It’s a long way from Microsoft to a dental care marketplace.
Even so, Kleer CEO Dave Monahan credits Microsoft—and former CEO Steve Ballmer—with showing him how to build a pandemic-proof company culture.
Dave launched Kleer to take down inefficient, costly dental insurance plans that don’t work.
His company, a modern dental care marketplace, connects practices and patients with a subscription membership model.
Kleer is more than a catchy name. Dave is pushing transparency across the board: from simple customer pricing to company metrics that stay out in the open.
The goal? To keep everyone engaged, inspired, and ready to help Kleer grow.
Dave credits Microsoft with some of the key moments in his career.
In his first year at Microsoft, CEO Steve Ballmer gave him a crash course on putting solutions first. After being asked to give a presentation to Steve and other members of the leadership team, Steve had some powerful feedback for Dave.
He said: you presented several problems. You did not give me any solutions.
“I think I was 29 or so at this point. And then that one for me was, all right. I will never, ever do that again,” Dave said. “If I'm going to go into a presentation anytime and anywhere, and I am ever going to present any kind of issue or problem, I will not only have the solution, but I'll have the data to back it up.”
Microsoft’s open-access information model allowed any employee to take a peek at company-wide numbers.
“It was the first time I'd been in an organization where you could get information about anything within the company. It was very open. Like these presentations we would do - there was, I can't remember the exact number, maybe 30 or 40 subsidiaries in Microsoft - at the time I could go get ahold of all their presentations and look at all their data and the company would post results on a weekly basis,” said Dave.
But transparency came with a price: every employee was expected to take responsibility - and a little risk.
“You can dig in and take a look at it in as much detail as you wanted. With that transparency though, they're their team's responsibility. So they assumed, ‘okay, if you have all that information, I'm mobilizing you to do things and take risks,’” Dave explained.
Microsoft’s corporate culture encouraged rapid experimentation but included a focus on data to keep innovation moving. While employees were encouraged to try, assess, and move on from failed experiments, their decisions should be backed by a healthy data infrastructure.
“That was our thing - just bringing that sort of culture of experimentation to the company that I'm with. And then the other piece of both of those items needs support from a data infrastructure standpoint. You don't want paralysis by analysis, but you want data and information to support where you're going and the decisions you're making,” said Dave.
Fast-paced experimentation - along with the ability to walk away from failure - would be a lesson Dave applied to his future positions.
Dave’s company, Kleer, is a dental practice marketplace connecting patients, dentists, and affordable care. What’s the story behind this start-up? The realization that dental insurance was costing patients and practices big-time, without providing benefits worth the price.
“What we decided the dental space needed was an open marketplace where dentists and patients can connect directly without a middleman in the way. We created a platform that enables dental practices to design care plans for the patients,” said Dave.
Kleer’s unique subscription model allows patients to receive basic dental care while cutting out the extra fees, confusion, and complexity of insurance plans.
“There's no deductibles, there's no waiting periods, all that stuff's going away because we've gotten rid of that middleman. There's no reason for that middleman to be in the way. And once you get rid of that middleman, get rid of all the wasted inefficiency,” explained Dave.
As the company grows, the Kleer team builds camaraderie and motivation with a culture of celebration.
“Once a quarter, we go out and do something and it can be all kinds of different things from bowling to axe throwing. Just going out and having a nice day together. So we make sure that's part of our culture is that we're willing to relax and enjoy each other and go out and see each other on a personal side. The other thing we do is we find the milestones in the company that really matter, and we celebrate those,” Dave said.
Not only do these regular events boost morale, but they also keep the team close-knit for better coordination.
How do you save a start-up in a pandemic? Reinforce your transparent culture to rally your team through the challenge - and extend the courtesy to customers, too.
“Everybody was willing to sacrifice. So we ended up cutting salaries drastically. We ended up negotiating ahead, my COO went out and negotiated with our vendors to get lots of concessions from a cost standpoint,” said Dave.
Along with internal cut-backs, Kleer extended a courtesy pause to patient and practice subscriptions as the world waited for the pandemic to end.
The end result? Public goodwill, teamwork, and a rock-solid foundation for future growth.
If you want to foster a transparency culture in your organization, Dave has some advice. Stop worrying and make key info openly accessible - your employees and culture will benefit from it.
“People, one, when they have data can act smarter and execute better. Then the other is you'll be really surprised at the level of engagement you get from people and the buy-in you'll get once they have information in their hands, and their ability to tolerate bad information goes way up,” Dave pointed out.
If you’re worried sharing bad news will damage your reputation, Dave believes that the culture payoff far outweighs the risk.
Dave keeps the info door open to investors to build trust, gain support, and mutual respect.
“I'm not going to tell them that they'll never see an issue from me and I'll never have a problem with my business, but I do tell them is I will share my issues with you, but I will also have my plan I'll have my plan for fixing it, and I'd welcome your feedback on those, but all data is exposed,” explained Dave.
Although this tactic is not popular with his peers, Dave has seen plenty of benefits - and gotten the occasional helpful feedback from investors.
Dave prioritizes collecting and understanding data from multiple sources, such as customer feedback.
“I think of myself as somebody who can connect a lot of dots, and those dots are all over the place. So some dots are we go and talk to our customers and ask, ‘what do you like about us? What don't you like about it? How can we do that better?’ Right. They're going to give you a list of things from their perspective,” said Dave.
But Dave cautions not to put all your data eggs in one basket. Instead, move on to multiple sources of data, research, and market exploration.
There’s a busy world outside your office door. Keeping an eye on major trends in the industry, tech, and the world at large will help your company keep pace and stay current.
“The other thing I tried to do is look at the world outside of our market. So I do a lot of reading on where is the world headed and how can we sort of map to those macro trends and which ones make sense to us or are relevant to us,” said Dave.
To date, Dave has zero regrets about creating a culture of transparency. In fact, his work at Kleer has demonstrated that in the modern financial world, the need for transparency is clearer than ever.