What's Junto You Ask? Here's Your First Sip of the Culture Kool-Aid

By Julie Poulos | October 25, 2018

We’re very proud to have recently graduated from the JuntoIV class! Since graduation, we’re often asked about our experience participating in The Junto Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s nine-month apprenticeship program. To truly understand our Junto experience, you need to first understand our past and how we came to be a part of the program. Three years ago, Red Caffeine Marketing + Technology was born as a ten-year-old startup. We’re the result of an unanticipated business divorce between the two partners who had different visions and values. Despite the divorce, business did not miss a beat. We were fortunate enough to have retained all of our clients, as well as the entire marketing team and CTO. In fact, in Red Caffeine’s first three years of business, we experienced record revenue growth of 40%, which lead to a 200% growth in staff! We attribute our success to our intentional investment into our culture. Our wonderful mentors guided us through establishing our mission, vision, and values. We were also intentional about the "company we kept," by actively participating in ethical leadership and culture-based communities, such as The Executive Breakfast ClubSmall Giants, and Conscious Capitalism. As we rapidly grew, it became apparent that the values established by our original team members were not enough to act as guiding principles for new staff. Fast growth surfaced our need for reorganization and process documentation. Red Caffeine President Kathy Steele recognized that sometimes you must look outside your own four walls for assistance. I believe this is often hard for small to midmarket-size organizations to do because we are so used to doing everything ourselves. We evaluated several programs and our leadership team unanimously voted to participate in The Junto Institute's nine-month apprenticeship program.

Here’s what convinced us:

  • Junto balances tactical business management skills with soft emotional intelligence skills.
  • Junto’s caliber of instructors, who taught based on real-world experiences.
  • Junto is intimate. Our company was one of eight organizations in our JuntoIV cohort.
  • Junto provides each member a CEO Mentor and Advisory Board.
  • Junto’s formula consisted of CEO and Leadership Forums, hands-on workshops, and classes that pulled from previous cohorts.

We soon fell in love with the program, forums, companies in our cohort, companies for previous cohorts, the instructors, the mentors, and the Junto staff. While we were told, it was startling to truly feel that we were and still are a part of a tribe. To be part of the tribe you must innately share values, have a vision, be willing to take risks, and invest time and money. We are like-minded people who are interested in growing healthy organizations, as well as investing in each other.

Our Junto experience outcomes:

  • We’ve aligned our leadership team.
  • We’ve gained company-wide exposure to self-awareness and self-management habits.
  • We’ve tapped a bank of knowledge fueled by our mentors.
  • We have a structure to set and achieve goals.
  • We’ve developed a five-year strategic plan.
  • We’re connected to a tribe of lifelong friends who personally advocate for us as leaders and for our business.

Initially, Kathy and I thought Junto would be beneficial for shaping our young leadership team. What we didn't realize was how "un-emotionally intelligent" we were as "seasoned" leaders. It’s true, culture starts at the top and trickles down. We still have a lot to learn about emotional intelligence habits and need continual practice. I equate it to exercising the emotional intelligence muscle. We’ve even hired an in-house Coordinator of Culture to ensure we are being intentional about sharing corporate information with our team, living our values, and practicing our habits. Junto has largely influenced who we are today.

The impact we’ve witnessed:

We have a 97% staff retention rate.

After leaving a Junto session, we’ve had numerous staff literally thank us and say they could never work for a company that does not invest in building a healthy culture.

"The best thing about Junto is observing my co-workers evolve and grow. The program focuses on the individual first to make us all better leaders, which ultimately creates a stronger company." – Shannon Callarman, Red Caffeine, Content Director

We’ve become more attractive to new hires.

We’ve been able to easily attract skilled applicants that fit our culture, allowing us to grow our staff by 200%. An interviewee applying for a job compared us to a movement!

“The Red Caffeine culture is very transparent. You don’t see that in a lot of organizations. There’s no bureaucratic society that boxes your creativity and talents. Everyone has the room to be who they are and show off their personality.” – Lauren Risetter, Red Caffeine, Jr. Account Manager

We have nearly 100% client retention.

We already had a great culture. Our whole point in going to Junto was to improve. When our team is fully engaged, appreciated, and happy our clients feel and receive the benefits.

“We selected the Red Caffeine team for a variety of reasons. Not only did the entire team’s creativity and expertise shine more than the other companies we interviewed, but what really set RC apart was the inexplicable bond they have with each other. Operating as a functioning and productive team takes diligence and attention. It was apparent in our first meeting that this team cares about the work it produces and each one of the RC staff care about each other and their clients. It made a difference knowing we would be embraced and guided along the way. It was not just about getting the work done, but establishing a relationship for life.” – Gina Krusinski, Krusinski Construction Company.

We’ve become more attractive to prospective clients.

Most recently a large food chain brand came into vet us. After the meeting, a few of their team members said that they would like to personally work on our team.

“Your work clearly speaks for itself and the personal connections with your client are so impressive – you develop that understanding of their needs and ultimately can deliver beyond expectations. I feel like that is getting lost in business today. It is SO important to work with people who understand and care!” – Leading Global Food Service Retailer


Another national restaurant chain, with plans to serve Chicagoland for the first time, found us online. From our website alone they could discern that our cultures aligned. How crazy is that?!

We’ve found more financial success.

For three consecutive years, we’ve experienced annual growth up to 40%, and we continue to trend upward! There is so much more I’d love to share! If you have any comments or questions, please connect with me. I’d love to hear what you have to say.


Omija_punch_01” by Republic of Korea is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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