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 commutes become a part of the workday.
  • The line between homes and vehicles start to blur. In one example, you can see how a company like Cabinwill continue to pave the way for travelers to sleep/ live between destinations. Or, you can have a Jetson’s like experience where people roll out of bed and get completely prepared for the day on the drive. Perhaps there will be a rise in nomadic living where larger vehicles become actual living spaces. People then travel and live wherever they want.

Of course, opportunities create more opportunities (or challenges). Trucking, as an industry, is an area with a lot of potential to lose should autonomous vehicles take over trucking – especially regional and longer hauls – with 3.5M people employed professionally. The jobs that autonomous vehicles could displace are jarring.

Would ride-sharing services become even bigger as people shift to autonomous vehicles? Vehicles lend themselves as service running routes daily. Car ownership, then, could decrease as efficiency and productivity increase of shared vehicles. On the flip side then, more utilization could lead to higher maintenance intervals promoting needs for mechanic professionals. (Unless those get automated, too!)
The prospects of autonomous vehicles are incredible. They will change the way we live, work, and play. They’ll have massive opportunities as well as massive challenges. Either way, autonomous is coming. How we prepare for that will be key to how we continue to innovate and shape the future.
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 explicit instruction during first-use onboarding. It worked. Engagement of the new menu increased as has customizations. Their goal of greater and longer app usage also increased.
Users are now seeing buying options more often. Their next goal is to drive increased sales.
The team is studying engagement data to help answer questions, create hypotheses, and make decisions to accomplish specific goals. It’s great to see progress.
P.S. You can check out related articles on instrumentation and metrics in “Don’t Know What Metrics to Track? Start Asking the Right Questions”, “Metrics vs. Instrumentation”, and “Metrics for the Early Stage Startups”.
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-to-year.”
Reflecting on the unpredictable nature of freelancing (and perhaps very much associated with the music industry), “No way to predict it”. He points out how even this August, he can’t definitely say he’ll be able to take a vacation.

It doesn’t stop there…
“Even though you work for yourself, you’re at the whim of your client.” This is an important note a lot of people forget about when they toy with the idea of going solo. Being a freelancer or a CEO of your company does not mean you are truly your own boss. The people who pay you is ultimately who you must be accountable to.
“You have to make yourself available to them, or else they’ll go to the next person.” He laments how competition is always there ready to fill a position should he not be able to do the work. For his clients, they still need to produce music to be relevant. Thus, they’ll go to someone who can/ will do it.
“In some ways, you have more freedom and less freedom. Does give more flexibility on a day-to-day basis. But this also depends on the non-9-5 job.”

What’s more specialized for you in the music industry [versus a “normal”, non-entertainment industry]?
He continues highlighting the importance of servicing his clients – “Always there to serve the artist.”
In fact, he cites how professionals in the industry are “really only as good as your recent work.” This dictates your relationships and reputation.
As such, he points out the importance of network and having uncompromising work quality – “Letting other people know what you do, and you’re available to work with them. When you accept a job, you put in 100% effort to make sure the end-product is the best it can be.”
“Some people, work towards the budget – ‘small budget, small amount of work’.” However, when his name is attached to it, it’s his reputation.
“Compromises affect reputation.”

Any recommendations for people to do when they listen to music? Anything you want to point out so listeners know what or how else to appreciate music?
“Listen to music for enjoyment.”
He reflects how it’s his job to listen to the “snare for 10 minutes”. He’s putting a puzzle of rhythms, acoustics, instruments, and the like into a “cohesive, single” song. It’s a lot of hard work that he pores over, and hopes everyone listens and enjoy the artistry.
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 in “pitch mode”. When in pitch mode, there’s not much engagement from the other side of the table. Instead, it’s me talking atthe prospect.
An analogy of this could be like a sports game – take soccer. In sales, we’re on the same team looking for a mutually beneficial outcome. (Sales is not an “us vs. them” game, right?) And in a soccer game, it’s highly unlikely to win if one player hogs the ball the whole time. Nor will there be a successful outcome if the passing is only done upfront. A successful – and fun – game is one where both parties are involved passing the ball together. The ball being the conversation in a sales call. In a sales call, it’s important to pass the conversation back and forth, and ensure engagement throughout.
In soccer training in my past, we sometimes played games like “one-touch” or “two-touch” which limited how many touches each player could make with the ball. It encouraged fast-thinking while discouraging ball-hogging. A similar game can be played in sales calls for practice. For every pass (question or comment) from the prospect, a sales professional can pass a question back.
Sales professionals today tend to ask less questions anyways, so the practice here will be to simply boost the number of questions. Creating this habit will naturally drive more comfort and confidence specific questions to ask – what, when, how.
Give it a go. Pass the ball.
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 manager, Alex, realized how the placement of Herbie in line could create gaps while hiking. Place him in the middle, and the first half of the troop was rapidly walking away from the second group. Place him in the back next to the adult leaders, and the whole group would walk away. Put Herbie at the front, and the whole group would stay together – limited by the pace of Herbie. Herbie is what’s called a bottleneck in manufacturing.
When thinking about any process today, it’s important to realize the Herbie. Where is the process being slowed down to prevent throughput and scale? Where is there fallout? If a bottleneck is identified and remedied, would another bottleneck arise? Is a current improvement effort focused on the wrong part of the process?
There’s much more from The Goal that I enjoyed, but the notion of Herbie has stuck with me, and makes me think in a broader context like sales. In a sales process (think: funnel), there are chronological sales stages like an assembly line. And just like an assembly line, there’s a possibility of a Herbie where prospects either fall out of the funnel (good thing? Bad thing?) or get stuck (bad).
After the next couple books I’m reading, I’ll likely give The Goal another read, and I’m very much looking forward to it more than 12 years later.
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 agreement. Or, in an early discovery call, the objective is to agree to a next call where more influencers and decision makers are present.
Walk through the objective(s) early on in the call to manage expectations. This doubles as confirming to the prospect that you’re here for business, and s/he should be assessing today’s interactions to make some commitment at the end. Then, at the end, be sure to close for the objective.
These objective-based calls help sales professionals stay on track on their own objectives. They also encourage commitment from the prospect to advance vs. stay stranded.
Understand, too, there are stretch objectives (maximum) and conservative objectives. Stretch objectives can be attained in the absolute best-case scenarios where the prospect commits to a “larger” objective like bringing on an integration team. A more conservative objective, then, may include introducing other key decision makers to evaluate a product or service. The objective of that call may be to bring on an integration team.
Before the next sales call, know where you and the prospect are in the sales process. Then, outline what the objectives are before the call to ensure proper alignment and talk-points are on track.
Get the objective.
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’t look like it’s going to be sustainable.’” Geez, this ateat me towards the end of Body Boss. I felt like a fraud when I spoke to others – prospects, yes, but especially with my personal connections (friends and family). The weight of faking a smile was heavy. So heavy, in fact, that I avoided any discussion about the venture as much as possible.
  • “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed that Inkdit didn’t thrive. My friends, family and community haven’t made me feel that way. In fact, they’ve done quite the opposite. I’ve been reminded that I have many people who support me.” As the dust settled from shutting down Body Boss, friends and family came from everywhere pledging support. It was humbling. In many ways, too, I was proud. Many applauded our courage and how we built something from nothing.

Gregg’s experience from failure sounds a lot like mine. As I read the comments to his article, I’m reminded of the power of sharing unsuccessful stories and being vulnerable. Confidence in what we’ve achieved and where we’re heading gives us power to go again. Sharing our stories gives others the confidence and support they, too, can go for greatness.

By the way, you can read more about my experience from my book Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success. It’s a quick read so you can learn, apply, and go (e-book and paperback available).
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 about other quotes you live by?