Frank Gruber bootstrapped Tech.co (formerly Tech Cocktail) to grow organically and profitably. Since raising $2.5 million from Tony Hsieh and moving headquarters to downtown Las Vegas, Tech.co has reached millions of people.
Gruber has interviewed some of the world’s most exceptional entrepreneurs, including Jason Fried of Basecamp, Uber’s Travis Kalanick, and Matt Mullenweg of WordPress. He’s even written a book (Startup Mixology) to capture the most powerful lessons learned along the way. But I recently had a chance to talk with Gruber to dive deep into a couple of counter-intuitive concepts for high-impact entrepreneurship.
Watch (or listen) to the full conversation with Tech.co CEO Frank Gruber below:
Here’s the full audio with Frank Gruber for on-the-go and audiophile Verge friends:
Watch or listen to the full interview to learn:
Why entrepreneurs need to celebrate their wins with their team (and families!)
Strategies for bootstrapping to a scalable business
Frank Gruber and I also talk about Tech.co’s annual startup conference—Celebrate. I’ll be joining them this year to moderate a powerhouse panel of investors.
Want to join me?
Drop a comment below for a chance to get a FREE passto Celebrate 2015. Let me know one thing you’ve accomplished in your startup over the past month. We’ll pick our favorite 3, and give an all-access pass to Celebrate 2015.
So… what should you and your startup team celebrate?
Ludovic Ulrich hails from France, but he’s spent more than a decade leading projects at Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce—the goliaths of Silicon Valley. Sure, these companies may dominate the digital world, but they all wield a powerful weapon in engaging their customers and partners. . .
Sometimes it’s their own user conferences like Dreamforce, and often its partner conferences where they speak, exhibit, or and attend. Through all of his travels and conferences, Ulrich has developed a superpower he’s learned to use to support startups and his own initiatives.
Beyond being the Director of Salesforce for Startups, Ludo is a is the sensei of startup and technology conferences, having spoken at, sponsored, and attended dozens (if not more). In this interview, Ulrich shares exactly how to find the best conferences and how to attend those conferences to yield insane results for your business and career. Watch it here:
Or listen to the audio on how to find and attend conferences here:
I’m going to dive right in. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room . . .
Are conferences a waste of time?
The way that most people attend conferences, it’s a complete waste of time. But that’s not you. You’re in the 1% who wants to get the most out of your experiences. So, we’re going to show you have attending conferences can become the most valuable thing you do, mmkay?
“Do your homework,” Ulrich says. “Who are the sponsors? Who are the speakers?” If you’re not seriously curating your list of potential conferences, you’re missing the most important part of developing your event efficiency.
Find the conferences where you know—or are very familiar with—at least one of the speakers, sponsors, or organizers. These people can be your seminar sherpas, blazing the trail for your at conference breakout sessions or on the tradeshow floor. Lean on these people to get to the good stuff, especially if they’ve attended the conference before:
Which after parties are the best for your industry?
Which sessions are the most productive?
Use social media at events to follow the connections and chatter in your industry. Leverage connections with large brands to gain access to the best parts of conferences and learn how to make the most of your visit. Then, go to work on your plan of attack. . .
How do you stand out at conferences?
This ain’t no junior high school dance. So why do so many people play conferences as a lone wolf or around the periphery?
If you’re going to spend the money, and more importantly take the time, to attend an industry conference, you must jump in there and make the most of every minute. You want to be yourself, but you really want to be the best version of yourself.
Don’t mingle for the sake of mingling. Have 1-3 specific asks in mind before you even go to the conference (for investors, it’s __________ …. for developers, it’s __________ … for the media and bloggers, it’s __________).
Don’t actually take breaks during the break. That’s for suckers or people who drink too much Mountain Dew …. But seriously, find the people who you really want to connect with (you probably created this list while doing your pre-conference research).
Don’t be a clingy conference goer. Make your connection, find an opportunity to reconnect later, then move on. No one wants to be latched to someone at the hip for an entire conference. This will inhibit your ability to move around, meet new people, and find new opportunities. So get your ninja uniform on and be the event assassin that I know you are. And yes, I mean that as a metaphor.
You were probably wondering, and the answer is yes, you can go too far. . .
WARNING: Don’t Be This Person at a Conference
Keep an eye out for any behaviors that might group you into one of these conference attendee categories:
The eye darter: These are the people who are never fully present in anything. They have so much FOMO (fear of missing out) that they’re constantly looking around for the next best thing—even if they’re already in a conversation.
The card pusher: “Here’s my card!” We all know this person. They push their cards on anyone and everyone even if there’s no logical reason to exchange contact info. As a general rule: don’t give out your card unless someone asks you for it.
The frat boy/girl: You can always find this person within proximity of the bar. “Open bar, dude!” is the warcry of the conference frat boy or girl. But a conference isn’t a frat party. So just know your limits, and you’ll avoid being grouped into this category.
How do you approach someone at a conference?
Ahhh, now you’re asking the right questions young padawan. This is the most important skill in for a productive conference attendee and there are a couple of important principles to keep in mind.
First and foremost, be respectful of people’s time. Everyone has ponied up their time and money (or their employer’s money) to be at the conference or tradeshow and there’s a finite amount of time to take it all in. So you need to always be thinking about answering one question:
How can you make it worth someone’s time to talk to you?
There are a couple of strategies here. It’s important to be interesting, so even if you can’t do something to directly help someone or their business, you at least have an engaging exchange and that person remembers (at least in general) what you’re all about. That means you should have a couple of canned anecdotes that bring you and your business to life!
Ask your marketing director (or a friend who is a good story teller) how to talk about what you do in a way that makes it interesting. You can find a few ideas here.
And I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. . . Have a clear ask. Preferably this person will have mentioned something that makes you think they can help, but even if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, you can always go with something along the lines of “You know, I’m working on this facebook ad campaign and it’s really challenging because it’s my first time doing an ad buy… You wouldn’t happen to know anyone with experience with that, would you?”
Not the most tailored approach, but still much much better than “So I heard the Foo Fighters are playing later. That’s pretty cool.”
When in doubt, show that you’ve done your homework. If you don’t know anything about your new conferencemate’s company or industry, you can always create some value by sharing something interesting you learned about the conference during your pre-conference research. Maybe it’s an uber-secret after party, or maybe it’s just a hidden gem of a coffee shop that has great wi-fi and lattes . . . but if you’re generous to conference goers, the conference will be generous right back to you.
Where can I do more research on conferences and industry events?
I’ll be putting these strategies the Salesforce Startup Summit, a conference produced by Ulrich and his team within the larger Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. If you want to join me, just drop a comment below and I’ll send you a code to get 50% off your Startup Summit registration. Or check out other great conferences in your industry.
John Qualls grew up on the West side of Indianapolis—on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.
“I felt like I was in this situation and I needed to find a way out,” John recalls. “I was a straight-F student in high school and around 15 or 16, I realized I was going absolutely nowhere.”
But in the following years, John would prove to himself that he isn’t the kind of guy who sits around waiting for something to happen. He has a winning psychology. John’s quest has taken him literally around the world and led to him starting a technology company that would end up reaching profitability and $20 million in revenue within its first three years.
In this candid interview with John Qualls, you’ll learn:
how he made a million dollars in sales selling out of a bookstore,
how John started one of the first cloud hosting companies (BlueLock), and
why he’s now leading the charge in software development education at Eleven Fifty
I was lucky enough to work closely with Qualls at his first startup and can tell you that there’s more substance and life experience in John’s pinky finger than there is in the average startup founder. I’m confident you’ll learn something by watching the full interview here:
On the go? Listen to the whole Winning Psychology Interview Here:
Why a Winning Psychology Drives Success in Startups
I rode shotgun with John Qualls in the early days of BlueLock as we scaled annual revenues north of the million-dollar mark. It was there, riding between sales calls, that I was able to witness first-hand John’s remarkable psychology.
I credit his consecutive successes to three core traits, which you can see from watching our conversation:
Winning Psychology Trait #1: Let Gratitude Give Life to Your Dreams
John’s childhood on the West side of Indianapolis didn’t give him a clear path for growth. But despite his limiting circumstances, something told him that there was something more out there, beyond his immediate reality.
This belief in abundance led Qualls to join the Marine Corps, which would establish a strong foundation of skills and habits while exposing him to other areas of the world.
“Living in Japan, I had this tremendous appreciation for what we had in the United States,” John says. As I’ve worked with John through the past five years, it’s become clear to me that his attitude of gratitude has fueled a powerful abundance mentality. These qualities have become John’s startup superpowers to weather the storm of entrepreneurship while allowing him to see opportunity where others do not.
Winning Psychology Trait #2: Let Go of Excuses
“I’ve seen it kill so many companies and so many people’s career,” says Qualls. The cancer that has killed so many ambitious dreams is something that John calls the “Can’t, sir.”
As in, “I’m sorry, I can’t, sir.”
And John doesn’t let any such language infect his mind. That’s because this kind of self talk limits creativity, ambition and ultimately, potential.
“Why can’t you do that?” was John’s attitude while making moves in his first professional role after returning to the United States. And while John humbly credits his success to naivete, it’s clear that it’s the lack of perceived limits that allowed John to think big—and swing big.
By letting go of excuses, John found early success in sales, selling more than a million dollars in contracts out of a bookstore by simply approaching people who picked up books from the “computers and programming” section of the shelves. That same lack of limits gave John the ambition to pursue an RFP in the early days of BlueLock, which would turn out to be a pivotal multi-million-dollar contract with Lehman Brothers.
Winning Psychology Trait #3: Stop Playing to Not Lose. Play to Win!
“It literally about killed me. I was sleeping 8 hours total each week for about 8 months straight,” John recalls of the days following the signing of the Lehman Brothers contract at BlueLock.
And John credits his success to this focus on moving towards a goal, as opposed to focusing on avoiding negative results. He calls this paradigm shift playing not to lose vs. playing to win.
This relentless pursuit of positive goals has empowered Qualls to make difficult decisions, like replacing himself as CEO of his own company after three years of consistent growth. But it continues to drive his efforts today, as John continues to elevate the level of talent in his home state of Indiana.
“It’s about finding your passions and getting involved with people,” John says. As the President of Eleven Fifty Coding Academy, Qualls is working to help people learn to code. He’s attracting and training the best people and companies to grow their tech businesses in Indiana—something he refers to as “brain gain.”
(Tweet this story, or your own growth story with the hashtag #BrainGainIN)
How can you invest in these three psychological traits for yourself? We all have these qualities within ourselves. The question is…
Will you continue to invest in them? Will you continue to invest in you?
Before Justin Miller’s mobile company had 2.5+ million users, he was working out of a basement, searching for an industry where his tech company could thrive.
Miller has since been kicked out of that basement office, threatened by large-scale companies, and faced several funding crunches. But Miller’s startup, WedPics now powers personalized photo-sharing for 10,000 weddings per weekend, with monthly uploads in the millions. Watch Justin Miller’s candid interview from Verge North Carolina and learn the real story behind how he grew WedPics (and exactly WHY monthly investor updates are so important):
WedPics CEO and Co-founder Justin Miller didn’t have prior expertise or experience in launching or growing a tech startup. But the team’s resourcefulness made creative use of the resources available in the growing tech hub of the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel-Hill).
“This was everybody’s first startup,” says Miller. “But we were just driven and had the determination to figure out how to make things happen.”
Miller believes in his team and the startup community in North Carolina. He is a graduate of North Carolina State (NC State) University and veteran of IBM, where he spent 7 years honing his skills before launching WedPics (then named deja mi, inc) in 2011.
WedPics has $9.9 million in 5 rounds of funding, according to CrunchBase. Investors include the likes of well-known thought leader and investor Brad Feld and “Shark Tank” star Barbara Corcoran.
“None of us knew anything about the wedding space,” said Miller. But the team has prevailed through effective user acquisition, tech development, and communication. The co-founder attributes the WedPics investment success to one key CEO habit:
Write Monthly Investor Updates
“I needed to figure out a way to stay at the top of everybody’s radar,” said Miller. “[Doing monthly investor updates] is one of the best things I’ve ever done.” Here’s what Miller did with his WedPics investor and partner updates:
Send at the beginning of every month
Give overview of how we did the previous month
Provide cumulative overview of how we’ve been performing to date
Stay relevant (share only the information relevant to company’s current direction).
Make it a quick read (Pro Tip: use charts where it’s helpful).
Don’t expect responses (people are busy, so be consistent even if updates don’t immediately spark a dialogue).
Even if your tech company doesn’t have investors, you can use monthly investor updates to form and direct your thinking, keep your team on the same page, and facilitate partner opportunities. WedPics not only shared with investors and potential investors, but used the monthly investors reports to keep potential partners, acquirers, and acquisition targets updated on their team’s progress.
Side note: social sharing app Buffer does a great job of sharing their monthly investor updates. Read through their past updates here. I also really like the notes on investor updates from Groove CEO Alex Turnbull: read his advice here.
Watch the Full WedPics Interview to Learn More About Investor Updates AND:
WedPics User Growth Strategy
Why Sharing Personally is Important for Founders
Why WedPics is Still Taking Risks
How North Carolina is Supporting Startup Growth
Watch the WedPics interview …or…. leave a comment below! Are you currently sending regular investor updates? What benefits (or even negative side effects) have you experienced as a result?
I recently listened to the audiobook of 6 Months to 6 Figures by Peter Voogd, and his perspective really resonated with me. And not just because we have a shared past of door-to-door sales (I sold vacuum cleaners, he sold Cutco knives). Voogd went from broke to a game changer who practically defines the word “hustle.” In his book, and in this interview, he shares keys to success for fellow entrepreneurs.
“You only know how strong you really are until being strong is the only option you have. ”
-Peter Voogd, Author of the Best Seller 6 Months to 6 Figure
Watch the full interview with Peter Voogd:
On the go? Listen to the whole interview here:
Inspiration vs. Habits.
A lot of us entrepreneurs are inspired, which helps us drive action, but Voogd emphasized the importance of productive habits: “Inspiration is short-term and feels good in the moment, but it’s hard to sustain because you don’t have the habits.” One recipe for success he described was the habit of asking himself “What did I do well? What can I do better?” after every single meeting or presentation.
Circle of Influence.
Voogd further explained how taking it upon yourself to figure out these effective habits is unnecessary: “It takes people so much longer to get to an end result than they would’ve got if they actually reached out to people that are already playing the game at a higher level. They will tell you what the best habits are.” Identify the top five people in your industry and reach out to them. Stop making excuses and, as Nike advises, just do it. You’ll probably be surprised by how easy it is to get a hold of even famous people, who can then help you drastically shorten your learning curve. Watch Voogd explain his circle of influence epiphany →
“You have to realize that everyone who has a network now once didn’t. The first step is increasing your level of certainty that you can connect with people like that, whether you have anything to offer or not.”
-Peter Voogd, Author of the Best Seller 6 Months to 6 Figures
“The Unrequired Things.”
Along with establishing effective habits, Voogd spoke about how going above and beyond is the key. One way to go the extra mile is having utter confidence in selling yourself: “You have to believe wholeheartedly that the product is better for [your customer], and they are better off having it than if they don’t.”
The second unrequired thing is writing down the internal reasons that drive you to do what you do. You might come up with 20 to 30 reasons, then boil them down to four or five core ones. Voogd underscored that reasons come first, results come second: “Too many people just go after results, without having strong enough reasons, and if they go through challenges, they don’t have any reasons to pull them through the challenge.”
The Million Dollar Question.
A great story Voogd shared was from when he was a sales manager in his early 20s, striving to hit a $1 million sales goal that was thought to be unattainable. You can probably guess the outcome, but don’t miss how he did it →
“Anything is possible to those who value their goals, their dreams, and their visions over their current excuses or reality.”
-Peter Voogd, Author of the Best Seller 6 Months to 6 Figure
The One-Page Productivity Planner
Voogd shared the details of his one-page productivity planner. The exercise here is to simplify and focus on what really matters. Get the gist below, download his template here, or watch him explain it→
Brief vision-statement. What’s your ideal outcome in six months?
Your BIG 5 Goals for the next 12 months.
Your Top Five Reasons, the most powerful ones that drive you the most.
Your Key Values, to connect to what’s most important to you. For example, a few of Voogd’s are are flexibility, autonomy, and impact.
Talk about impact! The Game Changers Academy Voogd founded has trained and inspired over 4,500 entrepreneurs, and his podcasts, videos, websites and social media reach over 200,000 people monthly.
Want to learn even more from outstanding young entrepreneurs?
On July 30th, I’ll take the stage with Santiago Jaramillo, one of Inc Magazine’s “30 Under 30″ for a special launch event in the brand new offices of his growing mobile tech company, Bluebridge. Get your tickets now!→
Matt: I am so excited because I have author of the new bestseller, Six Months to Six Figures, Peter Voogd, and he’s here. Peter, thanks for being here.
Peter: Oh, thanks for having me, Matt. I’m excited and ready to roll, man. I’m energized, as always.
Matt: I want to tell these guys a little bit about your backstory, so then we can jump right into the meat. I mean, you help entrepreneurs maximize their resources, while at the same time, really maximizing their network to reach their goals, both in their business and in their lives. What you’re doing right now with The Game Changers Academy, with hundreds of entrepreneurs in your very selective academy, as you’re bringing new entrepreneurs in, helping them reach not just six figures, but seven figures, eight figures.
And then also, of course, the Young Entrepreneurs Lifestyle podcast, which you have now tens of thousands of listeners as you’ve launched that. I had a chance to listen to some of that as well. I had over 20 hours in the car last week, so I took some of your advice to heart, and listened to your entire audiobook, which I think is still in the top five on Audible right now.
Peter: Are you sick of my voice or not?
Matt: Not at all, man, especially since I listen to all my audiobooks on 1.5 speed. It’s nice to hear your actual voice that is a couple options lower. Your story really struck a chord with me because, at age 15, you were doing a manual labor job for your dad’s business, and you’re like, “Hey, this is not the life for me. I want to go and figure out how to make money like entrepreneurs make.” You had a couple different businesses; you had an eBay business, where you made $91 in a day, when your friend who had the same job you previously had, made only $63. It kind of changed your perspective on things.
And then, you even got into doing direct selling with Cutco knives, and that resonated with me, being a former vacuum cleaner salesman, doing the direct sales door-to-door. Talk to me a little bit about that experience selling Cutco knives. How old were you at the time?
Peter: I was 20 or 21 when I started, and I went… It’s funny, the eBay business I did well and I was making money. I always had money in high school, and kind of created my own income. But, because so many people around me, Matt, were like, “No, you’ve got to get a normal job. You’ve got to try the normal job. Everyone does it,” and everything inside me was like, “I’m not doing that,” but then I’m just like, “I’ve got to try it.” I almost got pressured by society, which of course now, doesn’t even make sense for me. So I tried it, I lasted two months, got out. I wanted a job or an opportunity where they… I got to choose what I was worth, and I got to create my schedule based on what I wanted versus other people saying, “Hey, this is exactly what I think you’re worth today, and this is exactly when you need to show up and when you could leave,” and I couldn’t stand that.
So I got in direct sales and realized that it was endless possibilities for me, because I could sell as much or as little as I want. I could be consistent, I could take days off. But the reality is, it’s a double-edged sword, because you have to be disciplined, and you have to make sure you know how to plan your schedule. So I got in, super excited, and one of my mistakes was, Matt, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, I had a lot of drive and ambition and energy, but that’s not enough these days – so does everybody else. The key is doing the unrequired things that most people don’t do, which is why most people are struggling right now. So I had the energy, but I didn’t know how to manage my schedule, I didn’t know how to be consistent. Go ahead.
Matt: Talk to me about that “unrequired.” You talk about the unrequired thing in order to be successful. What’s an example for that, maybe that you used there when you were at Cutco?
Peter: Yeah. So I got into it, and the first thing for me was, I had to sell myself on the opportunity and the product. I think most people, they don’t go this far where they just try things, they hear you make money, or the just go to the shiny object to the shiny object, and that’s sadly a lot of people’s mistake. So for me, I had to sell myself. The unrequired work was, I had to really, really get clear on who I was, what I wanted, was this the product I wanted to sell, was it something I could fully believe in. Because if you don’t sell yourself on it, you’re going to validate or make excuses, and you’re not going to fully be confident, and if you don’t have confidence, you’re always going to find a way to lose.
So, I kept selling myself on the A. opportunity and B. the product. I think the first key to sales is, you have to believe wholeheartedly that the product is better for them and they are better off having it than if they don’t. I don’t care if it’s one grand, 10 grand, 100 grand, or 10 million dollars, the best salespeople, the sales elite, they A. know how to sell themselves on their product and B. they know how to connect with people. So that’s the unrequired work.
Second thing I did was, I stacked a lot of reasons on why I was working there. So, reasons come first, results come second. Too many people just go after results, without having strong enough reasons, and if they go through challenges, they don’t have any reasons to pull them through the challenge. I’m sure you’ve experienced that. If you don’t have reasons, you’re screwed. So I had to stack a lot of reasons.
And the reality is, I came up with 20-30 reasons, and four or five of them, Matt, are real internal that are going to drive me. I say if people are sleeping in, they’re not driven, they’re complacent, they don’t have strong enough reasons. They need to write down the five to 20 reasons why they’re doing what they’re doing and sell themselves on it consistently before they take action, that way when they do take action, they have the best chance to succeed. Does that make sense?
Matt: So much sense. When you’re talking about working with the people in The Game Changers Academy, and on your podcast, I know that a lot of this advice can kind of be applied in a general sense, but you also do a lot of personal coaching with people that are making seven, eight figures. Give me an example of someone, an entrepreneur preferably, where you went in and you said, “Hey, listen, we’ve got to get clear on your reasons why, or your reasons to believe that this is the thing you should be selling.” Or, an example of when maybe someone was fully bought into their product, but should’ve been.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of examples. I have a guy in my academy who was selling a specific type of insurance, pretty high-level for a niche market, and didn’t know why he was doing it. He was a little bit older, and he was doing it because that’s what he thought he had to do, because he’s been doing it for so long and he didn’t want to switch out. I really got clear on what his strengths were, and I asked him, “What do you see yourself doing that’s going to keep you fascinated and engaged for the next five or 10 years?” That’s a really good question. He said, “Well, I see myself doing this, but right now, I’m complacent. I’m doing the same thing over and over again.”
So, I really asked him deep questions on why he was doing it and why he believes in it. What’s the product? What’s it do? What are some of the best testimonials you’ve gotten from customers? And he got this new spark, but he really, really… The big key is, he wrote down what was important to him, what his values were, and what he wanted in the next five or 10 years. He wanted flexibility, he wanted financial freedom for his family, and he wanted to be more effective. So he needed to be disciplined instead of working all the time.
Once he got clear on these things, literally two months later, Matt, he made, I think, an extra 50 grand on top of his normal commission extra that was scaled every month. So he made an extra couple hundred grand for the year just from that shift in mindset, from getting more intentional with his schedule, and from reselling himself on A. the product and B. the opportunity. And then it’s just the tactics, right?
So I had him reach out to three or four of the best of the best of the best in his industry, so he elevated his circle of influence and he cut his learning curve in half by asking them what they did differently. So that was one of the biggest keys, and there’s many more, but I think the key is reselling yourself on if what you’re doing connects to your values and connects to what’s most important to you. So for me, my values are flexibility and autonomy.
More than income, I will turn down a speech for five or $10,000 if it doesn’t match my values. I will give a free speech if it matches my values and I’m speaking to a thousand entrepreneurs. So, you have to define that. And here’s the deal most people don’t realize – I want to get into this because it’s so crucial for millennials – when you’re following people that you’re inspired by, role models, whether it’s a Donald Trump, or a Tim Ferriss, or a Tony Robbins, or an Elon Musk, they have different values, so make sure their values are congruent with yours.
I’m going to follow someone and respect someone like Tim Ferriss, because he’s all about lifestyle; he scales his business, he loves what he does, and money is his value, but it’s three or four. Donald Trump’s value, money is probably up there, right? I’m not that into making billions, although, obviously when you’re talking to people that are studying Forbes and all these different publications, yes, they want money, it’s great, but don’t do it at the sacrifice of what’s most important to you. So that’s a huge key, is defining.
Another value of mine is influence and impact, which is why I’m doing this interview. Another value is family, financial freedom as well. So once I get an opportunity thrown at me, which happens all the time, I go through, “Do these match my values?” If they don’t, I don’t do it. Does that make sense? So it keeps me grounded, keeps me at peace of mind, and it keeps me effective as well.
Matt: And just that sort of process of prioritizing is something that people could implement today, and I heard you mention the circle of influence and I want to talk about that in just a second. I want to jump back, even to the selling side of things, because I think it is sort of the ultimate entrepreneurial skill. If you can’t sell yourself, if you can’t sell a product, if you can’t sell an idea, you’re dead in the water.
So as we’re talking here to entrepreneurs in the Verge community, what are a couple of qualities that you think a good salesperson has that’s translatable to entrepreneurship, but also as an entrepreneur selling the business, “I’ve got to find this sales guy who can now help me lead my sales operation, because I’ve got to be focused on raising money, bringing on the right talent, figuring out partnerships.”
Peter: Find out what their strengths are. I like that, and I do want to hit on this because you hit it perfectly. Sadly, I know a lot of broke geniuses. They know everything about this, whether it’s tech space or whether it’s a different industry; they are brilliant, but they can’t sell themselves out of a paper bag. So they’re broke. You have to sell to get the idea and product out there to translate into value and make money.
So I think the first thing is resilience. What that means is, they have to have a big bounce back from failure or back from rejection. So the perspective of failure and rejection needs to be in the right state of mind; for example, when you fail as a salesperson, every time you get told no, you’re getting closer to a yes.
Peter: Someone that’s new in sales thinks no is a hit on them. They take it personal and they say, “Oh, they said no! Man, I’m not that good.” No, no, no, no. It’s a numbers game, so you need to respect the process more than the result. So for example, you need to make sure that you’re consistent. When you’re making your phone calls or when you’re selling something, set the numbers goals, not the results goals, because you can’t really control the results. So I would say, “Okay, you’re going to do 10 appointments, and you’re going to make 50 calls this week, no matter what happens.” And keeping an even keel, Matt, is one of the biggest skills you can have as a sales professional.
You have a huge day; you sell a million dollars’ worth of stuff, or you sell $5,000 worth of stuff, great. Quick celebration, short recoveries is key. You have a day where you have no sales, even keel. If you keep the same mindset and the same confidence no matter what happens, that’s a big way to be consistent and to be, I guess, thriving in that industry.
Another key is making sure you focus on habits versus just inspiration. I see a lot of salespeople, in the tech space, out of the tech space, whether it’s direct sales or door-to-door, they’re always motivating themselves and they’re getting inspired, but they’re not creating sustained habits. Now, inspiration is needed to create action, but you need the habits. They’re really going to define what you’re doing, because inspiration is short-term and it feels good in the moment, but the reality is, it’s hard to sustain because you don’t have the habits. And habits are what really define what you do every single day, if that makes sense.
So habits over inspiration. I think maybe sure you have three or four people in your rolodex that you can connect with after or before your demos, or before your appointments, or before your sales calls, to get you in the right state of mind. So getting in the right state of mind before your sales presentation is a huge key. And what I always did, from 2005 and 2006 on to now, after every single appointment, presentation, whatever you’re doing sales-wise, I say, “What did I do well? What can I do better?”
Now if you do this, you’re not going to have that many bad appointments in a row. People don’t invest their past mistakes into their future preparation. So if people can just say, “Okay, what did I do well? I did well building rapport. I didn’t do well being confident in the closing. That’s what I need to do work on next.” So I think the action of trial and error and asking the right questions, before and after the appointment, is a huge key, and you mix that with repetition and practice and making sure you have a rolodex of people that are already in your industry crushing it. You can’t help but succeed, because you’re going to be around those people that have already succeeded and been where you want to go. Does that make sense?
Matt: Yeah, I was with you 100 percent, except this whole rolodex thing. I don’t know what that is.
Matt: No, I’m totally messing with you, man.
Peter: You scared me for a second.
Matt: But, to translate for the millennials, rolodex equals CRM, or LinkedIn, or some sort of contact information.
Peter: In your network. Yeah, having a network around you.
Matt: I’m giving you a hard time, man. I 100 percent love what you had to say in your book. You have a lot of great habits that people can dive into and almost take your exact recipes. I love that you drew so much information from so many great people, and all the books that I’ve read, too, over the years, and kind of made that story your own and did a really great job of making those tried-and-true principles relevant again. One of which is increasing your circle of influence. So, can you talk to me a little bit more about that particular habit and what you’re doing currently to continue increasing your circle of influence?
Peter: Yeah, good question. That was the biggest turning point for me in my entire life, when I was broke and stressed and struggling and discouraged and I felt hopeless. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in a pretty rough area in the Seattle area and I didn’t have furniture. I had a mattress and that’s it, and all my savings was spent. To be honest, Matt, not a lot of people know this – I talk about it in my book – but I didn’t even have money to go to the drive-thru, and it’s hard to come from a place of confidence when you’re lacking the resources and the funds. But the reality is, one lesson – side note – a bonus lesson… Is it okay if I give you a little bonus lesson sometimes.
Peter: So, your confidence needs to never waiver, regardless of what your accounts look like. A lot of people, their confidence goes higher when they have more money and lower when they don’t – that’s horrible. You have to keep the confidence. So anyways, I was at home and I was studying all the notes I had from a recent event, and a quote stuck out that I’ll never forget, and you probably remember this from the book, “If you want to be a millionaire, who do you talk to?” And I’m thinking, “Well, millionaires,” but the answer is billionaires, so you can get there a lot quicker and speed up your learning curve. And at that moment, I don’t know what it was, but it clicked.
I didn’t have any other option; I had to make it work, and I realized that you only know how strong you really are until being strong is the only option you have. So the reality is, you’ll never know how strong you are until your back is against the wall. So for me, I realized everyone I was connecting with, Matt, wasn’t where I wanted to be. They were okay with mediocrity. They weren’t making much money, but they were okay with that. So I immediately evaluated my circle of influence and I was able to write down who I was hanging out with that was effecting my mindset, who were my maintenance friends, and who were my growth friends. I wrote down a list of the top five in my industry that I wanted to connect with and I immediately went to them. And talk about cutting your learning curve in half.
I wanted to do millions in sales, so I only connected with people that were already doing millions in sales. It totally shifted my mindset, it transformed my energy, my thought process; subconsciously, it gave me a lot more confidence and it inspired me daily. So the question people need to ask is, who do you spend the most time with and how are they affecting you? The reality is, if you hang out with five intelligent people, you’ll be the sixth, right? You hang out with five millionaires, you’ll eventually be the sixth. But if you hang out with five idiots, you tell me what’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. I’m not going to say I was hanging out with idiots, but I’m saying I was hanging out with people that had low standards that did not mind mediocrity, when I couldn’t stand mediocrity.
So I identified the top five, and I consistently reached out to them, built relationships with them. I was relentless in reaching out. I found out that there’s no one you can’t get a hold of if you’re focused enough. I remember transitioning out of direct sales, getting into another part of entrepreneurship, and I reached out to Gary Vaynerchuk. We had a 45-minute conversation while he was at the airport. And I’m thinking in my head, “How did I just get a hold of this guy? I mean, he’s so famous, right?” But, every single person I’ve connected with, whether it’s Arianna Huffington, whether it’s Eric Thomas, whether Brian Tracy, the reality is, they’re not that hard to get a hold of. So now, I just consistently am networking. I’m consistently reaching out, adding value. I find the best of the best at what I want to do and who I want to emulate and connect with, and I reach out to them.
Luckily now, I have a following where I can add value; I can share their articles; I can share their products, programs, or what they’re doing to the millions that I impact. So we have leverage now, and we can mutually, beneficially help each other. So I’m just consistently reaching out, and I’m consistently buying books of people that I admire, reading them, writing reviews, and helping them out. I’m getting them on my academy to speak, and I’m having…
That’s one of the big ones is, we have a new multimillionaire every month speak to our academy members, and when they speak, I ask them to promote what they’re doing, and a lot of my academy members will go buy it, share it, or influence them in some way, whether it’s write a review on Amazon for them, or buy their book, or get them booked for a speech in their industry. So I’m just consistently adding value and trying to reach out to people that I know inspire me and raise my standards and take my game up a notch.
So there’s not really a specific tactic, it’s just something that every single week, Matt, is in my schedule – to reach out people playing the game at a higher level than me. So, I’ll show you my schedule right here if you want to get authentic, if I can find it. So here’s my schedule. This is something that I do every week. At the bottom, “People you’re going to reach out to.” I’m connecting with Chris Ducker, I don’t know if you know who that is. I’ve reached out to Grant Cardone, and then Jairek Robbins, Tony Robbins’ son; we connected last week. Also, Jay Papasan. Every week, I’m reaching out to people that I believe are playing the game at a higher level.
Now, you have to be intentional and congruent here, to where you need to focus on mastery versus overload, and not just reach out to random people. If I’m writing a book and I want to get my book out there, guess who I’m reaching out to those couple months? Authors. Bestselling authors. New York Times bestselling authors. If I’m launching a program, or I’m creating a masterclass or an academy, I’m going to reach out to the best of the best who have created academies or launched programs at the highest level.
I’m working on a masterclass focused on productivity, and David Siteman Garland – if you’ve heard of him – is best at that. So we connected for an hour while I was in Tahoe a couple weeks ago. So I’m congruent and I’m intentional with who I connect with, I’m not just random, like most people. So you have to be intentional, if that makes sense.
Matt: That makes a ton of sense. A lot of entrepreneurs know that they need to do this and make this a habit, but it’s very hard sometimes, because our brains want to protect themselves, so they create excuses that stand in the way of that. You know, not entrepreneurs in the Verge group obviously, but other entrepreneurs out there might make excuses and say, “Well, I don’t have the network that Peter has, and I don’t have the level of influence. Arianna Huffington isn’t going to take an interview with me.” Can you take me back to before you had this big network and this big influence and that first or second big connection that you made? How did you make that connection and what was your approach like?
Peter: Good question. So, you have to realize that everyone who has a network now once didn’t. So you have to change your perspective. And a lot of times, it’s a personal issue, it’s an insecurity, and you don’t have any certainty that you can connect with these people. So the first step, let’s just back up, is increasing your level of certainty that you can connect with people like that, whether you have anything to offer or not. These people that you’re connecting with once were in your situation. They needed people to help them and inspire them, so they reached out. So they always want to give back. Of course some of them are extremely busy. It’s hard to email Tim Ferriss and then get a response the same hour.
So people have these skewed and weird expectations. But the reality is, once you increase your certainty level and your confidence, which means do your due diligence, research and study, figure out how the best people network. In my book, I give the exact script, Matt, of how I reached out to high-level people. So people can literally take… It’s worked. I’ve probably got 50 plus emails in the last six months on people that have actually connected with high-level people from that script, which is great. Hopefully, some of these people are like, “Hey, this is the same script. Are you getting this from a certain book?” But the reality is, I increased my certainty that I could connect with them by researching, and once I researched and I realized, “Wow, all these people that are successful once weren’t, and they were able to reach out.”
So I was increasing my awareness and that’s really it. Once I realized that it was possible and that failure was a good thing. So it’s funny you ask that, because when I was in sales, I realized that rejection wasn’t bad. So I took that into my entrepreneur ventures and realized that if I reached out to 50 people and I got rejected 48 times, it’s not bad, it just means I’m closer to connecting with a successful entrepreneur and multimillionaire. So, I think it goes hand-in-hand for me. People that have never been in sales, you have to get around other people that have connected with high-level people, figure out how they did, and you have to do whatever you can to increase your confidence to take that action.
When you said they make excuses, here’s what I say to that: Yes, they don’t have strong enough reasons, but if people are making excuses, they have to be okay with mediocrity, or okay with being broke. What I can’t stand is someone complaining or bitching about not getting there to where it needs to be, but then also making excuses. How can you do that? You’re putting yourself in this situation where you’re not thriving. So if you’re going to make excuses, be okay with struggling. Right? If you’re not okay with struggling, don’t make excuses. Does that make sense?
People want this level 10 success, Matt, but they have level three habits, or they want level 10 income, but they have a level one money mindset. So the perspective has to be there, where they need to be aware of how to do it, they need to try, and they need to test. And if it doesn’t happen, just keep working until it does. Then once you get that first wind, like when I connected with Gary, it was over, where I was like, “Oh, this is awesome! I can connect with more people now.” So I needed that little confidence boost as well, if that makes sense.
Matt: Sure. Well, it seems like, for you, a lot of these things kind of link back to mastery of the emotions and how emotions play in the business. Can you tell me maybe one of the main insights you had with yourself over the years, where it was kind of like you just changed your perspective on things? And going back, can you look at a former version of yourself and be like, “I can’t believe I was even that person at one point in time that would make an excuse, or procrastinate something, or take something personally”? Was there one particular thing for you, an experience, that made you make that change?
Peter: Yep, good question. 2009, we all set goals. I was a manager running a whole organization up in the Seattle area, and I was running a sales team. Every year, they had the manager say their goals for the year. The biggest, craziest goals was doing a million dollars for the year, and probably less than .01 percent of people did it. So, everyone says that would be their goal and then go over their goal from the year before, and of course, Matt, everyone’s like, “That’s my goal last year. What was your goal last year?” “Same thing.” “Did you hit it?” “No.”
And I was young, I was 22 or 23, and I was so sick of people just not following through on their word. I’m like, “I’m doing a million this year no matter what it takes.” I would’ve been the quickest manager in the history of the company to do a million, so it wasn’t easy. So there was four months left, and I wasn’t on track. I had to do some absurd, crazy, insane number. But, two things; one, I had a mentor that told me exactly what to do so I didn’t have to think about it. Two, I was reading Brian Tracy’s Maximum Achievement. Every single page of that book, I swear, is like the only limitations are in your own mind. The only limitations are in your own mind – that’s it. So I was like, “Geez, all these limitations are in my mind.” And then I put my excuse meter up and I said, “Has someone else with the same months to go as me done this much sales?” and I’m like, “Yes, it’s been done, so I know it’s possible.”
So the reality is, every single morning, I got up at five and I reprogrammed my mind. I wrote down my strongest reasons and I focused on exactly how I was going to feel when I completed it. Then I realized that the person with the most confidence always wins. So I would block my insecurities by writing down new ways to act versus old ways to act, and I did that for four straight months, Matt. I kept writing down my goals, my reasons, my schedule; I kept my focus on the priorities that are most important that yielded the most results. And the biggest key is, I kept faith until the last second.
We were able to hit that goal, and from that moment, I realized that anything is possible to those who value their goals, their dreams, and their visions over their current excuses or reality. So, I don’t know if that answered your question, but that was the turning point for me, where I realized that was possible. I remember a week where I was like, “If I ever did $40,000 in one week as a manger, it would be unbelievable.” Well, fast-forward, I did $132,000 in a week. So I think you have to hit the milestones, and then you have to be connecting with people that have already done that to pull your confidence through. And then, make sure every day you’re looking at, I call it the one-page productivity planner, where you have your goals, you have your reasons, you have the key habits you need that are congruent to your goals, and you have your top five things you want to focus on for the next six months.
I look at that thing daily and that guides my decisions versus my feelings, or my current circumstances, or my emotions. And that was the turning point where I realized, “Geez, anything is possible.” I did break the record. That was, I think, my turning point as an entrepreneur, seeing the results from my hard work and dedication. I missed weekends. I missed some things with family. But you have to sacrifice and be willing to give up some things to go up. People want everything – they want to be able to relax with family AND they want big results. You only can do that if you have the right infrastructure and you’ve been doing the right thing long enough. So that was my turning point, is seeing what was possible.
Matt: You talked about the one-page productivity planner. Do you have a template of that?
Peter: Yeah, I actually could link it down below. I have it for you. So the biggest key is, you have to have a simple vision statement, like a short vision statement. What’s your ideal outcome in the next six months? Then you have to put your big five for the next six months – what’s your big five? Finish your book. Get a hundred sales. Create six figures. Underneath it, that’s where you have your top five most powerful internal reasons and ambitions that are going to drive you. And then below that, you put your values – what are my key values? You always want to remember your values.
And then right below that, I put the key behaviors and habits that you have to develop and consistently display that are congruent with those big fives. You don’t need to figure those out, you talk to people that are already playing the game at a higher level. They will tell you what the best habits are. People try to do all these things themselves, Matt, and figure everything out themselves and their ego gets in the way and they end up banging their head against the wall. It takes them so much longer to get to an end result than they would’ve got if they actually reached out to people. So I look at that thing daily and I let it guide me versus whatever is happening in the moment. Do you know what I mean?
Matt: I absolutely know what you mean. I have the same habit – probably a different template with a lot of similarities. So I’m excited to see what you’ve got and add it to mine.
Peter: Is yours one page? That’s the key, you have to simplify. Get rid of all the noise in your head and all the overwhelm and simplify into what really matters. And most of the things don’t matter. Do you know what I mean? Doing something unimportant well doesn’t make it way more important. Right? Do what’s important at the highest level. Keep doing it and you’ll be able to see big results.
Matt: Well, I appreciate you sharing your experience and what you’re doing right now. Obviously people can follow you @petervoogd23 on Twitter. We’ll link it up here. Obviously, check out Game Changers Academy. Is there anywhere else you want to send people who are currently tuning into this?
Peter: Yeah, The Entrepreneur Breakthrough. I’m giving away some free resources there as well. I know you’ve got a great audience. I’m giving away my actual blueprint. I have a productivity mastery blueprint I teach at my academy, and I did a very deep-dive 45-minute call for them on just my best productivity practices. I want to give as much value as possible just to help people, so I’m giving all that away for free. So, theentrepreneurbreakthrough.com; they can check it out.
I’m active on Twitter. They can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. Do you do Periscope? Periscope’s fun now, too. I like doing that. I travel a lot so it’s cool to bring it everywhere. Whether I’m on the lake or the beach or I’m doing a speech, I love doing Periscope, it’s fun.
Matt: Well, we’ll have to compare notes. I’ve been tuning into Chris’s Periscopes lately, and we’ve been doing a lot of them at the Verge events.
Peter: Oh, wow!
Matt: It’ll be cool to see how that expands. Yeah, we had over 1,200 people live last week when we were launching Verge in North Carolina, which was cool.
Peter: That would be fun. Periscope would be fun to do live events and stuff.
Peter: And to shake up the speaking industry a little bit, which I like.
Matt: For sure. I think it already is.
Peter: Love it. Cool, man. Well, once again, I appreciate the impact you’re making as well. Thanks for reaching out.
Matt: Yeah, thanks.
Matt (Outro): Want more secrets from inside the minds of entrepreneurs and innovators around the world? Subscribe to our YouTube channel here, and click the link below. We’ll send you our best interviews and strategies for growing your business.
“We’ve got great talent,” says voicemail inventor Scott Jones. “We just need more of it. And frankly,” Scott continued, “I think many would say the same in Silicon Valley.”
Watch the interview here:
“I hear a lot of complaints from people on the coasts,” Jones laments. The cost of living and other inconveniences of cities like San Francisco have left many yearning for more. This makes areas like the Midwest not only more attractive to employees, but to business owners as well.
“Once you find people, they stay put longer here,” Jones says. And with growing entrepreneurial ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley, there are more and more resources to grow a tech startups beyond San Francisco.
“They can never find enough of the great talent,” says Jones. “And that’s what we want to create here at Eleven Fifty.”
Scott Jones is the co-founder of Eleven Fifty coding academy based in Indianapolis, Indiana. We’re excited to announce that Eleven Fifty is now an official sponsor of Verge HQ in Indiana, offering exclusive access and unique opportunities to its members. Use code “VERGEhigh5 at registration to save on your next coding course.
I sat down into the red velvet seats of one of the greatest home theaters in the world. But I wasn’t in New York or Los Angeles.
Voicemail inventor Scott Jones recently made his home (read: mansion) into one of the most ambitious undertakings in the field of education. With the unveiling of Eleven Fifty coding academy, Jones launched a new approach to learning to code software. Full disclosure: Eleven Fifty is a sponsor of Verge. And there are very good reasons why we decided to partner up…
Watch the video below to see Scott’s answer to the question “Why learn coding?” and maybe even more intriguingly… Why Indiana?
So, why learn coding?
C’mon! Are you living under a rock?
I know I’m not the only one getting hit up dozens of times a week asking if I know anyone who “knows how to build iPhone apps” or someone in search of a “technical co-founder.” Coding skills are in high demand.
It doesn’t matter if you know the latest language or not, it’s the underlying principles and thinking strategies of software development that lay the foundation to build great software–whether you want to build the next enterprisey software death star… or just annoy your friends with a new app that will be hotter than Flappy Bird.
Why learn coding in Indiana?
Well, besides the fact that the Indiana startup community’s got it going on, there’s one critical aspect that sets Indiana apart. . .
By hosting their intensive coding courses in the home of voicemail inventor Scott Jones, Eleven Fifty has crafted an immersive approach to learning to code. Walking through the halls (and the sick home theater, and indoor basketball court, and commercial kitchen…), you can feel the knowledge being pumped into the brains of students as they develop real-life apps with hands-on guidance from some of the most talented trainers in software.
When the stereotypical entrepreneur is a 20-something with a sales or marketing background shooting for the moon, Neil Berman stands apart. He had a career in accounting before founding Delivra, an email marketing service provider that’s a “unicorn” in its own way.
The company itself is a rarity in the software world: it’s profitable. I spoke with the CEO about the advantages his accounting background gave him and what’s in store for Delivra.
Watch the full interview with Neil Berman here:
Dot-com Boom Beginnings
The year was 1999. Adoption of the Internet was rising rapidly, and Berman wanted in on “what I felt was a really big thing.” A former employer had once told him that if he could find a business that met three criteria – faster, better, and cheaper – he should go for it. Berman’s wife was working for the postal service at that time, and when he compared email communication to regular mail, Berman felt it met all three: “I stuck my stake in the ground and went from there.”
Until then, Berman was an accountant: “I still belong to the Indiana CPA Society.” Working on the public side of accounting, he gained an inner look at many companies and what made them successful… or not. When starting his own company, Berman just didn’t buy into the classic entrepreneurial model of raising money, growing as fast as possible, and selling out. Between his conservative mindset and desire for independence, he opted to not seek investors and instead grew organically, initially starting Delivra out of his own home.
“I’ve seen entrepreneurs with great ideas, but the faster they grow, the more money they lose. Then their business collapses, and they don’t really understand why.”
-Neil Berman, Founder and CEO of Delivra
To this day, the company is opening a new regional office every three months without having to raise money or get a bank loan. When mentoring others about entrepreneurial finances, Berman said, “I find that either their eyes glaze over or they’re afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to appear stupid.” He emphasized that it’s vital to understand your business’s key performance indicators, especially what you have to do to break even. “If you’re in school today, take some of those accounting classes that you hate,” he advised wryly. “I didn’t like them either, but it’ll be useful information someday.”
On Walking Away…
Like fellow CEOs Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz, Berman left his own company and returned, but for a very different reason. Six years ago, Berman’s wife became ill and passed away very suddenly. Devastated, he hired a team of five to run the company’s functional departments in his stead and traveled the world: “I didn’t know if Delivra was going to be my future. I had to get grounded again.”
…And Coming Back.
Two years ago, Berman did return: “Coming back home to email software felt comfortable for me. I loved the software business and wanted to take it to the next level.” However, while the company was still profitable, competition had considerably heated up during his absence, and sales had flattened: “What we were doing previously had stopped working.” Berman jumped back into the saddle and set about determining Delivra’s future.
On Consultants and Dirty Laundry.
Since he knew the business, the market, and the competition, Berman had a vision for Delivra’s path forward but hired consultants to help him make a more informed decision. After “doing what consultants do” – surveying and interviewing customers, staff, and people both inside and outside of the industry – they presented a recommendation that aligned with Berman’s hunch but was better defined and more actionable. When working with consultants, Berman stressed transparency: “You need to be communicative about everything. Air the dirty laundry.”
“The Magic Differentiator.”
Today’s email marketing industry is competitive, but Delivra is investing a lot of money in product development to offer clients a robust marketing solution. But perhaps its biggest differentiator is its focus on building relationships with clients via its expanding network of regional offices and offering them product enablement help up front: “We find that to be a magic differentiator. Although it costs more, we’re going to close more sales, and that’s how we’re going to grow the business.”
How do you try to apply a financial mindset to your entrepreneurial venture? Comment below!
See Delivra for Yourself on May 14th!
It’s pretty awesome to see what Delivra has built in Indianapolis, Indiana. We use Delivra at Verge and I’m blown away by the people at this company. Come meet them for yourself at Delivra’s open house on May 14th. Hope to see you there! Click here to RSVP →
Matt: You’re going to love this. Neil Berman is the founder of Delivra, which is an email marketing company that started in 1999. They’ve raised no money, they’re making millions of dollars, check out this interview, let me know what you think.
Neil, you have built a profitable business here with Delivra, which in the software world is rare. I wanted to get a little bit of background on why you decided to grow a software business in 1999, before anyone else was doing email marketing. You kind of saw into the future. First of all, why did you choose email as the place to start your software business?
Neil: Well, I was looking to get into the dot-com boom. I wanted to participate in what I felt was a really big thing. Big like television, big like automobiles, and prior to that big like telegraphs. I felt the Internet was a big thing. It was exciting, I wanted to get involved. In my mind, it wasn’t software at the time. It’s “how can I get involved here” and build some kind of – I call it infrastructure – a play that had some staying power and wouldn’t be a fad. Email, the communication piece, is what I came up with.
Matt: Yeah, you picked right!
Neil: And you know a little bit of luck, a little bit of timing, and a little bit of smarts.
Matt: You actually had criteria that you used to pick email, right?
Neil: I did, yeah. So a former employer once told me if I could find a business idea that met these three criteria that I should go for it. And, the three criteria that he gave me were faster, better, cheaper. So, when I looked at email, and coincidentally my wife worked at the post office, and I think that’s where my inspiration came from. I compared email to postal, and it’s certainly cheaper, faster, and better in that it’s more convenient. You don’t need a postage reply card anymore. A lot of people don’t even know what I’m talking about, if you’re under 30 years old! So I said hey, it meets the criteria; it seems to me that over time, this is kind of visionary that the postal budgets would move to email. I stuck my stake in the ground and went from there.
Matt: Before that you were actually working as an accountant is that correct?
Neil: I was, so I’ve got my CPA certificate. I’m currently retired which means I don’t have to go to school every year to keep it active, but I still belong to the Indiana CPA society. Plan B just in case!
Matt: It seems like you hear about a lot of entrepreneurs that start in the sales and marketing side of things, especially in sales and marketing of sales companies. I feel like that gives you an extra edge, or at least a different lens through which to look at you business.
Neil: So as an accountant I worked on both the public and private side of things. So on the public side I saw a lot of companies, what made them successful and what made them less than successful. I also understood how money flowed through a business. So, when I approached starting a software company I was a little bit prejudiced based on my history. I didn’t buy in to the risky, in my mind, approach where you raise money and you grow as fast as you can and then you sell out. Because if you look at that approach, which the way more entrepreneurs start, there’s many more failures than successes. If I’m 25 years old, I can take a chance, shoot for the moon, and if it blows up and I’m still under 30 then I could try again. I was a generation older so I had to take a more conservative approach. In other words, this is my last stand and I’m going to make it work no matter what. I’m going to never bet the farm. Lastly, I’m independent, and to me raising money meant I was going to have another boss or a board of directors, at least to report to, and I kind of just want to do my own thing.
Matt: You want to do your own business your own way.
Neil: Yes, and do it my way. Succeed or fail it will be on my shoulders.
Matt: You’re now doing $4 or $5 million dollars a year on track to hit a goal a couple years from now doing 20 million, right?
Neil: The goal is 15, but that’s only the next goal. The way we’re going to do that is we’re putting a lot of money into product development, and we’re opening regional offices. Put feet on the street in markets to participate locally at the rate of one office every three months, basically forever. We’re going to attempt to do things differently. Selling online today, a lot of competition, fewer people actually have sales people out there building relationships and can call someone at their place of business. We find that is a magic differentiator. Although it costs more, we’re going to close more sales, and that’s going to help grow our business.
Matt: You guys are building that off a foundation that you built over a decade ago in terms of how you run this business on a cash basis. Why is it important for entrepreneurs to do that?
Neil: I talked to a fellow yesterday. He created a social app, he works as a IT manager at a local company, and it’s really a cool app. He’s put a lot in to it, he put it online, but he’s not selling it, and he only works there part time. The reason I tell you this story is, he came in to see me because he had heard that I built a business without raising money, and he said, “This is my 401(k) plan, this little app, and I just want to do it myself. It’s not looking so good, what would you recommend?” So, I recommended to him that in addition to the technology, that he embed some services, basically account management and support. Charge more, and look for people who wants some help. His light went on and he goes, “I never thought about that.” But in addition to that you’re going to have to quit your job and go out and make some sales calls, go to the chamber meetings, go network with some people. Either you’re selling or your raising money, but it’s not going to happen by itself.
Matt: Do you think it’s important to quit your job in order to make the entrepreneurial venture work?
Matt: When is the right time to do that?
Neil: Well, to make it work it’s a 24/7 job. I worked 7 days a week for 5 years. And for the first few years, didn’t make any money, couldn’t take any out. So before you make the commitment I would suggest that you get all your bills paid, and your wife or significant other is making a living that does not require you to chip in. So, you’re going to be working for free, sweat equity for a long time, because you’re not raising money, and you have to to have something to live on. If you have a big dream and you’ve got a big mortgage on the house and you’re paying car payments on two cars and you’ve got four kids living paycheck to paycheck because wow, that’s a lot of overhead, you’re probably not eligible to start a business. You’ve already taken that path in the other direction. In that case I would suggest you just work hard a build your career working for somebody else. But, there’s nothing wrong with that. I did it for 30 years.
Matt: So, your personal balance sheet really needs to be balanced before you go and start something.
Neil: Yeah, pay the bills off. Or your wife or your family or someone is making those payments because you aren’t going to be contributing for a while. And every money you make you will have to put back into the business to grow it. I started out working for myself in my house. You can do that for quite a while, but eventually you need an office, and that’s not too expensive, and you need a website. But when you start hiring people, that’s a new day. They expect to get paid every Friday no matter what, so you’ve got to keep the momentum going there. Therefore, you’ve got to keep the expenses down and the revenue up.
Matt: Are there any specific metrics that you check on a regular basis? Or even a frequency in terms of what you look for in KPIs or key performance indicators on the accounting side?
Neil: We have KPIs with regard to activities for each of the functional areas of the business, and then those flow done into a financial statement. I would suggest if you’re in school today, thinking about this, take some of those accounting classes that you hate. Nobody likes it. I didn’t like it in school either. But I took them figuring, “this is going to useful information someday.” And it absolutely was. You just got to understand what it costs to write an order, a customer acquisition cost, what does it cost to service that client? What is the overhead that’s fixed that you can’t change? If you’re going to add 10% more business, how much extra will that cost? Fortunately in the software business not much. You have a high fixed cost and a low variable cost. For example, in the email business it costs virtually zero to send one more email, so us and all of our competitors are looking to add clients because the margins are high. So you need to understand those kinds of metrics before you get into business. Because I’ve seen entrepreneurs with great ideas, but the faster they grow the more money they lose, and then their business collapses. And they don’t really understand why that happened. We talked about opening these regional offices – before we did that, I hired consultants to do market analysis. I didn’t know which markets to go into and we had some criteria around that, and then I had them create pro formas to determine how long is going to take to be profitable? What is the average sale? How many clients do we have to sign up? And then if we can make the office profitable, how fast can we can we open offices without going into debt? We balance that all ahead of time, so we have criteria to open offices, we know we can open 4 a year, one every three months, organically, which means with internally generated cash flow. If we want to get greedier than that we got to go the bank or we got to go to investors. But I knew that before I jumped. Hire someone that can do pro formas, if you can’t do them yourself, because that will make you an honest man or woman.
Matt: Building the pro forma with over a decade of financial data and understanding how your business works is one thing, but what about an entrepreneur who is just starting out or is in the first several months of their venture? How much time should that entrepreneur spend on a pro forma? Did you create a pro forma right off the bat?
Neil: No, but I knew if I could keep expenses down close to zero, and if I could just sell X dollars, so in my head I kind of knew what to do. It was small enough that I didn’t need to get too complicated. So, when I’m talking about pro formas before you get into business, the ones that I don’t agree with, and I saw one recently from a startup that had no sales, and the pro forma was pages long, and it projected an income in year five of $32 million dollars. To me, that’s just, well very aggressive to say the least. I’d rather see a pro forma that’s not a hockey stick, that’s growing gradually, and tells me here’s what we have to do to break even. And if we do better we’ll make more money, but you really can’t predict at the start what that looks like. So I just like to know is what you have to do to stay in business, and to me, that would be the important information for someone looking to start a business to understand and understand in detail. When I talk to people about finances, I find either their eyes glaze over, or they’re afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to appear stupid. But this is the time to figure out what that means. If you don’t have a partner, have a financial person that you can check in with at least every 90 days for what I call a gut check keep you on track. I’m a big proponent to having advisors, whether they’re formally on an advisory team or they’re colleagues, but lone rangers are usually alone when it comes to being successful.
Matt: Entrepreneurship is a lonely job.
Neil: It is.
Matt: If you don’t have a team around you.
Matt: Well it’s been really interesting learning about the Delivra story, especially now that you’re back in this big growth mode and you guys are expanding. One of the things that growing a cash-based software business afforded you the opportunity to do was step away from the business for a little while.
Neil: I did.
Matt: which you personally chose to do. Could you talk a little bit about that experience and what kind of perspective it gave you on your business?
Neil: Ok, thank you for asking. Six years ago my wife got sick and passed fairly quickly, and I was not expecting it, so it was a big blow, and I had literally my head in a wastebasket. I had this very successful business which I didn’t feel like running at the time but felt I had the responsibility to make sure it continued. So I hired a management team.
Matt: How big was the team at that time?
Neil: There was no team. There was me, and I was running things myself. Now, I had functional department heads, since I’m not coder and I don’t know anything about IT, so I had people doing that. But I ran the sales team, which was also the client services team. So, I hired five guys in different areas, one in sales, one in client services, IT, software development, and another one to run the numbers. I just basically walked away. I started travelling. I came into the office, let them make all of the decisions, and that went on for a number of years until the smoke cleared. It was about two years ago, and I came back and looked around and said, “What’s going to happen next?” Competition was heating up. Our high end clients were leaving, our low end clients were leaving, sales had flattened out, and what we were doing previously had stopped working. I did a strategic plan with a consulting firm in town, and they told me what the next 10 years needed to look like, and during that project I realized I needed to make some changes at the top.
Matt: You had made some serious changes and a big decision by stepping away from the business, and it sounds like the right decision based on where the company is now. What pulled you to go travel after you lost the person that inspired you to start Delivra? What pulled you abroad?
Neil: Well, you have to find yourself and your life again. I was really back in my 20s emotionally going, “What am I going to do with my life?” My life’s partner was gone, and I didn’t know if Delivra and software was going to be my future. I had to get grounded again. Fortunately I came back and decided I loved the software business and wanted to take it to the next level.
Matt: What was it about the business that brought you back to it?
Neil: Well, two things. One, technology is always changing. Probably too fast for all of us! Exponentially, as a matter of fact. I like the challenge of keeping up with new technology. And I also liked the software business in that you’re delivering a service and product online and you don’t have to deliver that physically, which is very appealing to me. Those were the two reasons coming back home to email software felt comfortable for me.
Matt: You mentioned that you came back to the business that was in a very different state than you left it in. What was that feeling like?
Neil: It was not a company in trouble. They were still debt free and making money and paying the bills. But it didn’t look like we had a future without making some significant changes – in personnel, in product, and how we went to market. If you’re going to make a lot of changes in a business – and people don’t really like change – I had to jump in and take over running the daily operations, which I hadn’t done in years. So, it took a few months to get comfortable back in the saddle, but now that I’m doing it I’m having a wonderful time.
Matt: Were there any things that you did that helped you get back into that rhythm, and kind of get back to that flow state of peak entrepreneurship?
Neil: I needed to have a vision of the future, and that’s what I didn’t have when I was gone. So I came back and had to visualize where the company was going to go and then create a plan to do that. So, fortunately, I knew the business, knew the market, knew where the competitors aligned, and was able to focus on an area where I felt that they were ignoring.
Matt: You mentioned you brought on some consulting help. Did you set the vision and then bring on the consulting to help you figure out how to execute that, or did you bring people from outside the business in to kind of help you find out what that vision is and then go about setting a plan?
Neil: So I had a feel for what that might be, but I wanted to have an informed decision. So the consultants came in and did what consultants do – they did surveys, they talked to people inside and outside the business, talked to customers, non-consultants, staff. And they came back with a recommendation that aligned with what I felt it should be, but they defined it much better. The definition was very important for us. Even the terminology of how we describe that vision, which I wouldn’t have been able to do with the quality and the clarity that the consultants provided.
Matt: Anything that you discovered as you were working with these consultants that you think you might pass on to entrepreneurs that are thinking about bringing in consultants? What helped you be most effective with those outside teams?
Neil: You need to be transparent and communicative about everything. You have to air the dirty laundry, good news and bad news. Let them digest it and then regurgitate it back to you in a way that reorganizes data and information so that it becomes actionable. So I would just say, open up and spill the beans!
Matt: One of the things that I’ve noticed just in the vibe of the office here and talking to members of your team is that it is a very communicative office environment, and probably one of the benefits that you provide your clients as well. But when you think about the team that you’ve built here, what have you done culture-wise that has enabled some of that communication?
Neil: What I find is important in servicing our clients is we need to be collaborative. The software business is complicated. It’s different than manufacturing and selling a cardboard box. So we need people with specialized information and experience. Delivering mail into the inbox is important. We have a team that knows how to do that. Rendering your HTML email template on a phone, on a tablet and on a laptop requires some knowledge, and we have a team in charge of that. Being able to explain to a prospect why our services match theirs better than two or three other competitors. There are people who are good at that. So we have to collaborate together during the stages of the sales process and the stages of maintaining and servicing clients. So therefore, we have fostered a culture where there is little or no back-biting. Where we encourage the different functional areas to talk to each other. We cater in lunch every Friday for example so people who don’t have a reason necessarily to communicate during the week can talk about what they’re going to do on the weekend and become friends. It’s really just practical business process that if we get everyone working together – like a football team – we’re going to win more games. That’s my job, frankly, is to put a team on the field to win the games.
Matt: You’ve talked a little bit about the playbook for the next couple of years in terms of building your regional teams and actually having feet on the street to talk about your software and talk about the businesses of your potential clients. What are some of the other things we can expect to see from Delivra as you guys continue to expand and grow your client base?
Neil: We’re going to stay focused on email marketing as a core, as a hub around other digital marketing tactics, and we’re going to hook into those to create a more robust solution for our clients. For example, the next integration we plan on doing is with a software called Eventbrite. Many of our clients do events, so it’d be nice when people sign up for those events if they automatically synced into Delivra, and you could send them a drip campaign after the event, for example. We’ve got a number of other integrations with other key vendors which we think will help our clients be more successful in their digital marketing efforts coming up here in the future.
Matt: How do you guys try to differentiate yourselves from other competitors? I know other email players in the space have integrations too, and when you’re competing on a feature basis, everyone eventually has the same features. So what is it that you’ve build differently with Delivra?
Neil: I had a conversation today with a local organization in the healthcare industry. They’re using a competitor, and they were willing to talk to us on the phone. Through the conversation they admitted that they were using about 20% of the features that were available and paying a lot of money for that. So I said, “Why don’t you use more?” Their answer was, “We really don’t have the capabilities in house to implement all those, and we’re not getting the help we need. Or, if we ask for help, we can’t afford it.” And that’s the opportunity for Delivra, to offer the help up front and ongoing to take advantage of the toolset that we offer, and align the tactics with the business and marketing goals of our clients. This is not rocket science. This is just being able to enable clients to draw value out of the platform at a reasonable price. Doing that is the trick. We have a lot of internal control systems and activity reporting to make certain we can deliver services and still make the payroll on Friday.
Matt: It is really cool as a recent Delivra customer and someone that has experienced the service side of things, it’s very refreshing, especially someone that uses a lot of different software tools, to see your care and attention. You guys take things like list hygiene and deliverability very seriously. Can you talk to me a little bit about the importance of those things and maybe even what those things mean for someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in email
Neil: So list hygiene has nothing to do with soap and water, or brushing your teeth. Today, delivering email with the blizzard of spam that’s out there is challenging. It’s part science and it’s part art. One of the ways to ensure that people are seeing your email in the inbox is what we call list hygiene. What that means is that you need to continue to engage recipients on a regular basis, and if you’re not, we suggest you stop sending email to them. By engagement I mean they’re opening your emails at least, they’re hopefully clicking through with a call to action to your landing page or website. If they haven’t done that at all in six months, stop sending. Because the public ESPs – the Gmails and Yahoos of the world – will keep track of what’s being opened and what’s being read or not. And they want their clients to only see email that’s relevant to them, and if yours isn’t, you will be relegated to the spam folder, or worse, they won’t even deliver it at all, even if there are no complaints. So this list hygiene thing has become just critical with regard to the success for your email campaigns and getting in front of people on a continuing basis.
Matt: I imagine you see tons of tons of email come through here with all the clients that you have and the emails servers that you have sending out messages all over the world. If someone is an entrepreneur and they’re still managing their email, or the lone email marketer at a startup is watching this, what are the one or two things that people do that inhibit that open or that action once they open the email?
Neil: Over half the email today is being read on a mobile device. If it’s email to consumers, 80% are read on a mobile device. So the first mistake I see people making is that their from address is not recognizable. Before I open an email I have to recognize who sent that to me, and if I don’t, I delete it. Number two, I look at subject lines, and on a phone you have 30 characters. Beyond that, your subject line will be truncated, meaning it’s going to be cut off. I see a lot of email where there’s a subject line and I don’t know what’s in there because they didn’t actually get to the subject of the subject until afterwards. And then third, there’s a couple lines below that called the preheader which people are ignoring today. You can extend that call to open my email in the preheader. So that’s where you start. You got to get people engaged. At least in my inbox, when we’re through with this interview, there are going to be 40 new emails, and I’m just going to scroll through those and delete 30 to 35 of them. You don’t want to be in my delete list, so what are you going to say in your subject line, in your preheader, in your from line that is going to encourage me to engage with you?
Matt: So with the from line, building trust over time so they know when they receive email from your name, or your brand’s name.
Matt: The subject line that actually gets to the point of the value, or the intrigue point, in the 30 characters that are viewable on mobile.
Neil: With you.
Matt: And then the preheader as you put it that you can actually edit in most email softwares that is a preview of what’s in there.
Neil: That’s what you need to do today. Get started!
Matt: Well Neil, thank you so much for taking the time. There was a lot we didn’t get to cover on the Verge stage when we talked a couple weeks ago, so I’m really glad that we could talk about this, and I really appreciate you sharing your experience both in business and life. So I’ll let you get back to your inbox and those 40 new emails!
Eric Clapton became a guitar god by first practicing riffs created by blues guitar legend Robert Johnson. Clapton developed his own style as he listened to other artists, played with new bands, and found the guitar licks that he grew to love.
Becoming a master of digital marketing is no different.
But first, you’ve got to get the right stuff into your brain (Clapton wouldn’t have become Clapton if he’d imitated amateurs). If you want to master digital marketing idea generation, you have to first get comfortable with borrowing things that work elsewhere.
Use this 20-minute daily practice to steal the best digital marketing ideas for your start up or growing company.
Become a magnet for digital marketing strategy ideas.
Set aside 20 minutes a day. Go ahead and block it out on your calendar so you commit to it. Then use the time as follows:
First 5 minutes: Choose the 10 best growth articles of the day.
Skim through the 3 best marketing ideas bubbling up on the internet that day. You can subscribe to company emails that you like to find fresh digital marketing ideas. But I like to use Q&A and user-submission tools to help me identify what’s worth reading and what isn’t. I highly recommend:
During this first 5 minutes, you should simply identify the 5-10 most compelling articles. Identify these by finding the submissions that have the most upvotes, comments, or keywords in the title that indicate the article might be particularly relevant to your business.
Pro Tip: You can do this process even more quickly by hold shift while you click each tab. This will open the article in a new tab without changing windows and allow you to complete this first part of discovery quickly.
Second 5 minutes: Identify the best digital marketing ideas.
Is it worth reading every word of every article that catches your attention online? (hint: probably not)
Get in the habit of good skimming technique by taking the 5-10 articles identified in your first 5 minutes of discovery and forcing yourself to review the article in 30 seconds or less. Do this by reading through the headlines and subheads, bolded words, and key phrases (which generally appear in the first and last sentences of paragraphs).
Your goal here should be to find the best 3 articles for you to dig into and really comprehend. These should be articles that challenge you to think in a new way or learn something new.
Third 5 minutes: Dig in.
Now that you’ve figured out where the gold is hidden, it’s time to put on your headlamp and headlamp. Because, we’re going mining!
In each of your final three digital marketing ideas, look for explicit tactics that are tied to measurable outcomes. As you identify clear tactics, jot some notes on how you might apply those same marketing tactics to your business. Here’s an example of a digital marketing concept:
“Add a live chat function on product pages”
Keep it brief, but descriptive. If necessary, add a couple of extra thoughts on how you could make this marketing idea work for your business. We’ll need that for the final step.
Final 5 minutes: Build out one digital marketing idea.
You should have about 7-10 concepts from three articles at this point. Now it’s time to identify and dig in once again.
Rank your marketing concepts by potential impact to your business or ease of implementation, depending on your current work capacity. Write a number to the left of each concept statement indicating which should be top priority (number 1).
Then, take your number one idea and bullet out a few more notes on that concept:
What existing campaign or marketing strength would this concept leverage?
Given your existing marketing strategies, what kind of impact could you expect to your key metrics? Write these down as rough goals.
How quickly could you expect to implement? Jot down what you think might be a good goal.
Save these notes to review at the end of each week. This is an important step for getting your marketing ideas implemented
Make your digital marketing idea your own.
Using this 20-minute daily practice with allow you to see enough digital marketing ideas to come up with your own ideas. By giving yourself some time between initial idea generation and review at the end of each week, you’ll give your subconscious the space it needs to gestate.
By making this a daily habit, your brain will begin to see patterns in digital marketing ideas. This discipline will help you steal and implement the best ideas, and give our business the biggest opportunities by making them your own.
BONUS: How to Get the Best Marketing Ideas before they hit the Internet
Pssst… here’s a little secret that the best entrepreneurs and marketers don’t want you to know…
The very best marketing ideas are usually shared at industry conferences months before the case studies get shared publically on the internet. This gives you time to capture the market and refine before others start stealing the same marketing ideas.
Join the MBO Digital Marketing Conference and Ideate Like a Boss
Verge HQ teamed up with one of the Midwest’s best digital marketing conferences, MBO. We’re hosting our pitch night this Wednesday, April 29th. We’ll have a panel of marketing tech thought leaders, as well as some of the most innovative software companies presenting their tech and marketing.
But just for you, you can attend the entire MBO conference and get more than $60 off your registration with the code VERGE15.
T.A. McCann is one of the few people on the planet who can claim astronomical success in not one but two areas; in his case, sailing AND entrepreneurship. But are they that different? I sat down with the tech company founder and America’s Cup winner about both bouncing back from failure and tips for achieving success.
Watch the full interview with T.A. McCann here:
Adventures in Entrepreneurship and Sailing with T.A. McCann
McCann got the entrepreneurial bug around the tender age of 12 when he started a lawn care business: “The feeling of independence and being able to control my own destiny has always been important to me.” Perhaps that’s why, after graduating from Purdue (which is still going strong when it comes to shaping entrepreneurs!) and becoming a mechanical engineer, he quit to pursue the freedom of the open waters. An accomplished professional sailor, he won the America’s Cup in 1992.
What do Sailing and Entrepreneurship Have in Common?
Quite a lot, in fact! In his blog post on the subject, McCann observes that the skill, engineering excellence and perseverance shown by Larry Ellison and his victorious Oracle Team USA are “all things that go into a building a successful startup.” From finding a competitive advantage to working under a deadline, watch McCann draw all the parallels →
“If you’re only achieving at 20%, the goal is too hard. If you’re achieving at 100%, then the goal is too easy.”
-T.A. McCann, Sailor / Entrepreneur / Investor
Resetting the Goal Posts.
McCann’s sailing career was not without some setbacks. When competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now called the Volvo Ocean Race), his team was closing in on victory when suddenly, the mast fell down. Bitterly disappointed, almost everyone on the team wanted to quit. But in the three days it took to get back to land, a transformation from despair to hope took place: “We tried to find what we could salvage. Could we still win the last leg? Could we actually complete the race?” After resetting the goal posts, the team did in fact win the last leg handily and achieved a lot of reset goals.
“We just showed up at the wrong time.”
Not every entrepreneurial venture was a success, either. McCann returned to the tech world from sailing in the late 90s – in the midst of the dot-com bubble – with a startup called Helpshare: “It was a reasonably good idea, and we had built the company properly, but right when we were planning to go raise money, the crash happened.”
The Case For Corporate Experience.
The loss was devastating, and McCann ended up joining Microsoft. During his three years there, he financially and emotionally recharged while still innovating and learning skills on the scale of a large company, “things that are different than what you need to learn for a startup,” like how to build software for hundreds of millions of customers in 123 languages. Eventually, a venture capitalist McCann had worked with through the product he had built for Microsoft Exchange invited him to become an entrepreneur-in-residence.
Entering a Red Ocean.
In 2008, McCann launched Gist amid several competitors already in the content discovery space. It started with the goal bringing users relevant news but evolved, using integrations with Google’s and Twitter’s APIs, into a social address book: “If I have all of my contacts in one place, and the system can give me news both about them and by them, then I can use to better understand them, and by understanding them I can build better relationships with them.” Through consistent customer feedback, Gist evolved into a relationship manager and caught RIM’s eye, which acquired the company in 2011.
The Importance of Building Relationships.
When I asked him for advice he would give to entrepreneurs, McCann underscored the importance of building relationships for recruiting, reaching thought leaders, courting investors, and finding customers: “The stronger a relationship is, the more likely someone is going to do something for you or recommend you or your product to somebody else.” His most recent tech venture, Rival IQ (which we use at Verge, and I highly recommend), can help you learn how to best build relationships with customers through data-driven marketing. McCann also shared his 5-3-2 Rule for building relationships on social media. Watch him explain the strategy →
Want to learn even more from T.A. McCann?
Join 1,000 founders, investors, and builders at this year’s Innovation Showcase in July! A limited number of Early-Bird tickets are available for the full conference with more than 70 fundable companies. Reserve your spot here →
Founder of several tech companies
Gist – sold to Blackberry
Started successful companies – succeeded wildly
Failed – willing to share learnings
America’s cups – sailing
1:05 When did you first get that entrepreneurial bug?
I got it very, very early. Around 12. I had my own grass-cutting and yard work business. “I recently found a business card that I made in printing class on a real hand-printing press by setting my own type in middle school.” I started another company when I was 15 around boat maintenance – grew up in northern Indiana on Lake Michigan. “The feeling of independence and the feeling of being able to control my own destiny is something that has always been important to me.”
2:06 After graduating in Purdue and becoming a mechanical engineer, he quit to do professional sailing, leaving the technology space for the mid 90s. Very successful at that.
The Internet was happening and I was starting to get a little bit bored with sailing so I started my first real technology company which was a web development company. Built a lot of the early sites for the marine industry. Mid to late 90s. The ideas for my first real software startup came in that time frame. We started that in 1998 and it wasn’t even venture backed, it was angel funded.
3:21 Sailing “open waters” – blue ocean
A lot of people in the startup community have actually had a similar background of doing some sailing. Ted Turner.
Parallels with entrepreneurship? – 4:00 – Blog posts. “How Winning the America’s Cup is like running a successful startup.” Funny enough I wrote that inspired by Larry Ellison and the Oracle team winning the last America’s Cup. He hired me and five other guys off the ‘95 America’s Cup team to get him into sailing and we went on to win five world championships for Larry, and then from there he wanted to step up to the biggest game in sailing which is the Americas cup.
Answer – 4:57.
That you have to have a hypothesis on the areas where you want to innovate. In sailing – it could be the sail design or the boat design or the crew
The more money you have the more different areas you can experiment in so you can run many different experiments at the same time
Once you have a hypothesis you go try to hire the best engineers you can. If you can hire those engineers ahead of your competition you can gain an advantage.
Figure out how to align all those different experiments so that you don’t get overly confused in one category or another and line them up from a timeline perspective
And in the case of the America’s cup or any competitive situation you have a timeline. When is the thing going to happen?
Parallels with startups – when am I going to run out of money or when do I have to raise more money?
What are the things I think I need to achieve by that time – how do I measure those?
Where do I run the experiments and for how long – keep running an experiment, call that category off in a category or that category becomes my competitive advantage.
6:12 – Ever on a boat and felt like quitting might be dangerous?
A few times when it was dangerous – really dangerous. The Sydney Hobart race – 2nd deadliest sailboat race ever. Seven people died. I was on Sayonara with Larry Ellison and a bunch of guys We probably had the best team on the water, all pros, lots of experience and it was challenging for us. – won
6:49 I was doing the Around the World race, and we had it effectively wrapped up. We had created a huge advantage, and the mast fell down. Once they came back to safe, where we weren’t of sinking, almost everyone on the team wanted to quit. Like, “I’m done.” Because we were gonna win, then we didn’t get to win. Took us about 3 days to get from where to the mast fell down to where we got to land. But in that time the skipper, and “all of us went through this transformation of wanting to quit and give up and go home to finding something we could salvage. Could we still win the last leg, could we be the top of the bottom pack? Could we satisfy our sponsors? Could we achieve our own personal goals of actually completing the Around the World Sailboat race?”
“Slowly but surely the team made this 180 degree turn to be really enthused about how do we achieve those things. A resetting of the goal posts. We in fact did go on and win the last leg quite convincingly and achieved a lot of those goals.
8:12 Did you take that same strategy during your first internet venture, Helpshare?
Didn’t know what I was doing very much, I was inexperienced, didn’t know what we were building, did know how to build it, certainly didn’t know how to raise money very well. In the midst of the dot com boom – late 90s. To be inexperienced in that time – parallels to today. to see Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, Whatsapp – companies going from nothing to being worth billions of dollars in a short period of time. In that situation as a first time entrepreneur you have this sense like, what am I doing right, what am I doing wrong? At least I’m happy to be in the space. At least I’m happy to trying innovate
9:16 “Helpshare was a reasonably good idea, the implementation was reasonably good, the go-to-market strategy was okay. We really kind of missed out on timing. We had built the company properly, we had planned to raise venture money, and we just showed up at the wrong time. Right when the dot com crash happened was when we were planning to go raise money.
Now I’m 10 or 12 years older, this is my 5th startup I’m on with RivalIQ, I’m a lot smarter and have surrounded myself with lots of other smart people in Seattle. With a lot more experience we’re doing a lot differently now.
10:08 “Failure and success and resetting what success looks like – I think that is something that goes into software startups.”10:30 “The people who can both set the appropriate level of goals – because if you’re only achieving at 20%, the goal’s too hard. If you’re achieving at 100%, the goal’s too easy. The process of resetting the goals is really important. Building a rhythm and a team where it’s okay to fail a little bit. It’s okay for individuals to fail here and there, the team has to pull everybody up together. The team also has to push everyone to keep setting their own individual goals and the collective goals a little higher every sprint you put together.”
11:12 How were you able to move on from the lack of success with Helpshare?
11:45 “It took a long time.” “We needed time to recharge.” Had spent savings,. Founded with brother – both families were overextended financially and emotionally. Ended up at Microsoft. recharged financially and emotionally.
3 years. The whole first year was overwhelming since I’d never worked in a big software company. I learned a tremendous amount. Recharged intellectually – learning things that are different than what you need to learn for a startup.
13:31 But – I was doing my own innovations. I was building new businesses around the core exchange product I was working on. I was thinking about new international markets. My manager and team were quite supportive of that effort of staying entrepreneurial within the constructs of a big company with a big product. Within Microsoft a few of us built a program to offer venture capitalists the opportunity to introduce Exchange’s 125 million global customers to their companies who could build something to fill a niche within Exchange.
One thing led to another and I was invited by one of the VCs that we worked with to become an entrepreneur-in-residence.
16:52 How did you go about starting Gist, knowing that competitors out there in that space?
Slightly different premise in mind – bring me relevant news. Hypothesis, prototypes
– Connect to the inbox – find all the companies and people that matter to me – then hit the Google news Api and bring me back a bunch of news. Finding me news about people I cared about. Then broadened to Content about or BY someone.
– Understand customers and what they care about – build stronger relationships – more than just news discovery engine – evolved into personal relationship manager
All those first wave in that space are gone – acquired
Contact management – the problem is still there
20:47 On board of FullContact – first trying to solve the contact management problem. Started next wave – socially enhancing them – here’s their photo and their Linkedin and their last 5 tweets – super valuable
Next wave of social crm/social contact managers
21:41 What would you say to someone who is too busy building product to go out and network?
“Success in business is directly correlated to the size and strength of your professional network.”
Size+strength. “The stronger a relationship is the more likely someone is going to do something for you or recommend you or your product to somebody else.”
Recruiting – recruit great people. 2nd and 3rd degree connections
22:56 Key Influencers – who will drive that conversation. Build a relationship with them. Identify them and what they care about, then figure out how you add value to what they’re doing. They will be important part of product development cycle – and/or in your marketing and customer acquisition.
Fundraising/investors category – same thing – understand who they are, what they care about. Build a relationship before you ask for money. You have to ask for advice before you ask for money
25:22 – Is there a recent example you can think of where a contact turned into a relationship and that resulted directly in a new hire, a new customer, a investor.
27:59 What is your grand vision for RivalIQ
Premise that digital marketing is really challenging – what channel to use, how am I doing? Am I doing a good job? What is a good job? Many different choices for where they spend their time and where they spend their money. Easy to compare to how competitors – web presence, search, social. What it does today.
29:21 -Long term vision – how do we continue to help you make the right decisions. Where to focus. Organic search – “For sure, almost every company is going to have to do a decent job on SEO and organic search.” Next, probably 2 channels – what matters. What post content is resonating, how frequent. That problem will never go away – there will always be more complexity and more channels.
31:45 – Recommend that entrepreneurs go to channels where their competitors are, or go to channels that are underutilized and dominate there?
Depends on skill and interest of the company. 32:36 “It’s an 80/20 rule. 80% of your effort has to be in support of the normal channels because all your competitors have already built a customer base there. If you’re not there, then you’re missing out. You have to do enough to play along. The other 20% is experimentation. Let’s try something different.”
RivalIQ – 2 landscapes – competitive and comparative – latter that are awesome at marketing to your customer but are not your competitor. Who markets to my audience, or look at channel.
Long term vision – drive best practices – here’s who you should compare to, here’s what you should do differently to win with your marketing. Do it in a very data-driven way.
36:01 – What have you seen successful entrepreneurs do when it comes to social and content?
Very small company – pick a couple of keywords that matter to us. Then, find the key influencers about each of those keywords. Now I know 5 or 10 twitter people who are influencers for those keywords. Then, build into twitter list then you have a stream of content which is relevant to the keywords I care about.
37:29 The T.A. McCann 5-3-2 Social Media Rule – “for every 10 posts that I make (on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or whatever your most important channels are), 5 of them should be about the space by one of those influencers. Retweet that stuff to my audience. Building relationships