Category Archives: Think

7 Lessons I Learned From Jeff Bezos

It’s not often that I summarize other people’s work or talks, but this one was too good to pass up.

This video is 80 minutes and 27 seconds well spent but below are some of the takeaways for me. Maybe they are important to you too?

Make your building blocks public and reusable (API’s first). Who would have thought that an online book store would be one of the largest providers of cloud hosting services in the world? It happened because one day around 2002, Jeff Bezos decided “All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.” The mandate, among others, closed with “Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired. Thank you; have a nice day!”

When you think about building a business, you quickly realize how many moving pieces there are and how interconnected everything is. If one part of the machine breaks, the other parts are surely affected. This is especially true in technology. If the button on my website doesn’t work, then it can’t perform the function it was supposed to. Conversely, if the button on my website does work and the supporting function does not, well then I have a clickable button that does nothing. By instilling an API-first culture, Jeff was able to create incredible efficiencies within the organization ensuring that there was a universal language to communicate between different parts of the Amazon machine. Some of those parts were so good, that they were able to be exposed to the broader public as standalone parts, and we now have AWS which is one of the three pillars or business units of their company.

Work backward from customer needs. Business is simple when you realize the core essence of what it’s about: Find a problem, solve it, make money to solve it. In the case of Amazon, the problems they are fixing are customer selection, price, speed and accuracy of delivery. That’s it. Those the are core problems that they set out to fix. It seems this is the best and easiest way to align a business. Figure out the needs and work backwards.

Make a little amount of money on a lot of people instead of making a lot of money on a few number of people. The internet has redefined the impact and importance of geography. The old world: one store could serve a few. The new world: one store could serve everyone. As a result, smart companies are taking advantage of this new paradigm with both technological innovation that sits on top of the internet, but also, financial innovation. In Amazon’s case, their financial innovation is to race towards the bottom with prices and with margins.

There are still plenty of other industries where this financial innovation can be applied such as legal services, financial services, and any other high-priced, big-ticketed item. These are all ripe for financial disruption because of the scale of the internet. In my world, I believe the same thing is happening in enterprise software. We call it, the “consumerization of the enterprise.” Long gone are the days of a bag-carrying, quota-carrying, sales guy that needs to hop on a plane to shovel a 20-page agreement across a table to a CEO for a few million dollars. If not long gone, they are surely moving in that direction. Instead, we’ll see the broader adoption of enterprise software which, like Amazon, will win on selection, price and speed.

The only way to give people happy experiences is with happy people. Depressing and pessimistic people are energy vampires. Positive and optimistic people are encouraging and motivating. You will not win unless you surround yourself with smart, motivated and positive people. “Positive”, is the key operating word. In fact, it is one of the 4 company values at Troops.

You don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you. There was a young kid growing up in Seattle in the 70’s and he was obsessed with computers. He would spend hours upon hours on his school’s first computer and tried to figure out every possible way to break the machine and outsmart it. He became obsessed to the point where his parents had to force him to take a break and not use a computer for a whole year. So he did take a break and engulfed himself in books for a full year which also meant no computers during that time. But sure enough, he made it back to his obsession and started a company we now know as Microsoft. Could Microsoft be the company it is today if someone was first and foremost motivated by money? Could Facebook be Facebook without a Harvard dropout chasing some crazy and passionate idea for an online social network? The answer to me seems fairly obvious and yet, most people still try to rationalize and justify the decisions they make in their career. Jeff is successful with Amazon because a passion called him out and he listened. Most people don’t do this and never will. He did, and so am I.

There will be a bunch of artificially intelligent agents. I could not agree more and it is what we are building at Troops. More on that here.

Be stubborn on the vision, but flexible on the details. When Intel Israel’s back was against the wall and it’s facility was at risk of shutting down, it needed to prove that it was an essential part of Intel’s future. To do this, the CEO of Intel Israel said, “$0.66 or die.” He meant we figure out how to make the cost of our chips $0.66 to be the leader in costs and price, or we will go out of business, lose our jobs, and professionally speaking, die. Without the faintest idea of how they would get there, they set out a mandate and just figured it out. Sure enough, they achieved a cost of $0.66 for one of their chips and it proved to be the model for every other Intel Fab factory in the world.

Were there any other takeaways for you?

My Grandfather’s Last Birthday

My grandfather recently turned 96ish…and that will be the last birthday he ever has.

This morning he passed away.

But the days leading up to this morning he was able to spend time with his 3 children, 8 grandkids, cousins, oldest friends from Europe and newer friends from America.

That’s what mattered most to him. Family and friends.

And he worked hard for it.

After the Holocaust and before his immigration to America, he moved back to Munich, Germany and opened a textile store. He sourced fabrics from all over the world and sold them to people looking to make dresses and suits.

He hung out with a couple of guys over there who were also hustling trying to make a buck and rebuild their life. Eventually, they decided to come to America and leave the dark memories from Europe behind. They landed on the Jersey shores. In Toms River to be exact.

He started a farm because my grandmother thought that producing food and raising chickens was a good endeavor. After all, they just escaped Nazi brutality and had to steal, beg and borrow to survive. So food made sense. So did eggs. He would get up at four in the morning to drive his egg route to NYC all the way from Toms River… which is easily a two-hour drive each way.

He did that every day.

Exhausted, every day.

Startup life in the 50’s I suppose.

But he did it for his family.

Shortly thereafter, his pals from Munich told him to join them in the building industry. Given the way the farming and building industries were going, it was an easy decision.

And so build he did.

He built his house and the homes of many others. If you live in NJ, chances are you’ve driven by something he’s been a part of.

And so when I say he came here after the war to “rebuild” his life, I mean it. He literally built.

And the thing he is most proud of is the family he built.

“Make sure the family stays together,” he said.

He might have lost everything as a kid. But in the end, he gained more than most could ever hope for.

And that was my grandfather, Sam.

He was a survivor.

He was a builder.

A 96ish year old builder who built the best home of all.

His home.

My grandfather recently turned 96ish.

My grandfather recently turned 96ish. I say 96ish because he doesn’t really remember his age.

When he was a teenager he had to flee Poland from the German invasion. That was only after he narrowly escaped a Nazi firing squad.

He did escape and obtained a fake identity to fight on the Russian front. That was his only way to survive and survive he did.

But shortly thereafter he was captured by German allies, held as a POW and forced to take on a fake identity. He lied about his name and his age while struggling to stay alive under impossible conditions. That was his only way to survive and once again, survive he did.

He came to America with very little but he rebuilt his life and started a family. A family that is able to celebrate his birthdays with him even if he doesn’t remember his age.

So ya, my grandfather recently turned 96ish.

His 5 or so brothers never made it past 20 years old.

6 million others didn’t make it all.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

For me, that is every day.

I’m sure for my grandparents, and many others, that is every day too.

‪#‎neverforget‬

How To Make Slack Work For Your Business

There is a tidal wave coming and it’s changing the way we do work. We caught a glimpse of it in 2014 when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Forget for a moment that the company only had 30 engineers. The fact that Facebook was willing to pay such a high price for this asset was a window into the world to come. That window showed us how important and scalable messaging can be. That window of messaging is only getting bigger.

Less than two weeks ago, Slack completed a $200 million round of financing at a $3.8 billion valuation. This is largely due to the fact that they were able to grow from about 15,000 daily users to over 500,000 daily active users in less than a year. That’s over 33x growth in just 12 months. They could be the fastest growing software company of all time.

People now are beginning to ask why? Why are companies rapidly adopting conversational platforms like Slack? Why do we need it when we already have things like email? And more importantly, how can we use it in our organization when it seems like just another tool to add to the mess of tools? As one CEO of a large technology company told me, “we already have email, Gchat, Facebook messenger, text messaging and WhatsApp. What do I need one more tool for?”

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to look at one of the most successful CEO’s of all time, Andy Grove from Intel. In the 1980’s he also saw a tidal wave coming and he used it to his advantage to outperform his competitors, namely the Japanese DRAM manufacturers. The Japanese would work in the same rooms, side by side, in order to foster the most efficient means of team communication. However, the tidal wave that would help shift things in Intel’s favor, was their rapid adoption of electronic email, especially as the business became more global. From Andy Grove’s, High Output Management:

The informed use of e-mail— short for computer-to-computer electronic messaging— results in two fundamentally simple but startling implications. It turns days into minutes, and the originator of a message can reach dozens or more of his or her co-workers with the same effort it takes to reach just one. As a result, if your organization uses e-mail, a lot more people know what’s going on in your business than did before, and they know it a lot faster than they used to.

Now we have electronic conversation and thanks to companies like Slack, which have matured and polished this form of communication, it is now easier than ever to collaborate and work. It doesn’t turn “days into minutes” but minutes into seconds.

So how can you create “high output management” process and organization on top of Slack to accelerate your business and productivity? Here are five tips to best utilize Slack to organize your teams for optimal efficiency.

  1. Organize around key objectives. You have a sales team, a customer success team, an account management team, and maybe 5 other teams that touch the customer. Do you create one channel or group for each team? Do you create one channel for each customer? Do you create a generic sales channel? This answer will largely depend on the size and scope of the company. Consider the following scenario, which could be taken from an ordinary day at a large enterprise software company. You have an account executive working on large multi-million dollar deal. That deal represents one customer but requires the help of at least 10 people from various parts of the company including management, product and engineering. We’ll call that deal the “IBM” deal. In this example, it probably makes sense to create one dedicated channel for IBM, however it probably does not make sense to create channels for each and every account. Understanding the most pressing key objectives at your company is a good guiding light to how your team should organize in Slack.
  2. Real-time leading indicators. One of Slack’s innovations is their ability to integrate with third party systems and services. For example, every time our engineering team pushes out an update or fix, I can see the real time update and context around that update in a stream. Our engineering team uses this to gauge the pulse and health of our company’s engineering output. Before slack, this data was more obfuscated living in different silos. Now the entire team can optionally check in to gauge velocity on product. This concept of real time leading indicators can work in a sales situation too. Consider the scenario where a sales rep has five meetings but forgets to follow up with all five customers. Wouldn’t it be helpful to automatically and in real-time notify the sales rep that they forgot to follow up? This is the power of Slack. We can now seamlessly integrate with third party data sets and make those leading indicators available in real time for all, or just some, to see.
  3. Workflow. At Troops, when someone signs up for our newsletter, we get a real time alert that someone signed up. Moreover, we append third party data in real time so we can give the team greater context of who exactly the person is. For example, if john@smith.com signs up, we can quickly determine who he works for, what the company size looks like, where it’s located, what he’s been talking about, all in a fraction of a second simply by looking at just his email address. If we think the person is a VIP of sorts and needs immediate attention, we can quickly start a dialogue around the alert. The team can quickly give an emoji thumbs up or thumbs down on how valuable that person is, and if enough ‘thumbs ups’ are accumulated, a sales rep can reach out in real time. There are all sorts ways the messaging stream can be adapted to custom workflow but this is just one example.
  4. Cultural Development. If you ask someone about Slack that has any familiarity with it, you might hear them mention the word “giphie” within the first five seconds. Many people recognize that Slack itself just makes work more fun. But fun, has a very real implication on culture and productivity. If left unchecked, it can erode productivity. However, if embraced correctly, it can enhance culture and subsequently drive happiness and efficiency. At Troops, we are automatically surfacing client wins in real time in Slack. This happens automatically and ties in unique content to drive a stronger, sales-oriented culture. Before Slack, companies would resort to things like trophies, sales gongs, and bonuses, which is especially hard if teams are spread out across multiple geographies or time zones. Now, there is a greater ability to increase culture through “digital gongs” and celebration, across large teams or sub-sets of teams.
  5. Speed. As you are reading this article, it’s likely that you have over ten web browser tabs open. Each tab represents entirely different context, modes of thinking and ways of working. When you consolidate systems and services into one stream or one messaging interface, you can begin to increase the speed at which you do work. For example, at Troops we are able to execute commands in third party systems like Salesforce, Gmail, Calendar, and GitHub all from within one command line. This is very analogous to the google search box. Instead of having to click through a set of listings to find information, you can simply type a request and have Google spit back the information to you. Slack represents a similar opportunity, only this time, you can get more creative with what type of information you search for, what is returned, how it is returned, and who it is returned to.

This is just a short, high-level list of ways you should be thinking about maximizing the use of Slack and the other conversational platforms to come within your organization. If you think this trend is fleeting or that these messaging tools are just a fad, consider this. WeChat, another messaging platform in China, already has 20 million companies selling and marketing products through a messaging interface. This change in user behavior is so profound that it has driven Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, to orient the company around this paradigm shift, and it seems this is his first major product decision that deviates from Microsoft’s legacy product lines. It’s still early days and we’re going to see the next wave of enterprise solutions being created through messaging interfaces like Slack.

What questions or comments do you have about Slack?

This Startup Failed In Year One And Is Now Doing Over $6M In Sales Per Year

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

On January 19th Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, a sales technology startup out of Atlanta came to chat with the Building The Sales Machine community here in New York City about the challenges of building company as it relates to culture, values and building the sales organization. Kyle and the SalesLoft story is compelling because the business was pretty much a failure in the first year. But now, they are an 80 person company and grew sales by 1000% in 2015. Moreover, they went from $1M to $6M run rate in the past 5 quarters and was rated the #1 Best Place to Work in Atlanta.

As someone who is building a sales-facing technology startup myself, this story is especially compelling to me.

So how did they do it? Here is what Kyle had to say.

Dan Reich: How did you get started with Salesloft?

Kyle Porter: When we started this company, we flat out failed in the first 12 months. In 2011 I started the company and had no idea what I was getting into. I was a really good salesperson but had no idea had to start a company.

A sales person is the closest job to an entrepreneur. It’s the role where you control your own destiny the most. And you have to have this relentless pursuit to make it happen. I had that gene inside of me. But I didn’t understand software development. I didn’t understand the culture of an Engineering Org, the prioritization of product management philosophy. I didn’t understand that you can only do so many thing at once. I had these guys build, build, build and ultimately I scattered them too thinly.

The other big thing that I was missing was the people’s culture. Think to yourself right now about how you think people should behave… If you start a company you HAVE to inject those things into your business. I didn’t make that happen. I had people that I hired that I thought might be good, but the culture spun out of control.

On the reboot: I’m going to start over from scratch but do 2 things wildly different. 1 I’m going to put thought into product management 2. Pay a ton of attention to culture.

Reich: What has become of the modern sales organization?

Porter: You either have a modern sales organization or you don’t. Are you striving to do things better? Are you using the processes and tools that are available today to drive your team forward? What I keep learning is that there’s stages inside these sales organizations.

When I started sales loft we had this hot thing that a lot of people wanted. So we could reach out to anyone with a “soft touch” and were able to kind of “carpet blast” the universe and get some really good numbers. Eventually, you need to go deeper and build real relationships with people.

If you’re out there and have a sales process that’s working but doesn’t require significant sales skills, you should be skeptical.

If you’re sending emails and people are responding, but you’re not actually diving in and solving problems and going deep, building relationships, connecting with people… those sales are going to eventually dry up.

That’s what I’ve learned about the modern sales organization. The good ones aren’t taking anything for granted. They’re going deep to build true problem-solving relationships with their buyers. They figure out ways to get really personal and interactive with their customers over time.

Reich: What should the SDR and Account Management interaction look like?

Porter: Two years ago this was shocking stuff, but now we’ve all seen the SDR [Sales Development Movement]. We’ve seen the specialization in sales between the people who prospect and bring in the business, and those that nurture the relationships and close it down. Now with the specialization, you’re seeing both disciplines get better at their craft. But now those two roles are coming together a bit more. They have empathy for the role of the other person.

Reich: What are your core values and why are they important to SalesLoft?

Porter: As an executive at your company, work hard to inject your personal core values into your business. What are the 3 things that matter most to me? 1. Positive 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. The first person I hired: are they positive, are they self-starting are they supportive. This ran down to everything we’ve done. The difference has been night and day.

Now as you grow, it get’s harder and harder to control this at a company level, but you can definitely control it at a team level. So hiring the right people to start, then putting your best people into leadership positions, that embody and understand your values, then having them hire their teams to those values and letting them run with it; eventually you have a solid team, built around your culture.

We went from 3 core values, then my team came to me and said, hey I see a few other things we’d like to talk to you about. “We see people who are positive, supportive and self-starting at this company but they leave a bit to be desired. We also see people that are doing things that are not 1, 2, & 3 but we love it. So we went out to dinner and I asked my team to write down: Who are the top 7 people at this organization, that if we cloned them it would lead us to market domination? Write out the top 5 traits of those people and put them in the middle. Sure enough, 1. Positive. 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. rose to the top, from that we mined out 3 additional core values. 4. Empathetic 5. Transparent 6. Exceptional.

Reich: How can you use your core values to measure a team (hire, fire, train)?

Porter: I’m a super broken record when it comes to core values. I’m sure people say “Kyle’s an idiot, he says the same things over and over and over again.” Well, I might be. But you better believe everyone at SalesLoft remembers those 6 core values. No matter how long they’ve been there, they can walk you through them. That’s important. That means they run deep.

I’m a parent. I have an 18 month-old baby girl, Brooklyn. Every night before I put her to bed I tell her the rules of the house: be nice to Mommy and Daddy, be nice to others, be nice to yourself. I say that to her over and over until she gets it. If she does something dishonest or not fair. I’m going to tell her, “share, share share”. People think that the job of the CEO is to be some mad scientist and write these elaborate equations locked up in a whiteboard somewhere… The job of the CEO is to ingrain the vision and the values into your team. That simply takes repetition.
I’m the chief reminding officer.

Then I’m injecting it into the hiring process. We have a matrix. Anyone hiring at SalesLoft score candidates on a Matrix according to our core values. By the time I see a candidate in the 3rd round, “I’ll walk right in and ask what are the SalesLoft core values?”. If that person doesn’t know it, they’re out.

Then we work it into management. If I’ve seen that Alex has shown a ton of empathy to a vendor. I’m going to pull her aside, look her in the eye and tell her “thank you”, and explicitly call out what she did, how it tied back to our values and how great it was. All of our managers are trained to do that as well. It makes a difference.

I’ll do the same thing if with negative responses to the values. If I notice that Alex wasn’t attentive to a note that was sent around the office. I’m going to pull her aside again and say hey, you need to be up on this, it’s part of being successful. When you’re not up on this, it hurts our company and here’s why… and “I know you’re better than that”. That matters.

Now, the reprimands are like 1:6 on the compliments. Go heavy on the positive. But stick to your cultures. That’s how you inject that shit right into the business!

Promote on culture values, hire on culture values, fire on culture values.

 

The Captain Of You

I feel like I’m a passenger of my own life.

I’m not afraid of going on welfare. I’m afraid of being ordinary.

As I heard him say the things I saw my life flash before my eyes. I recalled the decisions I’ve made, the places I’ve traveled to, the friendships I’ve made, the speeches I’ve heard.

But most importantly…

The things I’ve done.

Right or wrong, good or bad life is all about the choices we make and the choices we follow through with.

It’s about doing.

It’s about being the driver and captain of our own life and not being a passenger that’s merely along for the ride.

The irony here is that what holds us back to start, becomes the thing that drives us forward in the end. It’s what rips us out of apathy and tells us that something is wrong.

That thing is called fear.

Being afraid to fail leads us down a path of passiveness. And as we walk down that path we begin to realize just how bleak the path is.

Most of us have seen it before.

It’s a straight line and the roads are smooth from all of those that went before. The speed limit signs of society tell you to that you’re a million miles and decades away from your goal.

Your goal.

You forgot what that was because you were busy thinking about the next pit stop as you stare at the clock of life counting down the seconds and days until you reach a checkpoint.

Marriage. Kids. Buying a house. Paying off a mortgage. College tuition. Switching jobs.

Each pit stop you look back and wonder if you got on the right path.

Each pit stop you look forward and wonder if you can get off.

Where would that exit take me? Am I even capable of getting off?

You realize that the other path, the path of uncertainty and maybe even failure, is a lot less scary than this path of passiveness of ordinary.

You wonder what if you just got on that windy, uncertain road to begin with? And then regret starts to settle in. What if I did those things I was afraid of doing? What if I didn’t settle and do what was expected of me? What if I followed my dreams and put myself out of my comfort zone?

I read a quote somewhere once that said most people overestimate the cost of doing something and underestimate the cost of doing nothing.

Truth.

That person is a smart guy.

And right or wrong, the smartest thing we can do as people is to live life to the fullest. To be the captains of our own lives and to embrace fear head on.

The best thing we can do is to do.

Something..

Something that is extraordinary, scary and defines who you are and who you were meant to be.

It’s not too late.

It’s never too late to look fear head on and say it’s my turn to drive. It’s my time and I got it from here.

And in that moment, you realize you can do anything and that you are in control. You’re the driver again and the captain of your own life.

The captain of you.

A Student – Learning, Living at the Intersection of Business + Technology + Innovation + Culture.