Stan Coker is the Founder & CEO of Brushfire Technology, who has recently partnered with Hillsong Church to form Hillsong Technology. We sat down with Stan to discuss how this came about, his role as Founding Partner & COO of Hillsong Technology, and what the vision is for the future. It’s pretty exciting.
So you own Brushfire. How did that come about?
The short version is that I made the move away from what I thought was the best job I’d ever have to help run what turned out to be the worst situation imaginable. But, from that I learned that there was a real and specific need for better event management tools for churches and ministries, so I garnered up the knowledge I had from a few smaller entrepreneurial experiences and leaned heavily on the mentors in my life – and took a shot. I left the blood, sweat and many tears out but looking backwards I wouldn’t trade much of it. The journey has been amazing and I’m more excited today than ever to come in to work. It really is a fun job and I treasure my team and the people we serve.
Your team work remotely across the country. Was this something intentional?
There’s an old joke that says when you run your own business you get to work half days…it just depends on which twelve hours of the day you want to work! Being at home gave us the opportunity to see our families more and makes the travel times more palatable. It’s personally given me the flexibility to work hard in between a life of helping raise three girls. I’ve felt like I’ve given the proper effort to the task of starting up and growing the company and at the same time have been able to witness three babies’ first steps, school awards, and other milestones. It also didn’t hurt that it saved us money we didn’t really have in the early days.
Bootstrapping a company means saving everywhere you can, and not compromising on things like travel to meet with customers and infrastructure, which was definitely more important. We also figured out that we could attract and keep a really high standard of employee at all levels of our organization if we let them live and work where they wanted. Something we’ve benefited greatly from as a small team and it continues as we grow. Also, my wife and I are so close that it would be a really hard transition to not work from home at this stage in the game. Although I figure if we changed the structure and brought people in, she’d just come to where I am, anyway. She’s up for just about anything! She’s a Brushfire fan girl and a formidable thought leader in her own right.
What have you learned from working remotely?
It forces you to understand how each person thinks and reacts to autonomy and taking ownership with what feels like a lot higher stakes. We all want to suggest that as managers we value free-thinking self-starters, but when you’re team is spread out across time zones, you end up living (or dying) by the concept.
How have you maintained your culture and processes under these unique conditions?
People that are ok being the “tip of the spear” for big projects inevitably thrive in their work environment. The same is true here. We value everyone’s opinion and can’t really make it work without it. So, our culture hinges on communication. I’ve heard it said that you actually have to over-communicate when you work remotely – I get that for sure. All the (communication) tools are critical in making it work, but what is critical for me..what keeps me from feeling like I’ve lost a handle on things are heartfelt one-on-one talks with my team as often as possible. They know I’ll get weird fast if I’m not getting a sense of their collective and individual pulse.
You have a close relationship with Gateway Church in the Dallas area, can you tell us a bit about that and how that has helped to inform the direction of your company and products?
The relationship with Gateway has been such a personal blessing that extends to our organization, for sure. The truth is I’ve served at Gateway for going on a dozen years and it wasn’t until 2011 that they reached out to Brushfire. Since then, we’ve worked out better practices, functionality and scale through spending a good amount of time on location for events and meeting the great team at Gateway.
What, if anything, prompted them to reach out?
It was an associate pastor that really bucked the technology trends inside his church (they were averse to anything that was adding layers to their existing tools) to say, “We’ve found a better solution. I don’t know anything about them other than I’ve been told by many that they are the best option for our conference”. Honestly, if his last name hadn’t been Morris (son of the Sr. Pastor) he probably would have gotten nowhere. When he called I came clean on the fact that I volunteer at the church. We were and still are trying to constantly “get it right” like any organization would. I had this theory that we’d ultimately forge a stronger partnership if they found us the way everyone else does. It’s really proven to be the case. We’re forever grateful and committed to the church (and a great guy that Josh Morris) for their part of our maturation process.
Through Brushfire you’ve had a lot of exposure to many different kind of churches and ministries, what are some of the things you’ve learnt about the problems and challenges faced by ministries today?
Theology, taste, resource and demographics are all SO widely varied in the church as we all know; but I see such a common thread in church technology. VERY few churches are over-resourced and underworked in their tech departments. I’ve seen sincere people trying to solve difficult problems with what they have. The ones that I gravitate toward (like Hillsong) have a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get the job done however and whatever it takes. I want Hillsong Technology to reflect that heart in its mission.
This is part one of our Q&A with Stan, stay tuned for part two.
Say hi or ask Stan a question at firstname.lastname@example.org