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Digital Design Leadership: Karim Marucchi


Meet Karim Marucchi, CEO of Crowd Favorite and experienced business leader. In this interview, he shares the unique experiences that contributed to his position as a digital design leader and gives advice about keeping team interactions as human as possible, despite working in a digital agency.

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Karim Marucchi: Hi, I’m Karim Marucchi and I help around at Crowd Favorite, we do enterprise size WordPress and open site development for large fortune companies.

Richard Banfield: Cool. So Karim I know you’ve had slightly more colorful background than the average WordPress person, give us a little about your background and how ended where you are today.

Karim Marucchi: Well, I fell into the web business back in 94 when everybody was starting small shops, and I had the unique experience of having my first shop first brought into US web and then going through that experience, riding that roller coaster, finding a WPP backed venture capital group to start another venture. Took that public on the Italian stock exchange. Rode that roller coaster, did another small boutique shop, didn’t fully buy out on that one and now I’ve decided I wanted to do something a little bit different from the past.

Richard Banfield: So you don’t sound like an engineer?

Karim Marucchi: Not at all.


Richard Banfield: How would you describe yourself?

Karim Marucchi: Project management and client management. I’ve always been a good client manager but a technical one.

Richard Banfield: OK. And your current role at Crowd Favorite is?

Karim Marucchi: CEO

Richard Banfield: OK. How do you think you got to be CEO, because its obviously not something you do at school?

Karim Marucchi: True; lots of mistakes. Years and years of trying to run small and medium businesses and work with large businesses, and understanding the production value and the production process of delivering websites.

Richard Banfield: So its basically a trial and error to leadership?

Karim Marucchi: Always. I think that’s the best way.

Richard Banfield: And now that you’re at this point, would you be able to describe the style of leadership that is that most epitomizes you?

Karim Marucchi: I would say that probably when people describe my leadership skills its probably visionary consensus. So I try to provide a vision and I try to build consensus around that vision and I try to make sure that we’re all pulling in the same direction. I spend much more time working with different team members than actually off in a corner working on something by myself.

Richard Banfield: Right. So, just explain a little bit about getting consensus because often, especially now, a distributive business like yours, not everybody is in the room at the same time, people are doing different jobs in different parts of the world. How do you get consensus, what’s involved in that?

Karim Marucchi: Its about literally working through, some people need a grand vision, some people need more detail, sort of taking it through them step by step. It’s about really getting to them face to face even if you’re talking about they’re across the world and you have to do it through video, chat or you have to get on a plane and get there and talk to them. It’s almost the same presentation skills you have with clients, but instead of trying to sell them on what you’re going to deliver to them you’ve to sell them on themselves. You have to help foster what they’re going to be doing and bring them up so the organization can follow behind them.

Richard Banfield: So this is now leading into the culture conversation, obviously consensus is one of those things and getting behind the same vision.What are the other aspects of culture that you notice the most and you feel need the most attention from you?

Karim Marucchi: In today’s context. In today’s context, its very important in my opinion to sort of almost artificially at first make different team members around the world have more video conversations than email or chat room. There’s something that’s lost in today’s culture by only electronic communication and that’s that human aspect of just trying to make sure that we understand each other; what’s important to each other. So it’s been very difficult yet very rewarding just trying to figure out with Skype video these days or Google hangouts or the new tools that are coming out. My company was one of the first companies originally that bought the Cisco system back in the day that cost over a hundred thousand dollars and now you can do it with 80 dollar webcams. So it’s about making sure you set it up so that people, if they’re not necessarily in the same room, can still feel part of the same team.

Richard Banfield: And building a team is not the same as keeping the team running in the same direction. What’s your approach or philosophy to building that team?

Karim Marucchi: So in our particular case we have set offices in different cities, so people coming in have this structure of having a team around them locally, but we also mix up the teams so that they’re not just working with local teams, they are forced to work across offices. And in doing that you’re creating both a local team and a team that is more distributed that lets you sort of have a different venting for different types of creativity. So for us it’s been important to try and figure out how we’re going to do that profitably and not create some silos that larger companies have because we want to keep this relatively small.

Richard Banfield: Now, with all these offices you obviously getting on a plane and visiting them a lot? How do you fit that into your lifestyle? Is that something you do easily? Is it stressful for you?

Karim Marucchi: Well, for me it’s been luck and ease. I’ve been traveling almost my whole life for business, so it’s been something that’s been sort of ingrained in me. Since the late nineties, I’ve worked with international shops so it’s just something I’m used to doing. Its jumping around, being in a different city a different week.

Richard Banfield: Yeah. It sounds like a lot of work.

Karim Marucchi: It is.

Richard Banfield: So apart from dividing time amongst all these people, there are other stresses in CEO as well. How do you get around all those stresses or relieve those stresses?

Karim Marucchi: I did a lot of driving on track and off track. I love to take moments in my travels to explore the different areas I get to go to. And…just… people watch and travel for private as well as business, that way you don’t see the line, it sort of blurs.

Richard Banfield: Good, yeah. So even when you’re not working you’re still traveling that’s true?

Karim Marucchi: That’s true.

Richard Banfield: It’s cool. When you think about yourself as a personality…do you think your personality has changed much over the years to accommodate your leadership role?

Karim Marucchi: Patience.

Richard Banfield: Patience.

Karim Marucchi: The older we get the more patience we learn and I think it’s done me personally a world of good. The younger you are the more you want to go out there and attack, and get that client and get that project out there and you learn when you can say “No” and when you can pass up a certain opportunity because you can find another one and you just learn how to deal with different points of stress better.

Richard Banfield: Now you’ve obviously had guidance along the way, maybe friends or mentors or possibly even role models. Can you talk to…that a little bit and tell us where you get your inspiration from?

Karim Marucchi: In my personal life, my father ran an architecture engineering firm for very many years and he lead teams that were in Europe and South America. So it was very important to see how he was leading these things. Before there was internet they had literally telephones and telex. After that in this industry I’ve tried to keep mentors at different leadership positions in different companies from Qualcomm and Disney and other large fortune companies. I’ve tried to keep a close relationship with some friends I’ve made in executive circles and I run things past them.

Richard Banfield: And do you read much? Do you take the heat of all the business books that are out there?

Karim Marucchi: I do. Lately I’ve switched to audio books just because of my travel schedule. Most of my reading is internal reading but I used to do a lot of reading of the different leadership books and the different leadership styles.

Richard Banfield: If you think about the future of Crowd Favorite, mainly the future of yourself, could you describe a little bit of that vision for the people watching this video?

Karim Marucchi: Certainly, we’re trying to build a small but iterative company around the idea of offices papered around the world providing unique, top quality development projects for fortune clients. So we want localized project management, localized development but with a cross based on the experience or the deep niche that you need that we can pull from different offices. So the office structures are actually very small, we don’t imagine growing any office past 15, 25 maximum for any one major area. But by cross pollinating the offices and having everybody work across one structure, we’re hopefully going to have something that has the highest possible quality, yet can service clients locally.

Richard Banfield: So an interesting answer, what I read into that answer was that there were…there’s no reference to any particular technology. You guys are WordPress experts but you didn’t mention any technology. Why is that? Is there something bigger than what we’re seeing here today?

Karim Marucchi: That’s probably a better question for Alex, our CTO, but we pride ourselves on open source. We happen to be experts in the WordPress community but, as anybody who has been in this business for a long while knows, things evolve, things change so we’re constantly trying to follow that additive process of what’s best suited for the client.
We’re not trying to hit whatever client nail there is with the WordPress hammer. We will do whatever is necessary for a certain client. We don’t know what the future will bring but we’ve got our eye on it.

Richard Banfield: OK, good to know. And when you think again about yourself, what’s still missing, what do you feel like you can still work on to be a better leader?

Karim Marucchi: Do we have that much time?

Richard Banfield: [laughs]

Karim Marucchi: I’m just constantly trying to hire find and train people who are smarter than myself. We’ve brought on a COO that does head and shoulders a better job than I do at reigning in some of the client problems that can crop up in anything and it’s just about constantly bringing in new talent, training them with your experience, but seeing how to bring the vision forward. And I really think that I continue to learn by seeing how people who come in, who might be fresh, who might have a different experience, look at things differently. No matter how I’m sure there’s one particular way to solve a problem, somebody with two years experience of working can s”ay What about doing it that way?” and you’re like “Let’s follow up…let’s look at that.”

Richard Banfield: Yeah. So final question, you’ve obviously done an extraordinary amount of things in this part of your lifetime, what’s the legacy that you’re likely to live behind?

Karim Marucchi: I’d like to create Crowd Favorite as a company that continues to go on past any one particular internet bubble or wave or technology. The biggest shortcoming in the technology industry today is people have lost a sense of career, a sense of home. Very quickly people go from one job to another and they don’t keep the same career, they’re bouncing around. I’d like to create a company that people can feel at home at and people can grow within and stay at long term.

Richard Banfield: It’s a good vision. Karim, thank you very much for your time, really, really appreciate it.

Karim Marucchi: Absolute pleasure.

Author Richard Banfield

As CEO, Richard leads Fresh Tilled Soil’s strategic vision. He’s a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.

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