I just watched a great TED talk by Laura Vanderkam – “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time”. I won’t go into detail about her talk because I’m going to save my big take-away in a near-future post. However, the point I want to share today is Laura’s idea regarding year-end reviews – write next year’s year-end review today.
Laura suggests essentially starting at the end, and working backwards into the schedule.
  • Think about the goals you want to have accomplished.
  • Break-down the milestones (processes and resources).
  • Allocate the milestones into the schedule now.
Laura went on to suggest we set 3-5 goals in three areas of our lives – career, relationships, and self.
In the spirit of many others doing year-end reviews, I’m going to do the Year Before Preview with Laura’s help/ suggestions. Here’s a snippet of my Year Before Preview…

Goal (in SELF): I ran the 2017 Peachtree Road Race, and I accomplished a sub-50 time.

I know myself, and know that I’m going to do a lot of other activities including yoga at 3-5x per week, but I decide that the week before. Meanwhile, I have my three workouts scheduled already. So at a minimum, I’ve scheduled dedicated running times twice a week (there will be a soccer day in there somewhere, too). 
This is a recurring event now on my calendar between the end of April and July 4th when the Peachtree Road Race takes place.

Goal (in Professional): I’ve blogged twice weekly throughout 2017 about startups and entrepreneurship.

I’m pretty quick with my blog posts… relatively. So, I’m dedicating two hours every Sunday morning after my morning workout to pre-writing my two blog posts for the following week. This makes it so much easier for me to just review, approve, and publish the posts during the week.

Goal (in RELATIONSHIPS): Build stronger/ maintain strong relationships with family and friends.

In this case, I don’t have a “metric” per se on building stronger relationships. However, I’ve set this in my calendar so that every Thursday starting at 7PM and Saturday after 5PM. That is, I will not be working during these hours. I’m going to leave it open to make plans with family and friends.
Of course, this particular goal is also dependent on friends and family. Should I not spend this time with friends and family, then I can always dedicate this to myself.

Happy New Year!

Is this going overboard? Maybe. I’m not really sure, but I’m interested to see this in action, and at least, maintaining this for the first quarter of 2017. Then, I review how things are going. I’m pretty good at sticking to a schedule or being consistent to things that matter, so this shouldn’t be a problem. 
C’mon 2017!
One of the reasons I joined the current startup I’m at was to learn from a successful CEO/ founding team – to be mentored. So far, I’ve appreciated every moment.
It’s fascinating to me how he thinks. He’s highly successful with prior startups; so, to say his mindset is different from mine would be an understatement. In fact, we’ve approached many things from completely different perspectives.
Some observations and disparities in viewpoints:
  • Him: time and money (big). Me: test and money (small). Oftentimes, he thinks in time first, money second. He recognizes time is a resource we don’t get back. Meanwhile, time is also money. Recently, we debated about testing messaging. As I thought about testing variants for efficacy that may take time, he thought about burn rate. Specifically, how much time and money will have been spent for an effective test? He would rather test quickly and burn through a list, for example, and then get another list later, not go through 4 weeks of burn before finding something that works.
  • Him: Get results now, and get efficiency later. Me: Get results soon, and get efficiency later. To the point above, my CEO is acutely aware that we may have to freestyle a bit now which may be inefficient. However, he’s cognizant of what he needs now to show success. If we find success now, we can build out the right strategy to be more efficient and scale.
  • Him: top-down numbers. Me: Bottom-up numbers/ approach. Having boot-strapped my startups in the past, I think “organic”, bottom-up like acquisition. I think about acquiring a handful of customers through highly tailored approaches. I think about piecing together the grander message for marketing. My CEO thinks about conversions. He thinks about the math of filling the pipe with XX number of cold leads converting to YY leads converting to ZZ opportunities converting to AA customers. He thinks about what he can do now, how much more resources to commit to yield customers at the bottom. Then, refine the approach for scale.
  • Him: Get on the plane. Me: I’ll try to get them on the phone. That is, we need to learn as much as possible as fast as possible and keep everyone happy. From bootstrapping, I’m reticent to spend $100 on a customer (even if that fits in fine for our cost of acquisition). Again, I’m thinking about money, but from a “small pockets” perspective. For my CEO, I can spend what’s needed now (including hopping on a plane) to meet with prospects or working with an early customer to ensure we get the most out of our customers (beyond revenue). 
  • Him: Everyone pays. Me: Friends and family five-finger discount (free). Friends or not, if they find value, they’ll pay. I was always under the impression of giving a handful of friendlies free use of the product in exchange of learning. For my CEO, he wants to test if even his connections value our service enough to pay for it. That’s pretty important. Getting things free is great, and using it can be great. But that doesn’t tell you if you’ve created a product of VALUE.
  • Him: Your time is valuable. Me: I can discount my time. Same as the first couple points and the “finding value” bullet preceding, my CEO ensures contractors and the like get paid. When I was starting out, I offered to work for free as a trial to see if this relationship would be worthwhile. He was adamant on paying. It sets expectations. Free can discount effort. Don’t discount your value.

It’s been a fun ride, and I will continue learning from him. I haven’t set up explicit “mentoring” or “coaching” sessions. Instead, I’ve just taken so many mental notes on his approach to… everything. It’s fascinating, and I know this experience will pay off in the long-run. Heck, they’re paying off today.

I attended a Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Sales Leadership event a couple weeks ago on High Velocity Sales Organizations.

(I’m a little late to posting this. Having scaled down to one post a week as I round up 100 Strangers, 100 Days (today’s day 89!), my posts are being stretched out.)

The event headlined:
My take-aways from the event:
  • It’s hard to get the attention in sales, right? Every second counts – literally. The first 10 seconds are to earn a minute. Prospects are looking to be interrupted – pattern interrupt. Kyle mentioned how he was interrupted by a great cold call. Kyle told the caller to “email him later” because he was busy. The sales rep responded with, “are you sure you want to do that?” Kyle was taken back. “What did you say?” The sales rep responded slowly this time, “Are you… sure… you want… to do that?” At that point, Kyle was unsure. Kyle gave him the time. Or another cold call, “Hi, this is SO-SO. How do you handle cold calls?” It broke the ice.
  • Modern sales orgs are challenged to find the balance between “analytical scalable, measure” and “human, empathetic, customer-centric”.
  • Brian has a great track record of growing sales teams from the ground up. At Rubicon, Brian has grown from 1 to 85 sales reps in 10 months. Brian shares the keys to growth are: evangelizing the company message and vision; enable sales professionals to be pioneers; and separating the volatility of sales processes to an innovation team. What works then, gets implemented with the sales team.
  • Wanda shared how she grew from old-school orgs to very dynamic sales organizations. She recognizes the aspects of sales she can affect and what she cannot. She cites the importance of dumping baggage (possibly rigid sales professionals who do not align to the culture). Look for people who are agile, and enable them with the right tools – right tools in the right hands of the right people.
  • Brian also highlighted how the culture of sales people have a consistent theme from previous lives (applicable beyond sales, too). He looks for hustle. Can this person hustle? Is this person intrinsically self-motivated? Can candidate be beat down over and over again, and keep going? He looks for resiliency. To assess this, he tries to get the other person to open up about vulnerable moments.
  • Wanda stresses the importance for excellent communicators. If the email is trash, it says a lot. She’s looking for someone who is aggressive for the job in email. Customers will see the same type of emails. She wants her team to have lots of empathy. Be researchers and technologists – seamlessly pivoting between sales and marketing.
  • Tyce describes three types of people – 1. Person you can tell what to do, and it’ll happen. 2. Just won’t get done. 3. With no instructions, it’ll get done no matter what. Understand the different types and how the generations of people may affect them.
  • Two suggested sales books – 1. Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard. 2. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
I recently finished Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?. My friend and former client recommended the book to me.
Christensen’s a professor at Harvard, and he starts out the book addressing his class. Indeed, the book has a certain business flavor to it. Yet, it’s relevant to think about what success looks like beyond our careers and what we do for a living.
In fact, the phrase “what we do for a living” has a business sentiment these days. If you think about it, it’s a general question. I work out. I go out with friends for dinner. I write… a lot. Oh, and yes, I also work at a startup. I do a lot for a living, not just what I get paid for. I digress…
Here are my top take-aways:
  • I need to met my hygiene and motivation factors to be happy. Frederick Herzberg developed the Two-Factor Theory. The Theory helps explain what drives us and what causes us to both hate/ love our jobs. This is something I’ve heard countless times from business school and a book I’m reading now. Hygiene factors include pay, status, company policies, etc. In business school, I learned these are “extrinsic motivators”. Motivation factors included the actual work (fulfilling? Challenging?), recognition, personal growth, etc. These were also known to me as intrinsic motivators – these are internal sources of drive. Satisfying both factors is critical for me, and why I do what I do.
  • Be open to emergent opportunities, not just jam everything into a deliberate path. Deliberate paths are just that – planned, executed strategies. Emergent is a path where other opportunities provide a new direction (“emerge”). In startups, this is a pivot. It’s important to be open and even sometimes look out for emergent opportunities.
  • Everything has some purpose, some job to do. This is better known as Christensen’s Jobs To Be Done Framework. The framework is about recognizing that everything we use has some job. Even the people around us perform jobs for us. That could be a friend to hang out with to be happy; a spouse to lean on when times are rough; or, a colleague to help execute a project. Even a milkshake has a job to do. Milkshakes can be a simple breakfast alternative for busy adults. They can also be a treat to occupy children. So, think about what others provide to you as the job to be done. Also, recognize what job you fulfill for your friends.
  • How you live is all about your resources, processes, and priorities. Christensen points out how we strive for more resources without considering the processes to which we use them. For example, it’s common to give children more learning tools and more classes. However, it’s just as easy to pass on teaching and childcare to a daycare or nanny. Parents, then, are outsourcing the parental process. Parents are outsourcing how their children learn and how they process – think, act, execute. Priorities set the culture to how we devote our resources and enact our processes. Priorities are where we determine for what and who we make our time for (the one resource we never get back).
  • It all comes back to culture. One of the book’s final chapters is, “The Invisible Hand Inside Your Family”. “Invisible Hand” here referring to culture. We (I) talk about culture in business, but it permeates all facets of our life. Christensen happens to address culture in the family. Specifically, culture is about the values and mission taught to children. Culture is rarely formalized. Instead, it’s recognized through the norms we practice. It’s absorbed by our children and those around us.
  • “Just this once” is once too many. It’s the slippery slope that makes this one action okay. It’s the rationalization that a single time is okay as long as it’s not a habit. That one time makes it okay once. So why wouldn’t life repeat itself where it becomes okay twice? Three times? The moment our integrity slips, the easier we can let go of our integrity more often. That moment we make that excuse that today, I’m too tired to work out so I won’t go to the gym. The next time I’m tired, I can rationalize again. One time. It can speak volumes. One time can lead to a path.

Christensen’s book was great for me to remind myself of what’s important and what really drives me. I’ve written several times about what motivates me and the pull I sometimes feel as I consider my current and future direction.

Great book to read, and think about our lives professionally, personally, socially, and beyond.
Recently, I played with my 3-year-old niece with a toy that I even had growing up, and it’s as great as it’s ever been. I remember when I started playing with the toy when I was closer to 8 or 10 years old. So to watch my niece play with it at such a young age was fascinating. This toy has been around for ages. It’s got a strong following with collectors, movie goers, theme park visitors, and more. That toy? Legos.
I want to take a moment and appreciate Legos. The company, The Lego Group, started manufacturing the plastic toys back in 1949. The company and its original form as wooden toys started in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. Per Brand Finance, Legos is the most powerful brand in the world today.
These simple interconnecting blocks and mini-figurines captivated my niece. I, in turn, was captivated watching her play with them. Here’s what I noticed:
  • Builds observant and analytical skills. My niece studied a flash card of a model dog to assemble. Perhaps I’m not giving her or young kids enough credit. But yet, it was amazing to watch her study the picture and search for the right pieces. She observed the shape, color, how they fit together, etc.
  • Cultivates creativity. My niece also assembled several ice cream cones stacked with various “flavors” and toppings. She was experimenting with different color schemes while role-playing an ice cream vendor. It was fun.
  • Motivated persistence. I wasn’t sure how my niece would react when the pieces didn’t quite fit together the first time. In fact, I was ready to jump in when they didn’t fit together immediately. I didn’t. Instead, she would pull the pieces away, observe the alignment, then try again. She would fidget with the pieces till they lined up perfectly and fit together.
  • Encourages bigger, more fascinating dreams. Lego pieces are, for the most part, simple and small. My niece knows she can assemble these small pieces and build something fascinating.

Few brands come to mind with such a powerful, meaningful effect on people from an early age. It’s amazing to see how Legos continue to evolve. They not only stay relevant, but they stay at the top of today’s culture.

That’s the dream, right? To build something so great and so influencing that impacts so many for so long…
I wanted to wait to publish this week’s post, so it coincided with Thanksgiving. It’s a proper time to give thanks to those around me. Also, it’s a good time to reflect/ appreciate experiences to shape my entrepreneurial journey.
Since Thanksgiving last year, I’ve done many things:

Those seem pretty “professional-related”, but that’s also what has shaped much of my life. Accomplishing any of those has required the support of many others. Accomplishing any of those has also forced me to appreciate time alone and personal-growth. These have included:

  • Read six books with subjects ranging from sales to leadership to personal development.
  • Upped my yoga game, practicing at a legit yoga studio.
  • Maintained good strength and development in the gym.

So before I go into a reflective post best saved for the end of the year, my thanks:

  • My SalesWise team. Joined them at the beginning of this year, and we’ve been through a lot with our pivots. However, we’re getting some good traction now, and we’ve learned a lot. We’ve poured a lot of effort into the company. We’ve also had fun doing it. Meanwhile, the team has trusted me to do a lot. They’ve continued to put their faith in me to do right by them.
  • Infinity Yoga — that “legit yoga studio” I mentioned earlier.They were recently named one of the Best Small Business by Mindbody, and it’s easy to see why. The community at the studio is special. The culture cultivated by Becky (owner) and the other yoga teachers is amazing, and I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s why no matter how busy I get, I make time to end many weekdays at Infinity. Oh, and yes, the yoga teaching is top-notch.
  • Communities at Atlanta Tech Village and Starbucks. Atlanta Tech Village is a great place to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. They’ve been there, done that, or are doing that. Starbucks, meanwhile, continues to broaden my circle of people from all walks of life. It may be a local Starbucks, but the people who walk in and out of the doors are anything but “local”.
  • My close friends. You know who you are. Many of you were editors for my book. Many of you have attended my speaking engagements to support me. Many of you “stop by” (via random texts, emails, etc.) to just say hello and see what’s happening. The little events are what make a big difference. Spending hours or minutes with people is great. But even a few seconds to say you’re thinking of me or have a question is precious.
  • My oh-so-many new friends. I’ve met so many people (beyond the Strangers) who continue to shape my day-to-day. I meet them at ATV, at Starbucks, etc. It’s an amazing feeling when you see these new and old friends. They always manage to bring a smile to my face no matter what. When they flash a smile, I can’t help but do the same. Smiles matter.
  • My family. Hard to say anything without my family, right? They’ve always been there to also pull me out of my work and alone time. My niece is growing so fast, that it’s been beautiful to watch.

Many more thanks to give, I’m sure, but that’s where I’ll start. Happy Thanksgiving!

I had a lunch with an entrepreneur recently talking about his experiences in startups in growth-mode and those in early-stage (pre-product-market fit). The most interesting wrinkle in our talk was having a young child while at these startups. I’m at the age where many people around me are having multiple kids. So, as I look around at possible co-founders, I must consider their personal lives – priorities.
My friend shared how having a young child meant he was much more cognizant of the time he spent working on the business. As one of the co-founders of his current company and having been a part of several successful (and some unsuccessful) ventures in the past, he’s building into the company’s culture strong balance.
He is also a lot more cognizant of his time. He focuses on efforts that will materially move the needle for the company. That can mean delaying certain bug fixes or existing customer complaints. His focus now reduces the number of “experimental” efforts without strong indications of traction.
A common aspect of startups and the corporate world is that life still goes on. Priorities do shift. The difference is that at a startup, sometimes experiments are the best way of finding the right thread to pull on. The balancing act, then, is the right experiments with the right lifestyle.
Just finished reading/ listening to Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross. It’s been referred to as the sales Bible by several sales pros. Just so happened I never read it till now.
The book is written by former sales leader Aaron Ross as he helped implement the structure and strategies to scale Salesforce.com’s sales model.
My take-aways:
  • The importance of structure. This is probably the most highlighted point of the book spanning everything from organization to cadence to sales cycle and reporting. Ross frequently harps on using a sales force automation platform – not a surprise.
  • Value/ Customer first, and pretty much always. Ross highlights the importance of enabling the customer to talk about their business first… just about never talk about your product. Instead, integrate your product/ service in how it can resolve specific challenges of the customer.
  • Customer Success is perhaps the most important facet of the sales process.Executives and boards almost always focus on new customers at the peril of ignoring existing. Hold the hands of your first 10, 20, 50 customers.
  • 80% of the defects and problems in the sales process happens during hand-offs.Ross calls handing off between teams as “passing the baton”. I read this as the issues that arise when discussions and knowledge of the customer is lost from team to team. It’s like the game “telephone”.
  • A successful sale is about both companies. As much as sales is focused on earning the business with a prospect, effort should also be spent on evaluating if the customer is even a good fit for the seller. Too often, sales reps spend time on customers that do not fit the ideal customer profile, and thus, productivity (and indeed sales efforts) slows.

This book was recommended to me by several people, but I read it after the Challenger Sale (review here) after the recommendation of a colleague. As you can surmise from this review, Predictable Revenue is much more high-level than the Challenger Sale – Challenger being the more tactical sales approach.
There’s a lot of good take-aways, and finer details buried throughout the book, that this will be a reference tool for me in the future.
Last week, my company sponsored a conference for sales force productivity. As I went into it, I remembered running booths with Body Boss…

I forgot how much fun (and tiring) it was to work a conference, and how important it was for those working the booths and sessions to actively participate. Walking around many of the booths, many people sat behind their booths. Some, even, working on their laptops. Not very engaging.
Perhaps because my company is a startup that I was determined to get as many conversations and leads as possible. Sinking the investment that we did meant we needed a strong return. I felt that my company’s investment was myinvestment.
As attendees entered and exited sessions, and walked by our booth, I was right there in the middle of everyone engaging with just about everyone. One piece of schwag we gave out at the conference was a green “squishy” stress ball. I must’ve put these balls directly in the hands of 75 people while casually giving my 5-second pitch to see if they’d stop by. I even up put one ball directly in the chest coat pockets calling them “pocket spheres” – new fashion accessories. Hey, I got laughs, and I got serious interest from them.
Okay, maybe I had too much energy – ha! But you know what? I have a stack of qualified leads and ongoing conversations with 20 or so contacts, while no doubt raising a lot of awareness. If a few of these convert, our investment and our enthusiasm will have paid off well. Isn’t that the most important thing? To drive a return on an investment knowing you did all that you could? I made the experience more personal for attendees while adding some ridiculous humor into it. Like making cold calls – you need something to get the receiver hooked and engaged for that initial conversation.
If you’re going to work, enjoy it. If you want a conversation, start it. If you’re going to make an investment, give yourself every chance to succeed and the highest returns.
I was talking to a very successful entrepreneur recently about valuations of startups as they grow. Specifically, valuation multiples for an evolutionary startup with great revenues vs. a revolutionary startup with good revenues, especially when both are still in early-stage. 

In an evolutionary startup, the product offering is just that – evolutionary. That is, the industry has been moving in this direction for years. The valuation of this startup can be good due to traction, but as an evolutionary company in an established market, competitors will follow and then the evolutionary product becomes substitutable. Its multiple is likely less than 4X.

In a revolutionary startup, the product offering is defining a new space. Getting traction can be hugely difficult like pushing a boulder up a mountain. But once momentum hits, the valuation multiple can be significantly higher due to the meta knowledge and technology surrounding the startup. Yes, a startup doing well in this new revolution will create second-movers. However, proprietary technology and knowledge can be hard to emulate, and with capital, the company can continue to outpace new challengers and drive significant value. 

Being a second-mover has its advantages; namely, requiring less capital to go to market as the first-mover because the first-mover is spending more effort educating the market. However, a well-capitalized, experienced team at the helm of a first-mover can outpace second-movers, and drive up the valuation against second-movers — and evolutionary markets/ companies. For revolutionary products, expect multiples in excess of 6 or 8X revenues.

Consider your next startup idea/ product – is it evolutionary or revolutionary? How will you defend your position and drive up the value of your company and your offering?