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7 Questions on Leadership with Tyler Smith

Name: Tyler Smith

Title: CFO

Organisation: HatLaunch

As HatLaunch CFO, Tyler oversees and processes all the financial tasks to not only make sure HatLaunch is currently financially stable, but also to ensure that any future decisions are made with a sound financial outcome as well as making sure that HatLaunch is compliant with how it operates as a business.

Tyler is currently the sole member of the Finance Department and with that Tyler wears many hats. Tyler handles everything from bookkeeping, payroll, and paying invoices, to budgeting, forecasting, and managing cash to ensure that HatLaunch is in good financial standings for their next phase of growth.

Outside of HatLaunch, Tyler enjoys spending his free time with his wife, Stephanie who is a Nurse Practitioner, and their two daughters, Isla (3) and Lela (1).

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Tyler's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Since joining HatLaunch at the beginning of 2023, the business has experienced an exceptional level of growth. The business has essentially doubled this past year and with that so has our staff. We are also in the midst of moving our operations from a 8400 sq/ft space, to a new 40,000 sq/ft warehouse. With that said, more sound processes and policies must be put in place to ensure that we are mitigating as much risk as possible to prevent having to focus our time and energy on our continued growth and future successes.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My background prior to joining HatLaunch was in the financial services industry and primarily in the wealth management division at some of the largest wire houses in the country. I have been a long time friend of HatLaunch's founder and the business was growing to the point where he just needed someone's help just to make sure the business was profitable and provide some information for his taxes to get prepared, or for potential funding. So with that, I would help him on a part time basis. The business essentially doubled over night at the start of 2023 to the point that someone had to come in and take charge of the company's finances on a full-time basis and use that information to build strategies for continued growth and profits, and it was my role to take if I wanted to join, but it had to be filled within a short time frame and I needed to make a decision to join or leave it for someone else. At the same time, I was hesitant leaving my current role as I loved my role and had a great deal of respect for current manager and my team members. I was afraid of potentially burning a bridge and leaving a industry that I had grown in over a ten year time frame. As this discussion was building at HatLaunch and me contemplating on the decision, I had a dinner with my manager at the time and he mentioned to us a story with the preference of living without regret and how someone close to him had a very similar situation come up. Seeing this as a sign of fate, leaving that dinner I had my decision made up and I decided to take the leap of joining HatLaunch as CFO and assisting with leading our 25 staff members at that time, now 40.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I typically wake up between 5:00-5:30 to start my day and spend about two hours working. First, I check the prior day's sales and do some of the bookkeeping tasks or catchup on emails. My daughters will wake up around 7:00 and we will eat breakfast together. At 8:00 I will workout for about 45 minutes and then I will get ready to head into the office, getting in at around 9:30. I will then check to see how sales are doing so far for the day. I will then review our accounts and update our cash flow projections to see what bills were paid out for the week and how we look from a cash flow standpoint over the next quarter. The rest of the day, I am in meetings, collaborating with our CEO, COO, and production managers. I am also spending the day on projects such as budgeting, forecasting, reviewing our Ad Spending, and so on. I usually leave my office around 5:00 to have dinner with my family. My girls usually go to bed around 7:00, and after they are in bed, my wife and I are preparing for the next day and I will usually end the night at 9:00 by journaling and reading on a topic that I can utilize with my role. Right now, I am taking a course on digital marketing as that is our primary revenue driver at HatLaunch.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Upon leaving to join HatLaunch, I asked my manager at the time during my exit interview some advice in regards to leadership. His response is to make everyone within your organization understand what our end goal is and how each individual's "role" gets the team to the end goal. The example he used was NASA in the 1960's and landing on the moon. When asking each individual at NASA what they do there, from the head of a department, to the janitor mopping the floors, everyone's response was "I'm putting a man on the moon." How I like to reflect in my leadership is that everyone one of us at HatLaunch has the same job and that is to be the leading custom headwear decorator in the industry.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Unfortunately, I am not the best reader and it is very rare for me to start reading a book and finishing it. What I do like to spend my time doing is listening to podcasts and most of them are revolved business and self improvement. I enjoy listening to the CFO Thought Leader and FP&A Today which focuses on my role as CFO in general and enhancing my current skillset. I also listen to the The Burn by Ben Newman, Circuit of Success by Brett Gilliland, and Real AF by Andy Frisella which all focus on literally giving everything you've got to make yourself better in life, fitness, and business.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Express the willingness and desire to learn as much as you can and be sure to be in an environment where that is appreciated. I've had jobs where I had great collaboration with my team members and leaders and it allowed a level of comfort for me to ask questions, which then lead to greater success for me. I have also been in roles where I felt like I could not ask questions and I noticed my performance lacked in those kinds of environments.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

A big aha moment for me was shortly after I had started working at HatLaunch. At that time, given the substantial amount of growth that we experienced at the beginning of the year, our backlog went from 10-14 day turnarounds up to 30+ for new customers without existing artwork for their logos. We found a solution with another shop about 30 minutes down the road from where we operate who had the resources for us to outsource some of our production to get us caught up on our backlogs. A few weeks after I had joined and noticed the dollar amounts we were paying as well as noticing that some of the output was below our standards, I began to review the overall cost of how much we were outsourcing and compared them to what we would need to do to get everything back in house and how much we would be saving in the long run. By reviewing our production data and seeing how much we would need to invest back into the company and comparing that to what we were spending on outsourcing, it made sense to get back to producing everything back in house. I had expressed my concerns to the rest of the c-suite as to the cost savings of the additional equipment and extra staffing we would see versus outsourcing at the rate we at. After providing this information, we began the process of ordering additional machines and started a hiring campaign to role out a 3rd shift. Now HatLaunch operates 24 hours a day Monday - Friday and we are now producing 100% in house. What I learned or gained out of this experience was this provided me with the confidence knowing that I am bringing value to the company by uncovering this significant level of cost savings as the rest of the leaders were mostly focused on getting our turnaround times back down to our standard cadence.

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