I am passionate about helping entrepreneurs get to the next level; it’s just part of my nature. My twitter headline is “Entrepreneurial Maven.” I found out later that, according to Google, one of the definitions of maven is “pathologically helpful.” I think I’ve got the pathological part right, but you may need to talk to others to see how helpful I am.
One reason I’m so interested in helping others is that I had my own company for twenty years, and had to sort out everything by myself. I made all the mistakes and had the same problems of creating customers and keeping customers, so I feel for companies that are just starting and are trying to figure it out. Research says you can be an expert at anything—if you’re willing to take ten years and ten thousand hours. However, with a good mentor, research also says you can become an expert in six months. I know with a little bit of coaching, I can save these companies from making tens of thousands of dollars worth of mistakes, raise capital, and accelerate revenue growth.
Five years or so ago, Novell at BrainShare announced that they wanted to do a business incubator, and I, along with others, was invited to come and work with companies to get them in. You may recognize the names of some of these first companies: SEO.com, Adaptive Computing, InsideSales, and LingoTek.
A lot of incubators focus on the accountants and the lawyers, but I wanted to put together a program to help companies scale faster. My philosophy is that there’s a common denominator inside all companies: you’ve built something, now can you sell it? It doesn’t matter how many PhDs you have, how good your code is, or how much money you raise, at the end of the day, it’s all about being able to create and keep customers. Most startup companies don’t have the money to bring in professional sales trainers or other high caliber resources, even though they are the ones who need it the most.
So, we created a curriculum and called it TechX (short for Technology Accelerator) and took ten portfolio companies and brought in local sales experts to mentor them. It was an experiment--we wanted to see what would transpire. Since I had access to all the financial information, I could evaluate what happened. At the end of 12 weeks, I looked at the numbers, and I noticed that they were collectively ahead by 28% and were beginning to exceed their projections.
I thought, Whoa, that’s kind of interesting. Then I thought What if we did a lead generation side as well? We brought in another group of companies and additional experts on lead generation. At the end of that twelve weeks, I looked at the numbers. They were up by 86%.
We’ve now had more than a hundred companies come through our program. These have included tech companies, manufacturing companies, hardware, software, schools, as well as others. Last year, those companies did over $145 million in revenues and about $112 million in liquidity events. That’s 2.46x from where they first started.
Two focus areas have been key:
Helping the sales, as well as non-sales type to learn how to have conversations with the customers. We train them to discover the outcomes the customer is seeking. We dig deep into how to communicate (very conversationally) to discover the outcomes, solutions, and results the person is looking for. From there, we work backwards to see if the company is offering something that will help the client achieve their objective.
On the lead generation side, we “walk our companies through the maze.” This means providing somebody to mentor and coach them and cut through the clutter of the crowded market space to actually get the results they want with the leads coming in. To do this, we identify who their customers should be, how to best communicate with them, and how to find them and have a meaningful conversation. Bringing in additional subject matter experts who do this very thing day in and day out for their clients to mentor these start-ups along the way makes a huge difference.
I think many of our companies would have been successful anyway, but having that little bit of extra mentoring at the right time opened their minds to possibilities and best practices. I love being part of that. One of my favorite quotes from TechX was from a company that went through that was highly dubious, initially, about attending. The CEO told us later, “You’re killing me with sales. This stuff really works.”