It’s pretty much the definition of irony when a company that connects people to relationship advice finds itself in a bad relationship.
Founded in 1999 as an online personal advice marketplace, San Francisco-based Ingenio had also developed a valuable advertising technology. In 2007, Ingenio was sold to a telecommunications giant that was primarily interested in its ad technology. The sale left Ingenio staff feeling adrift, says Krishna Rayaprolu, who was then Ingenio’s director of engineering. Their primary interest in facilitating personal advice resulted in a disconnect from their parent’s goals.
A few years later, the parent firm sought to spin off the advice platform while keeping the ad tech. “We needed the love that was missing [from the parent firm],” says Rayaprolu. And that’s what they found in Alpine, which asked its CEO-in-Residence, experienced telecommunications executive Warren Heffelfinger, to lead the firm after the deal closed in 2013.
To the nervous Ingenio team, Heffelfinger sent a clear message: Ingenio would return to its original focus on providing advice platforms with a spiritual or mystical tilt. “He wasn’t shying away from it,” Rayaprolu says. “This is what we do, and our job was to make it the best it could be.”
The Ingenio team dived into Alpine-sponsored workshops aimed at helping them define their passion and purpose as individuals and as a company. Thanks to the spinoff, the Ingenio team no longer felt at cross-purposes with their leadership, and could devote its time—and a new source of capital—to the core business, and to the development of its people.
Before the spinoff, Rayaprolu assumed resource-starved Ingenio couldn’t achieve rapid growth in a mature, saturated market. But Ingenio has achieved double-digit growth in the last few years. Rayaprolu attributes this primarily to improved execution, or as he calls it, “better energy.” Ingenio took on budding, high-performing CEOs-in-Training from Alpine’s world-class PeopleFirst leadership program, and it nurtured and promoted internal talent into management positions. It also focused on improving the experience of its customers and personal advisors. The company made an acquisition, Horoscope.com, in 2015.
Perhaps most importantly, leaders like Rayaprolu trust their people to make good decisions. “We are actively encouraged by Warren to look to our purpose and passion to motivate our work,” Rayaprolu says. “This is especially important to us as leaders. There are companies where people force you into a certain kind of leadership, but Warren says you should lead from your purpose and passion, and that is how you inspire people. You lead by living your best self.”