Scott Hightower speaking at the Emory Entrepreneur Network Breakfast Series on February 25th at the Morris, Manning, and Martin
I attended an Emory Entrepreneur Network breakfast last Thursday with Scott Hightower, President and CEO of Verified Security, as the speaker.
Scott spoke of his start in media production before making the leap into entrepreneurship by buying a small security company. Eight years later, the company is a highly successful managed security services provider for commercial customers. The company’s abbreviated customer list includes Clorox, Great American Cookies, Zaxby’s, and Holiday Inn.
Scott shared his top 12 lessons he’s learned since taking the plunge into entrepreneurship to which I’ll highlight the top 4 that stuck out to me.
  1. Focus on cashflow and profitability/ focus on recurring revenue. Scott saw a grand opportunity in the security company he bought in its relationships and a gap in providing monthly services. Scott implemented a recurring revenue model that helped his company through the economic downturn in 2008-2011, and it is recurring revenue that will drive the valuation of his company.
  2. Ask for help and connect with others. Scott worked at Cox Communications in media production for 15+ years and didn’t know anything about security. He realized he needed to reach out to others for help and to learn as much as possible as fast as possible. He enrolled in educational classes. He networked. He grinded to be a successful leader.
  3. Figure out the sales process and automate it. Scott cites Aaron Ross’s book Predictable Revenue as a source of great inspiration for his business. To accelerate sales, he figured out what would be too costly to serve or too far outside the company’s services and said no to them. Meanwhile, he streamlined and set out the structure that would enable selling to be a repeatable, scalable process.
  4. Work on your business, not too much in it. Scott cited how difficult it was to grow the business and focus strategically when he was in the weeds addressing anything and everything. It’s easy as a passionate entrepreneur to get tied into the weeds. For Scott, his task list kept growing and he spent too much effort on tactical tasks rather than strategic tasks. As the owner and driver of the company’s vision, he needed to delegate and prioritize.
  5. Don’t try to do too much – specialize. (Scott said he was going to list his top 10 to which he actually provided 12. Emulating Scott, I’m over-delivering with this fifth point.) This was a key learning for me as well from my early startup – build a focused product, not bloated with too many features and functions. Scott focused on his differentiators so as not to be trapped in a commoditized business where price competition ruled. Additionally, to succeed in efficiently addressing sales, services, and customer support, the company needed to specialize its services, not a broad stroke.

I enjoyed Scott’s lessons and the many books he pointed out as great teachers – added a couple to my list already. I’m giving next month’s talk on Thursday, March 24th so I’ve got my work cut out in following in his footsteps. If you’re involved in Emory at all, come hear the talk! Emory Entrepreneur Network Breakfast Series.

In my last post Want Work? Start a Relationship, I touched on having a strong brand. I want to follow up on branding because when people ask me about finding work, they ask wondering if they can do the same or how to start a business in general.
When I was getting my MBA at Emory, I was working on two startups – Body Boss Fitness and Beachscape (as a Co-Founder and as a consultant, respectively). Getting started at Emory, my classmates (and others today) were interested in how I started. Many would lament the lack of ideas to start a business.
However, you don’t necessarily have to have a new, innovative idea to start a business. I’m not saying not to be disruptive, but businesses start every day without disruptive products or services.
Opportunities for wealth are many and large enough that grabbing even a sliver can reap meaningful returns personally, professionally, and yes, monetarily. The most critical element starting and especially sustaining long-term growth is branding.
Branding… meaning the relationship between the company and consumers (both buyers and non-buyers). Innovations like the iPhone are great at getting market share, but in the long-run, even despite patents, innovations become commoditized. What’s left is the relationship between company and buyer.
Consider how many accounting firms there are. How about consulting companies? Or how many services do delivery?
Businesses start out as products or services, but must quickly shift to become relationships-oriented. Consulting firms live and die by relationships. Apple has its loyal customers decked out in Apple gear standing in line for days waiting for the next iThing. Why? Because consumers trust these companies, and are eager to show loyalty. Strong relationships àstrong brands.
So if you’re reading this wondering if you can start your own business and need an idea, you might not need something so game-changing. Develop and cultivate your brand. Like I said, “Have good great relationships.”
What’s another mechanism for long-term growth and sustainability? Why or how would branding and relationships not be a key driver for initial success? How would you address the problem of creating more companies and more “noise” in the marketplace? 
Kenneth Cole speaking at the GMSC event at Goizueta Business School on Thursday, May 7th. 
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of hearing THE Kenneth Cole give a keynote to MBA students at Emory’s Goizueta Business School (GBS) as part of their Goizueta Marketing Strategy Consultancy (GMSC). I was there as a judge of the group presentations, not as a student.
A little intro to both:
  • Kenneth Cole is the founder and designer of Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. one America’s premier fashion brands today with products spanning shoes, clothing, bags, etc.
  • GMSC is a program that allows Emory MBA students work in teams to solve very complex, real problems for some of the world’s top companies.

So I’m going to share the short story about the founding of Cole’s company that highlights some of the creativity and persistence I enjoy so much about entrepreneurship and then some good sound bites from his talk… Sadly, I won’t be able to do his comedic side justice, but maybe you’ll have the pleasure of hearing from him live one day, too. Till then…

The Birth of a Shoe Company…

As any good presentation starts, Kenneth Cole open with a story on how his company was started. A newly minted graduate of EmoryUniversity, Cole wanted to start his own shoe company following in the footsteps (pun not necessarily intended) of his parents who owned El Greco, a shoe manufacturing company.
Cole applied for the “Kenneth Cole Inc.” as he started out – there was no Google to just search company names in the 70’s after all.
He started the company based on shoe designs he had incepted during his stay in Italy, and he knew the massive market and financial opportunity of America. He knew for success, Cole had to make an entrance at Market Week held at the New York City Hilton. However, he didn’t quite have the funds to pull it off.
Much like conferences today, it takes significant investment to grab a vendor booth – hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. However, many of the large brands would set up a secondary space located within blocks of the Hilton to showcase more products. For Cole, that was too much.
Cole was speaking to one of his friends about his predicament, and his friend offered up his 40’ trailer (who doesn’t have a friend with a 40’ tractor trailer?). However, it’d be insane to park a 40’ trailer on a busy NYC street. Cole would have to get a permit for that type of thing…
So Cole called the mayor asking for a permit to park the 40’ trailer on the street next to the Hilton – the show happening in 10 days. The skinny on that conversation: “No.” The mayor told Cole permits were only issued to utility companies and movie filming. So the only logical thing to do now was to ask friends and family for money to buy a booth. Just kidding.
Instead, the next day, Cole changed the name of his company from “Kenneth Cole Inc.” to “Kenneth Cole Productions Inc.” and applied for a permit to film a movie “Birth of a Shoe Company”. The permit was granted, and to top it off, the mayor provided a couple cops on set of the filming.
So what happened at the shoe show? Kenneth Cole sold 40,000 pairs of shoes in 2.5 days (!!!). And to this day, the company’s name is Kenneth Cole Productions Inc.
My Kenneth Cole wallet has served me for more than a decade – received as a present. I’ve received another high quality Italian wallet a couple years ago, but I’m not interested in replacing mine. Actually, I can’t remember where that new wallet is – don’t tell my sister.

Tassels, buckles, and more accessories

Kenneth Cole wouldn’t be the creative he is today without some witty, inspiring sound bites, so here are several of my favorite:
  • As it relates to resources and problem-solving, usually the most costly solution isn’t the best or the one that “wins”. Instead, the most creative solution pays off the greatest. Case in point: Cole’s request for a filming permit above.
  • The difficulty and honor of selling his brand is that he has to earn the right to be chosen. Nobody really needs another pair of shoes.
  • Kenneth Cole wants his company to be a vehicle for good citing his company goals intersecting with the needs of the community – its responsibility.
  • “Empower others to be change agents and change makers.”
  • “Build a platform that responds to change, not be stifled”. This is relevant to creating sustainable company despite rapid changes to fashion and technology today.
  • The brand is the greatest point of distinction, but today, everyone is creating their own brand and audiences. Kenneth Cole’s goal is to earn the right and convince everyone to include him in their brands.
  • The 4 top life tips:

1.      If you can’t change the world, be an accessory.
2.      What you stand for almost as important as what you stand in.
3.      When in doubt, wear my shoes.
4.      Good to be known for your shoes, but better to be known for your soul.
I enjoyed Cole’s speech a lot given how many of his talking points resonated with me as an entrepreneur – namely, points about being creative and the responsibility of a brand to the community. Real glad I got a chance to hear his keynote, and shake the Legend’s hand afterwards. (Now, if only I got a selfie with him… just kidding.)
Mr. Cole, I’ll be picking up a pair of your shoes soon… even if I don’t need them.
Blend in just enough for better positioning… (Image source: http://tinyurl.com/ohhqkoa)
There are ton of MBA vs. Startup articles out there, and no doubt there are those who have very passionate (if not myopic) views on the subject. Like every other research paper, it’s catered to our views. I was even told recently in an interview at a startup that an MBA is largely looked down on in startups. So my view? MBAs suck! No, wait, MBAs are great! No wait…
Does it really matter? Maybe. My view is really that at the end of the day, we make do with what we’ve got. I’ve got that little piece of paper with “Master of Business Administration” and my name on it. I’ve also founded a startup and worked with several others. So maybe I have one of those amazing perspectives cuz I’ve been on both sides.
At the end of the day, the MBA was a great experience. Learning all these different subjects like Finance, Accounting, Marketing, etc. isn’t going to be the real value of the MBA. Instead, it’s really about the connections. So if you’re like me trying to really solve the aches and pains vis-a-vis B2B technology, it’s great to know I have friends and business school connections at companies of all sizes across the world. Essentially, I have some great prospects to ask questions or test out ideas.
At the end of an MBA program, you’ve got a great foundation of all the major business functions. What’s that mean? Well, for one, you know how to talk the talk, walk the walk, you can blend in with the rest of the corporate suits. That then enables you, as an entrepreneur, chameleon-like powers to be able to blend in with potential customers! When we think about customers and how to really sell or even build a product for them, it’s all about empathy and credibility.
You can get some empathy points with a corporate client when you know how companies really work. How does pushing that button or pulling that lever in marketing affect operations at the warehouse? How does inventory play in accounting? Big corporations drive the world even though small companies really employee the lion’s share of the workforce. (Think how big companies lobby and influence government policies. If small companies worked together…) With that, education is still highly valued in big corporations meaning that little sheet of paper gets you in the door as an employee or as a vendor.
Building a startup is like getting the theory behind the practice. Except, you’re also getting the practical lessons. In business school, I learned all these marketing terms, all these little financial models, but when we were building Body Boss, we organically built out the marketing mechanisms. We learned and adapted our sales strategies that was otherwise just talked about in case studies. With Body Boss, we built our own pipeline tracker and indeed, our own crude CRM. We weren’t just handed SalesForce at a major company to run with it. We now understand why we tracked various marketing and sales activities and why and how we employed drip marketing. You give us a powerful technology like SalesForce or PipeDrive, and that just becomes an accelerator for us. We’ve lived and learned from the bottom of theory, and we’ve lived the practice. 

With an MBA as an entrepreneur, I feel that much more Ninja-like

I went into Emory’s Goizueta Business Schoolto help augment my otherwise entrepreneurial/ freestyle consulting style with some structured approach. I have no interest in really sticking to one of those extremes of being wholly freestyle and entrepreneurial or highly structured. Instead, I’m trying to adapt a style between the two that fits me. Startups, as they get more successful, are startups for only so long before they feel the pressure of implementing some structure. Facebookis NOT a startup anymore, but credit to them for enabling a culture that still feels entrepreneurial. Other large corporations like IBM, GE, etc. were once startups, too. However, those corporate policies, operations, etc. are adaptations over time to sustain growth and support existing customers. With an MBA and some corporate experience behind you, you get to leverage some structure to the entrepreneurial spirit to get the best of both worlds.

I’ve seen plenty of people who have MBAs, and they’re wallowing in the pits of large corporations. I’ve seen MBAs be highly successful in startups. Does it all really matter? Nah. Instead, all about the mindset of the individuals and their drive. If you can leverage your background in a way to better understand the world and your market, your employees, your community… you can position yourself to succeed. If anything, I think that’s what any opportunity presents you with – positioning. Be it startups, an MBA, a techno-blog write-up, an introduction into a company, or an interview. How will you use your background to succeed? That’s how I view it.

How do you think education (and level of) plays a role in your job? What do you think you have in terms of [“requisite”] experience to be entrepreneurial?

This past weekend, the Body Boss team and I attended the Glazier Football Clinic in Atlanta. Last year, over 1,800 coaches – primarily high school and from the southeast – congregated to attend some great speakers (including Georgia Tech’s Director of Player Development John Sisk) and check out some of the latest “toys” vis-à-vis vendors like us. Oh, and like all conferences, it’s also a bit of a high school reunion for these coaches to see old friends again on an annual basis. I wrote about the experience in the post “Spreadsheets SUCK! No, really, see what Coaches wrote…
Last year, we attended this clinic and a few others, and we admittedly didn’t have some important features in Body Boss. We heard it over and over again from coaches asking us, “Do you have an app?” (We had a mobile web app.) “Can you still printout group workouts?” (No, just individuals.) “I have younger players so we don’t strength train.” (Well, you can sorta do body weight tracking…)
This year, we were able to answer just about every question. Body Boss had evolved so much since we first launched and the 2013 Glazier Clinic and the subsequent Clinics. We heard from coaches and over and over again about specific features, and we built out those features that the most anti-Body Boss customers wanted/ needed. So imagine now our excitement in being able to sell a product that the coaches actually ASKED FOR!
  • “Do you have an app?” Absolutely. We have native iPhone, iPad, and Android apps (for smartphones and tablets).
  • “Can you still printout group workouts?” Yes, we still give you the ability to print out personalized workout cards for all your players or select groups.
  • “What if I have younger players?” Well, players of most ages should train. Younger ages shouldn’t necessarily strength train with weight, but they can still exercise. With Body Boss, you can create Workout programs that are specific for kids and including video tutorials on how to do them. You can engage the younger players while actually coaching them on how to perform drills, and you can even upload video tutorials so parents know what to do and how to motivate their kids.

Yeah… that’s how that went. But we also had a greater time at this clinic because of the way we engaged coaches and focused in on not necessarily the benefits right off the bat, but instead, we opened around pain points. See, the old-school way of doing things was always to either write down a workout on a whiteboard or use Excel to printout workouts, and then have the time and energy to enter all that data for the team back into a spreadsheet. Clearly, you can see the annoying and time-consuming efforts in that. We challenge the old-school way of doing things by introducing technology into an otherwise low-tech world with Coaches.

We started off the Clinic with a blank whiteboard simply asking coaches to write reasons as to why the old-school way, spreadsheets, SUCKED. Our wording was chosen carefully to illicit an emotion and really capture coaches’ attentions. When you have someone tell you something “SUCKS”, you tend to perk your ears. What we got at the end of the Clinic was a number of fantastic reasons why the old-school way is a real PAIN.

We started with…

And ended with…

Our new marketing strategy hit on a number of cool things, sometimes not intended, including:
  • Pain and annoying things evoke such a great emotion from prospects – it’s easy to understand
  • Having a board where our customers could share a voice created a way to coalesce their emotions in sometimes succinct messages, and thus, rally any passersby and fellow colleagues throughout the Clinic
  • Hand-writing the reasons also showcased the variability of handwriting legibility/ readability which in the old-school way of printout and submit, was an evil coaches had to deal with
  • Made for an easier way to pull in passersby into our booth. Coaches could be pulled in not just by our handsome faces and siren-esque voices, but also by our visuals including a big TV monitor that looped through video tutorials, our app on multiple devices, and of course, our Spreadsheets SUCK whiteboard
  • Can be used to re-engage with the leads generated and be a great talking point with future prospects
  • Showcased the pain points of the old-school “it’s always been that way” methodology
  • Definitely left an impression with coaches with a standout, memorable booth
So in the end, we got 70+ contacts… several which are very warm leads, and several who have already signed up for the free trial. Of course, the hardwork comes really after the Clinic as we engage with the contacts to convert into trials which then we must try to convert into sales. But our initial momentum has yielded 3X the leads and contacts, and we didn’t even have our wonderful fitness models from last year!
And as for the whiteboard, it was a great idea that we used, and one that came out of nowhere. It reminds me of one of the great lessons my Entrepreneurship professor, Charles Goetz, taught me while I was at Emory, and that was the difference between latent vs. active needs. Approaching an industry and individuals where technology hasn’t been a big deal until recently (unless you’re in a research lab or something), a lot of the old-school methods can be dubbed “latent needs” where users don’t know about the pain and don’t need to address till they come to that bridge. What bringing the pain-points of old-school front and center, we might have just recategorized the old-school methods as ACTIVE needs. This, now allows us to address those needs directly with Body Boss.
So what are your thoughts about your experiences at conferences and how your messaging and products get tweaked? How would you shift customers’ latent needs to become active needs?

I read this article from Stephanie St. Claire, a self-described “unfunded entrepreneur” – “11 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business”.  I think I read this middle of 2013, and just kept it in my list of sites to remember, and articles I want to blog about because I enjoyed it.  Obviously, right?

St. Claire writes about many aspects of starting her business and the journey to wherever it is she is today – still fighting the good fight.  She traverses the messiness of divorce, selling her home, a meager $14 left on her bank account, and so much more.  She says she’s a good writer, and her creativity truly comes out in her writing making her article more fun to read.

So, while reading her article, I wanted to touch on a few of her 11 points, whether or not I agree or disagreed.  Armed with my own experience with Body Boss and others from the past, my thoughts:

  • Her first point: One. Running the business is your first priority.  I quickly learned from Body Boss that it’s not about Working Out, meeting Coaches and Trainers, watching Players crush it in the gym that will occupy a great deal of my time.  Instead, it’s about the little things like taking care of business.  I don’t think it’s as much as 15% of my time.  However, it includes all the little things like paying the bills and ensuring the insurance for the company is in line, the LLC exists year to year, answering emails quickly on the weekend, or staying on the phone to trouble-shoot issues after my afternoon game of soccer pick-up.
    Like the Sharks on Shark Tank tell so many inventors, inventions are great, but inventions alone aren’t businesses. 
  • Two – Ready to meet your soul mate?  It’s you.  While really working more and more on Body Boss during my MBA program at Emory May 2012 through May 2013, I became so much more in tune with myself.  My time during the MBA program actually was one of my greatest – not necessarily for the program itself, but the time I was able to “work on myself”.  That’s actually what I tell everyone about the greatest takeaway from MY time at Emory.
    Be comfortable in your own skin, and be comfortable being yourself.  Not everyone will buy your idea and buy into what you’re trying to accomplish.  You’ve gotta stay true to yourself.  Like business like personality, St. Claire’s point from Ten – Email will be your new best frenemy – “Not everyone is your customer”.
  • Four – Running out of money is a common part of the journey.  St. Claire writes about how dreams of flying high hit rough air with the gas gauge near zero forcing her to land into the “wild, abandoned air strip called Bank Balance: Fourteen Dollars”.
    I kinda like the idea of having less options when you’re starting something out.  Understanding everyone has his/ her own life, but with a more “complex” situation comes more excuses.  By having options or working part-time, you may not feel the pressure to really make your startup work.  When you’re staring at no income but still bills to pay, you start to really push yourself to make it work… else, you crash land and watch as your startup go up in smoke.  Back anyone up into a corner, and you give her no choice but to fight. 
  • Now that I’ve pointed my thoughts around going full-bore on your startup, here’s St. Claire at point Five – Build a hybrid stream of income.  Okay, so obviously hitting some meager amount in your bank where you can’t even pay bills is a bit of a problem.  Something’s gotta give.  St. Claire talks about how picking up some other part-time gig to supplement income could be beneficial – adding financial stress to an already immensely stressful situation can be even more taxing.  She says that if you believe part-time income would serve to put your mind at ease, then do it.
    I think this is sage advice if only you take on legitimately part-time work.  If you’ve just gone ahead and taken full-time work or pulled in part-time work that demands more time than your business, I think that’s a mistake.  Your business should be priority #1 as it requires dedication and care to succeed.  Splitting time, again like said above, may not give you the right motivation to truly push yourself. 
    What else I’ve found is that most people (your customers or even co-workers included) only have so much daylight to work with you.  If you don’t have a majority of your time to work on your business, you may miss prime time where customers need you, or simply, you may be missing prime time for selling.  You’re likely not selling to entrepreneurs like you who are working non-stop.
  • Six – Read Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work. Simply put from St. Claire (and Pressfield’s book) is something I’ve found to be true: “[The biggest] challenge you will deal with in running a business is your own resistance”.  You will no doubt harbor doubts and excuses, and those around you may tell you you won’t succeed or you should go back to a cushy, safe job, but ultimately, it’s your choice.
  • Eleven – Number eleven is a hodge-podge.  From St. Claire: “Work out perplexing issues in your business and it will resolve problems in other areas of your life. Breathe, play, laugh.”  I think the key message here is that if you fix some major areas of your business (you know the problems, probably), you could benefit in alleviating other areas of your life.
    And yet, like the point above about taking on a part-time job if you need to to mitigate financial stress, you should maintain your life still.  That is, still make time to enjoy the little things of life.  That may include exercise, friends, and especially family. 
    What are your thoughts about St. Claire’s 11 lessons?  Any of them resonate more so with you than others?
    Since I left business school at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School for my MBA, I’ve taken on the scary move of working full-time on the startup I co-founded with friends, Body Boss Fitness.  In a couple months of full-time startup-ship without the funds to really pay me (or anyone) a salary yet, I got all scared, and dipped my feet back into consulting part-time.  It’s been a few months doing this to put some money in my pocket, and I’ve taken on now two different consulting projects.  All the while, I also push Body Boss including traveling for sales and marketing and writing up blog posts like I just did here at Starbucks in Brookhaven on a Sunday.

    I do enjoy supply chain consulting for sure… but I’m going to dip back out of consulting and give Body Boss my undivided attention for a long while.  If I say it out loud and put it on a blog post, I’ll have to stick to my word, right?  Well, all this experience has also brought out this strange affinity for writing my thoughts, and it’s about time that I write another article for my SC Ninja Skills blog

    Reflecting on my previous life as a consultant (okay, some of my current, too) and my passion in weight lifting, I’ve seen a couple important take-aways that have been highly leverageable in both worlds.
    • Change is hard.  When you go to a gym for a few years consistently weekly, you see those who come and go, and those who stay true.  It’s clear those who are “newbs”.  They come in, sometimes work half-heartedly, and then either stick around and wonder they’re not seeing the gains they want or they just disappear as quickly as they arrived.  In consulting, similarly, companies who are looking to change make a difficult decision to embark on change.  However, it’s so easy for companies to lose sight of the goal and milestones to bring about sustainable change.
    • Even if you’re seasoned in the gym, you need to change to keep improving.  Companies who don’t embrace the necessity to change as the world evolves are likely to see growth become stagnant, and is most often the case, fade away.  It’s so easy for companies to keep going about their business managing the day-to-day without thinking larger and more strategically.  However, without change, it’s even easier to then let competition come in and take everything away (think Blackberry, Kodak, etc.).  In the gym, if you’re doing the same routine over and over again, your body adjusts and you no longer see gains in your strength.  It only takes six weeks before your body adapts.
    • Bringing an outside perspective can help.  As a consultant, this is almost the very reason we exist.  Similar to the point above, it’s so easy for companies to be complacent and continue to operate just as they have over the last 40 years.  However, bringing in fresh eyes from consultants, an outside hire, or otherwise, can easily give perspective from potentially competition, other industries, etc. In the gym, bringing a friend who is knowledgeable about working out can easily bring new routines, or even help spot when you’ve actually got poor form.
    • Establishing goals helps you achieve greater.  One of the first things you do as a trainer with a client is to run an assessment.  This includes understanding a baseline or where a client is, and where the client wants to go (i.e. lose weight, add 25 lbs to her squat, drop your 40 time by a half-second). Without knowing where you want to go, it’s hard to really push yourself and make it timely.  In the consulting world, if you don’t establish a baseline of “current state” and plan for a “future state” (Shangri-la), how do you know what to do, who to employ, how your customers will react (if any)?
    • Post-workout is just as important as in-workout.  In working out, it’s important to take care of your body after a workout.  That may include a post-workout protein shake to ensure you have the nutrients for recovery, or just daily nutrition in meals.  If you aren’t eating right and stretching and the like, it’s hard to sustain any gains you may have from a workout.  In consulting, implementing post-transformation catches is key to sustaining the change.  Tracking efforts via metrics is one way of ensuring change has sustainability; while establishing a culture embracing change is another sure-fire way of keeping the momentum going.
    So what do you think about the parallels in working out and in consulting or even business in general?  How would you use the lessons learned in the weight room in consulting, or vice versa?

    It occurs to me that Body Boss has a great story.  A great story of why we’re here today with Body Boss trying to disrupt the “industry” of Team Strength and Conditioning.  
    Darren Pottinger really started us on this path back in 2010/ 2011 of bringing more intelligence to working out – bringing regression and statistical modeling/ forecasting to training with a simple Excel model… yet can be built better and stronger.  Being the zealous and extraordinarily gifted problem-solver and programmer, Don Pottinger joined in on the fun looking to build the spreadsheet into something greater – an app for the masses.  
    For several months, the brothers Pottinger iterated, and it was in the fall of 2011 when Andrew Reifman joined the team to bring his black magic of Design Creativity to the fold.  Andrew and Don were long-lost friends from Dunwoody High School.  After learning Andrew had built award-winning sites while working at various design agencies, Don asked Andrew to join.  Definitely loved his personal website.  I mean, how do I get little power bars like the X-Men cards I used to collect???  This Andrew guy is LEGIT.
    I’m not sure when I really joined because I was consulting and always traveling.  Tell you what – if you can travel while trying to do your own startup, props to you because I don’t recall when I was adding value on a consistent basis.  SO enter me, Daryl sometime in that glorious assembly of the Dream Team.  Having played soccer at Tech with Don, we had become best buds for a while.  I bring to the field the execution and drive as well as some patience for the business administration – makes sense since I was entering Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in the accelerated One-Year Full-Time program May 2012.
    Gifted with an extraordinarily talented team who also lived and breathed personal fitness, we entered Startup Riot as one out of 30 startups competing in a pitch-off of sorts in Atlanta in February 2012.  Many to this day will never forget our presentation where Darren stripped off his shirt to the hoots and hollers and affection of women… and men.  We were voted into the Top 5, and at the time, we were aiming to be a B2C company.  We were going to build an app based on the principles of intelligent personal fitness leveraging the growth of mobile and technology.  Though, we didn’t even have a product to show.  All we had was a dream.
    After meeting with Georgia Tech and re-evaluating our strategy, we decided to shift to the B2B market – focusing our efforts on helping improve the feedback loop between Coaches and Players in sports teams and organizations.  As we reflect on our own past experiences, workouts were disseminated from Coaches to Players via sheets of paper and rarely, if ever, were those workout results ever returned to the Coaches. Even rarer was when the Coaches would take those sheets of workout results and plug them into something like Excel spreadsheets.  Tracking pieces of paper, writing it all down, transcribing the number into Excel… that’s about a 2-3 minute process for a single player.  If you’re a Coach of a team with 50 players, you can do the math and that’s a lot of wasted time.  Add to that other competitors’ focus on just the Coach… that’s not how TEAM sports are played.  We wanted to create a tool that engaged everyone on the team from the Coaches, Trainers, and the Players.  Afterall, Players are the ones who have the execute come game time.  That’s when Body Boss was really born.  
    We built towards a vision without actually talking to too many other players or Coaches, but in August, we met with the Athletic Director of Centennial High School in Roswell, GA where we presented the initial design and vision of Body Boss.  Excited for what we were working on and seeing an immediate value, he invited us back after a few enhancements.  In December, we really locked in with the Head Football Coach and Head Baseball Coach at Centennial High School to trial Body Boss with their players starting January.  Everything since then has been… shall we say, history.  
    So here we are, a bunch of Georgia Tech nerds + a talented Graphics Designer from University of Georgia.  Our home is Atlanta, GA, and our dreams lay in the stars.  Our backgrounds in soccer, weight training, certified personal fitness training, expertise in data and analytics, technical programming and design know-how, some great business sense, and a whole lotta drive… we’re aiming to change the world.  We’re not just a team… we’re a family looking out for one another.  We’re proud of the family and friends we’ve earned over the years, and we will make you all proud.  We’re here to disrupt the team strength and conditioning space with Body Boss.  Be excited.  Visit us at BodyBossFitness.com. Follow us.  @BodyBossFitness

    Going hand-in-hand with my most recent post about how everyone copies one another (How to Survive: Read the Market or Just Simply Read What’s On Your R&D Presentation), I received this in my email as part of my newsletter subscription to Strategy+Business — the article is titled “The Value of Being Second” by Oded Shenkar (see article here).

    In the article, I nod my head in agreement with every word.  Shenkar cites a chapter from Eli Broad’s The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking.  I like to think I’m a thinker (else, why would I have a blog?), and I’m also a perceiver of the world.  That is, I like to sit back — no wait, I lay in bed unable to sleep at night — and reflect on the world around me.  And so I sit there and I think about how so many of the former companies of great stature, great products have just disappeared out of existence while new companies just take the world by storm.  Again, going back to my previous article where I talk about the Xerox’s and Best Buy’s of the world, it’s no longer needed or even desired to be the first kid on the block with a new product, service, or whatever else.  

    As an aspiring entrepreneur, too, being a Co-Founder of Body Boss Fitness, I get to network with other entrepreneurs and hear lectures and presentations from successful entrepreneurs like Charlie Goetz (a Professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School), David Cummings (Founder and CEO of Pardot who just got acquired by ExactTarget for $95.5M after only a few years in existence!), etc.  They all say the same message that Shenkar speaks of in his article and what Broad wrote in his book — the market is changing and no longer is innovation and first-movers necessary to be successful.  Instead, it’s the guys who follow the first-movers who capitalize on the first-movers’ failures and mistakes, and they get to leverage the companies coming in second don’t have to educate the market.  Of course, second-movers come in with a new twist as the many entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to would say, including myself.  I especially like the analogy Shenkar cites from Broad: it’s like hiking.  The guy in the front has to clear the brush and is getting cut up and does all the hardwork.  However, he paves the way for the guy following who just simply walks the same path with less investment.

    Of course, there are many benefits, too, of being the innovator and first to the market including brand name and access to the technology and more.  And then there’s me, whom I very much hope to be a builder of the future, and wouldn’t mind being the guy at the front of the line hiking.  I want my name out there because if done right, too, the first-mover can keep its place as number 1 in the market place.  The key here is the need to also continually innovate.  (I’m finally getting around to tying this post to my previous post.)  If you can continually innovate, you’ll keep ahead of the curve and you’ll reap the rewards and leave second, third-, n-movers behind you.  Don’t be stagnant.  Or be stagnant and be content to play second fiddle in the future (or no play at all).

    And so in closing, I want you all to appreciate coming in second because when done right, coming in second just positions you for first place next year.  But if you’re willing to invest and keep innovation high and strong, keeping the pole position is certainly achievable.  When I hike, yes, I like to lead.  I may be the cut up by the brush and I have to be the one to clear it, but I like that. I like the challenge.  I’m okay with paving the way for others to follow because in the end, it’s for the good of the group.  Do know, though, that while I’m in front, I’m running.  So I’m keeping my place at the front.  You’ll just have to work that much harder to keep up.


    [1] Shenkar, Oded. The Value of Being Second.  In Strategy-Business. [Website]. Retrieved November 1, 2012, from  http://www.strategy-business.com/article/ac00041?gko=ba14e&cid=BL20121025&utm_campaign=BL20121025