Welcome to episode 200 of the Tech-entrepreneur on a mission podcast.
Because this is a big milestone on the journey I didn’t want to devote this podcast to one guest – instead I got 22 B2B SaaS CEOs on the mic.
A big element of every single episode of the podcast is sharing the advice and expertise from tech-entrepreneurs to other tech-entrepreneurs about the biggest challenges they had to overcome and most valuable lessons they’ve learned in building a remarkable b2b SaaS business.
So I’ve made a hand-picked selection of quotes from the 200 podcast episodes that have featured between the 1st of January 2018 and today. And in doing so I’ve uncovered 7 different themes:
1 – Just Start & Think big
- Amy Williams – CEO Goodloop
- Hugo Spowers – CEO Riversimple
2 – Declaring war to the problem
- Sebastiaan van der Lans – CEO Wordproof
- Nadine Hachach Haram – CEO Proximie
- Ryan Falkenberg – CEO Clevva
- Helen McGuire – CEO Diversely
3 – Challenge the status quo and create change
- Frederic Laluyaux, CEO Aera Technologies
- Ofer Tziperman – CEO Anagog
- Rupal Patel – CEO VocalID
4 – The right mindset – because there are no shortcuts
- Avishai Sharon, CEO Trendemon
- Jonah Lopin – CEO Crayon
- Martin Cloake – CEO Raven AI
5 – The power of creating leverage
- Auren Hoffmann, CEO Safegraph
6 – Clarity about value
- Michiel Schipperus – CEO Sana Commerce
- Rebecca Clyde – CEO Botco AI
- Julian Ranger – Executive Chairman/Founder Digi.me
- Karim Hijazi – CEO Prevailion
7 – Removing ego – act as a team
- Nico Blier Silvestri – CEO Platypus
- Maria Colacurcio – CEO Syndio
- Quintus Willemse – CEO Share Council
- Nina Alag Suri – CEO X0PA
- Volker Smid – CEO Acrolinx
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Transcript Episode 200
Theme 1 – Just start, and think big
The first quote in this category is from Amy Williams, the CEO of Goodloop. And she was a guest on podcast 73 in June 2019. Here’s what she answered when I asked her the question: ‘What advice would you give fellow tech entrepreneurs who aspire to create a remarkable software business as well?’
Amy Williams 2:08
Just starting, I think so many people have ideas, and so few people start? Just starting it, you’re already ten times further ahead than most people who talk about ideas in the pub, and then they never leave the pub. The idea is the person eventually hopefully does leave the pub and go home. I meet so many entrepreneurs now through what I do, through networking, through other investors, through events. And the key thing that likes threads all together, I think, is this ability just to start even though it’s not perfect. And even though you know, it’s still probably ten times; it’s still probably so far away from the vision you have. So don’t wait for this perfect. Don’t wait till the right moment. Don’t wait for the stars to align – just start.
Ton Dobbe 2:53
I just love that advice from Amy; it actually also ended up in my book The Remarkable Effect. But there’s more to it. And just starting doesn’t get you the full way. The other thing you have to do is think big. And this is what Hugo Spowers really understands well. He is the CEO of a company called Riversimple, he appeared on podcast 117 in June 2020.
Hugo Spowers 3:15
I think we are so far from ideal design of companies that there are a bundle of things. I think I do urge people to think long and hard at a bigger picture level, rather than trying to change one thing at a time. And especially as an entrepreneur, you have a cleaner sheet of paper than most people. Take the opportunity. Tthe only advantage you have as a startup is that clean sheet of paper, there are no other advantages I can assure you. And so make the most of that clean sheet of paper, look at the big picture, recognize the fact that the businesses today, forged in the 20th century, businesses are shaped by the business environment within which they work. And the principle constraints we face now resource depletion and energy security and climate change and things like this. And these were not on the radar in the last century. And it’s much easier to design a business model for the 21st century than to tweak a business model that was designed to do something fundamentally different.
Theme 2 – Declare war to the problem
Ton Dobbe 4:16
Two fantastic quotes to begin this podcast and warm you up, just start and think big. But then the real work starts. And this is where the next theme comes in declaring war to the problem. And who better to share his thoughts with you than Sebastian van der Lans, CEO of Wordproof. He was my guest in podcast 150 in January 2021.
Sebastiaan van der Lans 4:39
You must declare war on a specific problem. So for example, trusted web is about declaring war to fraud and manipulation and theft on the internet. If you don’t have war at the base, if there’s not a problem, it’s not remarkable. The solution won’t be remarkable. Wordproof, the time stamping tool, is just a vehicle to achieve that trusted web. Trusted web is about problem space. time stamping is a way to solve it in an open source way. Oh, you can do that with wordproof. But, it’s not about product. It’s really about the big idea. The regulators require. The big tech reward. The publisher and ecommerce platform doing it and being rewarded by being early. The consumer demanding it. It’s really the holistic place. So be a movement.
Ton Dobbe 5:36
I cannot agree more with Sebastian, if the size of the problem isn’t big enough, your solution won’t be remarkable. But the big question is, how do you go about finding this? And this is what Nadine Hashhash Haram, CEO of Proximie answered really, really well, in podcast 8, in March 2018.
Nadine Hachhach Haram 5:55
I think first of all, the team is really important. So making sure that, you know you have really great team members around you. Because, you know, we know that technology is capable of wonderful things. But the path is really important. And it’s not always straightforward. It takes perseverance and patience. And healthtech is a really fast-paced and moving space. So you have to make sure that you have the product right, before you take it to market.
I would also say to approach your project with a sort of open mind, you know, to be open to feedback. We’d spend a lot of time with advisors and key opinion leaders really listening to what they had to say about our product and trying to reiterate, you know, our product, which is agile, to make sure that we were delivering the solution that they felt would be best. And that’s the kind of real beauty of technology, you know, discovering different possibilities and ways to deliver a solution, but also making sure that you listen and take that feedback on board. And I think those were the kind of two key things because, you know, Proximie, and myself and my co-founder wouldn’t be here today, if it wasn’t for the team that works with us, for the team that was patient enough to kind of listen and try us out early on on those very, very early kind of users. So you know, I think that it’s very, very important to keep remembering those people.
Ton Dobbe 7:10
Nadine just touched upon a topic that is so easily forgotten, listening, and that I mean listening with intent, not to answer but to learn. Because at the end, it’s not about what you think it’s about what your customers values. And to easily we think we know better. We get obsessed with the product, and not the problem. We too easily forget, there’s someone on the other side that we need to impact – the human side. And this is exactly something where I’d like to share a quote from Ryan Falkenberg. He’s the CEO of CLEVVA, and he wasn’t podcast 19 in June 2018.
Ryan Falkenberg 7:45
Some of the lessons that we’ve learned, I think, in developing solutions is that if we start with the idea, the concept and we get caught up in, for example, how we build a concept, we often forget the reason for our solution, the reason for the deliverable. And we’ve learned that actually start with the end in mind, start with the user, start with the value that you want to add and then work backwards. Because I think in technology, we get so excited about our own technology, and we forget about how this technology actually is going to unlock value in the very environments that we’re building it for. So all I could say is, you know, we got exceptionally excited about solving the problem of capturing complex logic. And so we were deep in the technical architecture of solving this technical problem. But actually, there was only part of it, making our technology and our solution work in the human system, in the organizational system, was in fact far more of a challenge and far more of a barrier for us to get over. And I think that’s something that, you know, all of us can learn is just having a wonderful tech solution that theoretically will work in a perfect world isn’t going to land it. It’s starting with the actual granular truth of where our solution hits the ground and working backwards and removing all the barriers for us to learn in that space. That’s been our learning is to get a lot more pragmatic around the operationalization of our solution, as opposed to the intelligence and brilliance of our solution.
Ton Dobbe 9:15
Ryan is so right, you can have a brilliant solution, but fail to get adoption. And as long as the user doesn’t see how you help them make a difference. They won’t move. And that’s hard. So we have to prepare for this. And Hellen McGuire puts your finger exactly on that sore point with regards to this. Helen is the CEO of a company called Diversely. She wasn’t podcast 174 in June 2021.
Helen McGuire 9:41
In terms of things to focus on, I think there’s an Einstein quote that says: ‘if I was given a problem to solve, I would spend the first 55 minutes looking at the problem and the last five minutes coming up with a solution for it.’ You really need to get under the bonnet of what this problem is and how it’s really affecting people and their genuine pain points around it before you go off and create something big and crazy to try and solve something that isn’t really a problem in the first place. And honestly, I mean, that is blood, sweat and tears. That for me was four and a half, five years of utter frustration, banging my head against brick walls. You know, many high points as well, but not enough for me to think that this was the right way forward. So I think yeah, that’s what I would say in terms of if you’re looking to start out, or if you’re looking at, you know, where your business is perhaps not working that well.
Theme 3 – Challenge the status quo and create change
Ton Dobbe 10:33
Declaring the war to the problem is critical to building a remarkable SaaS business. But that is more, this is all about change. It’s about solving the problem in such a way that you create a shift in value for your ideal customers. And this requires another skill, challenging the status quo. And this is theme number three for this podcast. Let me start with a quote from Frederic Laluyaux, CEO of Aera Technology. He was a podcast 66 In May 2019.
Frederic Laluyaux 11:01
The advice games is easy, right? I think you have to be very careful, I think people are incredibly smart about how much change and disruption they can bring to their company at any point in time. But I would say that, I’m going to say something pretty obvious, but embracing the new technologies that are out there and somehow pushing back against the status quo that is imposed, especially in a very large organization by thinking, you know, your product marketers, (I’m talking to the evil guy here). But, I think there’s so much pressure and standardized thinking that’s pushed by the traditional vendors, you know, you have to go with your data lake and the this and the that and you have to do the traditional way, that I would encourage the CEOs to really challenge your teams of how much of that thinking is yours, how much of that thinking is the one coming from, you know, the big vendors who are just trying to defend their stake. And it’s fair game, and the story is fine. But I think there is so much at stake right now that you have to think differently. And I’ve talked about, you know, the way startups organize themselves compared to large enterprises for many, many years. I remember doing conferences, years back on hypergrowth versus hyper change. And I still see in some B2B SaaS companies, you know, a resistance to change. And I would encourage CEOs to really surround themselves by people who are not attached to traditional way of doing things. Because literally right now, and I’m not saying this in a excessive fashion, but literally that could kill companies. You have to disrupt the way we think about processes, the way you organize. And it takes courage to do it. That’s why I’m saying, you know, I’m not here to give any advice, I think people are very smart and do the best they can. But, you know, they need the courage to actually change, to challenge the core of how they’ve been doing things for many, many years.
Ton Dobbe 12:54
With challenging the status quo comes something else. Not only saying it, but doing it, deliberately taking a route that no one has taken. In my book to Remarkable Effect, I talk about this as aiming to be different, and not just better. And I’d like to share a quote from Ofer Tziperman. Ofer is the CEO of a company called Anagog. He was on podcast 123 in June 2020.
Ofer Tziperman 13:17
I think it’s about daring eventually, right? If you’re trying to follow something, which is the normal way of doing business, you will never shine. That’s impossible, you need to dare. Now in order to dare you need to have courage, but you need to be a little bit naive. And between us, you also need to be a little bit stupid, because you’re going against the stream. But this is what is making it so fun. And if you have the passion, and if you’re daring, eventually we’ll get there. It requires persistence, it takes time, nothing is coming easy. But if you have this internal drive, that what makes the difference between people that are just followers and to people that are leaders.
Ton Dobbe 14:01
This is so true to create something remarkable in business offer is about exactly that. Not following, but having the courage to lead and take a different approach, one that no one has ever taken. It might work, it might not. But it’s definitely worth trying. And this brings me to a quote from Rupal Patel, who connects the dots on this in a beautiful way. Rupal is the CEO of a company called VocalID. She was a podcast 97 in January 2020. RuPaul is a very good example of an entrepreneur who is transforming and creating meaningful change in the way that we create value with voice. The way she’s created a vision around the company’s inspiring just watch her TED talk, and you’ll see what I mean.
Theme 4 – The right mindset – because there are no shortcuts
And that brings me to the fourth theme of this podcast mindset and to be specific, the right mindset, because there are no shortcuts. And to illustrate that, I’d like to continue with the quote that I’ve just shared from Rupal.
Rupal Patel 14:57
So a number of times we’ve had to sort of say well: What is the purpose of our company? And what are we willing to… How much are we willing to fight for that purpose? And it doesn’t have to be sort of a mission? It is, what is the end goal? And if you look back and say, Okay, we still feel like we’ve made a difference in the world, we’ve made some change, that’s worth it. I think that you have to kind of spell that out. And people often think, oh, it’s, you know, for vocal idea. It’s something like working with people who can’t speak. But I think it’s a bigger mission than that, and that is to really think about, to push the envelope on where the technology can be. But also who is being silenced. I don’t think it’s just people with disability. I actually think that when you think about voice today, we are not being inclusive of the fuller part of society. We don’t hear Dutch voices, we don’t hear certain accents and voices, you know, it’s not just an accent, though. But it’s a range of voice. And I think that tapping into the power of voice, whether it’s for connection, whether it’s, you know, I think one of the things is analytics of voice. I think we’re pushing something bigger than what people initially first see. And I think that’s really important to define for yourself. The other thing I would say is that this is really a long term journey. And we hear lots of stories of fast unicorns and all sorts of things, you know, things that happen really quickly. But when you’re in it, it feels long. When you look back at it, and you say, Well, what have they done in in four years? It’s actually quite exciting. I mean, there is no way if we were still in the laboratory, that this much work would have been done in four years along this project, because we’ve been doing obviously other many other things academic setting as well. So I think that there are times that we need to pause, reflect and celebrate the small moments because those cumulatively arrive at bigger moments.
Ton Dobbe 16:51
I totally agree with Rupo. Celebrating the small moments, not only the big moments, and enjoying the journey, not just a destination. Why? Because it’s the only way to stay sane. And here’s where Avishai Sharon shared his wisdom. Avishai is the CEO of a company called Trendemon. He wasn’t podcast 137 in October 2020.
Avishai Sharon 17:12
Get going move forward, right? Yeah, you have to go forward knowing you’re going into the unknown. And that has to be part of it. And I think taking that step is what I think a lot of people find intimidating, doing that moving that moving that direction. And the second thing they have to realize, there are, not that I’ve come across, there are no shortcuts, there is no magic, there is no path or even one single way of getting those things. And I think people sometimes especially looking at companies that raise tons of money and look at those existence and success stories. It creates a distorted view of what it actually means to build a company. And I think people have to realize going into this, it’s not sexy, it’s you know, you’re going to spend your best years eating a lot of dirt until something good happens. And you’re going to have to be willing and happy to get through that challenging phase. If you’re not looking for that. You’re not gonna you know, go through that process. You have to love that process. Love that challenging way, and not the outcome. If you’re in it for the outcome, I think there are much better ways to try and make those things. It can’t be outcome driven. It has to be intrinsic. It has to be a love for exploration, without knowing the destination. That’s the only thing you can bet on when you start. You have no idea we’re going to end up almost 100% is not going to be where you think you’re going to get.
Ton Dobbe 18:39
I love those words: The love for exploration without knowing the destination. It’s so true, but still it’s very hard. And there are going to be many moments where you’ll have to dig deep and get the grit to continue. And this is where Jonah llopis advice might help. Jonah is the CEO of a company called Crayon. He wasn’t podcast 49 in January 2019.
Jonah Lopin 19:01
You know, there’s a really good some of the best advice I’ve gotten that sort of came in two parts. And I would probably pass that on. And it comes from the two HubSpot founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. And I worked closely with these guys for years. And their advice is pretty different, and it’s pretty funny. So the advice that I got from Dharmesh, which I would certainly pass on to other SaaS founders, or folks building a company is: Everything’s going to be okay. And he would remind me of that, you know, at times when there’s always ups and downs, and there’s challenges and obstacles. And, you know, as an entrepreneur, and someone building a company, I mean, gosh, you really put your heart and soul into this. And I think you got to manage your own psychology and your own anxiety. And so he would remind me is like, Look, everything is going to be okay. You want to remember that and try to keep some perspective. Now. Ryan’s advice to me was, Don’t F-it up. I was like, yeah, that’s all well and good, everything’s gonna be fine. Don’t screw it up. And I always thought that the juxtaposition of those two pieces of advice was just great. It just paints just the right picture. You know what it is all going to be okay, and you can be pretty Zen about that. And at the same time, you need to get out there, don’t screw it up. And that takes some hard work and toughness,
Ton Dobbe 20:28
As they say, the tougher steel is forced in the hardest fire. And working hard and being tough are fundamental to this. But there’s more. And this is why I want to share some wise words from Martin Cloake. Martin is the CEO of a company called Raven AI, he was a podcast 193 in December 2021.
Martin Cloake 20:47
It’s hard to say do or don’t. But I think being optimistic and practical at the same time is an important combination, I think, you know, it has to be the combination of two of them. Because if you’re optimistic and not practical, then you’re going to start doing stuff that won’t be successful. But that just the positivity is something that I know I share with my co founder. And that’s not to say that things always go well. But I think that that general positivity, combined with in some ways, when there’s uncertainty, it’s almost like we get a buzzword of uncertainty. So I would say that do you need to have find that combination of being optimistic and practical, because without those two, you’ll either get demotivated and not do it, or get super motivated and crash into a wall. So you need to find a way to dial those two in a way that will get you to success.
I think the other thing is that people often think that doing things that are smaller, and incremental is easier than doing things that are bigger. So one of the things that if you choose to do something big, it’s easier to get people on board and excited about your journey. And I think it’s like the, it’s something that you see many founders do they want to okay, I’m just going to do this incremental thing, and then add on that next thing. So in some ways, as an entrepreneur, noticed the idea of a horse before cart and cart before horse, doing things backwards as an entrepreneur is often an effective way to test hypotheses and create excitement. And at some point, you know, how people respond to your idea how people respond to your business. It’s really important early on. So yeah, the two things I would say, dial, you know, the optimism, practical practicality, dials, but the other one is, don’t be afraid to think big. And then test your hypothesis by telling your story. And the story really matters. At the core here, you know, as a CEO, you need to be able to tell a compelling story. And that’s almost your most important job. And you tell it in different settings, different people, but storytelling is incredibly important.
Ton Dobbe 22:35
Martin nicely blends different things together, not being afraid to think big, creating big change, where many people will say it’s impossible. That’s what’s meant with challenging the status quo. And I agree with him, it is easier to get people on board with that. That’s the truth has been discussed on my podcast many, many times. Sure, it doesn’t make doing it easier. But for sure, it’s a lot more fun.
Theme 5 – The power of creating leverage
And that moves me to theme number five, the power of creating leverage. Remarkable software
companies master this. As a matter of fact, those two words – creating leverage – summarize the big idea behind my book the Remarkable Effect. And in relation to that. I want to recall a quote from Auren Hoffman that they’re also using side my book. He made creating leverage one of the core principles inside his business. Auren is the CEO of a company called SafeGraph. He was a podcast 86 in October 2019.
Auren Hoffman 23:28
Well, one thing that companies don’t think about enough, is how to get leverage. And so most companies are really focused on just throwing people at the problem, and not getting much leverage. And if you think of a simple metric would be revenue per person, revenue per employee. For many companies, that number does not go up over time. And really, every great company, that metric should go up over time. And having extra people in your company…Sometimes that’s how a lot of companies will talk about their success. They’ll say we have 1000 people in our company. And that’s a way of saying that’s a success. To me, that’s a failure. Every time you have to hire someone, it means that you don’t have the systems and that you have to actually have humans do it. And every time you hire somebody, it is going to be harder to communicate internally. Communication is very, very difficult. Even the best companies in the world have some sort of communication problem every time they hire someone. And the worst company in the world have an exponential / n-squared communication problem every time they hire somebody. So you should do everything possible to figure out how to hire as few people as possible. And that means you probably need to hire better people. You need to spend more money around them. You need to give them leverage. You need to give them better tools, so that they can do more and communicate with. So that doesn’t mean you’re really gonna save any money by hiring less people. In fact, you may end up spending more money because you’re paying them more and you’re giving them more tools, etc. But you are going to be able to move much, much faster.
Ton Dobbe 25:11
It’s not about how big your SaaS businesses, but it’s much more about how much impact you can create with that business, while staying as lean as possible. And the way to do that, Auren lives by what works for Warren Buffett, he’s making everybody in this company, a capital allocator. And one area to start your journey of creating leverage is what I refer to in my book as the value lever.
Theme 6 – Clarity about value
And this brings me to the sixth theme of this episode: Clarity about our value. The importance of clarity of our value has repeatedly been one of the most important piece of advice that many tech entrepreneurs have shared. Let me start with a quote from Michiel Schipperus. He is the CEO of a company called Sana Commerce from Rotterdam. He was in podcast 145 in December 2020.
Michiel Schipperus 25:55
What I would suggest to other tech entrepreneurs is to be more strategic early on in this journey. And good examples about company culture and core values, typically, they just develop. And at some point, after a couple of years, people take time to write them down. And that works. And that’s great. But you have only one opportunity to get it right. And typically, if you make it to three or five time you probably got it right. Otherwise, it will never take you this journey will not take you so long. But I would say become more strategic about your business from a more earlier stage. And that also means or that starts maybe with getting your value proposition right and thinking about it strategically, and not just having it happen to you, so to speak? And it works. And it can work. But I think you can grow faster, scale faster, have a better Northstar, when you are more strategic about these things like: What are the customers I want to serve? How are serving them. What problem are we solving, and take a bit more time in the beginning, where typically in the beginning, of course, you’re finding product market fit and all those things, but spend some time there to be strategic about your value proposition, about your values about these other things that typically I see Startups and Scaleups, pick up later on in their journey,
Ton Dobbe 27:14
Getting more strategic about your business in an early stage, and start with the clarification of your value. I love it. Obviously, Michiel is preaching to the converted. This is the essence of the value that I offer with my business. But still, so many tech entrepreneurs end up being too loose about this. And they start off with the wrong foundation. And that is very, very costly. Getting your value crystal clear, however, isn’t easy. It’s not something that you do on the back of a napkin, or even on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It requires you to go deep, it requires tuning it, testing it. And one person that knows all about it is Rebecca Clyde. Rebecca is the CEO of a company called Botco AI. She was on podcast 110 in April 2020.
Rebecca Clyde 27:58
You know, I think the biggest issue is really getting connected with the right people and having your pitch really in a place that they can understand it. I’ve been to a lot of pitch competitions and a lot of pitch events with other entrepreneurs. So I see this a lot, where an entrepreneur may have a really great idea, but they haven’t been able to think through all the different pieces of the business. Because at the end of the day, you’re not really just selling technology. In fact, your investors are not trying to invest in technology. They’re trying to invest in businesses. And so what are the elements that make a great business? It’s sure having a good piece of tech is important. But all the other things to be thought about your go to market strategy. Have you thought about your pricing? What does your revenue model really look like? Does it work over a long period of time? Does it only work if you’re getting venture funded? Or does it work on its own once you get past venture funding? And so I thought about all of these things in the creation of the business. And, you know, for me, maybe the good thing is that I’m more of a business person to begin with, I have a commercial background. And in technology companies, so I’m familiar with that partnership between the business side and technology. But for a lot of entrepreneurs, they’re either coming from a very technical focus, and they have a great piece of technology, but they haven’t thought through all the business pieces. Yes, or vice versa. Right. So I think it’s really the marriage of both and thinking about how is this platform or SaaS product going to really work as a business so that an investor can get a return. Because otherwise, they’re not going to be interested.
Ton Dobbe 29:30
This is why I said getting your value clear isn’t something that is done in a vacuum. Remarkable software companies think this through end to end. They ensure they align every aspect and make it the foundation to shape a business that people would miss if it were gone. And that is noticed. It doesn’t stop there though. Beyond defining the unique value that underpins your SaaS business, it also comes down to being able to communicate your value in a way that people instantly get and act upon. That’s hard. And that’s why I want to share a quote from Julian Ranger. Julian is the executive chairman and the founder of digi.me. He wasn’t podcast 184 in October 2021.
Julian Ranger 30:12
The interesting thing, if I look at one of the big criticisms of me, the vision is how I can get it express to others. Right. So I would spend more time trying to simplify the messaging, of what you’re trying to achieve, right? I think, as an entrepreneur, you can spend too much time on the idea and the instantiation of it, and not enough time on the messaging both for your own team and externally. And the more I’ve worked with others, and everything else, and people who are experts, and messaging – and I get training for that – I think that the messaging is the big do both internally and whatever else. I think a lot of people forget, or don’t put enough time in, and you can always do more than that.
Ton Dobbe 31:01
I’d like to make a small comment about this simplifying doesn’t mean less impact. The typical mistake that I see is that in the simplification, messages, lose impact, and become vague, generic, dullif you want for lack of a better word. The challenge is making it simple and making it stand out. Just get me going on that. And talking about making your message stand out. This is an art. And this is one where I see many tech entrepreneurs struggle. Why? Because they believe they’re giving things up. Suddenly, they cannot communicate everything anymore. They have to make hard choices to get to the essence. And therefore, as a final quote on this theme, I’d like to share the advice from Kareem Hijazi. Kareem is CEO of a company called Prevailion. He was on podcast 170 and June 2021.
Karim Hijazi 31:51
Yeah, if you’ve got something that’s already built, and you’re trying to launch it, marketing and messaging, I’ll tell you, you can’t put enough money into that. It’s interesting, because the biggest thing I see with guys in my world is they build this incredibly good tool or product. And they think it should just sell itself. It works. It’s perfect. What’s wrong? Why isn’t anyone just coming, you know, running through my doorway to grab it? Or, you know, why am I not beating people off with the stick, so to speak, right? It’s because that the marketing machine that is necessary to get this into the consciousness of the world is incredibly valuable and very hard, actually. So do not skimp on the marketing and messaging and the branding of your products. That’s a big one.
Ton Dobbe 32:32
I didn’t tell you anything. This is the reason why I started my business in the first place. This is why I wrote my book. It’s so underrated. Yeah, I mean, people think they’re doing the right thing in marketing, and they’re also so far off still.
Karim Hijazi 32:47
Yeah. And I mean, as a slightly parallel aspect to that: You have to be willing to ruffle some feathers. That’s been the theme of our whole talk today. I don’t do it, you know, in a Cavalier, kind of arrogant way, that we’re a data driven product that is speaking the truth about situations that are otherwise uncomfortable, and I’ll tell you it garner’s a tremendous amount of attention. And that’s what you need to have a successful company.
Ton Dobbe 33:11
Being willing to ruffle some feathers. Just reflect on that topic for a moment and challenge the messaging of your SaaS business against this metric? If the answer is negative, what do you believe is stopping it? Or who is stopping it? And how could it change the trajectory of your SaaS business, if you would ruffle some feathers? And this brings me to the final theme of this podcast that’s about ego, or better, removing ego and acting as a team.
Theme 7 – Removing Ego – act as a team
Let’s kick this theme off with some valuable advice from Nico Blier Silvestri. Nico is the CEO of a company called Platypus. He was on podcast 191 in November 2021.
Nico Blier Silvestri 33:50
I think the most important thing that has make us successful so far is the positive conflict in the organization here at Platypus. The fact that, you know, it’s one thing to say everyone has a voice. But if you have a voice, but you’ve never heard or you never allow people to challenge you on decisions that you make for the organization, positive conflict is the best thing because: I don’t think people that agree with me, I don’t need to hear what I just said in a different voice. What I hear is people, I need people to challenge what I said, so that we can get the best conflict, argue about solution ideas for platypus and align then on the solution. Now, that doesn’t mean that you know, we are some kind of like hippie community or superflat. And there is no decision maker. Of course, in every product, in sales, in operation, there is a decision maker, but it means that this decision maker is not afraid about being challenged, is not afraid about being wrong, and is not afraid about admitting: it’s not my idea that goes on. It’s your idea that goes on because it’s a better idea. You’re not in a management position, in leadership position, because you’re right all the time. You’re in a leadership position because you’re the best at getting the best out of people.
Ton Dobbe 34:53
We’ll said. And exactly this attitude I’ve seen coming by so many times in the last 200 episodes. The Servant leaders, the people that are in there for the right reasons, people that measure their success by the value that they help their customers create. They know if it’s high that the rest will follow. Everyone can create a massive profit. But creating massive value is something else. That’s where team comes in. One committed team that performs at its very best together. And exactly this word ‘together’, brings me to another piece of advice that’s worth sharing is from Maria Colacurcio. She’s the CEO of Syndio and she was on podcast 185 in October 2021.
Maria Colacurcio 35:34
I think the first thing in today’s environment is that workplace equity is a core tenant of great management. So if you’re the CEO, you are the chief equity officer. I mean, that’s part of what you do. And it’s really your responsibility to be thinking about how you’re creating a culture that values and measures the value of your people. I think that’s absolutely critical. And I think without that companies are not going to be able to endure or be durable. I think the days of, you know, churning and burning through your employees and not addressing issues and workplace equity are really fading into the past. And I think that’s a good thing. So that would be my first piece of advice.
And then the second piece of advice is really around rigor into the data that runs your business. So if you don’t have your hands on the everchanging metrics, and aren’t using that to run your business, you’re missing a huge opportunity to see what’s really happening. We have a weekly meeting and a dashboard where we’re looking at the in-depth metrics that power objectives for the year, on a weekly basis. And it keeps you honest. And the other thing that it does is it removes the tension and creates this leadership team that’s looking at a problem and brainstorming a solution without fingerpointing because you’re just looking at a set of metrics and a set of data. And that’s driving the conversation. So it’s not about you know, marketing is not delivering the leads or sales isn’t going after the right targets or, you know, products wrong. It’s here are the metrics that are going to help us achieve our objective as a business. We’re looking at them on a weekly basis, and it’s driving our decision making in a way that just removes tension or fingerpointing. It’s not about blame. It’s about solving problems and finding opportunities to accelerate. And I think companies that aren’t really digging into their operational metrics are missing out.
Ton Dobbe 37:35
So valuable, no finger pointing, being in this together, focusing on solving the problem and not blaming each other or seeking ways to hide or deliver ‘just enough.’ The reason why this is so important on the journey of a startup or Scaleup is because there are going to be many, many moments where this can benefit or harm you. Let’s listen to what Quintus Willemsen has to say about this. Quintus is a CEO of a company called Share Counsel. He was on podcast 159 in March 2021,
Quintus Willemse 38:03
In Dutch you say “don’t run in seven ditches at the same time. ‘Loop niet in zeven sloten tegelijk.’ But, for the English-speaking people, the saying explains: Don’t trip in all the traps that are set out. Don’t make all the mistakes at the same time. On the other hand, I would advise an entrepreneur to be prepared, that you actually will make all the mistakes at the same time. And better be prepared to think, hey, How will I deal with this? How will I go with the flow that’s running? Even though I’m constantly tripping? How do I still crawl a little bit further every time I trip? And how do I keep it running? And better be prepared by the fact that it’s gonna happen, then constantly consider having to consider what the risk is that it will go wrong? I think that’s one of my life lessons in this.
Ton Dobbe 38:57
How do you prepare for this? I mean, is this reflection? Is this kind of disconnecting from things?
Quintus Willemse 39:05
It’s a few things. One way of being able to manage yourself in every mistake that you make, is gather people around you, that can constantly look over your shoulder and whisper in your ear, what they think would be the right thing to do. If you are an enterpreneur, and you get to this situation, you already have the capability to filter what people are saying. You already have the capability to get a lot of information at the same time to filter it and think: ‘okay, everything what I just heard, this, I think is my direction.’
Ton Dobbe 39:35
This is harder than it may sound. It requires indeed to remove your ego. It requires deep reflection. An ability to step away from the business and see things with fresh eyes and ability to think ahead across the next horizon and the following one, and not being afraid to get feedback about what you need to hear, and not what you want to hear. The next quote I’d like to share addresses this very, very well. is from Nina Alag Suri, she is the founder and CEO of a company called X0PA. She was on podcast 142 in November 2020.
Nina Alag Suri 40:09
Oh, well, I would say that first of all, you got to kind of believe in what you’re doing, you know, this is, if you’re in it, you’re in it for good. You know, don’t look over your shoulder for a Plan B, there is no plan B in entrepreneurship. So you need to be very sure when you’re doing something, and you are totally committed wholeheartedly, and give you 100%. You got to believe in it, you have the courage to go with it. Surround yourself with the best team possible, get people who are better than you. There is no politics in entrepreneurship. There is no one-upmanship. Everybody’s there for the same cause. So get people who are better than you, you know, listen, you know, everybody’s, you don’t have all the ideas. As a founder, you’re not the only one with the ideas, you’ve got people who’ve got amazing ideas. So listen, and be inclusive, you know, and have a good culture in the company so that everybody grows together, and you’re all aligned, because there can be so many pivots, so many pivots. Everything that constantly changing. And if you’re not aligned as one team, you’re going to kind of find it very difficult, you know, to make all those changes. So, life is constantly changing in entrepreneurship. Today, your product may be super relevant, tomorrow….. You know,
Ton Dobbe 41:22
I love the humbleness in her advice. There’s no politics and entrepreneurship, everybody is there for the same cause. So invest in alignment, invest in creating one coherent team, and then lead them to do and create the things that are remarkable. And who better to say something about that. Then Volker Smid, who I only recently had on my podcast. Volker is the CEO of a company called Acrolinx. He wasn’t podcast 198, January 2022. And this is what he said,
Volker Smid 41:52
Yeah, two things that I would highlight amongst many other things. I mean, there still needs to be knowledge and capabilities, I had the chance in my career, to do things that I’ve never done before. Because I had people trusting me and had the confidence that I get things done without even knowing. And I think if I turn this into a principle, I would encourage everybody to go out of the comfort zone and try to do things that they’ve never done before. All these great social channels like LinkedIn, and others, they can be traps, because they keep you in your current capability zone. Somebody is looking for a customer success manager, they will find a tremendous amount of great customer success managers. But there’s a finite amount of people in that group that can do more than just this. And you will not find them. It requires a person to step outside the comfort zone, and try to do things that they’ve never done before, because it’s the biggest opportunity for growth.
In fact, that was even supported by a great mentor that I once had at HP, where she said, ‘my manager once asked me to lead a research team, r&d. And I said, I have no knowledge about what r&d is, so why would I manage it,’ and then this mentor will say, ‘that is exactly the reason why I want you to manage.’ So look for these opportunities, because it will be cornerstones of your profile.
And the second thing that if you can and have the ability is, to try to leave your country, your home country. Try to step outside your comfort zone, have the knowledge of your home country, try to live abroad, at least for a number of, I don’t know, quarters or years if you can, because it opens up your perspective in a complete new dimension.
So these are the two things that I’m grateful for having had the opportunity. And this is my strongest advice to somebody who wants to climb the ladders. These two things. The first thing is a lot harder by the way than the second.