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).