Monthly Archives: April 2016

Are you made for Startup Life?

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It was second grade. In front of me was a pink sheet. I knew the drill. If I could answer these 100 multiplication tables the fastest in the class I would win. It was our teacher’s weekly “weakest link” drill. I knew there was a reward on the other side or 2nd place, which was the first loser. I was happy to be the winner that day.

Fast forward to 3rd grade I was standing in front of the school, with 300 people looking at me. I was one of 2 finalists to be considered for the regional spelling bee. I was up, the word was government. The pressure was on, I failed, and I forgot the n after the r. I was devastated. Not because I did not go to region, but because I made a stupid and preventable mistake. I let myself lose focus. I lost that day.

I remember when I was 17. The doctor, staring at me and informing me I would never walk again and that I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I also remember secretly making a promise that I would not only walk. I would run. I completed a Tough Mudder a few summers ago. I won that day.

Take a moment and consider your most intense and challenging moments of life. How did you step up or handle those challenges? Did you choose to win or learn? If you did not do one of those two and do it fast, Startup Life may not be for you.

I was asked recently how it is to work at a startup company. Simply stated it is a fluidic set of experiences that are like my most challenging and rewarding moments of life. But in the timespan of one day or in some cases a few hours. The ability to be as fast as a jeopardy champion, as nimble as a ballerina, and engaging as Oprah is a must at all times.

The brilliance of a working at startup company is the set of super intelligent colleagues that are riding the wave with you, which you are learning from and with. The challenge is that you will never have so many wrong and right decisions in your life. Since humans focus on the wrong decisions, if you can’t grow a strong backbone, Startup Life is not for you.

If you are considering joining a startup company here are some pro tips:

  • Check your ego at the door – everyone is smart and it’s not about being right. It’s about team and customer success
  • Adapt to change fast – In a fluidic environment changing directions, strategies, or live decision changes happen often. The principle; fail fast, forward, is never more true
  • Be a T shape employee – You will join and go deep in your certain expertise and then you will need to flex your muscles across multiple disciplines to ensure company success
  • Be the Glue – Communication is key. Ensuring you stay connected and that you are the glue that keeps people aligned and on the same page is a crucial component of agile and flawless execution
  • Prepare for the Race – The race in this space is real. The competition is intense. Customers are won and lost every minute of every day. You will be running a mile at a 100 meter dash pace, be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As I reflect back on my last 18 months, I often joke I just got my PHD. In reality I have learned so much about myself, my potential, and what a committed group of professionals can accomplish. Much more than I expected. I also learned what sacrifice really is and what being part of something way bigger than myself is all about.

With that said, this experience won’t be for everyone. Similar to how my teacher was testing for the “weakest link”, working for a startup will quickly expose those that cannot make it. In a very non-emotional way, I truly believe some things are just not meant for some people.

True success and potential inside an individual comes with open eyed and minded self-awareness. As an example, while I love music and dream of being an amazing musician. I also know this will never happen. Not because I don’t want it, but because I don’t have the natural talent.

For me, I joined a startup company because I loved the product and am in even more love today than the day I joined. I can only imagine what the next day will be like and what I will fail and succeed at. What I do know, is that whatever hits me I can handle. Largely because of an amazing group of colleagues I trust and my own self-awareness of my capabilities and potential. Cease the day!

Customer Delight at the Speed of Thought

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As a 7 year old I was a very curious lad. I was the kid that was asking all the questions. I expected that my parents would know all the answers and fairly fast. One day I wandered around the house and discovered something new, an encyclopedia set. I soon learned that I could get the answers for myself. I was excited.

Soon after I began to see the immense value of the school library, almanacs, and many different resources that would answer my questions. As time progressed I became more addicted to this ability to ask a question in my mind and then find an answer fairly quickly. However, I was unnerved that some of the questions I had, could not be answered by the library in country town I lived in.

As time progressed the computer revolution began and soon after the Internet. This changed my whole paradigm. I could now get almost every answer I needed based on how fast my fingers moved. It has become such an addictive resource, now my wife just randomly asks question to the air and expects me to find the answer! And even further, I have questions that haven’t even popped up in my head yet. Answered via an app push notification to me on my phone. My excitement and delight is complete.

This human behavioral transformation into immediacy as the norm has developed in all parts of our lives. I remember the brick and mortar call centers of the 90’s. How we were all comfortable waiting for an email for a few days. Then we transitioned to waiting on hold for a few minutes. Now we are addicted to getting an on demand response. We have a problem and we want it solved now. If it isn’t solved, we will just find a company that will solve it on our terms.

Companies that get this, really thrive. Now pulling on that string further, imagine a company delivers a service on demand. Now the customer’s expectations are even more immediate, they want you to predict when a problem may exist and prevent it from ever happening. The appetite for error or service latency is non-existent. Customers pay a premium for now and they what they pay for. I mean you would to, right?

The future of customer service draws me back to a book I read a decade ago,“The Best Service is No Service” by Bill Price and David Jaffe. The concept being that customers actually don’t want help, they just want a simple, seamless, and high quality product or service that works. They want companies to anticipate their thoughts and build and evolve around them. They want to be delighted by never having a negative experience. They want delight and that’s all they want.

The future of customer service is actually not service at all, its product delight. If companies build products that never require a question, that never elicit a negative feeling, then true customer success arrives. It is these companies that invest in the beginning of the cycle that will be the future of industry and business. In the late 90’s an old measure of the cost of service in a company was if your service costs were 6% of revenue you were world class. I would propose that if your service costs are greater than 1% of revenue, you are failing at true customer delight.

If you are a CEO or Founder in a company, I would encourage you to not hire people to solve customer problems after the fact, I would implore you to hire the smartest, most talented product managers and engineers. Empower them to build it right from the beginning and never allow your customer service team to be more than 1% of revenue. If you do it right your customer service team will be the smallest team in your company. And your customers will have no choice, but to be loyal to you.

Ultimately the choice is up to you, as a customer that wants delight at the speed of thought, please make the right product decisions today, so I don’t have to talk to your customer service reps tomorrow!

I mean think about it, if I am talking to your customer service team, I am not spending time getting addicted to your product.

 

Courtesy: “The Best Service is No Service” by Bill Price and David Jaffe.

True Clarity and The Heart of your company

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In different seasons of your career and professional journey you have opportunities to experience many diverse moments.  These moments often produce decision points.  Inside these decision points you determine your path.  The path you travel will often provide you many different choices.  Your journey is made up of choices that lead to decision points, that deliver experiences, that in the end help you reach your true potential.  All of which influence and impact you.  Which determine the type of professional you become and relationships you build.

The challenge we all face is that our ability to make the decisions we really feel and know are the best for us, are often unclear.  We all accidentally put on our “lenses”.  These lenses are stress, timelines, deliverables, other people, politics, and other professional dynamics.  We wear these lenses and it blocks or blurs our vision on what we feel and know is right.

In a very similar way, when I don’t wear my glasses at home, I trip, fall, or don’t see obvious things; we have the same issues at work.  This lack of True Clarityensures that we are not making the decisions we feel and know are right.  Which in the end undercut the true purpose we have and limits our potential.

As you pivot that line of thinking towards your customer, it can lead to some interesting and powerful reflection opportunities as a company.  Your customers are what build the company.  They are the lifeblood of everything you do.  They are the heart that pumps the blood that enables life to exist for your company and it’s people.  How often do you allow your “lenses” to cloud the vision of what you feel and know is the right thing to do? How many customers have you lost because of this?

Companies often portray that they are customer focused or centric, especially as it is what customers want to hear.  This placation is often exposed in the first or second engagement the customer has with your company.  Often this placation is not what was intended when they started.  However it slowly crept in over time, especially as “other priorities” were allowed to blur your vision. And let’s be frank, sometimes these are hard priorities to manage: budgets, investors, shareholders, profitability, and growth.

If we think back on our worst customer service experiences, we can identify companies that are probably blurred by their own “lenses”. Finding companies that understand this True Clarity principle helps illustrate the point, I can tell a huge difference between the experience I have at The Apple Genius Bar vs. Comcast customer service.  One company invites live and personal engagement; focuses on first contact resolution, the other requires me to traverse a crazy phone tree, wait on hold for an hour, and in the end I talk to an unempowered support person that is not allowed to solve my problem, without approval.

We can see that it is not enough to have a great product or service.  You must take care of your heart (your customers) to keep your company alive and healthy.  I have chatted with 100 people and asked a simple question, Apple or Comcast? 100% say Apple and the number one reason is based on how they were treated.

Companies that have True Clarity on the value and importance of their customers and make the right choices are the companies that will succeed.  These are the companies that ensure the customer is at the center of every decision made at all levels.

You are a critical part of your company.  The “lenses” we all have start at a personal level and then are portrayed and eventually influence decision points that determine your company’s path.  I challenge and encourage every employee in every company to be reflective and identify if your “lenses” are causing you or your company to do things that are against what you feel and know is right for your customers.

I propose we all take a moment and find our own True Clarity and then adjust our line of thinking, way of doing, and decisions we make to put us on the right path.  The path that focuses on our customers, that build the company, and that unlocks unlimited potential for short and long term success for all!