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Book Review: Inner Game of Tennis

I just finished the book the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It’s a classic – expressing the key to developing mental fortitude using tennis as the vehicle.
I was intrigued about the book after Tom Brady cited it as a key reading for him in developing mental strength. This was cited in an interview after Brady orchestrated the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, coming back from 28-3 to defeat my Atlanta Falcons 34-28.
Being a competitive athlete (less so on a team these days and more in “self” settings) and an entrepreneur, developing mental strength is an ongoing practice. The pressure athletes like Tom Brady and great entrepreneurs face on the brink of failure (listen to any number of episodes of NPR’s “How I Built This”) is astonishing. Being able to keep going and overcome obstacles and have ­grit is hugely interesting to me.
Without further ado, here are my main take-aways from Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis: Self 1 vs. Self 2. Gallwey points out the inner battle b…

Understanding Lasting Effects to Measure Success

A good way to discern if a product or service is a need to have is to see what happens if it breaks or is no longer available. Would customers come kicking and screaming? Or, would the day pass by with little to no utterance? (No, not advocating you deliberately break your product.)
Of course, there’s another effect that can be much harder to realize – how effective was the product or service the first time that additional sales were not necessary. Or, there’s a much longer time between sales that effect can be harder to discern outside of problems.
You can count companies with fantastic quality such as Toyota, a great mattress company, Terminex (or other pest extermination companies), etc. In these cases, referrals and customer satisfaction records may hint at the lasting effects of products and services. Feedback is paramount to the growth of these companies.
Lasting effects is a big deal. They require quality. They require an emotional tie-in to be remembered. They require empat…

Entrepreneurs, Think About Objections

Why isn’t an idea already in the market and being successful? Maybe the key question is, “why isn’t this idea working?”
A good way to tackle a new business idea is to think about the objections. That is, think about why problems exist today – what are their hurdles? Why hasn’t this idea been developed already? How is this problem being addressed today, and how did the market get here? How can these challenges be overcome?
Addressing these challenges (read: objections) is similar to approaches in brainstorming methods such as the Disney way and Six Thinking Hats.
When you ask these types of questions, you might find out macro trends are removing hurdles – maybe, then, it’s great timing for success. For Instagram, for example, anyone with a smartphone almost instantly became talented photographers. For Instagram, the technological evolution of cameras in smartphones lowered the barrier for general consumers to have “good” cameras. Instagram capitalized on this opportunity further by p…

Progression of Idea Validation

Having 100 million users and a billion in revenue is a pretty good validation of an idea. However, Rome was not built in a day. Validating an idea and the subsequent products/ startups is best done in stages.
The progression: Idea – Validating an idea requires initial feedback and feel amongst a select group of potential buyers. This can be done via surveys either in small verbal groups or large online surveys. This can also be through the first 10-20 customers where many may be friendlies.Product/ Service – This is the long sought-after “product-market” fit stage where validation comes from the first cohorts of buyers – scaling from 20 to 100 inorganic customers. Depending on the product/ service, engagement metrics may also provide validation.Company – Let’s call this stage the growth stage for a company. At this stage, validation comes from lower customer churn. In many cases, competition will be fiercer here, so churn could be a problem.Category/ Market – There are clear market le…

Think Delight First, Not Revenue

I overheard a discussion between two execs recently about the idea of working closer together. One exec was pitching another way to earn incremental revenue from existing customers. Except, the conversation stopped there – regarding more revenue anyways. Instead, the execs shifted focus to discussing how working closer together could add “delight” to customers.
It’s hugely telling when an entrepreneur pauses a discussion to shift the focus away from “more money” to “more delight”. Here, the entrepreneur understands the importance of thinking about the customer-first. Here, the entrepreneur understands the importance of creating emotional value.
Thinking revenue-first means thinking about the company first. However, the company does not exist without its customers. Thinking customer-first puts the company on a path to bringing customers in and retaining them [especially against competition].
When thinking about the services and products you can’t live without today, think about the …

Trends from Entrepreneurs’ Starts on NPR

National Public Radio (NPR) has a great podcast called “How I Built This” anchored by Guy Raz. From the show: How I Built This is a podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. Each episode is a narrative journey marked by triumphs, failures, serendipity and insight — told by the founders of some of the world's best known companies and brands. There are some really fascinating stories including Spanx’s Sarah Blakely, WeWork’s Miguel McKelvey, and Airbnb’s Joe Gebbia.
Here are some trends I heard from these stories: They’re opportunistic. Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard started life out by becoming a metal worker to make climbing equipment when he couldn’t find what he wanted.They start things with people they haven’t known for a while… or they go it alone. WeWork’s Miguel McKelvey shared how he met his cofounder through his roommate after he wanted to work in NYC. He moved there. He met Adam Neumann who was highly complementary…

When We Ignore Our Previous Experience for Our Great Startup Idea

I met up with a friend recently who is noodling over an idea. What was interesting was how she was so deep into her idea, and didn’t use her life’s skills and work to help validate the idea.
Like me, she started her professional career in consulting. Like me, we both ignored our acquired consulting skills when building a startup (my example was Body Boss, as described in Postmortem of a Failed Startup).
It’s a funny and sad mistake I’ve seen a lot – starting with yours truly. There’s excitement in the initial idea that people put on the blinders. They (we) ignore experience in the previous “corporate” world. I attribute much of this to emotions running high. Emotions have ways of clouding our judgements and processes.
This happens especially in endeavors we get excited about but do not have explicit professional experience in. For myself and my Body Boss cofounders, that area was fitness. We loved fitness, but we came from outside the industry.
For example, what makes consulting s…

Thinking Out Loud: What Autonomous Vehicles Could Mean

There’s a lot of talk about autonomous vehicles these days – both the opportunities and the ramifications. It’s an exciting prospect of being able to travel “autonomously” beyond texting carefree or reading a book.
Consider the following: The alleviation of traffic. With autonomy comes prediction. With prediction comes the ability to mitigate traffic. Cars could potentially fly down roads well past current speed limits as they behave in hive-like manner. Imagine a beautifully orchestrated, synchronized traffic system where vehicles notify each other when they’re turning and exiting. Human reactionary delays and errors cause most of traffic, so the elimination of human thinking leads to huge opportunities.Going farther away from city centers. With autonomy comes the ability to be productive the moment workers leave their homes. They can work on computers much like commuters do today on planes, buses, and trains. As such, there can be a migration away from business epicenters as commute…

Seeing Progress and Making Decisions Through Instrumentation

I was thrilled to see great progress with one of the startups I’m advising. In our meetings early on, there were questions from the entrepreneur and her team about what to do and where to go next. It was difficult as an outsider to give a good direction without specific industry experience. Instead, I recommended some best startup (business) practices including the importance of instrumenting their platform and using data to drive roadmap and business decisions.
In one specific example, the company wanted to immerse users in the experience of the platform. Their initial UI hid away menu options. However, they found users were not customizing their experiences very often. They finally knew, however, how long users stayed on the platform, what they did, etc. The team hypothesized that users would engage with the platform even more and for longer periods of time with more personalized experiences through customization.
So, the team started making cues to the menu options including exp…

Entrepreneur Interview (pt 1) – A Grammy Award-Winning Sound Engineer

For fun today, I decided to speak to a friend who is a Grammy-award winning sound engineer and producer. He’s freelancing working with some incredible talents including an artist who boasts more than 300 million records sold. Given he works in Atlanta, he’s now taking on sound engineering work for the many film and television series. Needless to say, he’s quite successful. I’ll keep his name hidden for now, but wanted to share with you a few of his insights as to why he enjoys freelancing vs. working with a record label and the like.
So why do you freelance? Love the freedom, hate the insecurity.
Any lessons or advice for others who are looking to freelance, too? “Weather the storm: think long-term.”
He continues, “Think in-terms of years, not months. You can’t look at the financial status on a year-to-year basis. There will be months that go real well, but there will be months with no money.”
“In some industries, you don’t know what your good months or bad months are. It can go year-…

Preventing Ball Hogging in Sales

SalesLoft and Gong.io recently shared a Discovery Call Benchmark Report that lined up well with my recent thinking on sales calls. A couple stats from the report that rang loudest: Optimal number of questions a salesperson should ask is between 11 and 14 – about key topics, too, vs. small-talk.Question flow should be throughout the discussion, not front-loaded.Top performing sales professionals have a talk-to-listen ratio of 46:54.Positive correlation of call success with speaker-switches-per-minute. These findings weaved well together with my two current readings You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by David Sandler and the Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. (Book reviews to come.)

The overarching story in my head is the gap between the number of questions and type of engagement in sales calls (read: the lack thereof during calls). Reflecting on a few sales calls I’ve made recently, I realize how I was focused on a specific problem or outcome. This put me heavy i…

My Biggest Take-Away from My Favorite Book: The Goal

Recently, I was asked what my favorite book was, and my mind went straight to The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox. I read the book back at Georgia Tech as part of a supply chain class. The book is set at a manufacturing plant with the protagonist being a plant manager trying to save the plant. He runs into a professor who helps him think about the plant in new ways and drive greater productivity.
It’s one of my favorite books because it was perhaps the FIRST book that captured my attention with a subject and real-life situation that I found fascinating. Even today having ignited a zest for reading, it sits at the top of the heap as a favorite. And though it was written in a manufacturing setting, its lessons shape my journey today – personally and professionally in sales, marketing, general business.
One of the lessons that stuck out to me was the focus on “Herbie”. Herbie referred to a boy in a Boy Scout troop who was a slower hiker than his fellow Scout members. The plant m…

Sales: Objective Based Calls

In sales, process is king. Process enables repeatable actions and decisions to advance and obtain a sale. In this way, every step along the way should be an advancement towards a sale (or, close sale, good or bad). To do this, it’s often appreciated and strategically advantageous to be aware of not just the objective, but sharing the objective(s) with prospect as a means to guide them through a sales process. Otherwise, you may be thrust into no man’s land or harshly left to the buyer’s process (which could pit you against more competitors and into a price war). Though the overall objective is a sale, it’s not always attainable in a complex sale depending on the stage. Shooting for such an objective can be off-putting and lose the sale altogether.
With any call, it’s important to understand what is the objective of this call, this interaction. This will weigh heavily on where the prospect is in the sales process. From here, the objective may be to get confirmation of a buy-sell agree…

Risk-Reward vs. Success-Failure and Others Lessons from a Serial Entrepreneur

Serial entrepreneur Gregg Oldring recently wrote a post about his recent startup that failed – “Afraid of failing at a startup? Let me tell you what it feels like.” Naturally, I wanted to dive into the title given my past.
There were a couple lines I really enjoyed. Sharing those here, and highlighting my own experience. “When I frame the analysis as risk-reward instead of success-failure, we did well.” Maybe because I failed before with Body Boss, but this was incredibly resonating. Like Gregg highlighted, there was so much gained from the experience that isolating the outcome based on commercial success would be vain. In the end, we threw out risk to attempt something special. The reward beyond was worth it.“One of the things that I hate about being an entrepreneur is that sharing the uncertainties I have about my business usually carries with it negative consequences that outweigh the benefit of transparency. When someone asks, ‘How’s business?’ the answer can seldom be, ‘It doesn’…

Another Steve Jobs Saying to Live By

Steve Jobs has some real memorable quotes. The latest, I discovered goes, “Real artists ship”. I’ve now added it to my list of Baller Quotes to Live By page.
The quote is all about execution – beauty means little if not shipped (created). Naturally, this applies for entrepreneurs. Artistry and entrepreneurship is not about creating perfect. It’s about creating. Here are a few other quotes from the late Steve Jobs that I love and try to live by. “… you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” What are some of your favorite quotes from Steve Jobs? How abou…

The Human Truth of Startups (Okay, Business)

What is your “why”? It’s a question I’ve blogged about numerous times; “purpose” included. It’s resonated to me from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why to Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi’s Primed to Perform. So when I started reading Blue Apron’s S-1 filing for an IPO, their mission made me think to the why – Blue Apron's mission is to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone.We believe that sharing home-cooked meals with our families and loved ones is an important way to demonstrate our values and affection. It is at our kitchen tables, over a meal, where we often celebrate our milestones, acknowledge our setbacks, and appreciate the comfort of each other's company. Modern life has made this more difficult—many of us are too busy to grocery shop, lack the skills or confidence to cook, or cannot easily find the quality ingredients that make home cooking enjoyable.I spent a few minutes thinking about “incredible home cooking” and accessibility wondering about its place as a…

The Struggle and Appreciation of Meditation as an Entrepreneur

I admit I was struggling to find a topic for this blog post. I sat at my computer with writer’s block which is uncommon for me. So, what did I do? I left. I left, read, and went to a meditation class. Ironic, then that my head wanted to race during meditation. After this, I realized that meditation is a great subject to share with entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs. 
I’ve been attending group meditation classes for a couple years now, and I admit that I don’t always get to that meditative state. I probably only get there 20% of the time. (Okay – 10%.) Like today, I struggle to be mindful, stay focused on my breath, and meditate.
What I’ve realized and was appreciative of was the effort to sit there for an hour and try. I also appreciated the effort to sit there and think. I didn’t meditate, but I did hop on that mind-train and rode that for a good bit. That, in itself, can be a wonderful thing because I don’t take enough time to sit in peace and think.
Meditation is supposed to provide…

Options for Sales – Lessons from Retail

One of the most important sales lessons I learned from my retail days when I was younger was the concept of options. Specifically, I was taught to offer no more than 3 options. As long as the options fit what the customer was looking for (or at least fit by some prioritization of features), 3 options drove customers to buy. Anymore and you risk of overwhelming customers.
Today, this is still true, too, in B2B sales. I’m using a similar offer of three options in everyday life, even. Though, in my current role, I am not offering three products. I am providing three options to get an advancement of a sale.
Curious about where this Rule of 3 came from, I did a little research and found a study between professors Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper of Stanford University – “Why Choice is Demotivating”.
In the study, Iyengar and Lepper provided samples of 6 or 24 flavors of jams or chocolates to passers-by. With 24 flavors, 60% of people stopped to try the flavors, whi…

Sales Qualification Methods

Given my recent finish of SPIN Selling, sales qualification/ discovery processes weigh heavy on my mind. So, it’s no surprise then, that when I run into a new acronym that I wonder what it’s about – and how it’s different.
Here are a few sales qualification acronyms: BANT – this is a real popular one that was the foundation for many sales processes. It stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing.ANUM – evolution from BANT and heavily promoted by InsideSales.com for years, this stands for Authority, Need, Urgency, and Money.SPIN – this is more about the process rather than qualification criteria. However, this comes from Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling – Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need pay-off.MEDDIC – this is a new one for me after hearing about this from a sales leader recently. This stands for Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain point, and Champion. This one is more comprehensive than the others. It aims to understand the buying proc…

300! Reflecting on How I Started

Yes, this is my 300th post!
My very first post was back on May 3, 2012 – “To be an effective consultant”. Yes, back in the day, I started the blog as SC Ninja Skills (SC = Supply Chain). I remember it – I wrote the first post sitting in a hotel in L.A. I went there before starting my MBA program at Emory. I remember having this idea to start the blog a year or so before. However, I thought I needed more experience. What did I have to offer?
In that seemingly random moment in the hotel room, though, the question flipped: “why do I have to wait till I’m in my 40s to influence others? To teach? To be influential? Haven’t Fortune 500 companies been hiring my consulting firm or requesting ME as a subject matter expert? I do know a lot even in my short career so far!” This was a huge moment for me as I realized my own worth. Confidence just flowed from there.
I started my pivot in September 2012 towards startups and entrepreneurship. I was in the throws of building Body Boss, and was help…

Book Review: SPIN Selling

Continuing my quest to read books and get more educated on all things sales, I wrapped up SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. I went through this book twice. First, to pick up the low-hanging fruit, and then a second go to better absorb.
SPIN is one of the preeminent B2B sales books. In fact, the book broke ground on the factors for successful complex sales vs. transactional. In fact, Rackham identified why many sales training methods at the time were ineffective –methods were well-suited for transactional sales, but fell short for complex sales. The book lay the ground work for other sales studies like The Challenger Sale.
My take-aways: Transactional vs. complex sales… The book did a great job at identifying why many closing techniques worked for simple sales, but failed for complex sales. Two of the more important points here were how the product/ service held such a primary role in the buying process of transactional sales. However, complex sales were about risk mitigation and addressi…

The [Employment] Struggle Is Real

I’ve talked to several people recently who have voiced their desires to strike out on their own and others who are toying with joining a large company. So, the question becomes of staying employed or being employed. I admit that I’ve struggled with this one, too, as I’ve now been an employee since early last year. Truth be told, I struggled with this a month-and-a-half into employment. (Yikes.)
Over the last several years I’ve spoken to many who jumped in both directions only to regret the jump only months in. Then, they’re looking to change again. No surprise many jumps occurred because not “feeling valued” – either in responsibility (/ growth) or pay – most commonly.
My advice (and yes, the same advice I give and take for myself) is to think about the bigger goal (the WHY) and realize what you (read: “I”) hope to achieve here and now, and the near-future. Yes, near-future – not necessarily long-term.
It’s easy to get enamored these days with something shinier… something that pays …

Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People

I just completed Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve been excited for so long to read it as it’s all about psychology.

The book was different in style than what I was expecting. Perhaps because I’ve read many sales books recently like The Challenger Sale and SPIN Selling (review to come). The book was focused from a point-of-view what Dale Carnegie’s identified as effective tactics as well as stories from either his students or great leaders – notably several U.S. Presidents.
Each chapter was a lesson, and as I read the book, I was wondering how I would employ each lesson. However, I realized it’d be too challenging being literal and narrow. Instead, the book could be best understood and employed by collapsing the lessons into broader concepts.
Here are my take-aways then: It’s never about you. Influencing others and creating a positive relationship starts from a place of empathy. Whether someone has done something wrong or has a contentio…

Closing Techniques Noticed From Car Sales

Tuesday’s post about an assumptive close (link) got me thinking of other recent events where sales pros used closing techniques – both were at car dealerships. Car sales seems to elicit the shudder of many people, and my recent experiences at car dealerships just played into the common stereotypes. I have both bought a car and went perusing with family recently.
Here were two primary closing techniques used: The Alternative Close I went to a dealership recently to buy a new 4Runner. I already knew what I wanted having owned a couple 4Runners including the vehicle I was replacing.
I’ve always loved having 4x4, and I wanted the following options/ packages: Limited, dark exterior, and a redwood interior. I first saw the redwood interior and loved it, and knew that’s what I wanted. I had pretty much closed the deal for the salesperson – coming in to buy. However, the exact vehicle was not in stock, and needed to be custom ordered. This would incur two months of delays.
The salesperson…

Assumptive Closing

I recently bought some 1400-thread count bedsheets. I never knew there was even such a thing. I was, however, in the market for bedsheets for a while now. So, when a salesperson approached me in a big box wholesaler, I happily picked up a set.
I remember a lot about the interaction, and remember how the salesperson used an “assumptive” closing technique. I remember, also, being perturbed by it. However, I was in the market for bedsheets, so picked up the set anyways.
The interaction went something like this: I’m walking with my brother with a cartful of things. We’re nearing the checkout lines when a woman approaches us. The woman talks about these ultra-soft bedsheets she’s got. I happily listen while my brother continues to the registers. Woman places a set of bedsheets in my hands. “These are 1400-tc sheets, so you can feel they’re incredibly soft”. (Okay, I’m paraphrasing.) Me: “Yeah, they are.” Woman: “These sheets also have a warranty of 3 years!” Me: “Okay, great.” Woman: “Th…

Deliberating New Product or Feature – How Far?

All the brainstorming and hypotheses about a new product or feature mean nothing until it’s in the hands of users (customers). They’re all ideas, but ideas don’t build great companies – execution does. I catch myself being quiet in a lot of brainstorming sessions for new products and features. I start out hot speaking based on whatever thoughts I have before quickly going into silent mode. I’ll speak up when something is so counter to what I believe, but otherwise, I find myself quiet.
I’ve noticed this a lot, but was never sure why my default mode is quiet, absorbing. I always thought I just had to think more to myself until I read this passage from SPIN Selling. “I remember going to a product launch in Acapulco some years ago. The event was splendiferous. Big names from the entertainment world had been hired at unbelievable cost, and the place swarmed with public relations people, media specialists, communications consultants, and a variety of similarly expensive people. The sales…

Before Any Startup Planning, Answer This One Question

I’ve had a couple wantrepreneurs ask me recently what administrative tools to use – email, website, CRM, etc. to which I’m happy to help with. However, those are all moot points compared to the most important question of all – How can you build a business around the product or service?
Of course, I’m speaking broadly when I say “how can you”, “build a business”, “around the product or service”. I break up the question this way to capture the most important facets of starting a company – “How can you…” – the entrepreneur (or team) referred here. This includes experience, skills, network, and emotional capacities of the entrepreneur or the co-founding team. The “how” touches, too, on the execution.“…build a business…” – is there is a sizeable market? Is there a trajectory for success? Are there competitors? Are there other pieces required to build and sustain a business?“…around the product or service” – this one is pretty self-explanatory – do you have a product, or are you still buil…

Starting From A Place of Empathy: A Lesson from the Weekend

I’m reading a couple books right now including: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegieand SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. SPIN has been a big focus in my day-to-day at SalesWise. However, Dale’s composition is arguably the focus of every day life.
This weekend led to a perfect opportunity to employ one of the lessons from How to Win Friends from Chapter 3 – “Be empathetic”. What could have started out as a formal complaint or accusation, instead, turned into a moment of empathy and understanding.
The situation: I was at an apartment complex when two women were talking to one another while looking visibly curious and annoyed at an apartment balcony. It turns out that they were looking at the balcony because water was being poured intermittently from the top door to the two balconies below. The two women happened to live on floors directly below.
The women mentioned the water was landing on their balconies and it smelled terrible. We started hypothesizing what was hap…

Consulting Lessons In Sales – Empowering the Champion

There are many subtle lessons I didn’t recognize from consulting that have been hugely valuable since building startups, especially in the role of sales. One of those lessons is (two-part) the role of the champion and empowering the champion to overcome internal hurdles.
I remember a project I was working on many, many years ago. We had just done a tremendous amount of work after developing models and recommendations on the client’s technology stack. We also helped the company choose a large transportation management system (TMS). We delivered our recommendations and findings to the company’s C-suite. We completed our 3-hour discussion, and yet, were only able to get through half our recommendations. As a consultant only a few months in, I thought things went well other than missing half the slides. Our internal debrief, however, highlighted how our team had missed the mark. Our recommendations focused too much on the TMS and did not deliver on IT infrastructure improvements we neede…

Growth-Oriented or Lifestyle-Oriented Entrepreneurship – It Begins with Why

I was talking to a mentee this weekend, and he made reference to the lifestyle entrepreneur vs. the growth entrepreneur. He believes he’s a growth-type of entrepreneur, or at least, he’s growth-oriented. This led to friction when he was working with a friend who was more lifestyle-oriented. He pointed out how the business could have done more. He came into his friend’s company with suggestions on where and how to grow. The business owner, however, was less than interested. They eventually went separate ways.
There’s an important realization here– we have different aspirations. As much as everyone wants wealth, we should recognize that wealth comes in many forms. To that, folks have varying views on what their purpose and drives are. Where do they want to go? Why?
Yes, lots of folks these days look at successful entrepreneurship as billion-dollar exits. That’s extremely, extremely rare. Getting to millions in revenue is difficult. It requires lots of work to build a sustainable busine…