Collective Next turns 15 this year. In honor of this momentous anniversary, we’re sharing some thoughts from our co-founders—and amazing husband and wife team—Matt Saiia and Sarah Shrimplin. I asked them recently why and how it all began, their focus in running the company, and where we might find ourselves another fifteen years from now.
Marsha: What was your vision in starting Collective Next 15 years ago?
Sarah: Much of the inspiration for Collective Next came from a community of talented, like-minded facilitators we had come to know and care about. Like us, they were eager for an opportunity to grow their impact and take on new challenges. We wanted to build an organization that would let us continue to explore what was possible together. We wanted the magic to grow. It was that simple.
From day one, we’ve believed in the power of collaboration to create meaningful change whether it be tactical improvements or cathartic transformations.
Matt: We had experienced firsthand the powerful alchemy that occurred when this group of creative, authentic, passionate people came together to help others achieve their desire for a better future. From day one, we’ve believed in the power of collaboration to create meaningful change whether it be tactical improvements or cathartic transformations. We founded CN on the belief that amazing things happen when you bring great people together in the right way.
Marsha: Was there a distinct moment when you decided to take the plunge?
Matt: I remember sitting with Sarah in the living room of our small Beacon Street apartment playing the domain name game, “taken or not taken.” We knew we were focused on people coming together and collectively shaping their future, but every “.com” we could think of was taken. Sometime around 2am we landed on “Collective Next.” I remember saying to Sarah, “Are we really going to do this?” Our relationship from the beginning had always felt like an adventure and the idea of starting something together seemed like the next step.
The notion of realizing untapped potential in our colleagues, our clients, and ourselves has always been so important.
Sarah: And the right next step for our community. The notion of realizing untapped potential in our colleagues, our clients, and ourselves has always been so important.
Matt: We have consistently tried to explore what is possible. And that can be scary. We knew we were taking a risk. Luckily, we believed in each other and that gave us the motivation to act.
Marsha: Can you share one or two stories from the start-up days?
Matt: Like so many start-ups we ran the business out of our apartment. Early on, to save money, out of town team-members would stay at our place rather than a hotel and Sarah would put their favorite magazine and chocolates on the pillows to welcome them. On post event wrap-up days, I would cook up pancakes in the shape of each person’s initials as a way of saying thank you.
Sarah: When we started CN, our friends Justin and Carolyn moved from the UK to help us get the company off the ground. The moment they arrived, we opened our front door holding a bottle of champagne and blasting Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” which is all about taking the time to celebrate life. Ever since then, when we bring our community together in a meaningful way—whether for a holiday or birthday party, to welcome a new hire, or on some random Thursday—we play the song to remind ourselves of how much we have to celebrate. On the actual date of our fifteen-year anniversary, I learned to play the song on the piano for everyone.
Marsha: Thinking back over the past fifteen years, what are you most proud of?
Matt: Wow. So many moments have to do with our team and seeing all of us grow over the years.
Sarah: Like the first time we staffed an engagement with a team made up entirely of people who we had developed from the ground up. We became part of ushering in the next generation.
Matt: I am also proud of the relationships we have built with so many of our clients. We are still working with the companies and individuals who first trusted us to help them 15 years ago. I have supported one individual whose career has evolved with a number of companies and roles and now he is a successful CEO. To have partnered in his journey is incredibility gratifying.
Sarah: I guess that is what it has always been about. Helping others be more and achieve more.
Marsha: I have witnessed first hand the joy you take in building up community and investing in the growth of team members. What advice would you give to others in the early phases of forming an organization?
Matt: Organizations at their most basic are a collection of people, and you need to put a premium on fostering an environment where each person in your community can show up as their best self. For us success comes from community. It comes from creating value for ALL of us.
Sarah: For me success is about trusting your intuition and being authentic. Who we are at work with our employees, contractors, and clients should be the same as who we are at home—or in my case, who I am DJ-ing CN’s holiday party! If you stay true to yourself, difficult conversations become easier, decisions become clearer, and life is more enjoyable.
Matt: Early on we got a lot of advice from people who had been successful in their businesses. One of the things we heard was to never get too close to the people with whom you work, as it will make it difficult business decisions harder. However, our intuition told us the opposite. Indeed, the difficult situations we have faced have been made easier because of how close we are to everyone in the company.
Sarah and I fell in love with this work years ago, and we are drawn to others who feel the same. That is our guide.
Sarah and I were also told that over time we would need to focus more time on our business and less time on delivering client work. Fifteen years later, the majority of my time is still spent working directly with clients, and I believe that has profoundly affected CN’s evolution. Sarah and I fell in love with this work years ago, and we are drawn to others who feel the same. That is our guide. We lead in a hands-on and communal way.
Sarah: CN is an extension of our family. We know each other in a real way that extends beyond our work lives into our individual passions. I know members of the CN community as actors, artists, musicians, writers, poets, chefs, and truly creative minds. It gives me great joy to know that I am helping support this amazing community and share their talent with our clients.
Marsha: Shifting our attention to the future, where do you want CN to be fifteen years from now?
Sarah: I want to continue growing our amazing community—a community that values and contributes to what Collective Next is all about.
Matt: I hope we will know even more about how to effect change, and that we will expand our role in advancing this body of knowledge. We are an emergent organization based on the skills and talents of the people working here. I imagine we will always show up for the same reasons, but what we bring will keep evolving. I hope we can introduce a new and diverse audience to the practice of facilitating meaningful change. And I hope our work can extend beyond companies to larger communities, wherever there is an aspiration to transform in positive ways.