RAMSEY, NJ - cSubs (www.csubs.com) is a woman-owned corporate subscription agency. It helps its clients by saving them time and money on products they use that must be periodically renewed. This includes magazine subscriptions, books, memberships, software licenses, and other products. This leads to a variety of benefits for clients including increased savings, control, and convenience.
This business model combined with strong leadership and the efforts of cSubs' employees have helped to retain clients at a high rate while attracting new clients that grow the business.
Julie Sue Auslander, cSubs President, started this company at her kitchen table and grew it by persistently knocking on doors, mailing flyers and making cold calls. Today, cSubs is one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. It is currently ranked #1,050 in the INC 5000.
cSubs' growth is also due to how its employees are treated. Julie recognizes her employees have lives outside of work and not only promotes well-rounded lives, but incentivizes activities that enhance all aspects of their lives. Most importantly, Julie understands the importance of corporate culture. Julie refers to herself not as President, but Chief Cultural Officer, and her responsibilities include promoting ethics and the well- being of others.
Julie sees the job of a company is to serve not just its customers, but its employees, as well. In addition, Julie makes sure that cSubs is an active corporate citizen. All of this has resulted in her being named "2008 Enterprising Woman of the Year".
I sat down with Julie to discuss cSubs, her success as a businesswoman, and the philosophy that has led to her success.
Franco Libunao (FL): Hello, Julie. Tell us about the history of cSubs
Julie Auslander (JA): Hi, Franco. I was a very unlikely source to start a business. I come from the world of education. As a teacher and an assistant principal at a high school in the South Bronx, I thought education was my love and calling.
While I was teaching, I was looking to supplement my income. I was getting a lot of magazines, couldn't keep track of them and said other people must be having this problem as well. So I met a middleman and said "I should get my magazines for wholesale because I get so many." He said, "Well you think you get a lot but not really. Why don't you see whether you can increase your volume?"
So in 1978, I wrote a letter to everybody I knew and said lets form a magazine co-op. This cooperative solution to the problem comes from the world of education. I started getting orders from friends and relatives, and the business grew. I collected their orders and I learned that "cost" was not cost and all the basic tenets of business. I worked on it during the summer, during school holidays, and it grew. It was fun, part-time, supplemented my income, and I was able to buy my first house. It was all good. That went on for about 5 years.
I went to graduate school and I thought that was going to be the end of it. And then someone said to me, "You know, my company wastes so much money on publications. There's nobody organizing them, nobody knows what they get, people leave the company and they sit on the mailroom floor."
Lo and behold, the company was Drexel Burnham (Drexel), a huge financial giant in the 80s. I went in and I met this woman named Linda Frankel, who I'm still looking for, who mentored me. I had no idea what a corporation was and what its needs were. She mentored me on corporate needs, invoicing, reporting, and their services.
I went to Drexel and in those days there was this very specific corporate outfit. Everybody wore dark suits, little white shirts and a string of pearls around their neck. I, coming from the world of education, came in a very nice, but very red suit. Linda said to me, "We can't walk around the company like that." So she took off her black blazer and gave it to me. That was the start of the cSubs as we see today.
Nobody does it by themselves. It's about being open to the people you meet, the angels that cross your path, being receptive, and giving back. I still had my teaching job, so I worked during the day and came home at night to try and figure out how to do corporate reporting.
We were working it out and we were doing really well with Drexel until the Black Monday crash came, and they went out of business. I wore black for a year after that because this huge opportunity went for a year or two and just went away. But what didn't go away was the learning curve from the experience and the lessons Linda taught.
As a matter of fact, Linda lived, at that point, in Westfield. So I don't know where she is, but maybe she'll read this article and know she's still being spoken about.
When my daughter was born, it became too much for me to commute to the South Bronx from New Jersey and I couldn't bear to be away from her. So I really had to gear this business up and try to make a living from this. I worked and continued developing new contacts. At that point, there were other people in my life that were really motivating me. My mother had gotten divorced and she was suffering from major depression issues. I felt all she needed was a job, so she came to work and that was helpful. I was doing this for two years and I convinced my husband that he should leave his glamorous corporate job. He was Director of Marketing for Nynex, so the original cell phone campaigns were his work. But the call to be home with our daughter was more compelling than the sexiness of his corporate job so he agreed to work with me. His corporate expertise helped to launch the business to what it is today.
FL: For the people that are not familiar with cSubs, talk to me about the services you offer and how they benefit your clients?
JA: Everybody has trouble trying to manage their subscriptions. When does it renew? If I want to cancel, who do I call? If I'm getting duplicate issues, what do I do? If I don't get a copy, who do I contact? Large corporations have those same logistical issues, but to the tune of millions of dollars and thousands of copies of different publications that they need to run their businesses. So we provide a web based solution.
Large organizations can order all their subscriptions through us, including newspapers, magazines, directories, journals, site licenses, and have one place where they can maintain and monitor that spend. This is also a very green initiative because we're reducing the volume of unnecessary publications in the waste stream. When people leave the company, their subscriptions either get cancelled or go to other people. When people change locations, we change the address on the subscriptions for them. We also consolidate the billing process so that they are not writing ten thousand individual checks.
FL: cSubs is headquartered in Ramsey, New Jersey. How has being based in New Jersey helped your company?
JA: New Jersey is a mixed blessing. It's a challenging state because there are tax challenges, the ability to get capital challenges, congestion challenges, and insurance challenges. But there's also the proximity to New York. We can be in New York in half an hour to visit clients, network, and make contacts without having to live the New York life. Our employees get to live and work close to those two very important realms of their lives so its easier to get and maintain employees long-term. In addition, New Jersey is where our friends and our families are. Having that kind of support is important.
FL: Something I found unique about you is your leadership style is your business philosophy. How would you describe your philosophy and how you developed it?
JA: I think the most important thing, or the secret sauce, to business success is authenticity. People get into business and think that they have to be something other than themselves. But the fire inside them that enabled them to think about starting a business is the same thing that is going to drive their success and their growth. I really believe that its their own authenticity that they have to stay in touch with and maintain. So whatever is important to you should be reflected in your business. It will differentiate you, your marketing, and your employees from everybody else in the world that does the same thing as you. There are a lot of people who are blessed to live with a plethora of choices. There are plenty of florists, bakers, cleaners, PR companies, choices of newspapers to read. What differentiates us is the authenticity and fire that the business owner has.
FL: In the face of increasing competition, the state of the economy, and other factors, how have you been able to successfully implement your business philosophy despite all those things?
JA: I think that I've successfully implemented my philosophy, not despite them, but because of them. Coming from the world of education, its very important to me that people are nurtured and grow through their experience. So we've created a company where the growth of the individual fuels the growth of the company. We incentivize that growth, to reward people who look outside of the box, create solutions and go out of their way to create an outstanding customer experience. That comes from each person believing they are part of something bigger than themselves here and that there are no stupid ideas. And our clients are part of that as well. They are very comfortable with helping us develop new and evolving solutions to their business needs and that's how the company has maintained the growth pace that it has.
FL: You just mentioned your client driven solutions. What other ways have your clients benefitted from your philosophies and the philosophies that drive the business?
JA: Our clients have benefited because we are partners with them. We partner with each client, who in many cases, are very large well known corporations. We sit down with them, not as corporation to businesses, but as people to people, and talk about what their challenges and needs are. Every meeting I go into, I say, "What do you wish we could do?" My clients say, "Well if only on this report I could get X." They think it's a big deal, but we go back, do a little programming, and they have X in two days. That's the strength entrepreneurs bring, that nimbleness and readiness to meet the market.
FL: The people that are most immersed in your philosophy are your employees. Tell me about how your employees have benefitted from living within your philosophy.
JA: Our employees are very much rewarded for their ability to make our clients' dreams come true. In our company, we offer different things that to me, seem pretty basic, but don't really exist out there in companies.
First, coming from the world of education, I want our employees to continue learning and growing. As they learn, they will grow. So we offer in house lunch and learns to keep our skills up and keep our employees learning about what is going on in the industry. We also offer flex time, telecommuting, health insurance, and our children are often wandering the halls of our offices. People are very comfortable knowing they don't have to choose between their families and their work life. We all live a very, very blended life here.
We also have, what is pretty unusual, a family vacation incentive program. Every time our employees get positive feedback from a client, do community service, or come up with a new idea for the company, they get what we call "cSub dollars." When they accumulate a certain number of these dollars, they are eligible to go on a vacation in a 5 star resort anywhere in the country at the company's expense. So they are very motivated because in many cases, the things that people don't get to do are family vacations. This engages their family, the cSubs family, and our clients by giving them feedback. Our clients want their customer service people to go on vacation and want to know that they are part of that. It's a very cool dynamic.
FL: Any corporation you walk into says they are concerned about your family, they want well rounded employees, but you're not just saying that, you're actively making sure that happens with the way that your company functions. Would you agree with that?
JA: Yes, and I'm sure my employees feel the same way. Our values don't live on our mission statement, they live in our actions. I think companies come up with these mission statements that all sound the same, but don't reflect any one person's authenticity. That goes back to what I was speaking about before. It's really important that as the leader of a company, whatever size company, that it reflects your authenticity because that is what will attract people to your business. People feel authenticity on a very organic level. You know when people are real and you're attracted to people that are real. You're not attracted to a plastic mission statement. It doesn't do anything for you. So we encourage our employees to be authentic and we continue to challenge ourselves to be authentic.
FL: Your success has led to your being named "2008 Enterprising Woman of the Year." What has that recognition meant to you?
JA: I've been a woman in business now for more years than I can count and women are a very important part of the economy. 41% of all privately held firms are owned by women. It is about empowering women with financial security, empowering their families, and empowering peace. I think it's really important that women succeed to the extent of their desires and abilities. The recognition has meant to me, that if I can do it, anyone can do it. I look at it, not as my recognition, but as recognition for all women that are working to develop businesses that nurture families and contribute to the economy.
FL: As such a successful businesswoman, what advice would you have for other aspiring businessmen or businesswomen out there?
JA: As I said before, I really believe the secret sauce is to be authentic. I think you can start any business with an idea, but the success of the business depends on continuing to fuel that business with who you are. Whether you're a man or a woman doesn't really matter. I think people lose sight of that. They come up with a great business idea that lives outside of who they are because they believe it needs to be X. But then it looks like every other business. How do you compete when you are like everybody else? Look at that quirky little café, bakery, or clothing store. Those businesses that maintain the authenticity of their creators have an edge in marketing because they can differentiate themselves and attract an audience that will continue to see what they are doing.
FL: "Going Green" has been a very popular topic with businesses lately. Beyond the green nature of your business model, does cSubs have any green initiatives?
JA: We're a small company with only 20 employees. While we're conscious of green, our impact is not huge, but I believe everybody's little steps create major change. Of course, we're printing on both sides, we gave up the use of paper cups and we're using mugs. That's important, but really to me, the key is how I can affect change in these larger corporations. One of the things we came up with through a client recommendation and being authentic in who we are, is the "Who Gets It" application? So you can be part of a 50,000 person corporation and can say, "I need to read an article that was in last month's issue of business week and I don't need a subscription but let me see who in my company gets it." So the "Who Gets It" feature allows you to see who gets it, ask them for the publication and has saved thousands of thousands of pounds of paper.
FL: You mentioned the community service that your employees engage in. Does cSubs have community outreach initiatives?
JA: At this point, I thought it best that people find what calls them instead of developing one for the company. Our employees are encouraged to participate in community service and we give them cSub dollars to show we're committed to that and believe its important as well. In terms of initiatives, there are two charities that are close to our heart.
One is bpeace (www.bpeace.org), which is an organization that empowers fledgling women owned businesses in war torn countries through mentoring by women in business in the United States and receiving microeconomic loans. I really believe when you empower economic stability, you really do empower peace. It's amazing how $50 or $100 starts a woman in a country like Afghanistan in a business. With this money, this woman can send her children to school and is not dependent on a violent male or a violent culture. She can be separate from that culture and employ other people to enlarge that circle. So that's an organization that's very important to us and people volunteer for that in different ways.
Another organization is portable playhouse (www.theportableplayhouse.org). They are a New Jersey based charity that sends happy volunteers into hospitals to work with terminally ill women and children to create something they can leave behind. That's also important to us. So while I have found these two particular initiatives, there's no shortage of many wonderful initiatives and I encourage each person to find their own.
One of the things we are going to be looking at over this year is a branch of Habitat for Humanity (www.herstartup.com/herphotos/) that is building Habitat homes for women led families. I'm hoping to create some kind of initiative this year with them.
FL: You have already mentioned your client driven developments. What other new developments should we look out for from cSubs in the near future?
JA: We are constantly looking for new renewable purchases that make sense to add to our model. So I'll be spending time this year looking to see what products large organizations are purchasing currently that need to be renewed.
FL: For example, you started with magazines and now you do software subscriptions and things of that nature?
JA: Right, we're expanding our software and site licenses. Businesses have trouble maintaining their current licenses and making sure that they have the maximum number of users per license. So we are actively developing this year rolling that out in a larger way as well as memberships. We're always looking for ideas so if anybody else out there has something that their trying to manage on a renewable basis, certainly let us know.
cSubs is built on a successful business model supported by strong leadership. This combination should lead to further growth for what is already on of the fastest growing companies in the United States. To learn more about cSubs, visit their website (www.csubs.com).