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Every once in a while, you stumbled on some hilarious YouTube video involving kids or kittens or in my case, ducklings. Okay, so these days, maybe it’s not “every once in a while” as much as it is “very often” thanks to everyone sharing everything. The video I recently saw had some obscure leadership lessons that I wanted to share. Yes, of course there are leadership lessons from watching ducklings go up stairs.

You ready? Okay, check out this video first: Ducklings vs. Stairs
Pretty hilarious, and yet, so cute… and so much to learn
Note: when you reach the bottom of this article (read it, don’t just scroll!), I’ll treat you to another hilarity by ducklings (in the wind). However, no leadership lessons I’m drawing from that one.
Let’s just do as ducks do, dive (or jump) into it:

  1. Perseverance. Okay, this was easy, but it’s only easy to point out because it’s so important. How often do you think you’ve approached a seemingly “impossible” task, only to give up short of success?
  2. Learn from your failures. Goes hand-in-hand with the preceding, but you can see the ducks constantly probe different parts of the stairs, and even try areas where another duckling had success. 
  3. Let your flock fly! Clearly, Mama Duck could see her little ones struggling. However, she patiently stood atop the stairs waiting. Sometimes, as a leader, you gotta step back and let the little ducklings do their thing.
  4. Ducks quack together. The line in Disney’s Mighty Ducks was “ducks fly together”, but seeing as the ducklings here aren’t flying, need to adapt it. When you watch the video, see how the ducklings follow each other and even quack at each other like motivation? Ducks quack, flock, fly together, even at a young age. Okay, except for maybe the last duckling. Poor guy.
  5. Sometimes, there’s no getting around the challenge in front of you. Ah, highly applicable, I think, for entrepreneurs and startups especially. The challenge in front of is… actually, there are many. Cutting corners or trying to find a way around some challenges just isn’t going to cut it. I’ve found that sometimes, you gotta find your way THROUGH it, or in the ducklings’ case, get over it.
So, it would have been an interesting leadership observation had none of the ducklings made it. What would Mama Duck do?
Okay, as promised, here’s another duckling video just for your fun today. It’s pretty hilarious, and in some (many) ways, I feel terrible for laughing: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEBLt6Kd9EY


If you enjoyed watching these little ducks go, you should check out this one. Not many lessons here other than “in high wind, reduce your drag coefficient… and don’t be a duck”.
The last several months for me have been… interesting. Since Body Boss became a zombie, I’ve been poking and prodding and brainstorming and wandering what the Next Move is. I’ve helped out a startup with business development, but decided it wasn’t a good long-term fit. Though, I still have demos and conversations just to practice. It would appear at times that I’m spinning my wheels.
I’ve been putting myself in various positions whether that be working with startups, interviews of restaurateurs, and of course, good ole reconnects with friends and otherwise. A couple weeks ago, I was staring down from a new nadir… unable to sleep, I got up and wrote a Proclamation of sorts to my close friends and family about continued support and to push me and hold me accountable to what I’m trying to achieve. Needless to say, it was a dash of poignant revelations and a whole lot of “I think I can, I think I can”. It’s good to know I have some very good family and friends who push me and are supportive…
Aside from knowing who’s got my back, I was able to connect with a serial entrepreneur out in San Francisco who’s a friend of my older brother. I didn’t ask if I could use his name, so I’ll call him “Wayne”. Wayne has been an entrepreneur since his days in high school. He’s founded companies whilst at Georgia Tech, and had a great idea go bigger when he joined YCombinator (YC) a few years ago. If you don’t know Y Combinator, think of it as the Harvard Business School of technology accelerators with notable alums including Dropbox, Reddit, Airbnb, and so many more incredible companies. Since then, though, he’s founded another startup that is reaching crazy great levels of recruiting with specific roles, companies, and even select cities. It’s how he maintains some version of what Paul Graham describes as “wells” – target companies/ pains/ niches and go deep vs. going after a larger audience with limited depth of services or otherwise.
So, Mr. Wayne… I explained to him my position, and inquired about his experience and sought his advice. Here are some take-aways from our conversation:
  • If you want to be on the business side, know your numbers. I shared with Wayne an idea I’m currently incubating, and he had some great questions regarding the business model. In effect, he was testing the economic feasibility of the idea as well as my wit. Sadly, I didn’t quite respond as well as I wanted. His advice was to practice mental/ back-of-the-napkin math for ideas. That should at least help early on determine if there’s a viable business idea.
  • Early on, it’s about the product rather than the team. This was an interesting viewpoint. For… ever, I heard how VCs, entrepreneurs, etc. invest in the team behind the startup. Wayne’s point was that if the idea (i.e. product, service) is good, then the market will pull you up. From there, you’ll find money both from your customers and want-to-be investors. Also, the team will quickly learn and get the experience. Wayne cited this as a key learning from watching company after company go through YC.
  • Build a pain pill, not a vitamin. Okay, that phrase is actually pulled from David Cummings, but it’s apparent in what Wayne was prescribing (see what I did there?). From the preceding bullet, the underlying take-away is to find an idea that addresses pain points for markets. If you find a real pain killer, customers will come to you. Of course, marketing will help, too.
  • If you’re not a programmer, don’t bother. On Saturday, I bit the bullet and bought a MacBook to learn how to program in iOS for this new idea I’m incubating. Since then, I’ve churned through hours and hours of iOS programming tutorials (for Swift) through 4 courses. Wayne cited that if I wanted to stick to the business-side of things, get better at that. Many good programmers have been programming for a long time, and there are 18 year-olds who would smoke me. It’s always going to be catch-up. I should focus on what my experience has given me, and hone those skills.
  • Notion of “Liquidity” – 3 tenets: proximity of the sale, right product and right customer, and timing. At least for my current incubating idea, I must deal with these three sides of liquidity that will challenge my success vis-à-vis if I can EASILYaddress these three tenets to facilitate the marketplace.
  • It’ll take 2-3 years to reach any level of success. Obviously, that’s not applicable to every startup, but from his experience, that where he’s found the greatest success in his startups. He also cites that San Francisco could be a great place for entrepreneurs, but with the added cost-of-living considerations, there are significant downsides. At the end of the day, be good at where you are.

It’s great knowing a couple degrees of connections away is yet another successful serial entrepreneur. It’s incredibly inspiring. Though, I have to admit that it’s also incredibly daunting. You can tell Wayne’s got his $h!t together with how we speaks and his questions – no doubt through fine tutelage of YC and Paul Graham et al. I’ve taken a lot of his advice to heart, and I’ll be considering all of these take-aways and then some over my present and future (both short and long-term).
Though, I will say that I will still plug away at iOS. I don’t hope to become a CTO and CEO in a startup I found. Instead, I do want the ability to quickly build apps web or mobile and test out ideas. Wayne cited his earlier days in Berkley, CA where he was holed up in a house with two other co-founders, and they would build an idea a day. With that type of iterating, they were able to test ideas quickly. That’s where I want to be. I want to be able to test ideas quickly, and build something great like him.
Closing thoughts. Wayne suggested reading the following two Paul Graham essays:

What are your thoughts on my conversation with Wayne (or at least the take-aways)? How else would you recommend entrepreneurs building up for the Next Move?
Source: http://ak8.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/1256950/preview/stock-footage-man-in-brown-suit-stand-on-beach-and-rises-hands-then-walked-and-immersed-sea-water-and-swam-at.jpg
I’ve been heads down trying to get this new startup I’ve got going that for one of the first times in a while, my mind was drawing a blank as to what I should post about. I’m not quite where I want to be for the startup to post anything about it, yet, so I’ll curb that. Instead, I did read an article recently about the CEO of MongoDB, Max Schireson stepping down.
MongoDB is one of the hot techs out there right now. When you think up-and-coming and leading edge tech, it’s right there at the top with a recent valuation of $1B according to the article on Business Insider – Why This CEO Happily Just Quit The Best Job He’s Ever Had.
Schireson cites his crazy travel schedule considering he and his family lives in Palo Alto while the company is headquartered in New York. He’s on course to break 300,000 miles this year! (As a former frequent flyer (Delta Diamond, for the win) and now sparse traveler, ah, I want that.) Anyways, he’s leaving the post and stepping into a Vice Chairman role.
His blog post describes more of the situation, and based on some questions and lifestyle choices of those around me are playing out, I wanted to share some take-aways…
  • For Max Schireson and many, family comes first.As a young consultant but always a “family man”, I used to ask the more senior consultants how they felt about traveling during the rapid growth years of their young kids.
  • Not always about money, especially “now”. When you’re good at what you do and you know people, you’ll likely always have opportunities that will pay you. Money’s not really the problem. For me right now, my focus is less on money and more on entrepreneurship and building a startup that will have lasting impressions. If things really do slip for me, I know I can pull the ripcord and parachute to “security”.
  • Some/ most people won’t understand why, but you only need a select few to know why. That is, MongoDB is growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve raised some serious capital and have a hotly rising valuation. Schireson’s step down from CEO will impact him not just on the bottom line, but also from professional development, etc. perspectives. Most people will see it that way. But to those who matter, they’ll understand and support him on his decision and transition (and beyond).
  • If you’re running a company, you need “all-in” leaders to make the most of the opportunities. Maybe you need to mitigate some risks at the beginning, but once that’s rolling, you need to plunge headfirst to make the decisions and adjustments (pivots?) necessary to the business to be successful. It’s like raising a baby!
  • Plenty of bias and judging between men and women executives. The start of the Business Insider article talks about Schireson’s experience of questions asked of him vs. his female executive counterparts regarding “personal interests” vs “family-work balance”.
  • Behind every great business leader, is a great partner. I remember watching a video of the trials and tribulations Elon Musk endured during the formative years of both Tesla and Space X (see his 60 Minutes interview). However, he also had a great partner at home in his wife to take care of the “Personal Business”. Looking at those around me like at Body Boss, Don (our Head of Development/ Lead Developer/ Make Sh!t Happen Officer) worked some crazy hours after his full-time gig, and was supporting a newborn. His wife was a huge, HUGE partner of not just him, but for Body Boss because of her support.

So in the end, Schireson’s making the decision that he and his family feel is best. It’s been a great run at the helm of MongoDB, but it also doesn’t mean his role in shaping the company future stops and that he just stops moving forward professionally. Instead, now, he can move forward in the capacities he views as most critical to his greater LIFE – his family.
What are your thoughts about stepping down or away from seemingly highly lucrative positions? Schireson obviously holds his family as the main pillar of his life. What would you say is yours right now?
Delta’s approach at engaging fliers at LaGuardia airport. Source: http://static1.businessinsider.com/image/512b78736bb3f77f7b00000c/laguardias-delta-terminal-is-packed-with-ipads-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see.jpg
Ah, the world is changing so damned fast, and the plethora of technology and startups is sometimes overwhelming. So what gives? How does one really bring in consumers and cultivate the relationship in such a way that they don’t leave? My answer: user engagement/ experience.
If you’ve been reading my blog for every so often, chances are you’d have read me go on about how technology is, in many ways, fragmented. APIs, large platforms, access and ease to program, etc. has lowered the barriers to entry (acquire) and exit (churn). Refer to “Who’s poised to profit in this fragmented, online dating world of startups?” The key for success for today’s entrepreneurs and is almost becoming the minimum/ common denominator is beautiful design and an engaging, easy user experience.
In fact, I actually once wrote how design was a key lever in success in “Winning Combination = Speed + Design + ???”. In retrospect, I should have chosen my words more wisely and had substituted “Design” with “User Experience”. I read a great Fast Company article about this evolution from design to user experience – “Move Over Product Design, UX Is The Future”. The article has several interesting points about this shift and this “[g]lobal competition and technological diffusion” per FastCo.
Here are a few takeaways and nuggets from the article:
  • “today’s product innovations, and the growth they create, are often incremental, narrow, and fleeting”
  • “Global Innovation 1000, R&D spending rose 5.8% last year, yet revenue for those companies increased less than 1%. Global competition and technological diffusion mean that competitors quickly catch up with most improvements, while the transparency of digital and social media also prompts consumers to quickly switch allegiance with each new alluring offer”
  • Go beyond the product or service you’re building/ selling. Instead, focus on the experience and the interaction of the consumer. Uber “fundamentally changed how you order, meet, and pay for a car”
  • Focus on the consumer, but you’ll have to be the one who leads the experience. Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Consumers tend to focus on the pain and fixing that pain by “lessening it”. They need you to think more creatively and think more broadly. Delta, for example, brought the lounge experience to the gates in LaGuardia and Minneapolis airports. This way, Delta may not be able to speed up traffic controlling at a whole airport, but they can make the whole experience a lot more appealing (*phew!* that was a long bullet)
  • Your company’s culture is viral and spreads outward. “Before an experience will come across as real to the outside world, dozens, hundreds or thousands of employees need to be educated and empowered to deliver the vision”

I change the word from “customer” to “consumer” in many of the above after sitting down recently with MaxMedia. MaxMedia is a consumer engagement company here in Atlanta. They believe that there’s a much, much larger scope of people who “consume” an experience, a brand, an idea who may not actually be “customers”. I tend to then think consumer is the aggregation of both prospects (target and non-target prospects), and customers. MaxMedia has recently announced a new approach (for marketing but for real) called You&Me. The focus is all about – you guessed it – consumer engagement with the brand.

Consumers = Prospects + Customers

Okay, so let me step back and close this baby out…
Technological innovation isn’t enough these days. It gets you out the door, but by and large, the market catches up, and you’re struggling to hold onto those precious consumers. UX is key to bringing in consumers as well as preventing them from leaving. UX can be the difference between why I switched from Pandora to Spotify. UX is the masterstroke that enabled Airbnb to grow so fast, and made renting someone’s home for a more local experience rather than focus on price. Uber stepped back and reimagined the whole experience of ordering a car, and now, it’s so easy and fun to call your “own personal” black car service. The tech behind it all is cool, sure, but to us as consumers, it’s all just fun and opens our world to much greater.
What are your thoughts on the criticality of user experience in business/ startups? How do you see the interplay between the underlying technologies and user experience in gaining new consumers and keeping existing?

Pages and Pages of Apps – but which did I pay for? (You win if you answer, “None”.)
I’ve been reading a lot of articles and talking to a few entrepreneurs lately, and the themes are very similar – today’s tech businesses are rarely successful… only the platforms win in the long-run. That is, platforms like Salesforce, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SAP, etc. This isn’t contrary to what “Who’s poised to profit in this fragmented, online dating world of startups?” back from March.
TechCrunch posted yesterday “The Majority Of Today’s App Businesses Are Not Sustainable”. In it, the article talks about:
  • 50% of iOS developers operate at $500 per month (per app). That’s 64% for Android developers
  • 1.6% of developers make more than $500K per month

There’s obviously a lot more in the article. It’s interesting, though, because you have to wonder how many of these apps they deem as “Have Nothings” or otherwise are not revenues from the app store itself (vis-à-vis selling the app), but instead, on a subscription model or otherwise on the backend not necessarily privy to TechCrunch’s article.
You can see the large disparities of the app revenues between iOS and Android
Further, the article does address how many apps are potentially hobbies for developers or even first-time apps letting developers practice and get their feet wet. From this standpoint, it’s also easier to see why in the article, monetarily, iOS dominates as a percentage. Pushing out MVPs or ideas on Android is simple and easy. iOS apps require a heck of a lot more curation before being published on the iTunes store. There are guidelines around styles (what kind of font, where to place buttons, etc.) in addition to things like having a Dun & Bradstreet Number that must be provided and adhered to before publishing on iTunes.
Then again, iOS buyers tend to be higher earners anyways. So… there’s that, too.

What’s your exit strategy?

TechCrunch goes on to talk about how most startups these days are really looking to be acquired rather than build sustained businesses. I can see that, too. Everyone’s always talking about liquidity events. “What’s your exit strategy?” is one of the most common questions you’ll get asked as an entrepreneur. Afterall, investors are looking for returns on their funds, not necessarily to “change the world” as so many say they want to.
What are your thoughts on the success on the app stores? How would you describe the disparities between the litany of apps for success and otherwise?
(Source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-AXHA7x-C7hU/UfafILrYVuI/AAAAAAABeQg/wsuaHqzoELs/s1600/team+up1.jpg)
Finding the right co-founders and team members for a startup is critical. Not everyone out there is going to be a great fit even with the right technical or soft skills. The driving force of a startup is sometimes set both more implicitly and explicitly through its culture. Culture can be subtly enacted through actions, but also purposefully written in the company’s mission and values.
In my eyes and experience, building a successful team can mean augmenting yourself with others who may not see straight eye-to-eye, but that’s a good thing. If you have only agreements and “yes men”, then you may not ever venture out of your comfort zone for something more innovative.
However, finding the right team is tough. I was talking to an Atlanta entrepreneur who dives in and out of startups based largely on the capacity and tolerance for stress. After a startup, he’d jump off and go straight into development and consulting for firms like ad agencies. Then, he’ll grow weary of the rat race, and come up with an idea to then build. He was remarking about the traps he sees oftentimes where co-founders find each other after meeting each other once or twice, and then they struggle to make it work down the line wondering what happened. When he asked co-founders, they tended to have differing philosophies on how to grow the business. Of course, it’s hard to find out if your philosophies or personalities jibe well after only brief instances of meeting.
A psychologist by the name of Lara Honos-Webb wrote about romantic relationships and “Should You Stay or Should You Go?” by positing the 3 layers of people that can gauge the ability of couples to mesh. In startups and entrepreneurship, you’ve likely heard how co-founders are analogous to romantic couples, and even startups as a child given the level of attention and passion required to cultivate the startup to success. Heck, there’s even a “Founder Dating” site (www.founderdating.com)! Kinda makes sense to keep the theme going and share Webb’s view on the 3 layers and think about them from co-founders’ positions.
  • Superficial Side – In dating, this is the person’s overt personality and even physical appearance/ attractiveness. In startups, it’s still based on personalities, and should be less on attractiveness.
  • Daily Dose – In dating, this is the day-to-day and habitual behavior. In startups, this could be how one handles workflow or in some respects, communication.
  • Core Essence – In dating, this layer is what truly drives the person. This is the undercurrent of a person’s values that really drives the upper layers. In startups, this could be some of the risk tolerances and factors, the underlying reason/ passion for a startup, etc.

It’s my contention that much like in relationships, co-founders should have the same/ similar motivations down to the Core Essence layer. You want to know that the co-founder you’re thinking about partnering with is aligned with your values and how you want to build a business. The higher layers are important, but can be different and offer various perspectives as well as provide opportunities to continually push and play Devil’s advocate.
There’s yet another analogy of a startup but with horse racing – bet on the race (industry/ market), the horse (idea/ product/ service), or the jockey (team). I’ve always bet on the jockey, and find that the reason most startups fail (and maybe pivot) or succeed is down to the team. All the more reason why finding the right co-founders similar core essences.

What are your thoughts of co-founders and the startup team? How do you find the right co-founders today?
Just a brainstorming session with Don Pottinger (pictured) and Darren Pottinger on a Saturday morning. Typical.
Yes, when I want to get in a good “innovating” and brainstorming mood/ session, I need to isolate myself from the rest of the world. I like to disconnect, in a sense, and lock myself in an environment where I can let it all out.
Okay, so the reference to a padded room is actually more or less the sound-absorbing padding of room 201 at my former business school. I continue to go there even on the weekends to get away from my house where I’d otherwise develop cabin fever and the local Starbucks where standing up, pacing, and toting a giant whiteboard would be cumbersome.
Brainstorming to me is one of the most fun processes that helps me not only keep my thoughts at bay (to help me sleep at night), but a way for me to continue to brainstorm and innovate ways to improve life. People have all sorts of ways to brainstorm, but this is my blog, so I’ll share how I typically work. And it’s through these sessions where some of my greatest work is done, and where I hope I find my next nugget of entrepreneurial magic.
  • Isolation Mode. Siddhārtha Gautama and Ralph Waldo Emerson saw fit to disappear from the world to find enlightenment. Me? I like to go to spaces with large rooms where I can lay down, pace back and forth, dance (yes, I said, “dance”), and just get away from the world. For me, classrooms tend to be phenomenally suitable places to get away and lock out the world (and lock me in).
  • Let the Tunes Play. I love music. I love how music has a way of changing your mood and even invigorate/ amplify whatever mood you’re in. I listen to Spotify or my personal workout KILLIN’ IT mix in the classroom or via my new Mini Jambox. It’s great. I’ll listen to music with high tempo and some hip hop-ish undertones (overtones, too) because it gets me pumped up and confident. When brainstorming, confidence is high.
  • Whiteboards.If you know me at a personal level, you would know my affinity for whiteboards. I have three in my house, and one day, would love to have my office painted with that whiteboard paint. In the classroom at Emory, I get to take advantage of mammoth whiteboards… three of them that slide up and down. I say Entrepreneurship is like an art, and with whiteboards, I find my empty canvas.
  • Bubbles, Outlines, Comics. When I’m throwing ideas, I’m putting them into whatever format I feel like. Sometimes, I’ll “organize” my thoughts in outlines like this past Saturday, or I’ll do bubble diagrams where I put some central question or theme in the middle, and address it with bubbles connected all around the central idea.
  • Discard Nothing, Capture Everything. I put just about every one of my thoughts about an idea on the board. (It’s why I love big canvases.) Any idea that pops up in my head can be a valuable piece that can bring about some odd way I haven’t thought about before. Sometimes, you have to consider “bad ideas” because innovation requires thinking exactly why bad ideas are bad. Is that just because “it’s always been done that way?” Why wouldn’t a business model from another industry work here? At the end of my brainstorm session or when I need more room, I’ll take pictures of everything and look back upon them for ideas later or for implementation.
  • Start With Something or Nothing. Okay, that probably sounds silly, but really, you don’t have to have an idea to which you want to explore for a brainstorming session. Just enter the room fresh, keep some water and snacks handy, and just be ready to throw anything on the board that pops in your head. With a little list of ideas like “What do I do everyday that I hate?” or “What are the trending hashtags or Tweets where people use the phrase ‘worst ever’, ‘can never do’, ‘this sucks’?” The idea here is to search for areas where people are sharing common pain points, and are passionate enough to share it on social media.
  • Brainstorm with One or Two Others. I tend to brainstorm with just one other person, if at all. It’s good to get another’s perspective. It’s like when you need to talk to vent… you just want someone to hear you. However, in this situation, that other person could play devil’s advocate to your ideas.
  • Plan For Nothing and Something Will Come. When you start a brainstorm session, yeah, you can put some plan or hopes that you walk out with a deliverable or plan of attack. For me, I don’t necessarily always do brainstorm sessions for a goal to come out other than to stretch my mind from a creative standpoint. This past weekend, I got to brainstorm with two buds and co-founders of Body Boss for the next Great Thing. We didn’t go in thinking we’d exit with a killer idea or a strategy. However, we stumbled on a potentially great idea that we’re now exploring. If you stumble on an idea in your session, embrace it, and take the steps to make it happen – whatever it is.
  • Have Fun!Like I said just above, brainstorming and innovation should be fun. It’s probably a nerdy thing, but for me, I gladly do this on a Saturday morning like I just did. To me, this is an interestingly fun way to hang out with friends while not spinning our wheels doing something that would require us to spend money for an expensive dinner, or just sitting around watching some TV/ game. (Though, we watch the World Cup game later.) Brainstorming and thinking of new ways of approaching things like paying for things at a grocery store, communicating with team members in soccer, whatever… it’s about plugging into your creative power plant that could be barely running due to otherwise a non-creative, mind-numbing job you do 40+ hours a week in a cramped cubicle. But hey, I’m not judging if that’s your thing…

Dang, I should really try to start trimming my writing. However, this is a passion of mine, so it’s natural I write more. I’m a big proponent of following your passions and exercising the Creative Muscle that’s probably largely dormant with our normal day-to-day. Take a moment and think about something you don’t like (that’s easier than what you do like), and just step back, and think of all the different ways it could be improved. Maybe you’ll be as fascinated about your creativity as I have been by others.
What are your thoughts about brainstorm sessions? How do you exercise and flex your creative muscles?
The worlds of sales and marketing are changing so much and so fast. With the explosion of technology over the last several years and the lower barriers to entry into starting businesses and the like, customers “have the power” – borrowing from the famous “Porter’s 5 Forces” (thank you, MBA!).
When I think about what I do, I don’t niche myself to sales or marketing or the other “business” aspects. I say I’m in Business Development. Breaking it down that’s “business” and “development”; as in, I develop business…  directly contributing to the growth of the business. So for me, sales and marketing, in particular, are just facets of what I do. Especially in my area of interest of technology and SaaS, lines blur but my general tactical and strategic tasks fall in business development.
Jon Birdsong, CEO of local Atlanta-based Rivalry, recently made the comment over dinner, “salespeople are mini-marketers”. He and I are in alignment that these days, salespeople are really becoming their own marketing machines especially as marketplaces are becoming inundated with products.
(My view is that the world will continue down this path till Buyers have so much power that they start dictating more niche products, thereby eating away at the potential profits. Cue: market exit and consolidation. You’re hearing it from me.)
Anyways, I recently spoke to a buddy of mine who runs several car dealerships, and I was sharing with him the marketing startup I’m currently more-or-less consulting with as a business development guy.  He spoke how they largely market on 3 tiers, at least for his major brand:
  • Tier 1 – The Brand’s National (or international) campaigns. What’s happening nationally? This is all brand-based, and it’s necessarily to drive people into dealerships. Think: Superbowl commercials.
  • Tier 2 – The Brand’s Regional campaigns. This can be regional like the Southeast, or more local-driven like campaigns for Atlanta-area dealerships. These campaigns do try to bring in consumers down the funnel.
  • Tier 3 – The Dealership-Level campaigns. These can be specific commercials or even print media (print? Yes, print) to drive consumers to a specific dealership.

In startups and in particular for business development, I don’t necessarily think I’ve operated in more than two tiers so far. Again, I’m waiting for one of the startups to go big… we’ll get there! However, these are some major efforts where we’ve played in the tiers.
  • Building the brand (Tier 1). With Body Boss, we eventually wanted to go into B2C after more traction in the B2B space, but we consistently published material like blogs, social media posts, and the like to establish ourselves as thought leaders and connectors in strength and conditioning.
  • PR in startups (Tier 1). It’s highly doubtful our target audience of strength coaches were going to be visitors to design and creative websites like awwwards.comor were going to visit techno-blogs like nibletz.com. However, we wanted to continue to build our brand even in those spaces – you never know who knows who. All that, of course, should be secondary to driving PR in the relevant industry of your target audience. Reaching out to the experts and connectors (like major publications, LinkedIn groups, professional organizations) will be the primary tool for PR in driving your brand’s existence to then drive sales.
  • SEO and SEM for drive inbound marketing (Tier 1/2). – This is kind of a mix, but the general thought here is that especially with technology, the world is “local” or at least “regional”. The most important element is driving potential consumers into and further down the sales funnel. This is where good content like through blogging and guest writing experts can lead many in.
  • Tradeshows and conferences (Tier 2). If you can obtain a list of the conference attendees, you can send out a nice little message that can be more of your larger campaign (maybe Tier 1). Otherwise, on the conference floor, your goal is to introduce your brand to everyone there who could be interested in your offering. I love these for many reasons, but in general, if done right, you can get a lot of people started and down your funnel quick. Your drive shouldn’t be to make the sale then and there, but to set up an appointment later.
  • Business Developers/ Salespersons (Tier 2/3). I was tempted to just write salespeople because that’s in many ways the goal here, right? To make sales? Make money? Anyways, as a sales person, I’m constantly making cold calls and emails (and tweets, etc.). My method is very different than that of my CEO’s, so for me, I can definitely see the “dealership-level” type of strategy where I’m creating my smaller marketing initiatives aligning with the larger brand’s, and then trying to get prospects in the door. And hopefully, a handshake to move forward, of course.
  • Random pitches (Tier 1/2/3). Okay, so maybe not the formal definition of “pitches”, but everytime you walk out your door and speak about your company, you’re doing some marketing activity. Sometimes, it’s a complete stranger who sees your shirt and is intrigued – could he/ she be a potential buyer? Maybe someone with a good connection? Or maybe even an investor? You never know who you’re going to meet.

Salespeople are quickly becoming marketing gurus in themselves, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. In fact, I see more salespeople becoming more and more critical to not only drive new business, but to maintain these relationships beyond the first sale in this increasingly fragmented, saturated market of technology and SaaS companies. And with the cut-throat, perhaps negative light most people see or hear “salespeople”, I definitely prefer the moniker of “Business Development”.
As a business grower and developer, I’m constantly refining my marketing message to drive more interesting conversations with potentials, and then using sales techniques to convert latent needs into more active needs. In startups, as a business developer, you’ll need to work and think on all 3 tiers when it comes to development.
What are your thoughts on sales and marketing for startups? How do you operate in 3 or more (or less) tiers?
Executives are getting harder to reach from all the pitches and cold calls. (Image source: http://www.channelweb.co.uk/IMG/475/87475/hiding-under-table.jpg)
I first heard about John Greathouse from one of David Cummings’ posts of the top startup blogs he follows. I admit that I don’t often read his blog, but his recent post “How To Network With Really Busy People” is resonating with me well.
Currently, I’m working with a startup to get leads and sales. I’m not full-time with them, or officially employed in anyway, but I’m helping out because it’s one of the slickest marketing tools I’ve ever seen. That, and the chance to continually learn and hone my business development skills is very much welcome. I haven’t quite figured out my Next Move (with this company or otherwise), so taking this approach gives me some latitude to do so – figure things out.
Anyways, John’s article is titled Networking, but let’s call it what it’s really about – sales. Or at least, what he’s really writing about. I’ve been working with this new startup, and it’s been a bit of a challenge, to be honest. These days, cold calls can definitely lead to opportunities, but they’re also becoming more difficult per John’s post.

“[High-profile] people deployed brute force to screen out unsolicited, inbound communications.” – John Greathouse

Indeed, in my recent efforts, it’s fascinating the routes many people take to deflect calls. Cold calls are hard for a reason. The CEO of a sales organization I recently talked to isn’t so bullish on cold calling – “that’s so 90s”. What I’ve found, and what John writes about is the need to really pay attention to your messaging. That’s stupid advice, right? Good. Then you’re onto something, too. No, seriously, here are some methods I’ve been using that has been finding some more success mixed in with John’s advice:
  • Get the appointment. The goal of the first communication is not to sell a product (though if you do, awesome). Instead, it’s about getting an appointment/ introduction.
  • Respect and Flatter the Gatekeeper. I read in “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi, Founderand Chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight and networker-extraordinaire, the need to respect the admins, secretaries, and assistants of execs. These pros have the holy grail of the execs you’re trying to reach – their schedules. If you’re nice to them, not only can they find time to fit you in, but they also overhear a lot of the strategies potentially giving you a leg up.
  • Subjects Lines Are Key Lines. When you’re going to email someone, think about that subject line intently. That can either inspire someone to open your email, or immediately put you on the back foot if you’re too “salesy”.
  • Track what you say. If you’re going to do some cold communications like calls or emails, it’d be smart to have a script ready. You don’t have to necessarily memorize it word for word, but know the gist to be able to speak naturally, not like a robot. Test the script with different audiences and fine tune as you go along to develop a message that truly resonates.
  • Use every tool at your disposal… timely. With the ascendency of social media in business, it’s not a surprise to find execs of large companies using things like Twitter to communicate and have a presence. Depending on their position, industry, etc., Twitter can be a very easy way to interact with an exec vs. the “not cool” phone or email. At least, not at first.
  • Quality is to warm as quantity is to cold. Cold communication can be a simple way to quickly advertise/ outbound market to people you don’t know. However, you’ll need to reach out to many in order to get a response, let alone an enthusiastic appointment. At the end of the day, warm leads are obviously better, but you definitely need to put in a little thought so that you’re not burning a personal connection or wasting a potentially great connection. In the end, a mix of the two can do wonders till you create that inbound marketing machine.
  • Be creative. This is more of a hypothesis because I’m still fiddling with what is creative and what can be creepy weird. However, sometimes you need a little interesting way of getting your product/ service out there, especially if it’s truly innovative (startups!). Whenever people see a demo of the product I’m selling now, people get excited and their imaginations run wild with what they can do with it. However, it takes them to SEE it. Pictures don’t do it justice for obvious reasons. Instead, I’m going to try including a GIF where I can record a demo, and insert it as a picture into emails. I’m unsure if it’ll work, but it should be a quick and easy way to demo, while being educational.

I’m in the midst of testing out many different strategies for sales. It’s not a clear process all the time, and in fact, it’s a living and breathing process of meeting a prospect on the other side of the table. Some of the above are learned and experienced by myself and borrowed from John, but things like the last one are so open that they’re hypotheses in flight. I’ll have to follow up with what works and what doesn’t work later.

What are some tips for selling your product or service via cold communications/ networking? How would you sell a new product or idea that many entrepreneurs or startups often do?