One of the fun experiences since joining SalesWise is having truly collaborative, open brainstorming sessions. We’re an early-stage startup, and we’re working on ways to grow faster and become even more valuable to our customers. So, we’re experimenting and opening the floor for discussions. It’s been nice given my last several years has been relatively isolated.
What’s stood out in these sessions:
  • Though led by leadership with several highly successful prior ventures, the leaders are open to new ideas and not following some previous template. This venture is new – new industry, product, team, times. We’re approaching fresh and eager to learn.
  • Everyone wears different hats. We have folks specializing in design, backend, frontend, product management, marketing, sales, etc. Then, we have different backgrounds that shape our views vis-à-vis risk, startup and corporate experience, etc. It all comes together to bring balance.
  • Everyone is eager and excited about what we’re building coming in prepared with ideas and discussion points. One of the reasons I joined the company was everyone’s passion about what we’re building. It shows when everyone is engaged in brainstorming.
  • The purpose of these sessions can be highly important, and we’re not afraid to sleep on discussions and gather again the next day for several hours. If it’s important, we’ll make time and effort.

In the last several years on my own, I tended think about the bigger picture. Now that I’m part of a team, I need to switch my mindset and think [more] from my role as sales and marketing. It’s been a fun change, and I’m looking forward to the great things we cook up.

What ground rules do you set for brainstorming sessions? Have you ever used a brainstorming process or method? If so, what?

Continuing last Thursday’s post on two entrepreneurs working with two inexperienced developers early on… The devs are experienced programmers, but just as important, they’re inexperienced in early-stage startups.
The problem for entrepreneurs isn’t finding early partners… it’s finding the right partners. Finding partners (of any functional resource) who will fight it out in an early-stage startup to get to product-market fit and beyond is tough.
The entrepreneurs in the presented cases should manage expectations of the dev partners as soon as possible – set expectations the road ahead will be long and tough.
In both cases above, the devs will not work full-time, and they want equity as a discount to cash. The problem is that early-stage startups need iterations to launch, learn, build, and repeat – most will struggle to find meaningful traction before product-market fit which could take 18 months. As that happens, passion and patience will be tested on both sides – the entrepreneurs and the devs. Lack of traction can dishearten anyone, especially those working late into the night on a project but not seeing “meaningful” shifts in customer acquisition, yet.
A recurring piece of advice I’ve heard over the years from mentors (during Body Boss and every business since) is having an operating/ partnership agreement before any partnership moves forward. You can go further in a contract by detailing deliverables and compensation (outright payment, equity, or mix of both). Here, contracts could include incentives for achieving milestones to ensure all parties stay committed to the cause while including opportunities to sever relationships if needed.
To be honest, contracts suck and can be deterrents for some partners. However, they can play critical roles later in light of success and failure. If individuals do want to move forward as partners, they’ll appreciate the importance of contracts.
Early partners are very tricky, and there’s no formula on the right one(s). There’s a mixture of trust, personality, can-get-shit-done attitude, and grit to overcome obstacles – each hard to measure. But if the entrepreneurs above are serious about their ideas, they need to be cautious bringing on inexperienced early partners.
What are some other areas to be cautious of with early partners? How would you qualify and move forward with an early partner?
I’ve talked with a couple entrepreneurs recently who are struggling with early partners. I’ll break this post into two parts – 1) this post describing the opportunities of equity and experience, and 2) the follow-up post next Tuesday regarding the traps of early partners with minimal startup experience. But first, the setting:
  • Entrepreneur A hired a developer early on to build an alpha product with a promise to pay for services renders in a couple months. Post-work, they’ve parted ways, and the entrepreneur wants to pay off the developer and retain all code. The dev, however, wants some ownership of the company and code.
  • Entrepreneur B is highly successful in a services business, and now wants to build a product addressing a pain in the current business. The entrepreneur planned to work with a developer to build the product as a test before any mass market approach. The entrepreneur wants to pay for the consulting services with no equity share, while the dev wants share for mass market opportunity.

In both cases, the entrepreneurs hatched the ideas and have the intellectual property to market their products. The devs do not have industry experience and bring “pure” development capacities. Neither dev has worked in an early-stage startup before; however, they’re highly interested in working in a startup due to the potential. This, of course, is expected. Entrepreneurship and startups are the “it” things today, and everyone wants to latch onto something and someone successful.

Typically, experienced pros with early-stage startup experience (devs or business-oriented) tend to ask for money rather than equity. (I say that with lots of asterisks, though.) Experience shows that most startups fail rendering equity meaningless while even moderately successful startups yield modest disbursements to equity employees. Salary is the “sure thing”. David Cummings even refers to equity as “icing on the cake” with benefits and salary as the main financial compensation.
The flip side of this is what the entrepreneurs bring to the table that make the opportunity more enticing for pros to sacrifice salary in favor of equity. Here, expected opportunity outweighs the (risk) loss of immediate salary.
Okay. I’m going to stop here, and let you noodle on what you think the trap is for both entrepreneurs as they work with (have worked with) the devs. Till Tuesday!
What do you think the traps are? How would you handle either/ both situations if you were the entrepreneurs?
I was speaking with a friend about what he’d seen in venture capital on what makes an entrepreneur. We talked about how entrepreneurship is about execution – “ideas are nothing if they remain as ideas”, except, there’s a wrinkle here.
Thinking about several others who have “started” an idea or launched an app, I don’t qualify them as entrepreneurs yet. Heck, I started Dee Duper in Dec 2014, but did nothing to sell it once it launched.
Many have grand technology ideas and can hire others to build them. Once built and launched, are these owners also entrepreneurs? Not immediately, no. They’ve launched somethingand they’ve funded it, but I wouldn’t qualify them as entrepreneurs yet. 
So what makes a true entrepreneur? There’s a myriad of actions and decisions that may qualify them, but I’m going simple to say, “Sustained execution”.
Just because I golf a few times a year doesn’t make me a golfer. If someone runs twice in a month, I wouldn’t qualify him as a runner. He goes on runs, but he’s not a runner. Entrepreneurship is similar. It’s about sustained execution. It’s about meeting the needs of the market, developing and delivering some solution, and iterating the idea to serve the market… continuously.
During the tribulations of Body Boss, my cofounders and I were entrepreneurs. We were activelyiterating our product months after launching. I met with prospects and helped customers daily. We attended tradeshows and sold our product to the masses. And of course, we struggled, too. Entrepreneurship is about the ups and the downs. It’s about persistence and sustained execution.

What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship and sustained execution? What about execution in general?
Ever since Postmortem of a Failed Startup, people are asking me:
  • Have you always wanted to write a book?
  • Why did you write the book?
  • You must read a lot, too. What do you like reading?

Most people assume I’ve always loved writing. Truth be told, for my first 28 years of life, I hatedwriting, and I hated reading. Both were forced upon me in school, and I had little interest in what I read and wrote.

So why do I write so much now? How did I get into reading? Am I more mature and appreciative of literature? Yes, but really, it all comes down to context. I now read and write based on things that interest me.
Another analogy: a new friend from dinner last night said she used to hate eating tofu. It tasted terrible. However, she started restricting her diet, and she needed to explore more food options. One of those options was exploring cooking with tofu. She learned recipes that sounded like they would be good, and through experimenting, she now loves tofu.
Okay, let me add that what also motivates us to do anything is understanding the why. For me, I’ve always wanted to be a thought leader and share stories and lessons with others. The blog and book are great ways to reach larger audiences. For my friend, learning to cook with tofu expanded her dietary options while also cooking with a taste that suited her palate.
We typically “hate” several things, but much of that feeling is based on misunderstanding and misalignment of context and purpose. I suggest finding something hated before and do it in a context that is interesting grounded with purpose. It’ll be interesting how your feelings start to shift to “enjoy” or even “love”.
What do you hate doing, but could use a little shift in context? Why do you hate some of the things you do?
A friend recently shared with me that to be successful and maintain some form of sanity, entrepreneurs should pick three of: work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends. My friend was referencing what Randi Zuckerberg said in an Entrepreneur.com interview. Randi shared how she balanced being a wife and mother of two, entrepreneur, speaker, TV producer, author, and even singer. 
My friend shared this concept of picking three after reading my book. She referenced how the book went into detail about the practicality of entrepreneurship including how team dynamics play a critical role.
Indeed at Body Boss, each of us cofounders had very different risk tolerances and life circumstances. The intricacies of our personal lives affected our financial needs which affected full-time vs. part-time work on Body Boss. That would then affect our speed to iterate on the product as well as sell. All of this had cyclical and amplifying effects on each other. Again, failure isn’t caused by a singular event. Failure occurs after a multitude of decisions and actions that cascade.
To Randi’s point in the interview, she mentioned how her 3 picks would shift from week to week, even day to day as long as there was balance in the long-run. Perhaps her five choices are more tactical, but it reminds me of how at any point, we should have stability in at least 4 areas of California-Riverside’s 7 Dimensions of Wellness – social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, occupational, intellectual, and physical.
https://wellness.ucr.edu/seven_dimensions.html
Challenges in somedimensions in life are good to keep ourselves engaged. However, trying to accomplish everything at the same time will inevitably cause quality in ALL areas to diminish rapidly. Instead, focus on a subset of areas at any given time and shift those priorities as needed to ensure balance long-term.

This year has started off with a BANG, so I’m continuing this trend by announcing that I’ve excitedly accepted a position at Atlanta-based startup SalesWise!

Many thoughts running through my head… speaking of which, I’m officially the Head of Sales and Marketing… for a truly amazing company.

Let me rewind, and explain how this opportunity came to fruition…

For the last several years since Body Boss, I’ve consulted for several businesses (startups to $1B+ companies) doing business development, web and app development, product management, supply chain, and more. I didn’t have a clear idea of what my Next Great Move was going to be, but used consulting to network, learn, practice, and be inspired.
In October last year, with one of my consulting clients, I got to view a demo of new technology from an accomplished CEO and his cofounding CTO. I experienced an impressive product that, with fine-tuning, had great potential. That demo was of SalesWise. The company was early-stage, and I remember thinking this could be my next step. However, I had several consulting projects going, and couldn’t leave yet.
Fast forward to November, I ended many of my projects to focus on either building a company or building my personal brand. Well, I chose the latter by writing my book Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success (published Jan 2016!). Meanwhile, come the new year, I wanted to dig my heels into a product-oriented early stage startup. Then, one fateful day in December, I happened to see the CEO of SalesWise, Gregg Freishtat, at a coffee shop – figures I would meet him at a coffee shop. Don’t think he remembered me from October. However, we chatted for a split second, and made plans to meet.
We sat down a week or so later, and I learned the company was entirely engineers and himself. He had no other business-oriented employees. They’ve been focused on building the product and were at a point to go big – this got me excited. This was my opportunity to start from the bottom to help a startup grow while working with a highly successful entrepreneur and brilliant CTO in Jason Parekh.
I remember Gregg telling me he was looking for three roles – someone in marketing operations, an inside sales rep, and someone who knew conversion analytics. I haven’t had explicit professional experience in marketing operations or inside sales, but I have done them in my own startups in the past. I didn’t have the depth, but I knew that I could do anything given my ability to learn, adapt, and execute.
I admitted to Gregg that I didn’t have deep expertise in any one area, but I also wouldn’t “pigeon hole” myself to any one of the three, either. In my view, I would best serve the company at this stage and beyond by being great at all three – “start in sales to understand the voice of the customers – their needs, wants, objections, and value points. Then, I could approach at the macro-level with the marketing operations. From there, I would analyze results and drive conversion… the functions would flow”.
I started contracting with the company for January helping get all several marketing initiatives off the ground as part of the launch of the new platform, SalesWise 2.0. A couple weeks ago, I was offered a full-time position to which I VERY happily accepted. 

Okay, let me tell you about SalesWise…

This might sound like a product pitch because it is. But it’s a pitch to help illustrate why I’m excited.

SalesWise is a Sales Intelligence Platform providing comprehensive deal and relationship visibility and data sharing to sales teams to close more deals. SalesWise integrates a sales team’s most critical tools including email, calendar, tasks, documents, and CRM to automatically bring context and deal data together with no manual data entry. The platform enables sales leaders the full end-to-end view of every deal, every relationship, and every prospect to lead their professionals without constant catch ups and long sales meetings. Freedom to sell. Freedom to win.

Too wordy, here’s a slick video and some pictures:

This is the Sales Console – all your prospects in a single view that’s organized and easily filterable for meetings coming up, prospects with no follow-ups, etc.
This is the Prospect Card – it pulls your CRM data, email, contacts, documents, calendar… everything about a relationship. Best of all, I didn’t enter anything! It’s all automatically pulled in! You can also share this living, breathing card with anyone so they see what you see (read: collaborate!).

Why I was COMPELLED to accept…

  • After years consulting with other companies, I want to dig my heels into a product at an early-stage company. After all, I want build another product company in the future.
  • The founder is an accomplished entrepreneur having started four prior companies and having successful exits. I’ve learned so much from him already over the last month, and can’t wait to continue developing under him.
  • The engineering team is full of studs. Jason leads the charge as the CTO (hails from Georgia Tech) and every dev he’s recruited has great experience (ex-Google, instrumentation specialties, etc.).
  • The technology, as I said before, has massive potential for sales leaders and sales professionals. When I first entered the product, I got that “wow” factor. Having released a more focused product, responses have been extremely positive.
  • The company needs someone to lead marketing and sales. Count. Me. In. I want to be a builder of the company, and this will be a great place for me to flex my muscles and challenge myself as a leader.
  • Though the CEO has been very successful, he’s open to iterating and learning. I’ve met so many entrepreneurs over the years who use their prior successes as hard-set templates into new ventures even though businesses are completely different. Gregg understands the need to launch, learn, and iterate. He’s building for the long-term gains.
  • I realized over the years that I really enjoyed working alone partly because I stopped trusting others. I don’t want to feel like that. I want to be on a team where I can trust others, and others can trust me.
  • Gregg’s style of leading is conducive to my style of learning and executing. He reminds me of my previous Superboss, Irv Grossman. Both are very passionate (“intense”), intelligent, and great mentors. Gregg expects $hit to get done and thrusts a lot of trust upon me. I get a lot of responsibility, but he’s not shy to roll up his sleeves and do tactical work, too.

The gist…

It’s just a really great opportunity for me. The company is at a point primed for growth with a more focused product after having thousands of users on v1.0. The technology behind the product is exemplary with massive potential. The leadership team are complementary and the team as a whole are hardworking, bright talents. Heck, I’ve already met the Board, and they’re bought into the vision.
The last several years of building my brand, my network, honing my skills has led me here – my new chapter. My initial reason for consulting to find my Next Great Move actually worked. However, it was when I made a conscious decision (after several years of consulting) that I wanted to join a startup that I met Gregg. Just a couple weeks later, I jumped on board.
Time to do great things!
(By the way, if you’re in sales, you should check us out.)
I’m surprised by how many people believe creativity is reserved to the arts or perhaps marketing. In reality, there’s so much more creativity happening in the everyday whether that be in writing, in coding, or in sales.
When I do code, I love how there are so many ways to accomplish a task. It’s up to me how I implement that code and find a solution. Some ways are more elegant than others. Sometimes, it’s about creatively hacking a solution so you can survive the week. So yes, developers/ engineers are a creative bunch.
Sales is one of those areas where I love to see creativity, too. I remember hearing a story of how a sales professional finally got in front of a VP he’d been chasing for a while by literally sending the VP his shoe. The message was about walking in “his shoes”. Or a story how to get someone to read a cold email by bidding on a pair of shoes and an apartment.
There’s a lot of creativity happening around us. Creativity is just finding a solution to a problem in some unconventional way. It happens all the time and all around us. It’s not just reserved to pretty plates of food or catchy songs on the radio. It happens when we’re left to our own devices… and stepping out from our own seeming “limitations”.
This is art… I don’t know what it is, but it’s art, right? Kind of like when someone non-technical looks at code… beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Photo from the Atlanta Beltline.
To be fair, too, creativity doesn’t mean it’s never been done before. Sometimes, creativity happens when we’ve just never done it this way. We have our vision, and we make that approach in our way. If someone else did it similarly, that’s okay. What counts is that we did something different, and the more we do that, the more creative we become.