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