I opened up the floor for others to suggest today’s blog post topic and decided on “how to stay motivated”.
I’ve heard several entrepreneurs recently share their struggles – struggles from overcoming challenges to staying consistent in writing. It’s tough. It’s really, really tough.
As I mentioned in the past, many people assume the hardest part of startups is making the leap into entrepreneurship. That’s tough, but the greatest challenge is overcoming the CHASM. The greatest challenge is staring down doubt and overcoming hurdles over and over. There’s even a period referred to as the “trough of sorrow”.
Tips on staying motivated:
  • Ground into your why. The why is what fuels your passion. It’s the reason you started. If it’s powerful enough, it’ll keep you going.
  • Find tools, whatever they may be that gives you energy. For me, that sometimes starts with a simple motivational video.
  • Surround yourself with supportive, like-driven people. Atlanta is really thriving as a startup hub with a vast network of entrepreneurs, startup spaces, and dream-chasers and achievers.
  • Take a step back and reassess your situation and your direction. 
  • Be vulnerable and ask for help. This is why I read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Staying motivated sometimes means opening up to others to ask for the support and encouragement needed.

“Staying motivated” implies you’re already in-flight on your idea, passion, or startup. A piece of advice that can help before you make that head-on jump: Can you pursue this idea or passion on a steady basis as a hobby? Sometimes, making a big plunge is too drastic and requires too much change which can quickly deflate interest and motivation.

There are a number of ways to stay motivated, but the big ones are grounding into your why, and reaching out for help.
I just finished reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. If you aren’t familiar, Brené gave one of the most popular TED talks regarding the Power of Vulnerability.  
https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B007P7HRS4
This book was recommended by a friend who has known a bit of my roller coaster through entrepreneurship over the years and my ability to go into a “hole” and not ask for help. I’ve learned over the years through my stubbornness how not asking for help, and indeed being vulnerable, tends to put myself on a secluded island. 

My take-aways:
  • Shame vs. guilt… completely different. Guilt is a feeling of having done something wrong, whereas shame is a feeling of BEING wrong. There’s a difference there, and though subtle, is powerful in understanding that people are not wrong, but our actions can be flawed. It’s important to address actions, not the people behind them.
  • Vulnerability is powered by confidence. It’s the ability to be “good enough” at the moment. It’s about knowing not everyone is going to be there, but the right people will be. It’s about being grounded in your vision and values.
  • Aiming for perfect is great, but by its very definition means there is no better. Too often, people aim for perfection before stepping into “the arena”. All that time striving for perfection avoids the opportunities of new relationships, new learnings, and more which could be fostered by being vulnerable and accepting the potential to fail but going into a new venture with courage.
  • Daring greatly is accepting the possibility of failing, but enables us to aspire for greater. It’s not about failure, of course, but moving past failure having learned what we needed to learn. Then, it’s being vulnerable to try again.
I often hear about how the best leaders are those who are also capable of being vulnerable. However, I’m still figuring this one out in how to be vulnerable — how to involve others and ask for support, and taking on risks that are highly out of my control. 

Anyways, as an entrepreneur and a leader, it’s important to do some soul-searching and have self-awareness before leading others. In this way, Brené shares how vulnerability can help… err, dare greatly. 

Going to end with an excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizenship In A Republic” speech that Brené shares:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt, April 23, 1910

Spoke to a friend in an early-stage startup recently who met with a legal team to get advice on some contracts. Apparently, the conversation went a little sour when the lawyer started asking deeper, probing questions regarding financials and the business model.
I say, “sour”, because the mood quickly changed from cordial to combative, and the startup felt they were being attacked. The startup entered the room expecting a review of documents, not an interview. The entrepreneurs felt the lawyers were testing their resolve, preparedness, and “fit” as a client.
As terrible as it may seem to be barraged with tough questions, the lawyer asks great questions about monetization, assumptions around projections, customer/ user acquisition strategy, and the vision. In many ways, the lawyer provides the harsh reality of what startups and entrepreneurs face, especially when entrepreneurs believe raising capital will be “easy”.
Some thoughts:
  • Good partners are those who will not only raise the difficult questions, but will help you to address them.
  • If you’re not ready to answer the tough questions, then you’re not ready to raise funding. Investors WILL CALL YOU OUT.
  • Take a step back from the day-to-day, and assess the strategic to-do’s and milestones you must satisfy.
  • Tough questions… tough challenges… they can be seen as walls never to be overcome, or they can be seen as great opportunities. Up to you which way you address them, if at all.
  • Get savvy with the numbers. Several entrepreneurs and business leaders have advised me in the past, “the best leaders knew their ‘numbers’.”
  • If you don’t have a good answer, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”, and actually follow up. 
  • A business plan can be time-consuming to put together, but can be a great way to structure and think about your business holistically. Consider investing the time to put one together, or in the least, use a One-Page Strategic Plan. Update this intermittently.
  • It’s so important for any relationship, especially in an early-stage company, for each party to assess each other’s fit. Too often, partnerships are started absent of a strong foundation which leads to difficult divorces later. (New employees/ team members included!)

I remember so many people asking my Body Boss cofounders and I if we were thinking about presenting to Shark Tank or asking for funding. I tended to laugh at the questions not just because of the comedy of us being on national television, but because I knew we didn’t have good answers to tough questions.

I attended another TAG Sales Leadership event last week — “Sales Culture Development”. I’m appreciating all these events as I continue to develop as a sales professional (should never really stop learning) and as we, at SalesWise, develop our own sales team. 
Given the panel discussion was about sales culture, there was heavy emphasis on how to engage sales professionals as well as reviewing the metrics that sales professionals are evaluated on. 
The panel included: 
Here were the main topics I took away:
  • Technology presents great opportunities and challenges. It’s important to recognize the dependency we become on technology and how personal effort and attention “disrupts” mass sales efforts. However, in a day of technology bombardment, personalization can be the key to sales.
  • 50-50 training on soft and hard skills. Much of sales comes down to effort, and yet, there are far more resources on teaching sales pros the hard skills to sell, rather than how to address the person and relationship. “Listen through the solution”, don’t “sell through the solution”.
  • Measure with balance. Tom Snyder, Founder of Vorsight BP and accomplished speaker, shared the importance of task clarity. It’s curious how much of sales metrics are based on outcomes (close X-many deals by the end of the quarter) which is akin to a football coach who tells his players to “score!” That’s obvious. What coaches really do is speak with players on the HOW and WHY. 
  • Focus on the funnel. Especially focus on, yes, the bottom of the funnel to ensure deals close, but then, focus on the top of the funnel. Everything in the middle tends to sort itself through effort.
An exec at an early-stage startup recently told me about how several prospects were nearing close… many of them big customers. What is normally good (“great!”) was met with “dread”. Curious, I wanted to know why.
In my experience, when I’m not elated about potential success (or tempered excitement), I feel one of two things: dread or anxiety.
  • Dread is the feeling when I know what’s going to happen. I know the outcome. I feel dread when I know a potential customer will churn after hearing what he’s looking for only for me to know that after a while, the customer will churn. (Or we are shutting down like final days of Body Boss.)
  • Anxiety is what I feel knowing something like the workload coming down the line – managing and doing it all. In this case, I know what’s coming, too, but it’s more around how I feel when I look at the mountain of to-do’s.

In these feelings, I question where they come from. For dread, why are users going to churn? I am dreading a specific call? Why? Is the prospect looking for something we just don’t do? In that case, why are we going down this process?

Anxiety-wise, the questions may include: if you recall the 80/20 rule, what do you think would remove 80% of the anxiety? If the workload is the primary driver of anxiety, how can effort be smoother? Automated?
In any negative emotion, there’s a great opportunity to raise questions that can lead to great answers. You can better understand the why of negativity, what are the causes, and how can we move beyond this.

Take a moment. Process your feelings. Understand what is driving the feelings. Determine what you’re going to do next. 
On Friday, one of my coworkers remarked to me that I was hyped up after a great call with a prospect. Indeed, if a sale did happen, it’d be a really great deal. However, I noticed that once he said that, I tempered my excitement. I started remembering my past experiences…
In my book, I have a chapter titled, “Sales is HARD”, and within it, I advise readers to “temper excitement when a prospect says he will buy till two weeks after a check clears”. This is what I started to remember when my coworker told me I was excited.
Thinking about this recently — this enthusiasm and expectation “mitigation” process I have. It’s not fun. In fact, I don’t like it at all. Though, yes, there is reason for adding caution, it also creates apathy towards potentially great things. Without expectations, excitement wanes (for me and for others). There’s an armor and defensiveness against being let down by a failed close and vulnerability.
Experience has a tendency to temper excitement and put up walls of “this must happen in order for me to be excited”. I go through a series of “qualification” questions to validate even my own ideas.
·        Is this really a better solution than X, Y, or Z?
·        Customer acquisition will be too hard — forget it.
·        Is this at least 5X better than the incumbent?
I’ve realized experience has a tendency to not only protect me from “improbable” success, but it also paralyzes me from even starting. Tempering my enthusiasm takes the joy out of entrepreneurship. It makes sales less fulfilling.
So sure, there are advantages to limiting excitement early on. However, being a little excited now and then and setting some expectation of success can give me the excitement that brought me here in the first place. It gives me boosts to power through the lost opportunities.
My friend, David Vandegrift (Associate at Pritzker Group Venture Capital), just co-wrote a couple articles on SaaS metrics that he and his VC colleagues pay close attention to – Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Lifetime Value (LTV).
They highlight the importance of CAC and LTV, specifically, as VCs are looking for sustainable businesses that have shown good handles on burn rate and revenue economics. Gone are the days of “easy millions” for startups with just traction. VCs are wary of bubbles and downturns, and thus, are watching for investments that can weather storms.
CAC and LTV are great metrics to have good handles on, but can be difficult for early stage companies, as noted by the authors. Specifically, lifetimes of customers can be quite short while CAC can be hard to measure as companies iterate their acquisition strategies.
One metric I assess that is less focused on economics is engagement/ retention (i.e. D1, D7, D30). Engagement is a hugely telling figure, especially for early-stage companies. Engagement helps identify the stickiness and value of a product while also providing great insight into features and usage which can help determine direction.
Following engagement, I evaluate churn. Churn is inherently included in LTV, but can be more operational and easier to gauge for customers. I like to review churn, especially, because it measures the value of a product/ service with existing users. It can also underline a “hole in the bucket” issue where strategies to drive new customers can be for naught if existing customers continually exit.
Check out David and Sonia’s post to learn more about CAC and LTV. Then, check out four other metrics (in addition to the two I listed) that are key to success – “8 Metrics from Proper Instrumentation of a Business and Its Product”.
Not sure why, but I have only recently heard of a term called “Vertical SaaS”. Okay, there’s also “Horizontal SaaS”, too. Based on some light research, looks like vertical SaaS is also a growing trend and the number of companies fewer than horizontal SaaS providers.
Vertical SaaS borrows its moniker from the concept of vertical integrationwhereby there is more control over a supply chain from raw materials to point-of-sale. Here, vertical SaaS companies focus on a niche market (industry) offering a solution that enables more process control.
Horizontal SaaS providers get really good at a particular offering, and widen their market to reach scale. Their focus is on breadth of market, and thus, its sales and marketing strategies can require more resources.
Many vertical SaaS companies (such as Veeva Systems, Guidewire, Fleetmatics) are doing well usurping legacy systems of traditionally slow-tech-adoption industries. Here, vertical companies develop a best-of-breed product, and focus on selling only into that industry. This tends to create “winner-take-all” situations, especially given the smaller number of vertical SaaS providers.
Horizontal companies continue to expand and can create extreme competition due to its vast go-to-market strategy. Horizontal SaaS companies tend to create category winners like Dropbox, Zendesk, and Salesforce.
There isn’t necessarily a “better” strategy, but it’s clear that go-to-market strategies, product strategies, and organizational structures are highly affected by going horizontal or vertical.
Resources:

“exit by feature set or by a deadline, but above all, exit” – Intercom’s Des Traynor on launching (exiting) a product.

I’ve been thrilled to hear two entrepreneurs I met with last year take to heart the importance of launching quickly, even if they did not feel “ready”.
In one case, the entrepreneur was building pitch decks trying to get funding on the idea before any development started. No bites for funding, and I finally asked if she believed in the idea enough to fund the initial development herself (and trim scope to MVP). She said yes, funded the initial development, launched, got great traction, and raised a sizable seed round.
In the other case, the entrepreneur needed to believe in her idea more, and share her product. She needed to share her story. With a few connections, she’s gone viral, and has been getting great traction, great mentoring and advisement… doors are now opening easily for her.  
Then, I run into the occasional wantrepreneur or idealist who claims to want to start something so bad, and then spins wheels on trying to make things “perfect”.
The funny thing about perfect is that there can be no improvement. It’s already the best. That is the very definition of perfect. The problem is that “perfect” doesn’t exist… and while chasing perfect, “good enough” or “great start” don’t occur.
First-time entrepreneurs struggle hard at this concept as they enter this new world full of energy, passion, and vision of “what should be” rather than “what could be”.  
Today is too fast-paced to “reach perfection” as we are constantly evolving – improving or otherwise, we change too often. Our perspectives, our desires, they all change. So what lofty visions we aim for and try to build before launching will ultimately delay our ability to launch, test, learn, and iterate towards a reality that evolves.
Invest today, launch sooner rather than later, and iterate while on your journey. Rare is it that your journey requires so much investment, so little room for error that you can’t give it a go now.
Like Des said – define a line to launch, and launch. Don’t sit there dreaming and moving the line farther. There’s simply no good time to let aspirations and inspirations delay.