Find your “flush it”

I was first introduced to the term “flush it” in sports as a Positive Coaching Alliance tool for getting players to forget mistakes and move on to the next play. Back in the day, we used the terms “forget about it,” “shake it off,” or “move on.” But since most everyone has flushed a toilet, and knows the result, this seems like a reasonable universal metaphor! 

Simply asking someone to “flush it” may not have the intended effect as each person responds to adversity and success differently. While flush it is useful when you’ve had success, it’s most commonly deployed when dealing with setbacks or mistakes. The objective is to get yourself or someone else back into the mindset of moving ahead. Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke teaches the “next play” concept to keep his basketball teams looking forward. 

Recently, I was listening to an episode of Against The Rules, a podcast hosted by Michael Lewis, whose season two is all about coaching. The Coach in Your Head episode explores one example of how a youth softball player overcomes obstacles to achieve success. This athlete is an accomplished player on a club team dealing with performance anxiety and a coach that swears and berates players as her coaching method. The players love the coach as they know how much she cares, yet in the case of this player, she needed to come up with a way to mentally deal with her coach and her own fear of failure. So she came up with the phrase “loose and aggressive,” which she repeats to herself during stressful situations or when dealing with her coach. This phrase puts her in the forward mindset and actually acts as a mental buffer and soothing technique. What happens when you are calm and in control of your emotions? Performance gets better.

When it comes to performance, we all can use coaching, whether in your personal or professional life. The ability to control your emotions and put yourself into that forward state can be highly beneficial to you and those around you. It’s hard, especially in the heat of the moment, demanding commitment and practice. Or you might just be one of those people that never experience fear, panic, loss of confidence, or being rattled! 

The first step is coming up with your own “flush it” or trigger that snaps your mindset into a productive mode. Whether it’s a phrase, deep breathing, or some signal to yourself. I have experimented with a few over the years, and the one that works for me is a combination of deep breathing and counting down from five! The second step is preparation, even though sometimes that cannot be controlled. The better prepared you are for a situation, the more confident and ultimately calm you will be when faced with adversity while tapping into your “flush it” technique. A calm mind is a focused mind, and hopefully, you find that this makes you feel that you did your best even if the situation does not turn out the way you want it to. 

One infamous example of losing it during the heat of the moment was Ryan Leaf’s post-game interview during his NFL rookie season with the, then, San Diego Chargers. Unfortunately given the public nature of this example, this interview has followed Ryan ever since! An example of remaining calm during adversity is Colin Kapernick. In 2016 when sitting, then kneeling, during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and violence against Blacks, many erroneously conflated his peaceful protest as disrespecting the Flag and the Military. Throughout all the intense heat this has generated for Colin, he remains educated (see prepared) and balanced during the many interviews, some of which routinely attempt to provoke him into lashing out. Colin has been able to control or “flush” the negatives while Ryan could not, particularly in the moment. 

Throughout my professional career, the concept of “flush it” resonates as a way to push the negatives away, regain mental balance, and focus on what’s next. I haven’t always been great at this. There have been times when my dislike for someone’s actions or rhetoric affects my emotions and subsequent effectiveness in that moment. The good part is that my ability to control my voice and body language routinely masks the internal boiling, so I can for the most part get away with it without being noticed. But, I am always better served when deploying my flush-it routine. This brings me quickly back to center and allows me to focus on the moment, resulting in a more positive outcome. And afterwards, I feel much better! 

What is your “flush it?”

Jeff

Podcasting. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

  • 2001 – Apple releases the iPod
  • 2007 – Apple releases the iPhone
  • 2014 – The hit podcast Serial reaches millions of listeners
  • 2018 – Spotify acquires Gimlet Media and Anchor for about $340M

Fourteen years after the initial launch of podcasting, Apple has finally vowed to improve by funding original content, providing analytics (which it started in early 2018), and elevating podcasting to the coveted status of TV and Music. The IAB has also released its 2.0 guidelines for measurement and metrics to help standardization. Is this the break-out that podcasting-as-revenue-generator has been waiting for?  

In 2007, I left Yahoo! after managing a suite of multimedia products, including a beta branded Yahoo! Podcasting, and joined a podcast advertising technology start-up called Podbridge (subsequently rebranded to VoloMedia). Podcasting was being heralded as a new frontier for digital advertising given the impressive list of brands making podcasts available for free through iTunes, including NBC, MSNBC, ESPN, and NPR. Media companies were essentially re-packaging their previously aired TV or radio programs into an RSS feed and making it available for download and offline consumption on your iPod (pre-iPhone) or RSS-capable device, an economical way to achieve episode longevity and gain additional reach. Market researchers, including Edison Research, noted that podcasting offered a growth market and a very captive audience for advertisers, as listeners were spending more time with podcasts as compared to traditional radio or, at the time, online video. The Association for Downloadable Media even colonized (and has since decolonized…). Yet, in parallel, the streaming market was powering ahead with the success of YouTube and its $1.6B acquisition by Google. Apple wasn’t helping the Podcasting cause by burying the content in its ever-clunky iTunes, offering very limited (if any) metrics and advertising opportunities. Many tech companies that had been funded to capitalize on the emerging podcasting trend, including VoloMedia, either shut down, sold for much less than expected, or significantly trimmed staff to maintain operations. 

Despite the lack of investment and attention, podcasting has continued to grow, albeit largely in the background. Smartphones and the incredible ecosystem make content more and more accessible. Broadband’s progress, including wireless speeds, has been a huge contributor to wide access. 5G holds even more promise. This connectivity wave has turbocharged content mobility through markets such as wearables and automobiles, where a lot of podcast listening occurs.

Investors are taking notice. In 2018, VCs poured in over $200M into podcasting businesses. Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) is forecasting 30%+ advertising revenue growth from $600M in 2018 to $1.6B in 2022, this following 50%+ growth from 2017-2018. Monthly listeners have grown from 23M in 2013 to over 78M in 2018 with the 18-34 demographic leading the growth. Edison states that “85% of people who listen to podcasts, listen to the end,” and the average listener listens to up to five podcasts per week. 

These numbers have reignited advertising interest, especially when evaluated and compared to spend on traditional Radio. A 2017 study by Podcast distributor Audioboom found that “68 percent of podcast listeners had reduced the time they spent listening to broadcast radio in favor of podcasts.” PwC cited this research but was careful to note that there is a lack of evidence suggesting podcasting is actually, today, taking advertising dollars away from broadcast radio. 

According to PwC, traditional US Radio advertising revenue was $15.9B in 2018, essentially flat to slightly down from 2017. They forecast the same $15.9B number in 2019, then again about the same number in 2020. This lack of growth might be due to the same misconception that the TV folks suffered from when the concept of Internet delivery (now OTT) surfaced. TV folks got themselves all worked up about preserving their “cable and broadcast” economics forgetting that the viewers care more about the content than they do the delivery method. Cue the rise of Netflix, and the subscriber decline at ESPN. Radio has been stuck in a rut for a while, and Podcasting represents a growth path even though podcast advertising is still less than 2% of radio advertising. Although in 2013, YouTube’s video ad revenue was just under 4% of cable and broadcast.

Speaking of 2013, remember Jeff Zucker’s quote that year when asked about online video’s impact?  Jeff was then the head of NBC Universal and said that the media industry should be careful not to “end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies.” At the time, online video threatened the $70B+ cable and broadcast business. Well, this time, it’s Radio’s turn. Since Radio is not as economically healthy as TV was back then, maybe the incumbents will actually embrace and extend this movement as opposed to trying to kill it. Another reason podcast growth should continue, and continue less encumbered. 

Podcast investment is now about the content, and specifically original content. Not a week goes by without a celebrity launching a podcast given the low cost of entry and access to a growing audience within their target demographic. This low cost of entry encourages many non-celebrities and companies to jump is as well. Apple reports over 650,000 shows with more than 20 million episodes available as podcasts on iTunes. Last month, the NY Times asked, “Have we hit peak podcast?” in a much discussed article, suggesting that we, as consumers, are ready to be more discerning. Just because you can podcast, doesn’t mean you should. What it does mean is that content has to be really good to survive.

With this vast amount of content, podcast technology start-ups have also secured funding, albeit on a more limited basis than their content-focused counterparts. Production, delivery, monetization, and analytics require underlying tech (just pitch yourself as “Podcast AI,” and the funding should start flowing!). Regarding content delivery and discovery, RSS might be on its way out. As an example, all podcasts on Pandora are actually content streams, as opposed to downloads. This may not matter much so long as listeners can readily find and discover content and internet connectivity is reliable (the download is useful when connectivity is scarce — the anytime, anywhere value proposition). Google recently announced its search engine will surface individual podcast episodes (if published using RSS, Google will automatically index) and Google Assistant will allow users to ask for the content, which certainly helps discovery. And Apple continues to leverage RSS, and as long as they are using the feed format, it will survive. 

The key technology challenge is the same today as it was in 2007, which is advertising metrics. Host-read ads (or read-outs) are still the most effective and popular ad unit followed by brand awareness and direct response. Measurement of performance, however, remains elusive. Apple is certainly helping, but the metrics provided are listener-based for now. Other options include NPRs Remote Audio Data (open-source), Podtrac (founded in 2005), and a recently launched analytics dashboard from Spotify.

The IAB is helping with its standards, but it remains difficult for advertisers to understand performance, which would really turbocharge podcasting.

Yogi was right, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Jeff

Building the Business Episode 2: Activity and Routine

Welcome to episode 2 of our Building the Business podcast series!  In this episode, Jeff shares his day-to-day routine and associated advice of starting and operating a small business.

It’s a quick listen — about 9 minutes. We hope you enjoy it, and please let us know what you think.

Building the Business Episode 1: How We Got Started

Getting startedWelcome to our first podcast!  We’re approaching two years in business at Transeo Partners, and took a few moments to step back and reflect on how we came together to get things up and running.

This is the first in a series of our “Building the Business” podcasts, in which we’ll be sharing both the hits and the strikeouts (it is baseball playoff season, after all), that we’ve experienced so far, and how they are helping to shape our approach moving forward.

It’s a quick listen — about 11 minutes — so take it for a spin, and let us know what you think.

— Jeff & Emma

Little League Lessons of Defeat & Resiliency

We came close. We played tough. We won out over every team but one. We probably fit most of the traditional runner-up type sports’ clichés. But in the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” And I’m good with that.

The Little League baseball team that my son played on and I coached made it to the Majors’ division championship game in June, after a 17-game season and playoffs in which we won three games in seven days. In the championship final, our team was up 5-3 in the bottom of the last inning, with 2 outs. One walk and a couple of fielding errors later, and we had lost it all.

The kids – especially my son who was pitching – and fans were in disbelief, visibly shaken by what felt like our entire season having slipped away in just a couple of minutes. In our traditional post-game regroup with coaches and players, we talked about how awesome it was to make it to the championship game, which perhaps in the moment fell on deaf ears, but also about resiliency. Knowing this would hurt for a bit, we wanted the kids to hear that it’s okay to be upset in the moment, and to think about the loss. But at some point soon, it’s important to take the lessons learned and think about what’s next.

The next day, I shared some of my own athletic and business losses with my son. You may think it’s as good as done or won, and then poof, it crumbles. But the thing is, it’s usually not “poof.” There is almost always some underlying issue that can no longer hide. If there’s a weakness, it will be exposed in those critical moments, whether it’s in sports or in business. Our baseball team had that underlying issue: our defense. All season, we led the league in runs scored, but also in runs allowed. We recognized the problem during the season, and spent hours practicing defense. We improved, but not enough.

So what do we take from this? The power of resiliency. I’ve talked before about how, if you’ve instilled and practiced your fundamentals and coached to the growth mindset, the team (or the individual) will handle adversity and recover. And we did. Many from our Little League team also play together on a summer club baseball team. Not surprisingly, we run a lot of defensive drills in practice. And sure enough, in a tournament game just two weeks later, we were up by a run in the last inning with 2 outs, a runner on 3rd and my son on the mound. Kids, parents, coaches (myself included) were having angst-ridden flashbacks! But this time, we made a solid defensive play and closed it out for the win. The players showed their resiliency and maturity in the situation, not falling apart. I asked my son after the game what was going through his mind, and he said he was determined to not let it end the same way the championship game had. He didn’t like how that had felt.

If you have a chance to coach or be involved in youth sports, I highly recommend it, especially if your kids play. For me, it’s been about getting to know each other better, seeing how we all deal with the highs and the lows, and about shared experiences. It’s been amazing to see the kids grow, improve and develop their own belief in values like resiliency. Hopefully these early experiences get them ready for whatever comes at them down the road, and the belief that whether it’s a success or a defeat, they can learn something from it and keep moving right along.

— Jeff

The Lost Art of Focus

Focus“Lack of focus is the death of all potential.” — Warren Buffet (@itswarrenbuffet)

In the land of big ideas, focus can be a forgotten concept. Maybe it’s because companies such as Amazon and Alphabet appear to be involved with almost everything. Amazon’s website lists 40 different businesses with healthcare reportedly on the way! And Alphabet (or Google) does everything from online ads to self-driving cars. Apple remains one of the few consumer tech giant holdouts that values “saying no.” And it’s interesting that Apple commands the highest market cap and earnings compared to Alphabet and Amazon.

In start-up land, focus is key and can be an enormous competitive advantage, especially when disrupting existing methodologies and competing against larger companies. Yet time and again, with boundless enthusiasm, many start-ups try to do too much too early, stretching precious resources with the conviction that it all fits into the “go big or go home” rallying cry. In many cases, it’s a lack of corporate maturity, which manifests itself in ineffective planning, shallow (or missing) strategy, lack of patience, employee burnout and attrition. Living in “internet time,” we’ve seen start-ups view the notion of focus as innovation-stifling, boring, unnecessary, time-consuming or simply too much work. Unfortunately, this has derailed the best of intentions as companies are coerced into accelerated and overly aggressive revenue and growth plans while missing a foundational strategic framework and focus-to-succeed mindset. Yes, these require time and effort. They are hard. They don’t come together instantaneously. Patience, as it turns out, is a virtue after all.

Remember Geoffrey Moore? Crossing the Chasm had such a profound impact during my early years in tech (it was first published in 1991) that its core concepts have stayed with me more than 25 years later. Playbooks definitely appeal to me, so Moore’s approach resonates as it provides companies (mostly B2B) a guide on how to scale beyond visionary statements and early successes. Sometimes, this maturation process can be overwhelming, making it difficult to actually choose which market to pursue. Moore uses the analogy of “bowling pins,” and the necessity for companies to select one beachhead (or bowling pin), win that market, and then move on to the next. And of course if that beachhead does not materialize, then move on to another.

While exercising focus, it’s imperative to stay nimble, which becomes more difficult to achieve with the more you take on as a company. A conscious target market strategy creates focus throughout an organization, helps people understand priorities, defines success and the steps to execute towards that success. Paired with the notion of staying nimble, by defining success, a target market strategy also sets the model for both when and how to approach other future markets. Go through the go-to-market exercise for just one market, and you should quickly realize all the parts that need to come together to make it happen. Adding “just one more” market stretches the organization on many levels, drives ill-advised shortcuts and risks inferior execution. And to what end? Often, poor results and a panicked shift (or pivot!) to the next big idea. If you are going to tackle multiple markets simultaneously, at a minimum, take the time to prioritize within those markets and organize the company resources accordingly. Just asking everyone to do everything is not a strategy.

Commit to the process and do the hard work of planning and prioritizing. Most of us want to know the how along with the what. Building on the vision, a strategy and a plan will rally employees — and often customers — more resolutely than vision alone. They provide a concrete path forward. They provide focus.

– Jeff

Fundamentally, is Marketing strategic?

Is your Marketing strategic?If you want results, yes.

I reconnected with a former Marketing colleague for lunch the other day. We got to talking about perceptions of Marketing with different companies and clients over the years. Common across our experiences, we’ve seen the “Marketing = fluff” companies, the “Marketing = PR” companies, the “Marketing = events” companies, the “Marketing makes things look pretty” companies. Less common for both of us have been the “Marketing is strategic” companies.

But here’s the thing – and I admit to bias having worked in B2B Marketing for the last 20 years – companies that run Marketing as a strategic part of the organization often develop Marketing departments that perform better, attract higher quality talent, and deliver stronger results for the business. But how do you get there? How do you make Marketing strategic, activating its intrinsic value?

The key: be purposeful. Align efforts with the company’s objectives. Don’t succumb to the quantity vs. quality temptation, or the “let’s start running ads because it’s cheap and we can” agenda. Executing scattered emails here, display ads there, growth hacking on Monday, a webinar on Tuesday, a little retargeting on Wednesday, a new pitch deck on Thursday and some account based marketing on Friday is only going to serve up whiplash, for yourself, your team and your prospects.

Before getting to this level of execution, challenge yourself, challenge your colleagues, challenge your leaders to articulate who are we doing this for, and why? Perhaps most importantly from the Marketing perspective: What’s the intended outcome of any engagement? Until you align on these points – at least for purpose of testing for a designated period of time – you will never achieve great success with your Marketing efforts, because you will be battling mixed expectations and more importantly, mixed results.

These questions force an understanding of the motivations of your buyers and the buyer journey – what are they thinking about and responding to at each stage of the journey? How do you help move them forward to the desired outcome, namely the purchase of your solution? By understanding. With better understanding comes better execution, better results. Understanding drives the identification and prioritization of which Marketing components to accelerate, and when. And of course, which metrics to adopt and drive towards.

As you figure these things out, don’t lose sight of the need for transparency: others must see and understand what you’re doing and how it’s adding value. I’ve found that internal newsletters, cross-functional Ask Me Anythings, monthly dashboards – all with a view to letting others see what, how and why – quickly dispel questions about Marketing’s efficacy.

Across Marketing, do it with purpose. Challenge why, what and how. More on all this – especially the metrics – in future posts. I love this stuff.

Fundamentals: Why Product Management Matters

Product management can be one of the more important and effective roles within an organization. The role is best served when it’s at the epicenter driving product strategy, feature prioritization and go-to-market as companies seek that elusive product/market fit. Nearly 20 years ago, Ben Horowitz and David Weiden summarized the key ingredients of a good product manager. While admittedly product management has evolved since then (as acknowledged by Ben and David), many of the key ingredients hold true today, including:
  • Clear, written communication
  • Focus on the sales force and customers
  • Work well with executives
  • Leverage the entire organization

Some describe this role as the ‘CEO of the product,’ and that analogy does have merit as an effective product manager will think broadly, prioritize, manage resources, motivate a team and be the leader. But, as Pragmatic Marketing correctly points out, that analogy does have its limits.

In my experience both as a product manager and managing product managers (mostly from an Enterprise software perspective), a good PM brings a ton of professional passion for aligning the company’s product direction to a given strategy. They create that teamwork or esprit de corps, and the journey of driving from concept to ship to selling the product is the fuel that drives them. A good PM reminds the company of the fundamentals by consistently asking and answering questions such as: why are we building the product (i.e. the value proposition), who is this product for, are we building what we intended (design, features, quality, time-to-market), how do we sell, how do we define, measure and evaluate success, and then how do we iterate (i.e. do it all over again). The overused presentation rhetoric such as ‘we want to WOW our customers’ or ‘we want to DELIGHT people’ should be stripped from all discussions. That’s like a coach saying ‘we want to win’ as a way to prepare for a game. Of course!! Catch phrases such as these are neither actionable nor do they create strategic frameworks, so stay away from them and be skeptical of those that throw them around as methods of persuasion (or self-promotion). More on my distain for this type of soaring rhetoric in a future post!

Aligning executives, sales, engineering, marketing, technical support, business development and even finance and corporate development is tough both in terms of the actual time required to do so but also being adept at communicating with such a variety of constituents. The alignment process though will give the product team a broad(er) perspective that will help when prioritizing and making key decisions. Getting to know the sales team and process is the highest priority for the product manager, and getting out into the field at regular intervals is table stakes. Product managers need to be mindful with time management, but it’s a good sign when they are in demand.

While measuring the performance of product managers can be an art and depends upon the organization, here are a few ways to evaluate:

  • Does the sales team proactively leverage this persons expertise and include them in sales presentations?
  • Has the road map been published and communicated? Folks may disagree on the direction… but the company should know the plan.
  • Is there a (living) document or knowledge base as to the target market(s), competition, key customer requirements and market opportunities?
  • Are products being delivered at or close to the original specifications?
  • Are the products coming to market on time? If not, are slips being effectively planned and communicated, especially with sales and customers. And are these date slips infrequent, or do they occur many times during a release cycle?
  • Are the products selling?

Another aspect of product management is content marketing such as authoring data sheets, sales presentations, blog posts and white papers. In most start-up environments, this is part of the product management role given the limited resources, but as companies grow, this responsibility often shifts to product marketing. A good product manager though will always engage in content marketing and sales enablement, and should be viewed as a thought leader and go-to writing resource.

In summary, the role of product management is broad. Those that perform well typically demonstrate capacity (ability to take on a lot), effective communication skills across the organization and an ability to influence many without having the direct authority (in many cases product managers are individual contributors and therefore cannot rely on ‘rank’ to help them achieve decisions).

Companies should embrace this role and create a culture of product management.

How is product management faring where you are? It would be great to hear from you.

– Jeff

Focus on the Fundamentals: an Introduction

From Bill Belichick to Warren Buffett, fundamentals define the operations. The mission and objectives are known and clearly important, but they don’t drive the daily activity or even act as the primary motivation. Even at the youth sports level, coaches strive to teach the process of fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals over the outcomes of wins, hits, touchdowns, etc. We want that muscle memory developed so that during the game, especially in those stressful situations, the players naturally perform and can take comfort in their preparation. There’s always a lot to worry about, but it becomes much more manageable when the fundamentals have been been exercised over and over. At Transeo Partners, we stress the fundamentals across all the companies that we work with, with a view to helping them grow. The great organizations respect fundamentals more so than the outcome, and that drives operations and metrics, which in turn lead to success. It’s certainly important to celebrate and reflect on the results, but the real win is that journey of achievement.

Silicon Valley is the world wide headquarters of high-tech, but it has the propensity to focus solely on the results (see valuations and unicorns!) with stories of college dropouts starting a company, raising money from VC’s and becoming billionaires. All too often, the wealth becomes the lesson, and in turn, teaches people to act accordingly by creating an outcome-based culture. How many times have you heard company leaders state “Be the next unicorn” or “Valuation drives decisions.” Sounds awesome! But that’s not the recipe. And in fact, that approach can be incredibly dangerous and lead to unnatural behavior that actually works against success.

Wade Phillips, a highly experienced and respected coach in the NFL, was recently quoted while talking about his success in turning around defenses: “I attribute some of that to our teaching, the way we teach them. We don’t make many mistakes. We make sure we don’t make many mental mistakes, as far as alignment, assignment, and then we work really hard on fundamentals and techniques and try to improve each player.” Nothing about, we want four interceptions or two sacks per game. It’s about developing a culture of fundamentals that will in turn produce the results. In tech, it can be difficult to promote fundamentals over valuations as a way to achieve those aspirational goals. Yet without the fundamentals across key functions, sustainable outcomes rarely follow. Our experience at Transeo Partners has proven time and again how fundamentals can help individuals excel, make good teams great, and transform an interesting idea into a compelling business.

This introductory post will be followed by specific examples of how companies can create a culture of fundamentals across the various disciplines including business strategy, sales, product management and marketing.

– Jeff