I’ve recently talked to the leaders of a couple professional organizations. One goal the organizations share is bringing like-minded professionals together to share knowledge – call it networking. Of course, growth is the goal. However, there are a couple challenges that exist when it comes to these types of organizations. 

  1. How to attract the “doers” and the “knowledge workers” from industry, not just those who sell and service them. Much like trade shows, events can quickly deteriorate away from knowledge transfer and selling exercises. Thus, the industry workers of the ecosystem become underrepresented.  
  1. Build an events calendar and annual strategy that member will attend. What do the members care about? Or more importantly, what events would members attend?  

I admit the first challenge is a very difficult one. I’m getting introduced into these organizations from my role as a solutions provider. Though, my purpose is to network and learn more about my industry and my customers, not to directly sell at any event. But I remember, too, when running spaces at trade shows for Body Boss, it was clear that we were vendors. However, events in the professional strength and conditioning industry were filled 75%+ of industry doers – the coaches and trainers. There was a small portion of solution and services providers, but there was a clear value for coaches to keep attending events without being inundated by sales people. In the business world, the ratio can be flipped. 

The second challenge is a great opportunity. It requires knowing the members. In many ways, this also represents a wonderful time to rebuild a foundation. This may require culling a membership list. However, it provides for a more targeted, engaged member base.  

How the organizations get to know the members can be done in many ways. One simple way is simply running surveys. Flesh out what questions need to be answered to build a strategy and calendar where there will be more certainty of audience. As the members become more engaged, growth of the base will also occur. But it all comes from knowing the audience. 

And by knowing the audience, events can become more focused on in-the-industry knowledge with clear agendas to share knowledge. With a focus on content and context, more time will be spent on knowledge sharing and transfer – less time on sales-y networking. That’s possible, too. 

During my last month and a half since I joined Verusen (re-branded from AUTIT), I’ve been impressed by the opportunities afforded by the Atlanta Technology and Development Center (ATDC).

I never worked here, but I had visited ATDC in years past. It seemed like a real button-up, stodgy workplace. I can’t say that it’s completely not that. But what I have been most impressed with is the incredible network and companies who come through the center.

I’ve spent the last several years at Atlanta Tech Village (ATV). I was at ATV weeks after David Cummings bought the building in 2012. It was a place I had always wanted to be a member of before joining SalesWise in 2016. And indeed, it was a fun environment with lots of chances to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and startups. Culturally, it was a great environment. But ATDC taught me what was missing… opportunities to truly connect with big corporations. ATDC has been a fantastic resource for real contribution to pipeline opportunities.

When I say contribution to pipeline, this also depends on what a business is about. Namely, what is the market a business sells to. For Verusen, we are work with large organizations with complex supply chains. With Georgia Tech tied to the hip of ATDC and the vast number of innovation centers for Fortune 500 companies (i.e. AT&T, Delta, The Home Depot, etc.) in proximity, getting introductions to similar corporations is almost an every-week occurrence. This is far and away more than the introductions I had ever gotten at ATV despite being one of the well-funded companies in the building.

With ATDC, there are personnel whose charter is to cultivate relationships with businesses – bring them to the space to discuss innovation and meet resident companies. To date, we have had introductions to Daimler-Chrysler (Mercedes), Honeywell, United States Navy, Bosch Global, Delta, Georgia-Pacific, and many more. It’s surprising. The goal of most introductions (“industry connects”) is fast-tracking to proof of concepts (POC).

There are many factors to consider when selecting a space to work out of including rent cost, the ability to attract talent, and of course, the market a business serves. But for a B2B company, ATDC has been a powerful partner.

Back when I was more of a novice in startups, I would say a “cool environment” was important to me because that’s what startups were supposed to be about, right? Except, in the real-world, startups are businesses. They need to earn a keep to survive and to even have fun. As a more seasoned professional and entrepreneur, paths to revenue and profitability are so much more important to me. Just build a good culture within the company, not as a perk of an office.

I’m publishing a post on a Saturday. Again. Over the last seven posts including this one, I’ve only published twice on a Wednesday – the day I designated as my posting day. I’m struggling with consistency. This is the first time I’ve struggled like this over the 422 blog posts I’ve published since 2012. Since October 2013, I’ve been like clockwork publishing every week with a year or two publishing twice a week on the days I’ve designated. What’s going on??

A lot.

Of course, writing is not the only area where I’m struggling right now. Friends are wondering where I’ve been. And to some credit, I have been traveling. However, I’ve also been hard to track down digitally, as well. I’m not active right now. Period.

My new role at Verusen (we just re-branded from AUTIT) has me very busy. The culture is drastically different than my previous positions. We’re meeting-heavy. Those meetings last at least an hour. This is a departure from my former 30-minute meetings. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of working cultural differences I am assimilating to.

I’m in the process of selling my home. This has brought about new responsibilities and tasks including home repairs. Documented in a previous post, home repairs can be taxing and introduce unforeseen problems. Then, I’m also on the lookout for a home to buy.

Then, I have upcoming nuptials. Granted, my fiancée has been an absolute queen in this regard. She’s taken on most of the planning.

So, there’s a lot.

It comes down to instability.

In 2016, I wrote a piece “Finding Balance in Entrepreneurship and Life (Everything)”. I wrote about the positive aspects of having areas of stress – it motivates growth. I posited that based on UC Riverside’s Seven Dimensions of Wellness, I could thrive with 4 of the 7 being unstable. Looking at those seven in my current state:

  • Social – unstable. I have spent less time with friends recently in any form of communication. Family has been stable outside of also less communication. Though, I am starting my own family unit with my fiancée in two months.
  • Physical – unstable. I’m still recovering from my neck surgery. Unfortunately, I have been too eager to get back to my pre-injury fitness levels. I am introducing new stress to parts of my body that are not ready for that level, yet.
  • Occupational – unstable. I just joined Verusen. I’m still navigating the cultural differences on top of the challenges of an early-stage startup (read: the rest of building a business).
  • Spiritual – unstable. My peace and harmony in life comes from fulfilling my personal mission of “Changing lives for the greater through entrepreneurial endeavors”. However, I’m struggling with being an employee again rather than building my own company. This goes together with Occupation. It’s an existential question. To better align with and further my mission, is this where I should be?
  • Environmental – unstable. I’ve changed where I work. This forces my driving patterns to also change. Meanwhile, my home no longer feels like a home. I have no definitive plans of where I will live next.
  • Intellectual – stable. I’m learning a lot right now in almost every aspect of my life. Professionally, I’m absorbing a lot – new market, deeper in supply chain knowledge, new role, new challenges of a different early-stage startup, etc. I’m learning a lot of home selling. I’m traveling more including a trip to Tokyo this past week. This was a completely new city and country for me. It was amazing.  
  • Emotional – stable… mostly. That is, I’m not experiencing any rapid shifts in my mood. If anything, I’m realizing my stress. Then, I’m distancing myself from emotions. I’m being very direct in what needs to be done. And of course, I’m open to sharing what is happening like I am now.

As you can see, I’m grading my state as 5 out of 7 being unstable. This requires me to continually keep my emotional state in check. Otherwise, I could very well start a downward trend.

Most folks are healthy with three areas under some stress. Though I feel I thrive with four areas under stress, five areas is challenging me more than I thought.

This is temporary.

There’s a lot happening right now. A lot has happened since last year with the sale of Burner Rocket. Many things are coming to a head now.

I have lived in my home for almost 10 years. Once I move into my next home, I expect several years of stability there. And of course, I’ll have a great partner in my fiancée when that happens.

I have also adjusted my workout routines to ease up on my rehabilitation and general fitness programs. I’m maintaining the number of days I go to the gym including 5AM sessions. However, I switched one resistance workout to a pure stretch and foam roll session. My changes also increase the days of rest for body parts. And soon, I will be clear for contact sports like soccer. This has been a big missing piece for me.

On the work front, will be sorted out over the next couple months through results. This will reveal how well we work as a team and if I can add meaningful impact. That, of course, will then influence the Spiritual dimension. But as an early-stage company, this will be one dimension that remains unstable for good “growth paranoia”.

There’s a lot happening in my life, yes. There’s more instability than I ordinarily thrive on. My inconsistent blog publishing is a visible indicator of this. However, this is all temporary. I will find balance soon. Till then, I’ll remain open.

Side question: have you noticed any visible inconsistencies or anomalies in your life? In another? Why?  

Having an out-of-body experience helps entrepreneurs in the customer discovery process. It’s easy for people to get used to doing things they already do that they disregard the pain and suffering as a “fact-of-life”. You hear this often when folks recite, “it’s how we’ve always done it”. In this way, people have limited perspective on what is actually a painful or what can be done. People can be encouraged to have an “out-of-body” experience. They can envision watching themselves do work. See where’s pain. Where is there significant process?

In many cases, people “duck tape” solutions together. This is very common in the business world as people use spreadsheets as their silver bullet. Over time, they iterate on the spreadsheets to fit their needs until some threshold breaks. Then, there’s a need for a real solution.

The out-of-body experience is similar to the teaching from Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey talks about the revelation most folks have when they see themselves playing tennis. His tennis students quickly and correctly fix their forms – not by his coaching, but by seeing themselves swing their rackets in reflections.

The point of the out-of-body experience is to be a third-party to how one performs a task or lives the work day. It’s about separating the emotional element of being the person doing the work and the defense people build up. Then, being able to view one’s self as a bystander purely looking at the process. This is similar to what consultants do. They gather their insights from interviews and observations.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford famously depicted the very challenge he as an entrepreneur faced when people were not able to have that out-of-body experience. There’s equal parts having that out-of-body experience and the ability to think outside of the norm (dream up the automobile).

Do yourself a favor today, and have that out-of-body experience. Watch yourself as an observer. What do you notice?

This weekend, I had a repair company come by to fix a couple nagging issues around my house. The first issue is repairing some water damage in my bathroom. The second is repairing a part of my ceiling in the living room that is sagging and was hastily patched prior to me buying the home (~10 years ago). I’m selling my home soon, and I want to take care of these little issues so buyers can focus on the grander house and not on possible “problems”.

The repair man started work on the ceiling by starting to cut at the portion that was sagging. But as a chunk of the ceiling fell down, he stopped. He proceeded to call someone, and then scratched his head while staring intently at the hole now in my ceiling. After hanging up, he looked at me, and informed me that he and the company are unable to repair (let alone touch) plaster ceilings. Wow.

Now, there are a lot of things that make this experience a great teacher in many entrepreneurial and business thoughts. Here are five.

  1. I’m highly non-confrontational. This can be detrimental to conducting business. That is, I did not maintain a strict rubric of how well the repair on the bathroom was made. Instead, I simply wanted to move him along and get along with my day. I signed the payment and review on his phone while he stood in front of me. Had I received the invoice and review separately, I would have likely given a lower grade while provided minimal tip, if any. I never even asked the repairman to re-attempt cleaning the bathroom that he left untidy. As a personal review, I need to be able to speak to folks like the repair to deliver an experience better matched to my expectations, much like I do with subordinates.
  2. On the bathroom repair, I was slow to react to a small nuisance (a bathtub to which water would splash out constantly). That small nuisance kept happening and became a problem (the pooling water seeped tile grout and damaged the drywall behind. Now, it had be dealt with. I think about this like technical debt when an engineer knows code is shipped knowing there are limitations and flaws. But for the sake of speed (in my case, ease), the problem is ignored until it becomes a bigger problem. No matter what, though, the debt must be paid.
  3. If you’re the repair company, what do you do? That is, as a customer, I now no longer have a patched up sag in my ceiling. Now, I have a genuine hole. It’s a much worse state than before, and one that I can no longer ignore as I sell my house. Before, it would’ve been a discussion point during a home selling negotiation process. Now, it’s a show stopper. But as the repair company who does not offer any type of plaster services, what would you to help me now that my situation has been made worse?
  4. Now that there’s a hole in my ceiling, what’s the next best option? In Atlanta, older homes are commonly built with plaster – ceilings and walls – vs. drywall in buildings today. This means plaster service providers are becoming more niche (expensive when a provider is found). Meanwhile, with my goal of selling my home, I want to spend as little money as possible. So, what’s the play here? Much like in startups, there’s goal to grow fast. But that comes at a price. Sometimes, there’s a hurdle like a buying objection that requires the team to quickly adapt. There’s a new normal now. To address that objection or hurdle, what do the solution options look like? How do those solutions affect your primary goal (e.g. building a repeatable process, scalable product)?
  5. How do I learn from the experience with the first repair company and apply the lessons to finding a new service provider? Though the first repair company came highly recommended, how do I take what I’ve learned to also try to uncover things I don’t know. That is, what can impact the results of fixing the problem when I don’t know what I don’t know? How can I ask the right questions and confirm the next provider is capable when the first try was poor?

There’s a lot that can be learned in everyday happenings that can directly influence the ideology and execution of startups. It’s one of the reasons why for passionate entrepreneurs the lines between work and life are blurred.

Look for these lessons. They start to help you understand the gaps you’re in.

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.

Empathy. It’s been on my mind a lot recently, and I’m trying to understand why. Then, it hit me – too often we lack it, and this leaves others (most everyone) feeling isolated.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as:

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I’ve decided to dedicate today’s post to this singular word because it’s highly important for not just everyday citizens of our communities, but also as entrepreneurs. If you can’t be empathetic to your customers’ problems, you’ll likely fail to build a product/ service that resonates and is sustainable.
First, sympathy and empathy are not the same. It’s important to know the difference because they’re oftentimes interchanged improperly. Sympathy is defined as feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, or understanding between people; common feeling. Empathy goes deeper than sympathy in being able to share/ experience emotions of another.
In a recent enlightenment of empathy and the lack thereof, I took on a recent challenge – calling it “30 broccoli, 30 days”. I loathe vegetables. I haven’t touched broccoli in many, many years prior to this challenge (started September 1st). The challenge is to consume at least one broccoli a day. Since, I’ve decided to ramp up the number of broccoli florets each week.
The funny thing here is you may be reading this and asking, “so what? It’s just a single floret.” Therein lies the problem. Where your mind takes you next is where empathy either surfaces, or not. I’ve indeed received many people asking the same question including the occasional ridicule. Though I’m not so bothered about this because I understand why, I’m also coming to the realization how often others fail to understand my why. It’s shocking how often people jump to conclusions based on how they feel and what they think. There is no compassion or interest in learning my perspective.
This lack of empathy reared its ugly head during 100 Strangers, 100 Days. Too often, people judge from the outside, and set all subsequent interactions based on this judgement. There is a lack of interest in getting to know others – the good and the bad.
Truth is, consuming broccoli is akin to my own mini-Fear Factor. Perhaps I’m sharing this to practice vulnerability knowing full well there are those who will ridicule. That’s okay. I’m confronting my fear because I do know vegetables are “good” for me, though, I loathe them. So, I challenge myself.
How often do others confront their fears? How often do others look for ways to challenge themselves? That’s okay, too. Truth here, too, is that I do my thing because I know my why and I know what I want to achieve. Do others feel the same way about themselves? I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t in this case. But I’m happy to learn.
Take a moment today, tomorrow, this week. Practice a little empathy. If you feel the knee-jerk reaction to judge and ridicule, fine. But then, follow up those thoughts with questions of why.
Empathy might be that one big thing we’re missing in our communities that’s driving wild accusations and creating misunderstood resentment. Practice empathy.
Given it’s the holidays and today is Christmas Eve, this blog post is a gift to myself and yes, you.
Happy Holidays!
Now stop reading my blog, and go relax with family and friends (or some barbells).