There’s so much I want to learn. I wanted to write about a couple tools I use to help me write. Then, I thought more about other tools I use to help me do things. That progressed to what these tools do. That then progressed to the areas of business, especially, I want to learn more about. For fun, here are areas I would like to level up in:

  • Writing, or more specifically, copywriting. I want to strengthen my ability to, not necessarily blog, but create interest and buying intention-content. This can be in the form of long form content like white papers or shorter form of blog posts to even ads. Right now, structurally, I like to use tools like Hemingway App or Yoast SEO while I post from WordPress.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This fits real well with copywriting above. I’m not always interested in being the individual contributor for marketing collateral, but given my interest to continue building companies, largely from the ground up, I am happy to: (1) roll up my sleeves to do the work, and (2) mentor young marketers. I believe content will continue to play a big role in driving customers. Meanwhile, driving organic traffic will play a big role in that.
  • Design, specifically, photo editing and graphic design. I do a lot of graphic creation and some light photo editing for sales and marketing – collateral, website, other. I’ve developed quite a bit of know-how with PowerPoint. Folks laugh that I’m able to do so much in PowerPoint, but to do cleaner, more scalable designing, I need a better grasp for more powerful tools like Adobe Illustrator.
  • Sales, of course. I am not in a specifically sales role now at AUTIT. However, I do get pulled in often because of my background. And no matter what, I will be selling our software today, our vision, a future startup, etc. Sales is always evolving.

Most of my interests above are to help me be both a better marketing leader and individual contributor. Right now, I have the basics covered. I’m able to do well, but I’m not able to do great. Meanwhile, the ability to know how to evaluate great either as a reviewer or doer would go a long way towards ensuring what needs to get done is done well.

Next: take some formal steps to level up like a “Codecademy” type of process.

What are some areas you’d like to level up in? How would you go about leveling up?

Complementing my last couple posts about my career path, I’ve held several job titles over the years that are not progressive. Heck, they’re in several different functional areas – sales, marketing, consulting / services, solutions / product manager. And usually, my job title reflected just a sliver of what I do.

A lot of folks move from company to company, job to job for progression in the job ladder. That can be:

  • Consultant > Senior Consultant > Project Manager > Senior Project Manager > Associate Partner > Partner, etc.
  • Sales Development Representative > Account Executive > Sales Development Manager > Enterprise Sales Manager > Director of Enterprise Sales > Vice President of Enterprise Sales, etc.

My path has been:

  • Consultant (IBM) > Consultant (Chainnovations) > Senior Consultant (Chainalytics) > Head of Business Development (Body Boss Fitness – co-founded) > Managing Partner (Five Points Digital – co-founded) > Head of Sales and Marketing (SalesWise) > Solutions Architect (Autit, current company)

Clearly, my roles at startups including my own has had an “inflation” of titles. My current role looks like a clear “demotion” if anything. And yes, if anything, it is.

However, what I’ve realized is that titles right now are meaningless. Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things sheds his thoughts on titles which are largely similar to mine. Though, he goes on to talk about why they matter including for employees’ career progression, for external recognition / structure of communication, etc. However, there is so much to be done at an early-stage startup, especially, that titles are fluid. The responsibilities can be focused in specific areas, but are still largely, fluid.

My role as a solutions architect is similar to that of a product manager but also with sales engineer responsibilities. I’m employee number 7, and I am one of the most seasoned in sales, marketing, and customer success – the growth roles of a startup. We also have no marketer at the moment. So, I’m the one building the website, the collateral, engaging the PR firm – being the one-man marketing band.

Going into the role and accepting the offer, I knew I had to role up my sleeves. THAT’S EXACTLY WHY I JOINED! I wanted to have a hand in more and to get sh!t done. My experience is less about having hoity toity titles and more about getting things done to accomplish the greater goal – to build a great company.

In a company where there are so few individuals, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of things to do both on a strategic, leadership realm as well as in the individual contributor, tactical realm. I’m good with that. And truth is, there will be attrition one way or another in an early-stage startup. At this point, not all hires are going to be the right fit for what needs to be done now. Not all hires are going to know how to execute without the support and clear focus of being in a large corporate environment. Roles and the job titles that go with them will be fluid. It’s best to focus on what needs to get done and build a great company. Being the Head of Business Development means nothing if the company is unsuccessful. Trust me. I know.

I had a revelation while writing my post last week about my approach to new jobs. That is, the revelation came when I realized how I was trying to bring more of the hiring process into my locus of control. It came to me towards the end:

What’s all this mean to folks looking to make moves? Paths can be very different than the traditional apply-interview-offer format. My path has been relatively the same the last several positions. My motivations have changed, but I have aligned goals to the process I felt would be most advantageous to the value I would bring. I don’t “interview”. I don’t “apply”. Though I keep an updated resume together, I have not used it much – certainly not for my last several positions, not even during our early talks. I know my value, and it does not fit on one page.

Figure out what works for you. Then, try to control part of the process to put you in the best position to achieve your goals.

I omitted a line when publishing that went: “Putting a one-pager through a recruiter’s system to filter and highlight and pass along… it’s all outside of my control. I don’t have enough input.”

The revelation is that in a traditional hiring process, so much happens within the hiring company that is invisible to the candidate (me). Much of the evaluation comes to reading and evaluating capabilities via a single sheet of paper – that dreaded “one-pager”. It’s great. I get it. I love one-pagers, too. However, even I realize that if a candidate comes to me with a one-pager AND something that helps showcase his / her ability to deliver, that’s the Shangri-la. That’s what I want to see – confidence, initiative, creativity, etc. It’s not all there on a resume.

My fiancée realized long ago that I can be, in a sense, controlling. My controlling nature comes from a mixture of prioritization and accountability / responsibility. That’s also what makes me more entrepreneurial than others. It enables me to go beyond ideas and into execution. My approach to joining a company falls in line with my need to bring more into my locus of control. It enables me to give my best representation while also evaluating the other side.

My strict schedule of going to the gym at 5AM is another way I bring schedule into my locus of control. I go to the gym early when there is less people in the gym. Thus, I can get first dibs on the equipment I want – the equipment that enables me to achieve the fitness goals that I have. Meanwhile, accomplishing my workout in the morning ensures I put this firmly at the top of my prioritization. I ensure that if I get busy later in the day, I have already accomplished my top priority.

I can’t control everything, and I doubt I would enjoy life if I could. But I can certainly bring more into my locus of control. There are things that I can help influence and shape. I hold myself accountable. And for the greater good (for my team, my family, my friends, etc.), my accountability ensures better outcomes.

The balance with bringing more into my locus control, though, is the ability to let others take pieces into their own controls and processes. There’s the balance.

My job resume reads long when considering the several startups I co-founded. But as a full-time W2 employee, there’s been four since college. There was IBM Global Business Services, Chainnovations (acquired by Chainalytics), SalesWise (including Burner Rocket, acquired by VLG Marketing), and now, AUTIT. In each opportunity since IBM, though, I never applied. They came from deliberate, sometimes cold, outreach from me. What set these job acquisitions apart from traditional hiring processes was that each started with consulting as a test of how we would work together.

I’ve applied seriously three times since my initial post-college job at IBM. Two of those, I withdrew my application after initial rounds. My experience ranges from large corporations (including my co-op with UPS during college) to early-stage startups. The two opportunities I withdrew from were companies between 50-100 employees. They were firmly in the growth stages. My interests lay in building early companies rather than just scaling.

When evaluating new opportunities, I’ve been fortunate in timing of companies in their stages. But also, I have enjoyed showcasing my capabilities while also evaluating the company’s fit – creating a consulting arrangement first. Here’s how this process has worked out for me:

  • Chainnovations. I worked with IBM Global Business Services as a Logistics Consultant straight out of college 2008. However, the economy was tanking, and in March 2009 while I was in between projects, I was informed I would be let go in 30 days. Turns out 36% of my group was joining me. Within 30 minutes of that call, I looked up the company my friend worked at. He mentioned months before it was a very small company, like a startup. I figured I could give this a try and learn as much as possible, so I could learn about starting a company in the future. I called the number on the website. Turns out, I was talking to the CEO and Founder. Since I had 30 days of pay till being let go from IBM, I offered him free work as a “test drive”. He agreed, and within 30 days, I had an offer to join. I had a job before I was let go from IBM; whereas, many of my fellow IBMers took several months to land on their feet.
  • SalesWise. After Body Boss, I started a consulting shop called Five Points Digital to figure out my Next Big Move. I consulted on sales process improvement projects to supply chain to app and from website build to project management. I wanted to network and find problems to help inspire my next startup. Problem was that I didn’t unearth that aha idea. At the end of 2015, I ended the consulting shop, and made the decision to join an early-stage startup to learn how to scale. Almost the exact next day at a coffee shop in Atlanta Tech Village, I saw the CEO and Founder of a startup I had met two months ago while I was consulting with another company. I told him I was looking for my next steps after I finished writing my book. We sat down and agreed on consulting work for a month to evaluate working together. During my time, I focused on helping launch marketing campaigns for the company’s new product while providing input on a sales structure. Within two weeks, I had an offer from the company to join to which I accepted.
  • AUTIT. This is fresher given I just received and accepted the offer two weeks ago. After the sale of Burner Rocket, I was transitioning out of the company the rest of the year. That meant Jan 1, I would no longer be employed. I had been evaluating options for my Next Great Move since the acquisition anyways. Problem was that I didn’t have any ideas or problems I was passion about. Nor was I excited about the macroeconomics for 2019-20. I also recently got engaged. 2019 was going to be the year that required greater stability. Thus, I was on the lookout for other full-time opportunities. Serendipitously, I read about a startup in the supply chain space having raised $2.7M seed round. After a quick review on LinkedIn suggest they were extremely early-stage. I dropped a couple messages to the CEO and COO over the next week expressing my interest to speak to them. I eventually got a reply from the CEO to sit down. Subsequently, I met with the other co-founders (COO and CTO), and we agreed on consulting for the next two months. I had started a different supply chain consulting project for the rest of the year. I was only able to offer AUTIT a handful of hours to which they were eager to try. However, the supply chain contract never fully took off, so I was able to shift my time over to AUTIT. With the supply chain work cancelling, the AUTIT team offered to bring me on full-time earlier. Within 1 month of our contract, the team extended me a formal offer.

Quick notes: It was after Body Boss and before SalesWise when I consulted with several companies. A few companies and I worked together to explore working full-time after our initial contracts. However, none of those materialized into full-time positions. Those initial consulting arrangements allowed responsible parties to realize we were not good fits. I learned about how teams worked together, trajectory of the companies, etc. Early consulting allowed me to dive in without risking longer term objectives.

Before AUTIT (and after Burner Rocket / SalesWise), I applied to Google. This would have been a good opportunity to be a part of a company that was at the cutting edge of technology. Meanwhile, they would pay well and make up for the deficits of working in startups over the years. This would have been a deliberate move to learn and build up a seed fund for a future company. However, this hiring process didn’t go too far.

What’s all this mean to folks looking to make moves? Paths can be very different than the traditional apply-interview-offer format. My path has been relatively the same the last several positions. My motivations have changed, but I have aligned goals to the process I felt would be most advantageous to the value I would bring. I don’t “interview”. I don’t “apply”. Though I keep an updated resume together, I have not used it much – certainly not for my last several positions, not even during our early talks. I know my value, and it does not fit on one page.

Figure out what works for you. Then, try to control part of the process to put you in the best position to achieve your goals.

Big news! I’ve joined another early-stage startup here in Atlanta called AUTIT.It’s been almost exactly three years since I started consulting with SalesWise which led to full-time employment in February 2016. But I officially close the SalesWise (and Burner Rocket) chapter in my life today as I officially start with AUTIT.

SalesWise has been a tremendous journey where I learn so much. It’s odd looking back trying to piece together if I learned as much as expected, more, or less? All I can say is that I learned in every aspect of the growth side of business – from marketing to sales to customer success. Though, we did not scale as much as we all hoped, I got to experience real, structured processes to drive growth. I got to create a whole new go-to-market strategy that became its own product and business (that was later sold – Burner Rocket). I spoke to hundreds of sales leaders and their team members and got to understand what made sales leaders successful. I got to understand what they assessed from their sales professionals. I got to work with executives from marketing to customer success. I sat in on Board Meetings and met highly successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Then again, I got to learn a lot about what did not help drive growth. I learned about misalignment in product positioning as well as the criticality of customer discovery for true pain. I learned the side effects of taking on moderate venture capital early on. I learned the traps of building based on financial proformas from a top-down rather than a bottom-up model. The careful scrutiny of burn rate was more apparent than ever.

And of course, I got to experience growing a completely new idea into a product and into an acquisition with Burner Rocket. I experienced the negotiations processes with some due diligence. Burner Rocket was successful not just for us, but for many of our customers, too. It’s now a checkmark in my many boxes for success.

I could go on and on about the incredible almost-three-year ride at SalesWise, especially talking about the relationships I’ve built and forged. However, it’s important to now translate those lessons learned and continue to forge those relationships to this next chapter at AUTIT.

I will explain how this opportunity came in a future post, but for today, I’m excited about the prospect of blending my diverse experiences into a single entity. AUTIT dramatically reduces inventory costs through data harmonization for the world’s most complex supply chains. Here, I can leverage my experiences in supply chain and consulting as the industry and personas while coupling my technology and startup experience into this new role at AUTIT. Here, I am employee number 7. I will start this journey as a Solutions Architect – building the bridge between product and growth teams. That’s simply the title to get the job requisition passed. However, I will also help handle marketing, product management, account / customer success, and be involved in the sales process. The title is focused, but my role is multi-faceted. Perfect.

It’s a good story on how I came to this day. I’ll save that for another day. For today, cheers for new chapters that continue to build on the story.

Building on the sales pipeline post from last week, a pipeline is about understanding the state of sales. Providing a structure to the sales process enables a team to assess key sales metrics (read: “performance”).

A few metrics to track once an opportunity is created:

  • Close win/ loss rate – what is the ratio of opportunities that are won/ loss
  • Sales stage aging – how long are opportunities in sales stages
  • Close rate by prospect source – based on how the prospect became a lead and then an opportunity, what is the ratio of opportunities that are won
  • Sales cycle time – how long does it take to close opportunities
  • # of close date moves – that is, how often are close dates adjusted for opportunities? This can reflect poor sales forecasts
  • Total win amounts – simply, how much money is generated
  • Conversion rates at every stage – how often are opportunities moving beyond the first stage? Second stage? Etc.

The above sales metrics can further be grouped or aggregated on finer details including:

  • By sales professional – which sales professionals are closing more, less
  • By date(s) – aggregated by months, weeks, quarters, etc.
  • Other standard or custom attributes of opportunities and accounts –fields beyond the above including opportunity size, opportunity creation, account size, account geography, or other custom fields on the opportunity or account level

Then, if data is captured well, a sales leader can go deeper by understanding the activities involved…

  • How many meetings were completed to close a deal?
  • How many people were involved in the sales process? Buying process?
  • How well do customers continue buying services/ products later? That is, understand the renewal rates, cross-sells, and up-sells

There are many sales metrics available once a structure is created and data is gathered. The important element of metrics is keeping them focused and driving action. Consider all the sales metrics mentioned above are gathered. Are there specific areas that need attention this month? Are there specific sales pods or professionals who need more coaching? Stay focused, and have your data inform how to achieve better performance.

Tags: sales, metrics, sales leaders, pipeline

I’ve built several sales pipelines from scratch over the years. They should be fairly straight forward to assemble, especially, for many SaaS companies today. But there are a few key elements that should be remembered when building a pipeline (“sales structure”) as well as refining a pipeline — the stages of a sale.

Purpose of the Pipeline

To start, a sales pipeline serves three primary purposes:

  • Provides a measurable means of all expected sales opportunities.
  • Enables a sales team to follow the appropriate activities to help guide buyers through a sales cycle.
  • Provides a repeatable process to understand the engagement and status of a sales opportunity.

Typical Sales Pipeline

  • Qualified. This first stage typically follows some prospecting activities (marketing, sales development outreach, other) where initial contact with a prospect signals a qualified opportunity. “Qualified” here includes the right signals for continued sales activity such as the right tech stack, target company size, etc.
  • Discovery. The second stage of a typical SaaS sales cycle includes a deeper dive into the pain points of the prospect and how the product or service being sold can meet the goals of the prospect.
  • Evaluation. This stage can vary a good bit depending on product/ service, size of the sale, etc. Here, a prospect may need to involve more stakeholders in the buying process. This stage may also include a demo, trial, or proof of concept period.
  • Proposal. For many companies, this stage represents an 80% chance of closing (win). Here, the buyer knows the cost(s) and terms of the solution. The buyer understands timing and implementation. It’s here where a seller may send a formal proposal or simply a payment link.
  • Close. The penultimate stage of the sales cycle which would include both Close Won and Close Lost deals. Some companies may mark this stage when there is first receipt of a signed proposal or payment.

What to Watch Out For

  • Building the sales stages in silo — without the input of the team.
  • Building the sales stages without considering the buying process of prospects. Bottom line: prospects determine a lot about the speed and constituents involved to make a purchase.
  • The sales stages should be activity driven on both the sales and buyer sides. The progression into a sales stage (and exit) should be based on the activities involved.
  • Sales stages should be not be overly complicated or sales members will not update the pipeline, and thus, will not yield the insights to assess performance. Of course, too simplistic and the pipeline fails to identify areas for improvement or insight.

 

Since selling Burner Rocket, I’ve been working on finding the Next Great Move. This could include starting another company, joining another early-stage startup, or go somewhere where I can make good money – save and pursue my own company later with seed funds. However, now, I’ll need to consider a big next phase in my life – marriage.

My last post was supposed to go out on Wednesday per usual, but instead, was published on Saturday – three days later. Why? Because I was proposing to my then-girlfriend on Wednesday up in New Hampshire in the snow. (!!!) Yup! I’m going to have to edit my timeline soon.

In any case, I’m looking at three primary categories for what I do next:

  • Start another company. Pros: this is what I want to do. It’s what makes me the most excited. Cons: I do not have any clear interest in any one idea. Also, the SaaS market is highly saturated in marketing and sales, where I’ve spent my last two years. There is no clear wages here. (Danger given my upcoming nuptials and next-life-phase pieces like kids and new home.)
  • Join an early-stage company. Pros: continue to down the entrepreneurial path with some exit potential. Able to be a part of an early leadership crew to grow a company. Build something great from nothing/ little. If funded, can mitigate wage concerns. Cons: I would not be the entrepreneur, only entrepreneurial. How much of wage concerns can be mitigated? Will there be an ownership stake that enables some financial freedom upon a potential exit? Product-market fit may not be achieved and depending on leadership, leading the company to this point can take a long time… or never.
  • Join an organization that pays extremely well with learning upside. Pros: Can build up a cash stash to seed a future-startup. Will have less of the emotional roller coaster and be more even in stress-levels, likely. Can learn and network with vast resources and backing. Cons: Less entrepreneurial, if at all. Could be tied to golden handcuffs and never return to startups.

The point is to pursue one of these options early into 2019. Till then, I’ll continue filling my time with some consulting work to keep my mind sharp while learning and networking.

If you were taking a dive into another phase of your life, how are you evaluating your options? Why would you lean one way more than the other? What risks are you taking on?

I was recently asked, “what is entrepreneurship?” and “what does it mean to be entrepreneurial?” I’m curious how you’d answer those questions. Before reading on, take a minute to think about it. Hold onto that thought (write it down, if you can, before you move on).

I don’t remember my exact words but I said something similar to:

Entrepreneurship is commercializing a solution to a problem using resources effectively and efficiently. Being entrepreneurial means the active commercialization of a solution while consuming resources effectively and efficiently.

From Merriam-Webster, entrepreneur is:

“one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” (Merriam-Webster, 2018) Entrepreneurship is the noun incarnation while entrepreneurial is the adjective version.

BusinessDictionary.com defines entrepreneurship as:

“The capacity and willingness to develop, organize and manage a business venture along with any of its risks in order to make a profit. The most obvious example of entrepreneurship is the starting of new businesses.” (BusinessDictionary, 2018)

Then, you have Harvard Business School (HBS) who uses the definition from Professor Howard Stevenson:

“entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled” (HBR, 2018)

Let me parse out my definition to see how I got to it:

  • “commercializing”: The heart of an entrepreneur’s endeavor is making money and doing so at a scale that optimizes this.
  • “a solution to a problem”: Every innovation, idea, product, service should be in pursuit of addressing some problem. HBS’s Stevenson refers to this as opportunity. In layman’s terms, it’s “sale”.
  • “using resources effectively and efficiently”: I admit that this does not have to be a part of the definition. As I sat thinking about the definition I gave, there’s no rule to use resources like this. Entrepreneurs and startups can spend and drive up their burn rate all they want without a firm grasp of returns. That, of course, is not a smart way to build a business. Nevertheless I included this at first because it’s where my mind goes. There’s limited resources either money, time, or people.

Then, there’s the distinction of being an entrepreneur vs. being entrepreneurial. I look at entrepreneurs as the real risk-takers. They’re typically who I would also call the founder(s). Being entrepreneurial provides a broader stroke for those who do not take the initial plunge with the risks involved. However, there’s still a pursuit in commercialization, innovation (problem solving), and resource-consciousness.

Go back to those definitions you thought about at the beginning. Why’d you define those questions like you did? I’m curious – can you share your definitions in the comments below?

I sat down with a graduating senior from college recently to talk about startups. At first, I thought we were going to talk about the startup ecosystem in Atlanta. I didn’t know he had an idea that he wanted to pursue. Actually, he had three with two of them already in flight.

 

He had a lot of questions about how best to begin highlighting two ideas. One was a very complicated business. It would require building up significant trust between two markets. On the one side, it would have been a lot of manual work to move forward. Because of the idea, there would be significant legal implications. Read: there would need to be significant legal work upfront – not a cheap proposition.

 

Meanwhile, his second idea was based around a SaaS business with a single buyer. Here, he was already working with a friend technologist. The team was working on this idea with a free customer already – or at least, an agreement once the application was built. The pain point was a little clear, but could use some refinement and focus.

 

After speaking about both ideas, he started to realize how much easier it would be to develop and build the second idea. Though the first idea was complicated, that’s not always a bad thing. If a team is able to get past the hurdles that makes the idea so difficult, there could be good upside. This is the case for many successful companies including Uber, Airbnb, WeWork, etc.

 

However, there was little customer discovery in the first idea vs. the second. They already had a business that was interested in a solution to their problem, and it sounded like there could be a strong market. This would be simpler to get off the ground while enabling the team to do the proper customer discovery. As it stood, the pain points were mostly known. However, this is where digging in to truly understand the problem would be beneficial. He and his partner should work with several stakeholders who are impacted to understand the grander problem – understand what other businesses and personas could be experiencing similar problems. And how big of a problem? Read: what was the problem costing the stakeholder/ customer? What’s the value of a solution.

 

There’s a lot to consider for the soon-to-be-graduate. However, digging in early on the details of a focused pain point will help the team be experts for real customers. Meanwhile, tackling a more transparent issue has the added benefit of being able to find, market, and sell a solution faster.

 

Whatever happens, don’t go broader. Dig in on a focused problem area. Set a grander vision once initial success is achieved.