. Today, at Atlas, we enable representation at the top, setting the organization’s tone. We’re diverse and inclusive and you see that at all levels. Diversity brings forth different perspectives, life experiences and problem-solving approaches.

It’s especially important for Atlas. We’re a global company, working with organizations and their employees around the world, which means we need to understand varying perspectives to address the pain points our customers have. Ultimately, diversity is good for leadership, employees and our customers.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Opportunity is key, and funding is a significant part of this opportunity. Securing proper funding can be challenging for black-owned businesses because of the lack of opportunity. Oftentimes, minority-owned businesses are valued lower than their counterparts. When it comes to VC and PE firms, it’s important to question their investments — are they investing in minority-owned businesses? It’s more than just a DEI initiative. This needs to be put into practice.

We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Atlas employs people to work for your company anywhere in the world. Companies can partner with us to handle back-office work like HR, payroll, legal compliance and tax obligations. It’s a simple, time- and cost-saving way to accelerate your global expansion without setting up as a legal entity in different countries. The Atlas platform complements our global HR and compliance experience and expertise by streamlining the process of expanding into a new market, onboarding new talent, paying an international workforce and managing compliance.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I started this company when I struggled to pay international contractors while working as Head of HR for a global company. The solutions available at the time were problematic. I had people calling me at all hours telling me they hadn’t been paid. Finally, I realized the issue — we were working with third- and fourth-party vendors for payroll and other HR admin. I knew the solution was setting up an entity in the countries where I was hiring and paying contractors.

After gaining experience and knowledge through setting up entities around the world, I knew our customers would benefit from a platform that eliminated the manual process of managing and paying a global workforce while ensuring compliance with local labor and tax laws.

What makes Atlas stand out is the combination of experience and technology. As a result, Atlas is one platform that can guide companies on their global growth journeys.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This past June, the company rebranded from Elements Global Services to Atlas, coinciding with the launch of the Atlas platform. As Elements, we focused heavily on our work as an employer of record and simultaneously had two separate tech platforms that supported our customers and their employees. One platform focused on paying global talent and one focused on providing global HR insight and information.

After listening to our customers, we understood that as Atlas with one platform, we could deliver a better and more efficient customer experience. So we pivoted from a services-led business to a services-enabled technology company. We invested heavily in our software, recruiting top talent and executives to achieve this goal.

Today we have a fully integrated technology solution that simplifies how customers expand, onboard employees, manage compliance and pay globally. Atlas creates operational flexibility enabling businesses to react quickly to market conditions, exponentially growing talent pools, simplifying payments, ensuring local compliance while reducing risk and eliminating fixed costs and long-term commitments burdening the employer.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high-performing teams?

Developing and sustaining impactful and high-performing teams is crucial to a company’s success. So, when I founded this company, I knew I needed a “why” to communicate where the organization plans to go and why. The vision statement would then motivate our people and give the purpose of a common goal across teams. This is crucial in today’s environment where the Great Resignation and War for Talent are terms we hear frequently. High-potential talent is driven by more than a paycheck, so companies need to respond accordingly, whether that’s through flexibility, learning and development opportunities or other means.

Maintaining a high-performing team is a challenge, but there are tried and tested ways of achieving this:

  • Accountability: Hold individuals and teams accountable for their performance towards their desired goal. This should also reflect a level of trust that you have for your teams.
  • Consistent and thoughtful communication: Constant communication keeps employees informed, on track and focused as they work towards a goal.
  • Performance assessments: Generally, organizations have key performance indicators focusing on financials. But it’s also important to assess teams and individuals based on their job function, offering a constant feedback loop. This feedback will translate toward finding solutions and higher productivity when done properly.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Our customers are essentially any organization with global ambitions. But because of the nature of the industry, it’s often the case that our customers don’t know the type of support we offer exists — you don’t know what you don’t know.

So, as we support companies that want to expand into new markets or hire global talent, we outline the challenges that a company may encounter. For example, it can take 18 months for a business to set up an entity in China — a requirement to pay an employee in the country legally. Entity setup also includes a significant amount of upfront capital. Through Atlas, we already have an entity in China, along with over 160 countries. This makes it simple for a company to quickly, cost-effectively and compliantly onboard and pay an employee in China. And our platform makes the process of continuing to manage that employee straightforward.

When finding and attracting the right customers, we aim to educate them on the solutions we provide and the challenges they may encounter when going global.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  • Consistent communication: At Atlas, our Account Managers have a weekly call with customers to discuss anything and everything from potential new hires to challenges they face with the current workforce. The point of these calls is to make sure we are listening to our customers, providing them with the information they need and finding solutions to any issues that may arise. It keeps us accountable, mitigates future problems and acts as a feedback loop.
  • Respond to current, and future customer needs: As a result of our regular customer check-ins, we’re prepared to respond to our customers’ needs. For example, before the launch of the Atlas platform, we had two platforms that complemented our EOR solution. Our customers wanted an even more streamlined approach, and we obliged. Today, they want more flexibility through self-service and automation, and we’re building more of this functionality into our platform.
  • Keep it simple: When it comes to technology, customers typically look for a straightforward solution to eliminate a complicated issue. A company’s software should respond to that desire in everything from the UX design to the functionality.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

We limit customer churn in the same ways we give our customers the best experience. We’re flexible and responsive to customer needs.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Have an idea that’s innovative: Consider the gaps in the current marketplace and how you can simplify a customer’s experience.
  • Ensure your idea solves a problem: When I started out, I faced the challenge of how to pay international contractors. The solutions presented to me didn’t solve the issues I had. So, when coming up with the Atlas business model, I first looked at what I wanted to solve.
  • Be prepared to make mistakes and fail: You may not get your product or solution right the first time. As long as you learn from the mistakes then it’s a valuable lesson.
  • Hire the right people: I don’t pretend to know everything, which is why I hire the best and brightest. They help guide me to find the solutions I’m looking for.
  • Be open to evolving: Customer needs will always change, and what worked today may not work tomorrow. So, it’s essential to listen, accept feedback and consider what future customers may want.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

At Atlas, our mission is to widen the margins of entrepreneurship and employment. Our business model broadens career opportunities for people working in underserved locales. It gives them the chance to work for companies that — until now — weren’t able to hire them in their countries of residence. For startups and smaller businesses, it helps to put them on the international playing field — turning commercial innovations into viable global enterprises. ​

Atlas is a people company, so empowering the underrepresented to achieve their professional ambitions hits close to home.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

There are two people I’d love to enjoy a meal with. One is Debra Lee, former CEO of the BET network. She took this television network to another level — one that focused mainly on music videos to a network with a mission that televised news, TV shows and music. Her focus, drive and motivation to incorporate a purpose and mission into a company’s goal are inspirational to me.

The second is Barack Obama. As the first Black president, he faced a lot of adversity much of which was related to his race. A lot of people wanted him to fail, but he always held his head high and stayed humble. He overcame a lot of personal and professional challenges, and I admire that. To this day, I take the high road in the face of challenges, and I look to people like Barack Obama as motivators.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

News
NZ7YT
September 13, 2022
The Atlas Team

Published in Authority Magazine, September 13, 2022

As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Hammell.

Rick Hammell is the founder and CEO of Atlas. Rick founded Atlas in 2015, from his dining room table after noticing gaps in the existing marketplace for solutions that enabled companies to expand into new markets simply, quickly and compliantly. Through his commitment to simplifying expansion, Rick pioneered the Direct Employer of Record business model aimed at supporting companies with global aspirations.

Under Rick’s leadership, Atlas has grown from a local startup to a global tech firm with the capability to support clients in more than 160 countries. Atlas has since developed proprietary cloud-based software platforms further supported by a worldwide network of experts helping clients to navigate the complexities of international HR, payroll and local compliance.

Rick is the author of “Getting Sh*t Done!: The Millennial CEO.” He was named an Ernst & Young (EY) 2021 Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year winner, distinguished for his entrepreneurial spirit and impact on the communities he serves. He serves on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. Rick has been a member and active participant in the Society for Human Resource Management for the past 15 years.

Prior to launching Atlas, Rick served in senior HR leadership roles at HCBR Group and P.A.R.T.S Inc. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in HR from American Intercontinental University and holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in the hospitality industry, where I had an experience with a manager that left me with no choice but to leave my job abruptly. The environment I was in was toxic and volatile. The organization offered little in the way of protection or resources to employees like me who were mistreated by their superiors. That experience kickstarted my way into human resources. I wanted to help people.

I’ve since held HR leadership positions at multinational companies and had some great mentors along the way. That’s when I noticed a gap in the marketplace that made it difficult for companies to compliantly onboard, manage and pay global talent. The technology aspect came when I realized we needed one simplified, streamlined platform to complement the experience and expertise I gained throughout the years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Being a minority founder wasn’t always easy for me because I wasn’t always given the same opportunities as others. I had a preconceived notion of what a CEO and founder should look like. And in the early days of starting this company, I decided to present myself as a VP of Sales rather than the CEO of the company.

It was a profound moment when I finally realized it was okay to refer to myself as the CEO and let my clients know. I knew I was able and capable of starting and running a successful business. Today, we’ve been able to grow as a company and an industry regardless of the challenges.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hiring friends and family. When I started out, I thought this was the best decision for my family and my company. I thought family members would be the most loyal employees with the best qualities. Of course, I learned that combining business and family isn’t always the best business decision.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I started Elements Global Services (now Atlas) when I was 27. At that time, when I envisioned a CEO, I saw what we saw as the traditional CEO leader of a tech organization: straight, white, older man — a stark difference from who I am. I used that as my reference point for what a CEO should be, leaving me with my own insecurities and fear of not meeting expectations. I constantly questioned what clients would think of me, my age and my perceived lack of experience. Would they feel comfortable with me? Ultimately, I was afraid my identity as a young, black, gay man might hamper my company’s ability to land contracts and grow.

For two years, I referred to myself as the VP of sales. After those two years, I realized I did the hard part of founding and leading this company to early success. So, telling a client I was the CEO should be relatively simple. Their responses were indifferent. While my fear didn’t go away, it relieved some of the pressure I put on myself.

As with this situation, I embrace the fear and hard times that come before me. I now know how to control that fear and shift that into fuel to get through rough patches and to be an inspiration to others as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early in my HR career, I was fortunate to have a mentor named Crystal Brooks. She taught me nearly everything there was to know about HR and helped me navigate this then-new career path. I learned the day-to-day duties of HR work and more importantly, I learned the purpose being it — the human element. That foundation laid the way for me to connect aspects of HR with innovation. And here I am today, the founder of an HR technology company.

My grandmother has also been a significant influence on me and my success. She grew up in Georgia, where her father owned multiple businesses, putting the family in the crosshairs of the KKK. Her strength, compassion, work ethic and nurturing character are attributes I admire of her. So, she was the first person I thought of when I left my hospitality job without another job lined up. She influenced me to stand up for myself the day I chose to quit my job and seek out a career where I could help people and when I was in doubt, reminded me that I come from the best of the best and the strongest of the strongest.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Get sh*t done! This is a personal mantra I follow, which is also the name of my book: The Millennial CEO: Getting Sh*t Done. This has encouraged me throughout all phases of my life and my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve come to understand that hardships are an inevitable part of life, but I know my goal and vision. So, I work through the challenges and get sh*t done!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Because of the country’s early and more recent past, we’re now at a point where we are very aware of race and diversity. And, as a global business, it’s clear that to be successful we must have a diverse set of thoughts and ideas, and that typically comes from different kinds of people.

As an employer, we must be fair and equitable in hiring and supporting talent. I often consider, if we’re hiring the best candidate, can I do so blindly? By that, it’s crucial to put aside the innate biases that many of us have — including cultural and language biases. While we have reached a boiling point time and again, it’s important to focus on putting in place practices that can alleviate this problem — whether that’s in the product or solution you’re providing customers or in our own communities.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I speak from my experience of envisioning a CEO as a straight, white, older man. I knew I could lead a company to success, but I was afraid of what others might think. Part of that is because I didn’t see many people like me in leadership positions. Today, at Atlas, we enable representation at the top, setting the organization’s tone. We’re diverse and inclusive and you see that at all levels. Diversity brings forth different perspectives, life experiences and problem-solving approaches.

It’s especially important for Atlas. We’re a global company, working with organizations and their employees around the world, which means we need to understand varying perspectives to address the pain points our customers have. Ultimately, diversity is good for leadership, employees and our customers.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Opportunity is key, and funding is a significant part of this opportunity. Securing proper funding can be challenging for black-owned businesses because of the lack of opportunity. Oftentimes, minority-owned businesses are valued lower than their counterparts. When it comes to VC and PE firms, it’s important to question their investments — are they investing in minority-owned businesses? It’s more than just a DEI initiative. This needs to be put into practice.

We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Atlas employs people to work for your company anywhere in the world. Companies can partner with us to handle back-office work like HR, payroll, legal compliance and tax obligations. It’s a simple, time- and cost-saving way to accelerate your global expansion without setting up as a legal entity in different countries. The Atlas platform complements our global HR and compliance experience and expertise by streamlining the process of expanding into a new market, onboarding new talent, paying an international workforce and managing compliance.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I started this company when I struggled to pay international contractors while working as Head of HR for a global company. The solutions available at the time were problematic. I had people calling me at all hours telling me they hadn’t been paid. Finally, I realized the issue — we were working with third- and fourth-party vendors for payroll and other HR admin. I knew the solution was setting up an entity in the countries where I was hiring and paying contractors.

After gaining experience and knowledge through setting up entities around the world, I knew our customers would benefit from a platform that eliminated the manual process of managing and paying a global workforce while ensuring compliance with local labor and tax laws.

What makes Atlas stand out is the combination of experience and technology. As a result, Atlas is one platform that can guide companies on their global growth journeys.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This past June, the company rebranded from Elements Global Services to Atlas, coinciding with the launch of the Atlas platform. As Elements, we focused heavily on our work as an employer of record and simultaneously had two separate tech platforms that supported our customers and their employees. One platform focused on paying global talent and one focused on providing global HR insight and information.

After listening to our customers, we understood that as Atlas with one platform, we could deliver a better and more efficient customer experience. So we pivoted from a services-led business to a services-enabled technology company. We invested heavily in our software, recruiting top talent and executives to achieve this goal.

Today we have a fully integrated technology solution that simplifies how customers expand, onboard employees, manage compliance and pay globally. Atlas creates operational flexibility enabling businesses to react quickly to market conditions, exponentially growing talent pools, simplifying payments, ensuring local compliance while reducing risk and eliminating fixed costs and long-term commitments burdening the employer.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high-performing teams?

Developing and sustaining impactful and high-performing teams is crucial to a company’s success. So, when I founded this company, I knew I needed a “why” to communicate where the organization plans to go and why. The vision statement would then motivate our people and give the purpose of a common goal across teams. This is crucial in today’s environment where the Great Resignation and War for Talent are terms we hear frequently. High-potential talent is driven by more than a paycheck, so companies need to respond accordingly, whether that’s through flexibility, learning and development opportunities or other means.

Maintaining a high-performing team is a challenge, but there are tried and tested ways of achieving this:

  • Accountability: Hold individuals and teams accountable for their performance towards their desired goal. This should also reflect a level of trust that you have for your teams.
  • Consistent and thoughtful communication: Constant communication keeps employees informed, on track and focused as they work towards a goal.
  • Performance assessments: Generally, organizations have key performance indicators focusing on financials. But it’s also important to assess teams and individuals based on their job function, offering a constant feedback loop. This feedback will translate toward finding solutions and higher productivity when done properly.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Our customers are essentially any organization with global ambitions. But because of the nature of the industry, it’s often the case that our customers don’t know the type of support we offer exists — you don’t know what you don’t know.

So, as we support companies that want to expand into new markets or hire global talent, we outline the challenges that a company may encounter. For example, it can take 18 months for a business to set up an entity in China — a requirement to pay an employee in the country legally. Entity setup also includes a significant amount of upfront capital. Through Atlas, we already have an entity in China, along with over 160 countries. This makes it simple for a company to quickly, cost-effectively and compliantly onboard and pay an employee in China. And our platform makes the process of continuing to manage that employee straightforward.

When finding and attracting the right customers, we aim to educate them on the solutions we provide and the challenges they may encounter when going global.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  • Consistent communication: At Atlas, our Account Managers have a weekly call with customers to discuss anything and everything from potential new hires to challenges they face with the current workforce. The point of these calls is to make sure we are listening to our customers, providing them with the information they need and finding solutions to any issues that may arise. It keeps us accountable, mitigates future problems and acts as a feedback loop.
  • Respond to current, and future customer needs: As a result of our regular customer check-ins, we’re prepared to respond to our customers’ needs. For example, before the launch of the Atlas platform, we had two platforms that complemented our EOR solution. Our customers wanted an even more streamlined approach, and we obliged. Today, they want more flexibility through self-service and automation, and we’re building more of this functionality into our platform.
  • Keep it simple: When it comes to technology, customers typically look for a straightforward solution to eliminate a complicated issue. A company’s software should respond to that desire in everything from the UX design to the functionality.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

We limit customer churn in the same ways we give our customers the best experience. We’re flexible and responsive to customer needs.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Have an idea that’s innovative: Consider the gaps in the current marketplace and how you can simplify a customer’s experience.
  • Ensure your idea solves a problem: When I started out, I faced the challenge of how to pay international contractors. The solutions presented to me didn’t solve the issues I had. So, when coming up with the Atlas business model, I first looked at what I wanted to solve.
  • Be prepared to make mistakes and fail: You may not get your product or solution right the first time. As long as you learn from the mistakes then it’s a valuable lesson.
  • Hire the right people: I don’t pretend to know everything, which is why I hire the best and brightest. They help guide me to find the solutions I’m looking for.
  • Be open to evolving: Customer needs will always change, and what worked today may not work tomorrow. So, it’s essential to listen, accept feedback and consider what future customers may want.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

At Atlas, our mission is to widen the margins of entrepreneurship and employment. Our business model broadens career opportunities for people working in underserved locales. It gives them the chance to work for companies that — until now — weren’t able to hire them in their countries of residence. For startups and smaller businesses, it helps to put them on the international playing field — turning commercial innovations into viable global enterprises. ​

Atlas is a people company, so empowering the underrepresented to achieve their professional ambitions hits close to home.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

There are two people I’d love to enjoy a meal with. One is Debra Lee, former CEO of the BET network. She took this television network to another level — one that focused mainly on music videos to a network with a mission that televised news, TV shows and music. Her focus, drive and motivation to incorporate a purpose and mission into a company’s goal are inspirational to me.

The second is Barack Obama. As the first Black president, he faced a lot of adversity much of which was related to his race. A lot of people wanted him to fail, but he always held his head high and stayed humble. He overcame a lot of personal and professional challenges, and I admire that. To this day, I take the high road in the face of challenges, and I look to people like Barack Obama as motivators.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

News
NZ7YT
September 13, 2022
The Atlas Team

Published in Authority Magazine, September 13, 2022

As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Hammell.

Rick Hammell is the founder and CEO of Atlas. Rick founded Atlas in 2015, from his dining room table after noticing gaps in the existing marketplace for solutions that enabled companies to expand into new markets simply, quickly and compliantly. Through his commitment to simplifying expansion, Rick pioneered the Direct Employer of Record business model aimed at supporting companies with global aspirations.

Under Rick’s leadership, Atlas has grown from a local startup to a global tech firm with the capability to support clients in more than 160 countries. Atlas has since developed proprietary cloud-based software platforms further supported by a worldwide network of experts helping clients to navigate the complexities of international HR, payroll and local compliance.

Rick is the author of “Getting Sh*t Done!: The Millennial CEO.” He was named an Ernst & Young (EY) 2021 Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year winner, distinguished for his entrepreneurial spirit and impact on the communities he serves. He serves on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. Rick has been a member and active participant in the Society for Human Resource Management for the past 15 years.

Prior to launching Atlas, Rick served in senior HR leadership roles at HCBR Group and P.A.R.T.S Inc. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in HR from American Intercontinental University and holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in the hospitality industry, where I had an experience with a manager that left me with no choice but to leave my job abruptly. The environment I was in was toxic and volatile. The organization offered little in the way of protection or resources to employees like me who were mistreated by their superiors. That experience kickstarted my way into human resources. I wanted to help people.

I’ve since held HR leadership positions at multinational companies and had some great mentors along the way. That’s when I noticed a gap in the marketplace that made it difficult for companies to compliantly onboard, manage and pay global talent. The technology aspect came when I realized we needed one simplified, streamlined platform to complement the experience and expertise I gained throughout the years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Being a minority founder wasn’t always easy for me because I wasn’t always given the same opportunities as others. I had a preconceived notion of what a CEO and founder should look like. And in the early days of starting this company, I decided to present myself as a VP of Sales rather than the CEO of the company.

It was a profound moment when I finally realized it was okay to refer to myself as the CEO and let my clients know. I knew I was able and capable of starting and running a successful business. Today, we’ve been able to grow as a company and an industry regardless of the challenges.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hiring friends and family. When I started out, I thought this was the best decision for my family and my company. I thought family members would be the most loyal employees with the best qualities. Of course, I learned that combining business and family isn’t always the best business decision.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I started Elements Global Services (now Atlas) when I was 27. At that time, when I envisioned a CEO, I saw what we saw as the traditional CEO leader of a tech organization: straight, white, older man — a stark difference from who I am. I used that as my reference point for what a CEO should be, leaving me with my own insecurities and fear of not meeting expectations. I constantly questioned what clients would think of me, my age and my perceived lack of experience. Would they feel comfortable with me? Ultimately, I was afraid my identity as a young, black, gay man might hamper my company’s ability to land contracts and grow.

For two years, I referred to myself as the VP of sales. After those two years, I realized I did the hard part of founding and leading this company to early success. So, telling a client I was the CEO should be relatively simple. Their responses were indifferent. While my fear didn’t go away, it relieved some of the pressure I put on myself.

As with this situation, I embrace the fear and hard times that come before me. I now know how to control that fear and shift that into fuel to get through rough patches and to be an inspiration to others as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early in my HR career, I was fortunate to have a mentor named Crystal Brooks. She taught me nearly everything there was to know about HR and helped me navigate this then-new career path. I learned the day-to-day duties of HR work and more importantly, I learned the purpose being it — the human element. That foundation laid the way for me to connect aspects of HR with innovation. And here I am today, the founder of an HR technology company.

My grandmother has also been a significant influence on me and my success. She grew up in Georgia, where her father owned multiple businesses, putting the family in the crosshairs of the KKK. Her strength, compassion, work ethic and nurturing character are attributes I admire of her. So, she was the first person I thought of when I left my hospitality job without another job lined up. She influenced me to stand up for myself the day I chose to quit my job and seek out a career where I could help people and when I was in doubt, reminded me that I come from the best of the best and the strongest of the strongest.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Get sh*t done! This is a personal mantra I follow, which is also the name of my book: The Millennial CEO: Getting Sh*t Done. This has encouraged me throughout all phases of my life and my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve come to understand that hardships are an inevitable part of life, but I know my goal and vision. So, I work through the challenges and get sh*t done!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Because of the country’s early and more recent past, we’re now at a point where we are very aware of race and diversity. And, as a global business, it’s clear that to be successful we must have a diverse set of thoughts and ideas, and that typically comes from different kinds of people.

As an employer, we must be fair and equitable in hiring and supporting talent. I often consider, if we’re hiring the best candidate, can I do so blindly? By that, it’s crucial to put aside the innate biases that many of us have — including cultural and language biases. While we have reached a boiling point time and again, it’s important to focus on putting in place practices that can alleviate this problem — whether that’s in the product or solution you’re providing customers or in our own communities.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I speak from my experience of envisioning a CEO as a straight, white, older man. I knew I could lead a company to success, but I was afraid of what others might think. Part of that is because I didn’t see many people like me in leadership positions. Today, at Atlas, we enable representation at the top, setting the organization’s tone. We’re diverse and inclusive and you see that at all levels. Diversity brings forth different perspectives, life experiences and problem-solving approaches.

It’s especially important for Atlas. We’re a global company, working with organizations and their employees around the world, which means we need to understand varying perspectives to address the pain points our customers have. Ultimately, diversity is good for leadership, employees and our customers.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Opportunity is key, and funding is a significant part of this opportunity. Securing proper funding can be challenging for black-owned businesses because of the lack of opportunity. Oftentimes, minority-owned businesses are valued lower than their counterparts. When it comes to VC and PE firms, it’s important to question their investments — are they investing in minority-owned businesses? It’s more than just a DEI initiative. This needs to be put into practice.

We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Atlas employs people to work for your company anywhere in the world. Companies can partner with us to handle back-office work like HR, payroll, legal compliance and tax obligations. It’s a simple, time- and cost-saving way to accelerate your global expansion without setting up as a legal entity in different countries. The Atlas platform complements our global HR and compliance experience and expertise by streamlining the process of expanding into a new market, onboarding new talent, paying an international workforce and managing compliance.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I started this company when I struggled to pay international contractors while working as Head of HR for a global company. The solutions available at the time were problematic. I had people calling me at all hours telling me they hadn’t been paid. Finally, I realized the issue — we were working with third- and fourth-party vendors for payroll and other HR admin. I knew the solution was setting up an entity in the countries where I was hiring and paying contractors.

After gaining experience and knowledge through setting up entities around the world, I knew our customers would benefit from a platform that eliminated the manual process of managing and paying a global workforce while ensuring compliance with local labor and tax laws.

What makes Atlas stand out is the combination of experience and technology. As a result, Atlas is one platform that can guide companies on their global growth journeys.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This past June, the company rebranded from Elements Global Services to Atlas, coinciding with the launch of the Atlas platform. As Elements, we focused heavily on our work as an employer of record and simultaneously had two separate tech platforms that supported our customers and their employees. One platform focused on paying global talent and one focused on providing global HR insight and information.

After listening to our customers, we understood that as Atlas with one platform, we could deliver a better and more efficient customer experience. So we pivoted from a services-led business to a services-enabled technology company. We invested heavily in our software, recruiting top talent and executives to achieve this goal.

Today we have a fully integrated technology solution that simplifies how customers expand, onboard employees, manage compliance and pay globally. Atlas creates operational flexibility enabling businesses to react quickly to market conditions, exponentially growing talent pools, simplifying payments, ensuring local compliance while reducing risk and eliminating fixed costs and long-term commitments burdening the employer.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high-performing teams?

Developing and sustaining impactful and high-performing teams is crucial to a company’s success. So, when I founded this company, I knew I needed a “why” to communicate where the organization plans to go and why. The vision statement would then motivate our people and give the purpose of a common goal across teams. This is crucial in today’s environment where the Great Resignation and War for Talent are terms we hear frequently. High-potential talent is driven by more than a paycheck, so companies need to respond accordingly, whether that’s through flexibility, learning and development opportunities or other means.

Maintaining a high-performing team is a challenge, but there are tried and tested ways of achieving this:

  • Accountability: Hold individuals and teams accountable for their performance towards their desired goal. This should also reflect a level of trust that you have for your teams.
  • Consistent and thoughtful communication: Constant communication keeps employees informed, on track and focused as they work towards a goal.
  • Performance assessments: Generally, organizations have key performance indicators focusing on financials. But it’s also important to assess teams and individuals based on their job function, offering a constant feedback loop. This feedback will translate toward finding solutions and higher productivity when done properly.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Our customers are essentially any organization with global ambitions. But because of the nature of the industry, it’s often the case that our customers don’t know the type of support we offer exists — you don’t know what you don’t know.

So, as we support companies that want to expand into new markets or hire global talent, we outline the challenges that a company may encounter. For example, it can take 18 months for a business to set up an entity in China — a requirement to pay an employee in the country legally. Entity setup also includes a significant amount of upfront capital. Through Atlas, we already have an entity in China, along with over 160 countries. This makes it simple for a company to quickly, cost-effectively and compliantly onboard and pay an employee in China. And our platform makes the process of continuing to manage that employee straightforward.

When finding and attracting the right customers, we aim to educate them on the solutions we provide and the challenges they may encounter when going global.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  • Consistent communication: At Atlas, our Account Managers have a weekly call with customers to discuss anything and everything from potential new hires to challenges they face with the current workforce. The point of these calls is to make sure we are listening to our customers, providing them with the information they need and finding solutions to any issues that may arise. It keeps us accountable, mitigates future problems and acts as a feedback loop.
  • Respond to current, and future customer needs: As a result of our regular customer check-ins, we’re prepared to respond to our customers’ needs. For example, before the launch of the Atlas platform, we had two platforms that complemented our EOR solution. Our customers wanted an even more streamlined approach, and we obliged. Today, they want more flexibility through self-service and automation, and we’re building more of this functionality into our platform.
  • Keep it simple: When it comes to technology, customers typically look for a straightforward solution to eliminate a complicated issue. A company’s software should respond to that desire in everything from the UX design to the functionality.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

We limit customer churn in the same ways we give our customers the best experience. We’re flexible and responsive to customer needs.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Have an idea that’s innovative: Consider the gaps in the current marketplace and how you can simplify a customer’s experience.
  • Ensure your idea solves a problem: When I started out, I faced the challenge of how to pay international contractors. The solutions presented to me didn’t solve the issues I had. So, when coming up with the Atlas business model, I first looked at what I wanted to solve.
  • Be prepared to make mistakes and fail: You may not get your product or solution right the first time. As long as you learn from the mistakes then it’s a valuable lesson.
  • Hire the right people: I don’t pretend to know everything, which is why I hire the best and brightest. They help guide me to find the solutions I’m looking for.
  • Be open to evolving: Customer needs will always change, and what worked today may not work tomorrow. So, it’s essential to listen, accept feedback and consider what future customers may want.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

At Atlas, our mission is to widen the margins of entrepreneurship and employment. Our business model broadens career opportunities for people working in underserved locales. It gives them the chance to work for companies that — until now — weren’t able to hire them in their countries of residence. For startups and smaller businesses, it helps to put them on the international playing field — turning commercial innovations into viable global enterprises. ​

Atlas is a people company, so empowering the underrepresented to achieve their professional ambitions hits close to home.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

There are two people I’d love to enjoy a meal with. One is Debra Lee, former CEO of the BET network. She took this television network to another level — one that focused mainly on music videos to a network with a mission that televised news, TV shows and music. Her focus, drive and motivation to incorporate a purpose and mission into a company’s goal are inspirational to me.

The second is Barack Obama. As the first Black president, he faced a lot of adversity much of which was related to his race. A lot of people wanted him to fail, but he always held his head high and stayed humble. He overcame a lot of personal and professional challenges, and I admire that. To this day, I take the high road in the face of challenges, and I look to people like Barack Obama as motivators.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

upcoming
past
News
NZ7YT

Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

Published in Authority Magazine, September 13, 2022

As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Hammell.

Rick Hammell is the founder and CEO of Atlas. Rick founded Atlas in 2015, from his dining room table after noticing gaps in the existing marketplace for solutions that enabled companies to expand into new markets simply, quickly and compliantly. Through his commitment to simplifying expansion, Rick pioneered the Direct Employer of Record business model aimed at supporting companies with global aspirations.

Under Rick’s leadership, Atlas has grown from a local startup to a global tech firm with the capability to support clients in more than 160 countries. Atlas has since developed proprietary cloud-based software platforms further supported by a worldwide network of experts helping clients to navigate the complexities of international HR, payroll and local compliance.

Rick is the author of “Getting Sh*t Done!: The Millennial CEO.” He was named an Ernst & Young (EY) 2021 Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year winner, distinguished for his entrepreneurial spirit and impact on the communities he serves. He serves on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. Rick has been a member and active participant in the Society for Human Resource Management for the past 15 years.

Prior to launching Atlas, Rick served in senior HR leadership roles at HCBR Group and P.A.R.T.S Inc. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in HR from American Intercontinental University and holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in the hospitality industry, where I had an experience with a manager that left me with no choice but to leave my job abruptly. The environment I was in was toxic and volatile. The organization offered little in the way of protection or resources to employees like me who were mistreated by their superiors. That experience kickstarted my way into human resources. I wanted to help people.

I’ve since held HR leadership positions at multinational companies and had some great mentors along the way. That’s when I noticed a gap in the marketplace that made it difficult for companies to compliantly onboard, manage and pay global talent. The technology aspect came when I realized we needed one simplified, streamlined platform to complement the experience and expertise I gained throughout the years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Being a minority founder wasn’t always easy for me because I wasn’t always given the same opportunities as others. I had a preconceived notion of what a CEO and founder should look like. And in the early days of starting this company, I decided to present myself as a VP of Sales rather than the CEO of the company.

It was a profound moment when I finally realized it was okay to refer to myself as the CEO and let my clients know. I knew I was able and capable of starting and running a successful business. Today, we’ve been able to grow as a company and an industry regardless of the challenges.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hiring friends and family. When I started out, I thought this was the best decision for my family and my company. I thought family members would be the most loyal employees with the best qualities. Of course, I learned that combining business and family isn’t always the best business decision.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I started Elements Global Services (now Atlas) when I was 27. At that time, when I envisioned a CEO, I saw what we saw as the traditional CEO leader of a tech organization: straight, white, older man — a stark difference from who I am. I used that as my reference point for what a CEO should be, leaving me with my own insecurities and fear of not meeting expectations. I constantly questioned what clients would think of me, my age and my perceived lack of experience. Would they feel comfortable with me? Ultimately, I was afraid my identity as a young, black, gay man might hamper my company’s ability to land contracts and grow.

For two years, I referred to myself as the VP of sales. After those two years, I realized I did the hard part of founding and leading this company to early success. So, telling a client I was the CEO should be relatively simple. Their responses were indifferent. While my fear didn’t go away, it relieved some of the pressure I put on myself.

As with this situation, I embrace the fear and hard times that come before me. I now know how to control that fear and shift that into fuel to get through rough patches and to be an inspiration to others as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early in my HR career, I was fortunate to have a mentor named Crystal Brooks. She taught me nearly everything there was to know about HR and helped me navigate this then-new career path. I learned the day-to-day duties of HR work and more importantly, I learned the purpose being it — the human element. That foundation laid the way for me to connect aspects of HR with innovation. And here I am today, the founder of an HR technology company.

My grandmother has also been a significant influence on me and my success. She grew up in Georgia, where her father owned multiple businesses, putting the family in the crosshairs of the KKK. Her strength, compassion, work ethic and nurturing character are attributes I admire of her. So, she was the first person I thought of when I left my hospitality job without another job lined up. She influenced me to stand up for myself the day I chose to quit my job and seek out a career where I could help people and when I was in doubt, reminded me that I come from the best of the best and the strongest of the strongest.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Get sh*t done! This is a personal mantra I follow, which is also the name of my book: The Millennial CEO: Getting Sh*t Done. This has encouraged me throughout all phases of my life and my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve come to understand that hardships are an inevitable part of life, but I know my goal and vision. So, I work through the challenges and get sh*t done!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Because of the country’s early and more recent past, we’re now at a point where we are very aware of race and diversity. And, as a global business, it’s clear that to be successful we must have a diverse set of thoughts and ideas, and that typically comes from different kinds of people.

As an employer, we must be fair and equitable in hiring and supporting talent. I often consider, if we’re hiring the best candidate, can I do so blindly? By that, it’s crucial to put aside the innate biases that many of us have — including cultural and language biases. While we have reached a boiling point time and again, it’s important to focus on putting in place practices that can alleviate this problem — whether that’s in the product or solution you’re providing customers or in our own communities.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I speak from my experience of envisioning a CEO as a straight, white, older man. I knew I could lead a company to success, but I was afraid of what others might think. Part of that is because I didn’t see many people like me in leadership positions. Today, at Atlas, we enable representation at the top, setting the organization’s tone. We’re diverse and inclusive and you see that at all levels. Diversity brings forth different perspectives, life experiences and problem-solving approaches.

It’s especially important for Atlas. We’re a global company, working with organizations and their employees around the world, which means we need to understand varying perspectives to address the pain points our customers have. Ultimately, diversity is good for leadership, employees and our customers.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Opportunity is key, and funding is a significant part of this opportunity. Securing proper funding can be challenging for black-owned businesses because of the lack of opportunity. Oftentimes, minority-owned businesses are valued lower than their counterparts. When it comes to VC and PE firms, it’s important to question their investments — are they investing in minority-owned businesses? It’s more than just a DEI initiative. This needs to be put into practice.

We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Atlas employs people to work for your company anywhere in the world. Companies can partner with us to handle back-office work like HR, payroll, legal compliance and tax obligations. It’s a simple, time- and cost-saving way to accelerate your global expansion without setting up as a legal entity in different countries. The Atlas platform complements our global HR and compliance experience and expertise by streamlining the process of expanding into a new market, onboarding new talent, paying an international workforce and managing compliance.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I started this company when I struggled to pay international contractors while working as Head of HR for a global company. The solutions available at the time were problematic. I had people calling me at all hours telling me they hadn’t been paid. Finally, I realized the issue — we were working with third- and fourth-party vendors for payroll and other HR admin. I knew the solution was setting up an entity in the countries where I was hiring and paying contractors.

After gaining experience and knowledge through setting up entities around the world, I knew our customers would benefit from a platform that eliminated the manual process of managing and paying a global workforce while ensuring compliance with local labor and tax laws.

What makes Atlas stand out is the combination of experience and technology. As a result, Atlas is one platform that can guide companies on their global growth journeys.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This past June, the company rebranded from Elements Global Services to Atlas, coinciding with the launch of the Atlas platform. As Elements, we focused heavily on our work as an employer of record and simultaneously had two separate tech platforms that supported our customers and their employees. One platform focused on paying global talent and one focused on providing global HR insight and information.

After listening to our customers, we understood that as Atlas with one platform, we could deliver a better and more efficient customer experience. So we pivoted from a services-led business to a services-enabled technology company. We invested heavily in our software, recruiting top talent and executives to achieve this goal.

Today we have a fully integrated technology solution that simplifies how customers expand, onboard employees, manage compliance and pay globally. Atlas creates operational flexibility enabling businesses to react quickly to market conditions, exponentially growing talent pools, simplifying payments, ensuring local compliance while reducing risk and eliminating fixed costs and long-term commitments burdening the employer.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high-performing teams?

Developing and sustaining impactful and high-performing teams is crucial to a company’s success. So, when I founded this company, I knew I needed a “why” to communicate where the organization plans to go and why. The vision statement would then motivate our people and give the purpose of a common goal across teams. This is crucial in today’s environment where the Great Resignation and War for Talent are terms we hear frequently. High-potential talent is driven by more than a paycheck, so companies need to respond accordingly, whether that’s through flexibility, learning and development opportunities or other means.

Maintaining a high-performing team is a challenge, but there are tried and tested ways of achieving this:

  • Accountability: Hold individuals and teams accountable for their performance towards their desired goal. This should also reflect a level of trust that you have for your teams.
  • Consistent and thoughtful communication: Constant communication keeps employees informed, on track and focused as they work towards a goal.
  • Performance assessments: Generally, organizations have key performance indicators focusing on financials. But it’s also important to assess teams and individuals based on their job function, offering a constant feedback loop. This feedback will translate toward finding solutions and higher productivity when done properly.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Our customers are essentially any organization with global ambitions. But because of the nature of the industry, it’s often the case that our customers don’t know the type of support we offer exists — you don’t know what you don’t know.

So, as we support companies that want to expand into new markets or hire global talent, we outline the challenges that a company may encounter. For example, it can take 18 months for a business to set up an entity in China — a requirement to pay an employee in the country legally. Entity setup also includes a significant amount of upfront capital. Through Atlas, we already have an entity in China, along with over 160 countries. This makes it simple for a company to quickly, cost-effectively and compliantly onboard and pay an employee in China. And our platform makes the process of continuing to manage that employee straightforward.

When finding and attracting the right customers, we aim to educate them on the solutions we provide and the challenges they may encounter when going global.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  • Consistent communication: At Atlas, our Account Managers have a weekly call with customers to discuss anything and everything from potential new hires to challenges they face with the current workforce. The point of these calls is to make sure we are listening to our customers, providing them with the information they need and finding solutions to any issues that may arise. It keeps us accountable, mitigates future problems and acts as a feedback loop.
  • Respond to current, and future customer needs: As a result of our regular customer check-ins, we’re prepared to respond to our customers’ needs. For example, before the launch of the Atlas platform, we had two platforms that complemented our EOR solution. Our customers wanted an even more streamlined approach, and we obliged. Today, they want more flexibility through self-service and automation, and we’re building more of this functionality into our platform.
  • Keep it simple: When it comes to technology, customers typically look for a straightforward solution to eliminate a complicated issue. A company’s software should respond to that desire in everything from the UX design to the functionality.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

We limit customer churn in the same ways we give our customers the best experience. We’re flexible and responsive to customer needs.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Have an idea that’s innovative: Consider the gaps in the current marketplace and how you can simplify a customer’s experience.
  • Ensure your idea solves a problem: When I started out, I faced the challenge of how to pay international contractors. The solutions presented to me didn’t solve the issues I had. So, when coming up with the Atlas business model, I first looked at what I wanted to solve.
  • Be prepared to make mistakes and fail: You may not get your product or solution right the first time. As long as you learn from the mistakes then it’s a valuable lesson.
  • Hire the right people: I don’t pretend to know everything, which is why I hire the best and brightest. They help guide me to find the solutions I’m looking for.
  • Be open to evolving: Customer needs will always change, and what worked today may not work tomorrow. So, it’s essential to listen, accept feedback and consider what future customers may want.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

At Atlas, our mission is to widen the margins of entrepreneurship and employment. Our business model broadens career opportunities for people working in underserved locales. It gives them the chance to work for companies that — until now — weren’t able to hire them in their countries of residence. For startups and smaller businesses, it helps to put them on the international playing field — turning commercial innovations into viable global enterprises. ​

Atlas is a people company, so empowering the underrepresented to achieve their professional ambitions hits close to home.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

There are two people I’d love to enjoy a meal with. One is Debra Lee, former CEO of the BET network. She took this television network to another level — one that focused mainly on music videos to a network with a mission that televised news, TV shows and music. Her focus, drive and motivation to incorporate a purpose and mission into a company’s goal are inspirational to me.

The second is Barack Obama. As the first Black president, he faced a lot of adversity much of which was related to his race. A lot of people wanted him to fail, but he always held his head high and stayed humble. He overcame a lot of personal and professional challenges, and I admire that. To this day, I take the high road in the face of challenges, and I look to people like Barack Obama as motivators.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

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September 13, 2022
Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

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Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

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NZ7YT
September 13, 2022
Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

Published in Authority Magazine, September 13, 2022

As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Hammell.

Rick Hammell is the founder and CEO of Atlas. Rick founded Atlas in 2015, from his dining room table after noticing gaps in the existing marketplace for solutions that enabled companies to expand into new markets simply, quickly and compliantly. Through his commitment to simplifying expansion, Rick pioneered the Direct Employer of Record business model aimed at supporting companies with global aspirations.

Under Rick’s leadership, Atlas has grown from a local startup to a global tech firm with the capability to support clients in more than 160 countries. Atlas has since developed proprietary cloud-based software platforms further supported by a worldwide network of experts helping clients to navigate the complexities of international HR, payroll and local compliance.

Rick is the author of “Getting Sh*t Done!: The Millennial CEO.” He was named an Ernst & Young (EY) 2021 Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year winner, distinguished for his entrepreneurial spirit and impact on the communities he serves. He serves on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. Rick has been a member and active participant in the Society for Human Resource Management for the past 15 years.

Prior to launching Atlas, Rick served in senior HR leadership roles at HCBR Group and P.A.R.T.S Inc. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in HR from American Intercontinental University and holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in the hospitality industry, where I had an experience with a manager that left me with no choice but to leave my job abruptly. The environment I was in was toxic and volatile. The organization offered little in the way of protection or resources to employees like me who were mistreated by their superiors. That experience kickstarted my way into human resources. I wanted to help people.

I’ve since held HR leadership positions at multinational companies and had some great mentors along the way. That’s when I noticed a gap in the marketplace that made it difficult for companies to compliantly onboard, manage and pay global talent. The technology aspect came when I realized we needed one simplified, streamlined platform to complement the experience and expertise I gained throughout the years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Being a minority founder wasn’t always easy for me because I wasn’t always given the same opportunities as others. I had a preconceived notion of what a CEO and founder should look like. And in the early days of starting this company, I decided to present myself as a VP of Sales rather than the CEO of the company.

It was a profound moment when I finally realized it was okay to refer to myself as the CEO and let my clients know. I knew I was able and capable of starting and running a successful business. Today, we’ve been able to grow as a company and an industry regardless of the challenges.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hiring friends and family. When I started out, I thought this was the best decision for my family and my company. I thought family members would be the most loyal employees with the best qualities. Of course, I learned that combining business and family isn’t always the best business decision.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I started Elements Global Services (now Atlas) when I was 27. At that time, when I envisioned a CEO, I saw what we saw as the traditional CEO leader of a tech organization: straight, white, older man — a stark difference from who I am. I used that as my reference point for what a CEO should be, leaving me with my own insecurities and fear of not meeting expectations. I constantly questioned what clients would think of me, my age and my perceived lack of experience. Would they feel comfortable with me? Ultimately, I was afraid my identity as a young, black, gay man might hamper my company’s ability to land contracts and grow.

For two years, I referred to myself as the VP of sales. After those two years, I realized I did the hard part of founding and leading this company to early success. So, telling a client I was the CEO should be relatively simple. Their responses were indifferent. While my fear didn’t go away, it relieved some of the pressure I put on myself.

As with this situation, I embrace the fear and hard times that come before me. I now know how to control that fear and shift that into fuel to get through rough patches and to be an inspiration to others as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early in my HR career, I was fortunate to have a mentor named Crystal Brooks. She taught me nearly everything there was to know about HR and helped me navigate this then-new career path. I learned the day-to-day duties of HR work and more importantly, I learned the purpose being it — the human element. That foundation laid the way for me to connect aspects of HR with innovation. And here I am today, the founder of an HR technology company.

My grandmother has also been a significant influence on me and my success. She grew up in Georgia, where her father owned multiple businesses, putting the family in the crosshairs of the KKK. Her strength, compassion, work ethic and nurturing character are attributes I admire of her. So, she was the first person I thought of when I left my hospitality job without another job lined up. She influenced me to stand up for myself the day I chose to quit my job and seek out a career where I could help people and when I was in doubt, reminded me that I come from the best of the best and the strongest of the strongest.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Get sh*t done! This is a personal mantra I follow, which is also the name of my book: The Millennial CEO: Getting Sh*t Done. This has encouraged me throughout all phases of my life and my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve come to understand that hardships are an inevitable part of life, but I know my goal and vision. So, I work through the challenges and get sh*t done!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Because of the country’s early and more recent past, we’re now at a point where we are very aware of race and diversity. And, as a global business, it’s clear that to be successful we must have a diverse set of thoughts and ideas, and that typically comes from different kinds of people.

As an employer, we must be fair and equitable in hiring and supporting talent. I often consider, if we’re hiring the best candidate, can I do so blindly? By that, it’s crucial to put aside the innate biases that many of us have — including cultural and language biases. While we have reached a boiling point time and again, it’s important to focus on putting in place practices that can alleviate this problem — whether that’s in the product or solution you’re providing customers or in our own communities.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I speak from my experience of envisioning a CEO as a straight, white, older man. I knew I could lead a company to success, but I was afraid of what others might think. Part of that is because I didn’t see many people like me in leadership positions. Today, at Atlas, we enable representation at the top, setting the organization’s tone. We’re diverse and inclusive and you see that at all levels. Diversity brings forth different perspectives, life experiences and problem-solving approaches.

It’s especially important for Atlas. We’re a global company, working with organizations and their employees around the world, which means we need to understand varying perspectives to address the pain points our customers have. Ultimately, diversity is good for leadership, employees and our customers.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Opportunity is key, and funding is a significant part of this opportunity. Securing proper funding can be challenging for black-owned businesses because of the lack of opportunity. Oftentimes, minority-owned businesses are valued lower than their counterparts. When it comes to VC and PE firms, it’s important to question their investments — are they investing in minority-owned businesses? It’s more than just a DEI initiative. This needs to be put into practice.

We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Atlas employs people to work for your company anywhere in the world. Companies can partner with us to handle back-office work like HR, payroll, legal compliance and tax obligations. It’s a simple, time- and cost-saving way to accelerate your global expansion without setting up as a legal entity in different countries. The Atlas platform complements our global HR and compliance experience and expertise by streamlining the process of expanding into a new market, onboarding new talent, paying an international workforce and managing compliance.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I started this company when I struggled to pay international contractors while working as Head of HR for a global company. The solutions available at the time were problematic. I had people calling me at all hours telling me they hadn’t been paid. Finally, I realized the issue — we were working with third- and fourth-party vendors for payroll and other HR admin. I knew the solution was setting up an entity in the countries where I was hiring and paying contractors.

After gaining experience and knowledge through setting up entities around the world, I knew our customers would benefit from a platform that eliminated the manual process of managing and paying a global workforce while ensuring compliance with local labor and tax laws.

What makes Atlas stand out is the combination of experience and technology. As a result, Atlas is one platform that can guide companies on their global growth journeys.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This past June, the company rebranded from Elements Global Services to Atlas, coinciding with the launch of the Atlas platform. As Elements, we focused heavily on our work as an employer of record and simultaneously had two separate tech platforms that supported our customers and their employees. One platform focused on paying global talent and one focused on providing global HR insight and information.

After listening to our customers, we understood that as Atlas with one platform, we could deliver a better and more efficient customer experience. So we pivoted from a services-led business to a services-enabled technology company. We invested heavily in our software, recruiting top talent and executives to achieve this goal.

Today we have a fully integrated technology solution that simplifies how customers expand, onboard employees, manage compliance and pay globally. Atlas creates operational flexibility enabling businesses to react quickly to market conditions, exponentially growing talent pools, simplifying payments, ensuring local compliance while reducing risk and eliminating fixed costs and long-term commitments burdening the employer.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high-performing teams?

Developing and sustaining impactful and high-performing teams is crucial to a company’s success. So, when I founded this company, I knew I needed a “why” to communicate where the organization plans to go and why. The vision statement would then motivate our people and give the purpose of a common goal across teams. This is crucial in today’s environment where the Great Resignation and War for Talent are terms we hear frequently. High-potential talent is driven by more than a paycheck, so companies need to respond accordingly, whether that’s through flexibility, learning and development opportunities or other means.

Maintaining a high-performing team is a challenge, but there are tried and tested ways of achieving this:

  • Accountability: Hold individuals and teams accountable for their performance towards their desired goal. This should also reflect a level of trust that you have for your teams.
  • Consistent and thoughtful communication: Constant communication keeps employees informed, on track and focused as they work towards a goal.
  • Performance assessments: Generally, organizations have key performance indicators focusing on financials. But it’s also important to assess teams and individuals based on their job function, offering a constant feedback loop. This feedback will translate toward finding solutions and higher productivity when done properly.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Our customers are essentially any organization with global ambitions. But because of the nature of the industry, it’s often the case that our customers don’t know the type of support we offer exists — you don’t know what you don’t know.

So, as we support companies that want to expand into new markets or hire global talent, we outline the challenges that a company may encounter. For example, it can take 18 months for a business to set up an entity in China — a requirement to pay an employee in the country legally. Entity setup also includes a significant amount of upfront capital. Through Atlas, we already have an entity in China, along with over 160 countries. This makes it simple for a company to quickly, cost-effectively and compliantly onboard and pay an employee in China. And our platform makes the process of continuing to manage that employee straightforward.

When finding and attracting the right customers, we aim to educate them on the solutions we provide and the challenges they may encounter when going global.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  • Consistent communication: At Atlas, our Account Managers have a weekly call with customers to discuss anything and everything from potential new hires to challenges they face with the current workforce. The point of these calls is to make sure we are listening to our customers, providing them with the information they need and finding solutions to any issues that may arise. It keeps us accountable, mitigates future problems and acts as a feedback loop.
  • Respond to current, and future customer needs: As a result of our regular customer check-ins, we’re prepared to respond to our customers’ needs. For example, before the launch of the Atlas platform, we had two platforms that complemented our EOR solution. Our customers wanted an even more streamlined approach, and we obliged. Today, they want more flexibility through self-service and automation, and we’re building more of this functionality into our platform.
  • Keep it simple: When it comes to technology, customers typically look for a straightforward solution to eliminate a complicated issue. A company’s software should respond to that desire in everything from the UX design to the functionality.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

We limit customer churn in the same ways we give our customers the best experience. We’re flexible and responsive to customer needs.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Have an idea that’s innovative: Consider the gaps in the current marketplace and how you can simplify a customer’s experience.
  • Ensure your idea solves a problem: When I started out, I faced the challenge of how to pay international contractors. The solutions presented to me didn’t solve the issues I had. So, when coming up with the Atlas business model, I first looked at what I wanted to solve.
  • Be prepared to make mistakes and fail: You may not get your product or solution right the first time. As long as you learn from the mistakes then it’s a valuable lesson.
  • Hire the right people: I don’t pretend to know everything, which is why I hire the best and brightest. They help guide me to find the solutions I’m looking for.
  • Be open to evolving: Customer needs will always change, and what worked today may not work tomorrow. So, it’s essential to listen, accept feedback and consider what future customers may want.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

At Atlas, our mission is to widen the margins of entrepreneurship and employment. Our business model broadens career opportunities for people working in underserved locales. It gives them the chance to work for companies that — until now — weren’t able to hire them in their countries of residence. For startups and smaller businesses, it helps to put them on the international playing field — turning commercial innovations into viable global enterprises. ​

Atlas is a people company, so empowering the underrepresented to achieve their professional ambitions hits close to home.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

There are two people I’d love to enjoy a meal with. One is Debra Lee, former CEO of the BET network. She took this television network to another level — one that focused mainly on music videos to a network with a mission that televised news, TV shows and music. Her focus, drive and motivation to incorporate a purpose and mission into a company’s goal are inspirational to me.

The second is Barack Obama. As the first Black president, he faced a lot of adversity much of which was related to his race. A lot of people wanted him to fail, but he always held his head high and stayed humble. He overcame a lot of personal and professional challenges, and I admire that. To this day, I take the high road in the face of challenges, and I look to people like Barack Obama as motivators.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Register To Download

Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

News
NZ7YT
September 22, 2022

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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