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The Startup Stack
31 minutes | 17 days ago
EPISODE 7: What Is Foundational Software? (w/ Dev Firm Founder Mike Stone) 🎙
33 minutes | 24 days ago
EPISODE 6: The CEO Whisperer (w/ Executive Coach Jason Gore) 🎙
Subscribe to The Startup Stack Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicStitcherSoundCloud Jason Gore knows a few things about change. As an executive coach, he’s guided executives in startupland through recessions, booms, the burst of the first dot com bubble, and most recently, a pandemic. This week Jason joins Louis to talk about the challenges facing CEOs right now, how they’ve changed and how — in many ways — they’re the same. “I see a lot of co-founders that don’t give each other negative feedback. But if you don’t have those conversations, things come to a head and then it’s too late.” -Jason Gore Highlights Include Jason’s path from management consultant to executive coachThe tricky relationship between VCs, coaches & CEOsThe upsides (& downsides) of the co-founder relationship, and how to create space for disagreement The biggest issues facing many of today’s startup CEOs This Week’s Guest Jason Gore Managing Partner & Executive Coach @ Neuberg Gore Jason Gore is half of the founding team of Neuberg, Gore & Associates, an executive coaching firm that supports startup CEOs in Boulder, SF, NYC and LA. The Startup Stack’s Host Louis Beryl CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible. Full Episode Transcript Jason Gore: Sometimes I feel like a high priced babysitter. Louis Beryl: Exactly! Jason Gore: The biggest joke is human nature. Louis Beryl: Keeps you in business. Jason Gore: It does. Louis Beryl: Hello and welcome to “The Startup Stack”. I’m your host, Louis Beryl. And this week we’re talking to Jason Gore, founder of Neuberg Gore. Jason is an executive coach and an entrepreneur. Full transparency my co-founder Ben and I have worked with Jason and his partner Brian for years as our coaches. He’s also someone with unparalleled insight on what exactly VCs and CEOs are thinking and fearing and asking for help with right now. We covered a lot of ground. So here’s Jason. Louis Beryl: Well, you know, I wanted to start off today and ask you really about how you came into coaching. You know, where were you born into this? When did you know that, you know, this was the career for you? How did you become a coach? Let’s start there. Jason Gore: Well, I really knew I wanted to go into business because I liked working with teams that had a vision that wanted to work and collaborate together. But things really clicked for me coming out of undergrad. And I went into undergrad to look at persuasion and debate how people learned and resolved issues together. After school, I joined a consulting firm working with the Department of Defense and my very first assignment was with a nuclear power plant and I was 21, I was paired with a nuclear sub captain and we were basically going to look at how… Louis Beryl: Where are you underwater? Jason Gore: No! It was above water. We weren’t actually allowed on the plant though. We would meet in these little rooms right about 2 miles away. But so I showed up and I got a call and basically my partner that was supposed to be asking all the questions and doing all the interviews, calls in sick that day. It turns out it’s really hard to arrange these interviews. And so the partner in charge at my consulting firm said, you got to have these interviews. And I’m like, look, I don’t know anything about nuclear power plants. How am I supposed to interview nuclear power plant engineers? Like, this is ridiculous. And he basically said, hey, just ask open ended questions, paraphrase what you’re hearing and really just talk to them as human beings. Like find out what their issues are in layman’s terms. Don’t try to pretend anything. So I interview the first person and talk to them and very quickly learn that they simply just don’t have the parts on hand. They got a three million dollar budget for parts. And if they if a certain part breaks, they need a helicopter parts in from another plant or kind of a central repository. And so the plant stopped for a half day at a time, and that’s a lot of money. Talk to the next person kind of hearing the same story over and over again. So I basically package up what I’m hearing. I present it to the management, at this point the sub captains back. And so he does most of the presentation. And they’re like, wow, this is brilliant. If we just take a loan for two million dollars and have these parts on hand, we’re going to save like 5 million and in downtime costs. And I’m like, why do you need a 21 year old kid to talk to your engineers and tell you exactly what they told me? This makes no sense. And so my assumption actually was that it was just a lack of listening, a lack of curiosity, like something was going on. I joined the telecom space, found the same thing that in the telecom space, the same issues where information was not getting passed and problems were just not getting resolved. So I went back to business school to figure out essentially why the people in charge were bad listeners. And my assumption was that they were just kind of being in charge and promoted because they knew how to get stuff done. They knew how to push through things and kind of bully their way through execution. But in business school, what I learned was that actually wasn’t true. In fact, that the problems were worse the lower you went in the organization and that essentially people were not problem solving together. They weren’t talking to each other. They weren’t, they weren’t working well together. And there’s just a whole bunch of money left on the table. Louis Beryl: And so so you’re seeing all these business problems and how does it click for you that coaching is the career path and the answer here? Jason Gore: Because for me, you know… Louis Beryl: Versus versus consulting, which is what you’re doing, which because I guess a lot of people could hear what you’re describing and be like this is why the world needs management consulting totally. Jason Gore: Well, first thing to say is like what? I was shocked by just the role of a facilitator. Just by playing traffic cop in the conversation and getting people to listen to each other and talk to each other in a structured way that they would get so much more done. But then the question was, hey, why do you need a twenty one year old kid? Like, why can’t you do this yourselves? Right. And so so then I started to teach communication skills and leadership training and whatnot. And what I found there is that the retention was relatively low because people would learn these skills, but then they would go back into toxic environments. And so we’re coaching really came up for me. OK, this is also a cultural issue. And so if we coach executives at the top and they model behavior, then we could start to create a culture where everyone can be resolving problems together in a more effective way. And so that’s how I end up at startups as well. Louis Beryl: Tell me a little bit. So, OK, so your career is kind of morphing from management consultant to executive coach. If you’ve been to business school, could you tell me about what was your first, like, formal executive coaching job? So someone has paid you to be an executive coach? Tell us about that first experience I had and how did you get it? Jason Gore: Well the very…I mean it was gradual because I started the spot coaching. I started coaching executives on one negotiation or one issue. Hey, we’re having this issue. Would you come? A lot of my earlier early work was one executive was having an issue with another executive or one executive was having an issue with a vendor or supplier, and they would come bring me in as a negotiation expert or an expert in difficult conversations. And I would just coach them through that issue. And honestly, I found it once again to be really interesting because the fundamental principles were relatively easy. But the person would get lost in it because it was really important to them. They would get caught in their emotions, but they would end up going into these conversations much more confrontational versus in a collaboration set. And so a lot of these early coaching and experiences were changing people’s mindsets. And then through changing those mindsets, their behaviors would change. And a lot of the mindsets they would get stuck in were, frankly, because of their history. And so here I am we might be negotiating buying parts for a nuclear power plant. But what this person was dealing with was they were pissed off about the unfairness of something and they were angry at the other person. So we had to kind of deal with the emotional issues, too. It’s you know, people say that business is not personal but it really is. And it’s hard not to bring all of ourselves and all our history the good and the bad into our conversations. So it started that way. And then what I realized over time was people kept calling me back and saying, hey, I got another little issue. I was actually really resistant to coaching because I liked the consulting projects. I got to walk away and go and have big adventures. But over time, I really fell in love with startup entrepreneurs. With the CEOs that were thinking things out from scratch and building a culture from the ground up. And I just found myself really drawn to longer engagements and really committed to their success. And that’s where I jumped into coaching full time. Louis Beryl: And then let’s jump to Neuberg Gore and, you know, the company founded by Brian. Tell me a little bit about how that came together. I’d be particularly interested in what were some of the really tough challenges you faced early on, starting the firm. Jason Gore: Well, honestly, starting the firm was a very organic process, Brian Neuberg, my partner, is just a very relational person and he got overloaded with clients. And so he turned to me and started giving me clients. And then he saw that I was structuring my programs really differently than his programs. And he’s like, what are you doing? And so I shared the structures that I was using and how I was holding people accountable, how I was helping them identify their blind spots. And he started doing that with his clients and getting very different kinds of results. Like it he was doing coaching in a very different way than I was. And ultimately, we kind of blended our styles and the way that he brought the relational in the deeply personal and kind of human pieces. And I brought the blind spots and the structural pieces that were kind of the secret sauce. And what really fueled our development because we really have a very structured process but that’s a very deep process. And we hold all our coaches accountable and really do a lot of quality control so that our clients walk away having made some really big changes. But I tell you, this is how we learned some hard things along the way, especially because the startup world can be very challenging. Louis Beryl: Jason, I was wondering if you could tell us when the right time is to hire a startup founder to hire an executive coach? I think about my own experiences working with coaches. In my experience, it seems to me that it’s always been when a couple of things are happening, certain things at the company are going really well and you’ve probably achieved product market fit. The company is growing really quickly. While at the same time there’s some pretty big challenges. Usually on the people’s side. Maybe that it’s with your own leadership. The team’s growing really fast and you’re dealing with more senior executives. Maybe there are challenges with co-founder dynamics or investors. And so what I’m wondering is, is every time you get a new client, the CEO’s hair’s on fire. When you’re first talking to them. Jason Gore: You know, I think people have different choices of when they need an executive coach. Some people think they never need one. I can say it’s never too early, but sometimes it’s too late. But some good indicators for when you hire a more senior executive coach might be when the company is shifting. When you’re shifting from being an individual contributor to managing a team and have to shift that role or when things are shifting in the company. I mean, in general in the startup world if I were to have to put a marker of time where the cost benefit really makes a difference and really makes sense I would say after a series A funding. Where you have money in the bank, you’re going to be growing your team, you’re going to be managing some people out. You’re going to be really pushing on product market fit and scale. That you know, I would say is a nice indicator. But the other one is, as you feel like you’re basically over your head, which might be from the start, is a good time to get a thought partner. Louis Beryl: You know, one of the things that has really made a deep impression on me, you know, when I was at Andreessen Horowitz working with the team there, Ben, one of his famous things that he kind of insights that he always talks about is that you hire for strengths, not lack of weaknesses. And I actually think about that a lot when I think about confounding relationships. And I think about it in the context of Ben and I and why it works so well. And I think one of the reasons it works so well is not because either of us are perfect, not because we don’t have lots of weaknesses. It’s actually just that we are very aware of what each other’s weaknesses are. We have accepted those weaknesses. We’re very aware of what each other’s strengths are. We want to encourage each other to go do the things that they’re good at and they like doing. And we don’t try to get each other to do the things that we’re less excited about and we’re less good at it. And that’s taken us time to figure out together. You know, we’re talking a lot about co-founders, and I imagine that you coach a lot of solo founders. How do you help executives that don’t really have that confounding relationship and don’t, you know, don’t have anyone to lean on? Jason Gore: Well, I think that most don’t. When you look at the averages, most founders are going to go through three complete executive teams before their exit. And, you know, when you’re a seed stage company, you can’t really attract or most people can’t attract talent that is going to grow with the company. You just can’t incentivize those folks early on and can’t get them in. So, you know, you get who you can. And also, frankly, first time executives, they don’t know what a good team looks like. They don’t know how to assess or manage a CMO. And so they might get a CMO with a heck of a resume who is not performing, but they won’t necessarily know it. So, you know, it makes it hard for them to navigate that. And a lot of the work, I think in the beginning is, yes, being a thought partner and for sure helping them think through things and uplevel themselves. But what are the biggest things is helping them up along with their team. Louis Beryl: That’s a fascinating statistic about how most companies are going to go through 3 complete executive teams on their way to exit. And I’m wondering, is that a healthy company? I mean, in some senses it must be if they’re exiting at all. But we also read in the press all the time about companies shedding executives and how, you know, usually we talk about that as a sign of a very unhealthy company. But is that just a natural, healthy process for companies to grow? Jason Gore: I think it is. I mean, you know, some companies might get lucky where you get the corporate athletes that scale up and scale themselves up with a role. But even those folks, when you look at a functional expertise. You know, you need different things at different stages of the company. Like at seed stage you need that corporate startup athlete that can do a thousand things and figure things out and hyper creative. You know, moving into A and B, you’re looking for someone who’s done it a thousand times and has good pattern recognition and really knows, like you could throw a lot of marketing dollars aren’t working someone else comes in and like, oh, while you’re doing it wrong, you’re spending your marketing dollars wrong. And they just change a few things and all of a sudden that dollar in becomes three dollars out versus what you were having. And then later on, you know, moving into B > C, you know, and I’m just making broad generalizations here. But you need someone that has a Rolodex and knows how to build a team. Right. They need to build out not only a team of 3 or 4, but they have to run a team of 30 or 40. And that’s oftentimes different people. Some people can scale. But from what I’ve seen the vast majority of times we’re actually looking at people that are drawn to different stages. And they have different strengths that apply at those different stages. This is a good reason not to give up titles too early. You know, you give that CMO position out early on. It actually does accelerate that process of having to change people out, because then when you want that person to move, someone else will only come in, you know, with a certain title. It’s really hard. So in the beginning, I was always advised as head of it to allow that flexibility. Louis Beryl: This is certainly a problem I’ve struggled with. And, you know, if I was going to rearticulate what you said or rearticulate how I imagine this scenario playing out. You know, you’ve started a company, you hired people that are good athletes. The company has found a product market fit. You’re starting to grow. Everyone feels pretty good. You’re probably friends with all these people. But now we need to do different things as the company is growing and scaling potentially some of those executives or different leaders on the team we need to up level. But that must be tremendously challenging. I personally have been through these challenges. Of, you know, how we transition to different leaders that we need in the organization away from other people that we’ve really worked with. And we’ve gotten to that place and we’ve trusted I mean, how do you coach people through that? Jason Gore: Yeah, you know, I think the first thing is to support them and have conversations. You know, so many times things get to come to a head and people are surprised. I see a lot of co-founders that don’t give each other negative feedback. And don’t call out, hey, the way that you’re filling your role is not working. The CTO who’s really amazing and hyper creative and really gets the high end but is not managing their team. And all sorts of cultural problems are arising. Like, let’s have that conversation. You know, if you really like the person and you want to keep them on, then simply hire the expertise around them. Like in the CTO example. You hire a VP of engineering to run the team and you let the CTO be creative and do what they do best. But if you don’t have those conversations, things come to a head and then oftentimes it’s too late that there’s too much resentment, too much built up tension. And so I would encourage people to have the conversations early and really explore. I think the other thing to say is, you know, consensus driven models and in 50/50 splits are scary. I much prefer a 51/49 split where there actually is clear control. I mean, just recently I had two co-founders that were arguing and had completely different visions of the company and their lead investor was like, hey, we can’t get involved here. Like, we can’t take sides. You guys have to figure this out. And one of them was gracious enough to step down but they could have taken the company to the ground with that fight. And so, you know, finding business partners that you agree with, having a really clear decision model and also really clear conversations about, you know, when someone steps into the CEO, do they have the right to fire their co-founders? And if you have the conversation earlier, it’s going to really clarify problems and it’s also going to make the company perform better. Louis Beryl: You know, this is fascinating talking about executive transition co-founder issues. I’m wondering if there’s other very common pain points that you see as an executive coach that we could chat about. Jason Gore: Tons! I mean I mean, I think the biggest one is especially for younger generation CEOs. They want to be friends. They want to be peers. They generally are conflict averse in general. Big generalization. And they don’t like giving feedback. And so they generalize feedback. Louis Beryl: And if I think about, you know, notable CEOs that don’t seem conflict avoidant like Travis from Uber. Or, we don’t even have to keep going. But it’s like, and it doesn’t feel like the world has shown particularly favorable to those types of CEOs. So, what’s the right balance? Jason Gore: You know, here’s my answer to that. It’s soft on the person, hard of the problem. This is really a negotiation technique that came out of the book “Getting To Yes”. And it’s like you could be really hard on the problem and really kind to the person. You know, even if it’s to the point where I want to see you up level, I want to see you succeed here and you’re not. Right now you’re not fulfilling the duties of this role as I need them. How do we get you there? When do we know? And if you don’t get there, what are we going to do about it? Like, those are scary conversations. And, you know, you look at having that conversation with your technical lead who you can’t afford to lose. And so you tend to soft pedal and that tends to be more costly in the long run. Louis Beryl: But I’d love to bring this back to Neuberg Gore. Right. So how have you thought about holding your other team members accountable as you’ve grown? And actually specifically, I would love to understand, like, how do you measure success at your firm? Like at a firm level, at a partner level, on an engagement level. Like when you’re working with the founder. How do you measure success? What do you think about that? Jason Gore: Well, I think Neuberg Gore is a very different kind of company because we are not money or growth oriented. We are a small lifestyle firm to be honest. This is a firm I’m going to have forever. This is my retirement plan. I expect to be coaching CEOs forever. Whether it’s from my home or on a sailboat from the Bahamas. Who knows? Right. So for us, honestly. Like brand reputation is the most important thing, right? This is a company that I want to have and hold for a long time. It’s dear to my heart. And that means client success. That we want to see our clients extremely happy and grateful for the coaching. And it’s very valuable to them. These are very busy people. And if they’re not extracting value from that not only the money but the time is even more important. Then we got to know about it. And so we have really a lot of quality control. Every few months we have a second coach talking to all of our clients to make sure that it’s optimized and if they’re not happy shifting it or even changing our coaches. But also the external changes. We’re not just counting on the CEO to give that internal report. We’re looking externally and getting progress reports. Where, hey, this is the thing that the client is trying to change. How are they doing? Do you see growth? Is more growth needed? Right. And really trying to get the people around them to give direct feedback. And when we see growth, then the clients are happy, the people around them happy, and the company is going to be higher performing. You know, I think one of the things that is really important to us is we really are picky about who we take. And we want to enjoy the coaching relationship as well. We want to be with growth oriented folks that have high ethics. And so we’ll turn a lot of clients away, especially if they’re coming in as a board member calls up and says, hey, the CEO needs coaching but doesn’t want it. The answer is that’s not us. That’s not that’s not how we operate. Louis Beryl: Yeah, I was going to ask what makes a good client? And is the answer as simple as they want coaching? Jason Gore: I think it’s more to it than that. You know, we have a lot of clients who say they want to. Whether they get into it and they don’t show up. You know, it’s like they actually have to show up for coaching. Not as a passive participant on the train. They’re in the driver’s seat. They’re coming to the meeting with agendas. They’re proactive about getting the most out of a coaching relationship. That’s what we’re looking for. Right. Is people that are not only willing to grow, but are proactively focusing on growing. And plus ethics and other factors that play out. Louis Beryl: You know, I’d love to transition the conversation into some trends you’re seeing. It feels like now more than ever the world is really changing quickly. We’ve got COVID. We’ve got an increased awareness of racial inequality. And I’m wondering what but also just technology companies and just how they’re so rapidly changing our landscape. What are you seeing today that’s different right now than it was 6 or 12 months ago? What about like how is the world different than it was 20 years ago and how and how do you coach? Jason Gore: Well, you know, 20 years ago, people didn’t know what coaching was, right. So we had to educate clients about what coaching was. Nowadays, when people come to us, they’re not trying to find out what coaching is. They’re trying to pick a coach they already know they want to coach. And now they’re just comparing between different coaches. And by the way, on that note, I would say chemistry and trust are the biggest factors. Right. If those aren’t there, then I don’t care what kind of resume someone has. It doesn’t matter. Right. You have to be able to really have chemistry and fit. I think there’s something you didn’t say is the VC markets have also changed. Right. In the expectations and growth expectations are changing. And that’s one of the big things with COVID that’s really shifted things. Is the expectation around what things look like and how much money you could spend and how much runway you have. Right now everybody’s expected to do more with less. One of the things that we had to figure out as a coaching firm was who is our client? Right. The VC referred us to the CEO. Is the CEO our client? Is the company our client? Is the VC our client? The answer is so clear it’s the CEO. I re-educate the VCs on the beginning of every single phone call. I basically say, hey, I really love talking with you here. Everything you say to me, I’m going to tell the CEO. Don’t tell me anything that you don’t want the CEO to hear. Louis Beryl: I love I love that! Jason Gore: 90 percent of the time they say, hey, I’ve already told the CEO everything I want to tell them anyway. So all you’re going to do is help me articulate this and clarify it and have a second point of contact. You know, the place that’s even trickier though I’ll say, is when we’re dealing with co-founders. Right. One coach is coaching the CEO and let’s say the CMO. The one place that we get into trouble is if the CEO is going to fire the CMO. We tell the CEO, don’t tell us if you tell us that we’re going to fire the CMO. We will put ourselves on leave of absence until you resolve it. Right. Because what we can’t do is we can’t be hiding secrets from each other. Now, if you’re disappointed in this person, we will support you in having that conversation directly. But if you put us into a position where we have to hold secrets from another client, then we have to stop. And so all of that is specified in advance. And I have to say, these are lessons that are hard won. Louis Beryl: If you could go back in time and give the young Jason Gore some advice, what would be the one or two pieces of advice that you would give yourself? Cause you actually couldn’t even instill all this knowledge because it was hard won? Jason Gore: Well, I feel really lucky, Louis. I have a job I love. I have clients that I really respect and appreciate. And I feel very lucky to be where I am. Even through this whole hook COVID time, I work out of my house. I live in Boulder, Colorado. I get to travel wherever I want and work from really anywhere in the Americas. I have a great team of literally all the clients at the firm are amazing. So I feel very fortunate. I will say that it’s been a long haul, that there is no coaching industry. There is no track. And if I was telling the young Jason about this. I would be like, you better really want this, because it’s not an easy path, but I really did. Louis Beryl: People often ask me my advice about starting a company, and I give very similar advice where I say, if you’re thinking about starting a company, when you come up with an idea, I want you to then ask yourself, if this is the last job you ever have for your whole life, for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years. Are you really excited about that? That’s how excited you need to be about this company. That’s the bar forever! Jason Gore: One thing I love about this is I grow so much. You know. Just this morning I was giving advice to someone who was absolutely overwhelmed. And I’m overwhelmed running two companies right now. And, you know, the advice I was giving him as I was giving him, like, hey, I want to let you know, like, I need to live this, too, and, you know, outing myself at the same time and, you know, making some real big commitments for myself right now. So, you know, as we were talking, I’m like, hey, I’m going to give up alcohol in the evenings and I’m going to start waking up at 6:00 in the morning every morning. And I’m going to start building my own routines because in the last two weeks, I’ve lost those routines. So it really keeps me on my toes as well. I’ll say that. Louis Beryl: You give advice all the time, and it sounds like sometimes you also try to follow your own advice. What’s the piece of advice that you give all the time that’s the hardest for you to follow? Jason Gore: You know, right now I am a new company. I haven’t built a team, and so I’m in the weeds and doing a lot. And it’s it’s really, really challenging time because I’m doing that and I’m also running a more mature company at the same time. And I would say if I was coaching myself. That I would be telling myself that I’ve signed up for an impossible task. That I need to hire an operator for one of the companies. And right now I’m in an interesting financial position because neither company really has a need for a full time operator. But I have my head in the sand a little bit where I’m going to end up burning myself out if I don’t change something on one of these two companies. So I’m keeping a pretty careful eye on that. And I’m essentially going to slow with the new start up company down and basically deliver…I’m going to slow the road map down by about 50 percent to try to accommodate that. Especially with all the things that are changing. But I do want to go back to something, you know, about talking to younger coaches, and that is to know your swim lane. Like, figure out what you’re good at, what you can leverage, what area you already know. And to start coaching inside of that area where you’re living, that advice, you know, that advice. You’re not just making it up. And then extend it to others from a little bit more slowly. I think some of the best coaches come out of industry. You know, they come from the marketing or the sales background. And then you start by, if you’re in sales, coaching other sales executives. Right. And then from there, you branch into marketing and then from there you branch out. But to really be clear about your offering and what it is that you’re really good at. And I think, as you’re saying earlier, looks like something that you love, something that you really love doing. So it’s a hard role, but I love it. I absolutely love it. Louis Beryl: Jason, this is awesome. You’re a great friend. I loved this session and this interview. Thank you so much for being on “The Startup Stack” today. Louis Beryl: You can’t leave this without talking about your experience with coaching. Like you, you got coaching from my business partner. Louis Beryl: My answer to that question and more on this week’s bonus episode. It’s up now if you want to listen to more more on Jason and the coaching business he’s built, head to www.rocketplace.com/podcast. And while you’re there, go ahead and subscribe. Thanks again next week. Announcer: The Startup Stack. Written and edited by Hannah Levy, produced by Leah Jackson.
28 minutes | a month ago
EPISODE 5: The Wolf (w/ Business Consultant Jessica Davidoff)🎙
Subscribe to The Startup Stack Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicStitcherSoundCloud There’s no shortage of things that can go wrong when you’re a founder just starting up. Cashflow issues. Botched patents. That one time you literally ran out of product. Few people understand this as well as Jessica Davidoff. She’s built a business around expecting these kinds of mistakes and stopping them before they happen. Sprezzatura, a business and production management company, helps startups at every stage, from pre-launch ideation, to fundraising, financial planning, production pipelines and more. We talked to Jessica about the strange art of starting up and how 2020 has complicated that alchemy. “I think a lot more people are considering entrepreneurship right now. Whether that’s because they lost their job or were furloughed, we’ve got more people coming to us saying I want to start a business. With this kind of uncertainty in people’s careers I think they are going to be more inclined to start that side hustle.” -Jessica Davidoff Highlights Include The biggest hurdles for early-stage founders and how to avoid themChanging trends in entrepreneurship Financial planning considerations for 2020 & 2021 and how to think about runway in uncertain times This Week’s Guest Jessica Davidoff Managing Partner & CEO of Name Ninja Jessica Davidoff is the CEO and Managing Partner of Sprezzatura, a business and production management company in NYC. An experienced founder and a turnaround CEO, Jessica is known by her friends and colleagues as ‘The Wolf.” If you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, you’ll know why. The Startup Stack’s Host Louis Beryl CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible. Full Episode Transcript Louis Beryl 00:00:00 Sprezzatura. Jessica Davidoff 00:00:01 Yeah. I mean like you want to do it with the Gusto of the Italians. Louis Beryl & Jessica Davidoff 00:00:05 [Laughing] Louis Beryl 00:00:07 Hello and welcome to The Startup Stack. I’m your host, Louis Beryl, the founder and CEO of Rocketplace. This week. We’re talking to Jessica Davidoff, Founder and Managing Partner at Sprezzatura. A business production and management company. What is a business production, a management company. I’ll leave it to Jessica to give you the long answer, but basically she’s in the business of growing businesses. Often from scratch. We covered a lot, including the surprising realities of building companies in the middle of the pandemic and why uncertainty can actually be a good thing for entrepreneurship. Here’s Jessica. So I wanted to ask you about Sprezzatura. So you say that Sprezzatura specializes in business production and management, and I was wondering if you could tell me exactly what that means. Jessica Davidoff 00:00:50 Sure. Uh, so we basically have two sides of our business. Um, the first side is what we call business in a box where we work with founders who are in that idea phase. And we take them from idea to launch, uh, through a five phase program that we created. Um, and then post-launch, we, uh, ideally transition those clients into what we call business management, where we provide, um, a whole series of services for companies, um, that range from accounting to operations, to financial planning, um, and CFO services that fall under the mechanics side, so that founders can focus more on the product, creative, uh, marketing and branding side of, of running their business. Louis Beryl 00:01:38 Can you tell me a little bit more of, um, the history of, of Sprezzatura? How did you, um, how did you start the business and, and, and how did you figure this out, you know, your specific business production angle to helping companies? Jessica Davidoff 00:01:53 Yeah, so it was very, um, organic. It wasn’t something that I really set out. I had spent the bulk of my career as an entrepreneur. I started my first company when I was 22 and launched three companies, um, after that and when my last company was acquired and I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, um, I had a noncompete in the education sphere, which is where I had spent the bulk of my entrepreneurial career before that. And so when I was thinking about industries that I wanted to jump into and problems that I wanted to solve, um, the biggest problem that I had had as a founder was always regarding these kinds of finance, operations, accounting, um, components of the business. And just speaking with other founders, it was a very, um, specific problem that lots of founders had. And so I wanted to basically create something that I wish I had had during my first three startups. Um, and that’s how we launched Sprezzatura and it really has, um, kind of molded itself organically. So it first started off with the business management side for post-launch companies. And then while we were doing those, uh, finance and operations services, one of the things that we started doing for our clients was fundraising. So building out financial projections, focusing on investor decks, and that’s how we started to work with pre-launch founders who had ideas, um, who wanted help on the fundraising side. And then as we started to work with these prelaunch founders, it was very apparent that we should have been working with them as soon as they had the idea. So we could advise them on some costly decisions that they had made, um, that turned into mistakes. And so that’s when we introduced the, um, the business in a box service, which has been so much fun. Um, it’s my favorite part of, uh, kind of startup life is like going from idea to launch and kind of figuring out where all the puzzle pieces fit. Louis Beryl 00:04:00 You mentioned some of the mistakes that are common to, um, starting companies, especially when maybe they come to you a little bit too late. Well, tell us a little bit more, what are some of these common mistakes that founders make? Jessica Davidoff 00:04:13 Yeah, I mean, there are so many, I mean, we worked with one company who, um, they had gone through business planning, they did a really successful Kickstarter campaign. Um, use that money to go into production, launch their brand, and sell out of their first three runs. And then we’re kind of doubling down and placing an order for the next one. And then, um, got a cease and desist from another company because they picked a name that was already trademarked for that, um, particular type of consumer goods. So they had to go through this whole costly thing of destroying all, a lot of the products. They had to go through an entire rebranding session, even though they had already paid for branding in the first place. Um, and, you know, had we been there, like one of the components in our five phase program is IP. So talking through trademarks, copywriting, um, patents, and, and when you want to do that in the process and why it’s so important and how to do searches. Um, so that’s one, I mean, another company came to us and they were ready to launch, um, we’re we were building out their investor deck and we noticed that they, uh, had, uh, the pricing of their good was, uh, the cost was about $110 and they were going to charge about $142 at retail. And we were like, whoa, this margin is not big enough. You know, how are you building your whole business on this? And she didn’t, she was like, but there’s, I’m making a profit, but we, when we kind of went through the thought process of pricing strategy, um, it was really apparent that that pricing was completely out of whack. And so, you know, just like these fundamentals of finance that a lot of people without finance backgrounds don’t think of. And so, yeah, uh, just lots of things like that, that we’ve now kind of created this program to, um, guide people through the things that they need to be thinking about at the specific points along that, um, that founding journey. Louis Beryl 00:06:18 I’d love to understand what were, what were some of the toughest challenges as you started your firm? Jessica Davidoff 00:06:24 I think so. Oh God. I mean, the biggest challenge for me is I am like, by nature, a problem solver. And so when I’m working with founders and clients and they come to me with a problem that doesn’t necessarily fit within the scope of what we had agreed upon, I’m so inclined to just dive in and help. And so I had to do a lot of work in the early days of really focusing on what we do and what we don’t do. Um, and being really mindful of running this like a business instead of kind of running it in the way of just like, I want to solve all the problems. I don’t care what was in the scope of our agreement. I just want to help because you get to be so close with your clients when they’re in those early days and you have this incredible bond. So it was very unnatural for me to say like, okay, well, I can definitely do that. Or my team can help with that, but we would just need to kind of add an additional scope. So I would say it was really defining what we do, what we don’t do, and then also, um, being mindful of not allowing for, you know, scope creep as in, um, you know, consultants speak. Louis Beryl 00:07:36 Yeah, exactly. And is that still, is that still one of your biggest challenges or have you, have you, do you feel like that’s solved and you have different big challenges today? Jessica Davidoff 00:07:46 Um, I would say that defining what we do and what we don’t do, we’ve sort of, we’ve solved that, um, we know what we’re really good at. We know what we’re not, we also now have a great network of, um, you know, vendors that other clients have worked with that do things that we don’t do so we don’t get down in the weeds. Um, but yeah, I would say like the whole scope creep thing, like that is something that I’m still dealing with today. Um, just because the nature of what we’re doing and the, the stage of businesses that we’re working with is so young that we form these really close bonds and we’re talking every day. And, um, we, we all just want to see these businesses succeed, but I also have to kind of remember, this is a business and we need to be mindful of that as well. Louis Beryl 00:08:36 You know, on the other side of things, did you have an aha moment where you finally felt like this is gonna to work? This business is going to be successful. Um, and I, and I really, I know where we’re going and I’m confident in the future. Jessica Davidoff 00:08:56 Yeah, you know, It was, it’s been interesting. I, um, I had a client called STATE Bags that I, um, ended up taking over as their full time CEO, um, for over a year. And it was an incredible learning experience, but it also definitely took me a little bit away from business development for Sprezzatura because, um, I was really in the weeds with that company and I was going into their office four days a week, um, building out a completely new team from when I had taken over. And, um, when I was able to step back from that, um, engagement and really doubled down and take time to think about what we wanted Sprezzatura to be, it was almost like a rebirth because I had this like year plus hiatus, um, working on STATE Bags. And that was in February of this year. And it was interesting timing because COVID hit. And, um, we really took a lot of time as a team to kind of pause and just really talk through, um, the services that we wanted to focus on and how to remarket ourselves because, um, we had really hit the pause button on, um, business development. And so in March, when we really started to focus on what we wanted to, to, to be and do going forward, um, things just started to fall into place. And we got like nine new clients during the height of COVID, which I thought was really interesting that people were still working on these entrepreneurial ideas. And that was when it really felt great, which is crazy considering everything else in the world and my life everybody’s life felt awful, but I felt this sense of calm and, and purpose of what I was doing every day. Um, and it felt so good to be working on Sprezzatura again, um, and really thinking through how we’re going to grow it and how and where we’re going next. Louis Beryl 00:10:55 And I have to, I have to ask because I’ve heard they call you “The Wolf”. So how did you get that nickname? Jessica Davidoff 00:11:01 Um, it’s actually funny. I mean, everyone in my life, whether it’s like people at my companies or my friends, like whenever anyone has any problem, when there is like a medical issue or like a relationship problem, or obviously like business stuff, everybody comes to me and I’m always the person who’s like, okay, I’m going to do all this research. I don’t know anything about medicine. I don’t know anything about this, but I’m going to figure it out. And like, I’m going to give you the list of things that you need to do. And then I’m going to follow up with you and I’m going to make sure you’re doing it. And I’m very calm. So my husband actually gave me the nickname years and years ago. And now my desk is kind of chock full of wolf paraphernalia. I have a wolf mug. I have a wolf like the equivalent of a Barbie doll wolf, um, action figure. I have this like a movie poster. I mean, it’s like I have a sweatshirt, I have the whole thing. It’s like…[Laughing] Louis Beryl 00:11:57 I love it. I love it. Jessica Patronus is “The Wolf”. It’s great. I’m letting my nerd flag fly. Jessica Davidoff 00:12:02 Yeah…[Laughing]. Louis Beryl 00:12:09 Okay. This is awesome. You know, so one of the things I’m, I love to ask entrepreneurs like yourself running service businesses is if you could give advice to other entrepreneurs. So for example, you know, like the entrepreneurs you help today that are starting businesses, um, as they’re thinking about working with firms like yourself, you know, all over the country, you know, they’re, they’re looking for people to help them get their startup running. Maybe they’re looking for help fundraising, et cetera. Um, you know, maybe they’re looking for, you know, this kind of business in a box solution. What, what is, what are the questions that they should be asking when, when they meet you to understand, is this a good fit? Is this going to be a good working relationship? What are the types of things that they should be looking for and asking? Jessica Davidoff 00:12:55 Yeah, I mean, I definitely think that they should be asking of us and of any, um, services business, what types of companies they’ve worked with in the past, um, to see if they fall into a similar category. Um, I would definitely say another thing to ask about is how people work and their communication style. Are they email communicators? Are they great with Slack? Are they comfortable with using a project management tool? Are they comfortable with integrating in with, um, your process or do you have to integrate into their process? Um, so those would be other things I would also say, um, just personality wise and just having, like, obviously now we can’t really have any sort of, um, you know, in person like drinks or like casual conversation, but definitely focusing in on, um, just like a really casual chat and doing, and getting references and understanding if you guys vibe well together. Because I think that especially what we do, which is ongoing work and it’s, it’s, you know, in those early stages, that can be really stressful. You want to understand, you know, how well you’re going to work together. Um, and then the last thing I would say is to talk through a time when one of your clients was going through a really rough time and how you worked through that, because, I mean, you probably know as well, like when you’re interviewing and figuring out who you want to take investment from, they always say, ask them about their worst the company that failed, or the company that went through like a really bad spot and how they dealt with it and how they were there for that company. And I think it’s really similar to your service provider. And then I definitely think it’s really important for founders to talk about the size of the company who they’re going to be working with, whether I’m the person that they start working with is going to be the same person, or whether you kind of get bounced around. Um, I’ve seen that happen with a PR company where you start with someone, you have this great vibe, and then that person gets pulled off your account and a new person comes in and you have to like reengage and to explain your whole backstory to this new person, and then another person. So just understanding the turnover and, um, the account management, um, policies at the company and how that company plans to scale with you. Louis Beryl 00:15:25 Do you think there are red flags that you would warn entrepreneurs to look out for? Jessica Davidoff 00:15:32 Um, yeah. I think there are definitely red flags in the way of over-promising. Um, when people say things like, Oh, you know, we’ll get you at the top of Google or, you know, we’re going to hit, you know, a 10x ROAD (return on ad spend), you know, within your first month of working with us. Um, I think those are really red flags because I think for any startup, it’s hard, it’s going to take time and there’s going to be a lot of lessons to be learned. I would say it’s, there’s certain things when you’re interviewing vendors that you just, you don’t necessarily need to be an expert at digital marketing or someone who can run their own Facebook ads well. But you need to know enough to ask the right questions, like understanding, um, you know, attribution, windows and asking about those kinds of nuances are really important. Um, that’s like, that’s a great area where we can add value. Like when we are interviewing, um, vendors with our clients, you know, we’ll give them enough information to sort of vet some of these vendors and kind of check them a little bit to make sure that they are, um, you know, not giving, you know, selling them like a whole story that is never going to come true. Louis Beryl 00:16:45 If you were going to go back in time and give yourself some advice, you know, maybe, you know, before you started or right about to start Sprezzatura. What would be the pieces of advice you would give yourself as an entrepreneur or other entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting their own consulting firms? Jessica Davidoff 00:17:01 Yeah, I would say spend, I would say that I, that any person who’s looking to start a services firm, um, spend time focusing on your core customer. Um, we definitely were way too broad as you know, which is a common mistake of a lot of entrepreneurs. They say, you know, our customer is all women between 25 and 60. Um, and unless, and the more specific you are, whether you’re launching a product or a service brand, the more specific you can be with who your customer is, and almost creating an actual persona, um, and constantly like coming back to that person, um, whether it’s real or a hybrid of multiple people and thinking about what that person wants and how you can solve specific problems that that person has. I think it makes your offering much clearer. When we first launched, we launched as more of a general management consulting company. And I think when people think management consulting, they think, you know, the big firms like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain, and for startups, people are like, well, what actually do you do? And we were like, well, we can do a lot of things. We can solve this problem. And I think the more specific you can be of like, we solve this problem, and this is how, and these are our pricing and the clearer you can be in terms of what you can do as it relates to problem solving for someone, the easier the sell is going to be, because it doesn’t require the client to do any thinking on their own. And I think when you first start consulting, you just want your first couple of clients because you just want revenue in the door and you want to like it, just start working. And as a result, you like to just say yes to a lot of things that aren’t necessarily the right things. And it kind of puts you down paths that distract you. And then you have this website that does like all these things. So I would say as hard as it is to really refine that at the get, go and say, no at the beginning when you need your first client, like, I want to write myself a note that like the next company, like just say no until you get the right client, because I think it makes it so much easier to scale when you’re just doing that one thing really, really well. Louis Beryl 00:19:27 Jessica has actually put out a ton of great resources. We link to them on the blog. So go there to check it out when this episode is over. All right, that’s all. And as you’re thinking about, you know, you, you know, you were just saying a few minutes ago that, you know, COVID started, you had tons of inbound, you had these nine new clients come in. What are you looking for when you’re taking on a new client? Jessica Davidoff 00:19:48 So I think that for us, we want, we have really narrowed our sweet spot into consumer brands. So anything from, you know, apparel and accessories to consumer packaged goods, to food, to alcohol. Um, but we really like physical products. And we think that we’re really, um, excelling and specializing there. So that is something for us that, um, we weren’t doing, uh, when I first started the business and we had SAS clients and we had restaurants and we still do have some, but now, you know, we really say like, we are experts at consumer brands. And then, uh, I would say looking for kind of like growth, potential and understanding what the founder wants. We’re not saying that we only want to work with vendor backable brands, but like, there are a lot of people who want to start businesses and want to just kind of have them as great solo preneur projects, um, or, you know, they’re going to sell like a couple of products on their website and, but don’t really have the bandwidth or the desire to scale it to like that five to 15 million in revenue. And so that for us is we don’t feel like we can add as much value. We really see ourselves as, um, the place to come. And we’ll take you from idea to launch. And then with the business management, we’ll take you from launch to, you know, 15 million in revenue. And then at that point, we usually feel as though companies need to transition to all full time staff instead of outsourced, But that’s kind of our sweet spot. Louis Beryl 00:21:21 I wanted to transition to the trends you’re seeing out there. You were saying, things got really busy at the beginning of COVID, you know, we’ve had a ton of things going on in the world from, you know, the global pandemic to, um, social unrest plus like doing all our work via Zoom. And so I would, I would love to get your take on, you know, what, what are you seeing right now in your industry? You know, how is COVID affecting things? What other trends are you seeing out there that are affecting your business and, and that you think are either going to persist or, or maybe change. Jessica Davidoff 00:21:56 So that’s a, that’s a great question. I think a lot more people are considering entrepreneurship, um, right now, whether that’s because they lost their job or were furloughed for a portion of time and had the bandwidth and the space to think about something entrepreneurial, but we’ve gotten just way more people coming to us saying, I want to start a business, you know, and I want to do XYZ. And so I think that that is going to be a trend that continues. Because, you know, with this kind of uncertainty in, um, people’s careers I think they are going to be more inclined to start that side hustle start that entrepreneurial endeavor as a backup in case their current job doesn’t pan out or in case they can’t get a new job. Um, so I do think that we will see more entrepreneurs. Um, I think in terms of just sort of where COVID is, I think the people have definitely been thinking a lot more about the way that they work and their homes. Um, so the ideas that we’re seeing are definitely like very much in line with what people are doing now that they can’t go out. So I think, you know, on the product side and on the industry side, like we’re going to see more things regarding the home, food cooking, um, kids, pets, you know, to kind of make your home beautiful. Um, and then for us kind of one of the things that we, that, that I am in particular, but my team and I have done is, um, you know, the kind of Black Lives Matter movement and, um, George Floyd, that, that really hit home for us and we really took a pause. We completely paused on social media and content, um, for the entire summer to really think through how we want to be part of the solution to help more black founders and more underrepresented founders. And so I’ve been working all summer on writing our business in a box process out into a book which I’m going to launch in 2021 with the goal of being able to donate the book, um, for free to black founders and groups of underrepresented entrepreneurs. So that even if they can’t afford our services, we can still offer the same guidance of what we do and our process so that people can do it themselves, even if they can’t necessarily afford to pay for our services. And that was something that we really did a lot of reflection on. And I think a lot of brands will, you know, have hopefully, you know, continued thinking about, um, diversity and incorporating, you know, a lot of the sentiment from June into their daily practices, but it’s something that we’ve really spent a lot of time focusing on this summer. Louis Beryl 00:24:43 That’s awesome. And I’m hearing that from a lot of entrepreneurs of all types and today, what do you think the most common, what is the common pain point that you’re getting asked by your clients today as they come to you Jessica Davidoff 00:24:55 Right now? The biggest pain point is regarding financial planning and kind of knowing how to predict, you know, even six months in advance, um, from everything from like how much inventory do we need to buy for Spring 2021 to what kind of hires can we make next year and what are our revenue projections? And I think that it’s really hard right now because 2020 was such a weird year. Louis Beryl 00:25:25 Um, even some of the largest companies in the world aren’t, you know, have stopped releasing financial forecasts. Jessica Davidoff 00:25:31 Yeah. I mean, so I think for a startup that’s really hard because, you know, you can’t really get big loans, you know, if you need to borrow ’em and, you know, every dollar you spend, you need to be really confident in of it because a lot of these people who are founders, you know, they have 18 months runway, 12 months runway and if they make a mistake, you know, there goes your, your runway. And so I think that’s like very hard for us, you know, what, what was usually very methodical in terms of how we would do budgeting and how we would do financial projections. Now, it’s like, we’re constantly revising and revising. And every month when we have actuals, we’re making tweaks that are like huge tweaks because assumptions for 2020 just kind of went out the window. And we’re just kinda like, uh, you know, I don’t know what’s gonna happen to COVID in October. And so I think that’s been really challenging. Obviously it’s hard on us because my team wants to do the best work that they can for our clients, but it’s also hard on the clients because they almost feel like they can’t make great decisions without all of the, um, the data. But I try to show them, you know, this is the entire world. And I, I really focus my clients at least on being super conservative in terms of assumptions, super conservative in terms of spending. Not ramping up, you know, just because we had a great August, you know, not like doubling down in September because who knows what, what the fall and the winter is going to bring during flu season. Louis Beryl 00:27:01 Yeah. And funny enough, in terms of great August, I’ve been hearing from a lot of companies that, you know, July and August have been some of their best months ever as companies which have been amazing to see, especially given everything that we’re seeing in the world. Well, this was awesome. Thank you, Jessica, for sharing so much about your business and telling us about Sprezzatura. I really enjoyed it today. Thank you. Jessica Davidoff 00:27:23 Amazing. Thank you so much. And I’m so excited for you! Louis Beryl 00:27:27 For more on our conversation today visit rocketplace.com/podcast. We upload a new episode every week. So if you haven’t yet make sure to subscribe to The Startup Stack in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to them. Thanks again for joining us. See you next week. Announcer 00:27:45 The Startup Stack. Written and edited by Hannah Levy produced by Leah Jackson.
45 minutes | a month ago
EPISODE 4: Who Owns the Internet? (w/ Domain Name Specialist Bill Sweetman) 🎙
Subscribe to The Startup Stack Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicStitcherSoundCloud This week, a journey into the weird and wonderful world of domain name brokerage with longtime expert, Bill Sweetman. Bill’s business, Name Ninja, rode the wave as domain buying transformed from a cottage industry into a complex international market of (literally) unknowable size. To explain how he built his business, Bill went back to the early days of the dot-com era — and we came along for the ride. “My job is like a cross between detective work and hostage negotiation.” -Bill Sweetman Highlights Include Why domain brokerage is a little like home-buyingHow NOT to acquire a domain nameCurrent trends, including a COVID-19 uptick and demand for social media handlesHow to pick a great domain name (and buy it!) This Week’s Guest Bill Sweetman President & CEO of Name Ninja Bill Sweetman is the founder of Name Ninja, a company that helps entrepreneurs acquire domain names and social media handles. A self-confessed domain name fanatic, Bill registered his first domain in 1994. He later sold it for five figures. The Startup Stack’s Host Louis Beryl CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible. Full Episode Transcript Louis Beryl: So, I wanted to jump in and start with a little bit about the industry you’re in. So, you know, it’s it’s domain names are really fascinating thing because I think all entrepreneurs, no matter where they are all around the world, have this experience where when when you’re starting a business and getting going, or even you’ve been going for a while about thinking about what is the domain name, how does it affect the naming of my business, how do I register it? I have certainly been there where almost like this sense of panic can set in and your domain has been taken or is currently being used. You can’t figure it out. How do you how do you acquire it? So I think this is really probably very common you probably deal with a lot of entrepreneurs that have no idea how much it cost or how they’re going to solve this and could be very emotional. But maybe just just to start, I’d love to hear from you to describe for our listeners, like what is domain name broking? And what what what is it that you do and do not do? Bill Sweetman: So there’s two two types of domain brokers. There’s a buyer broker, which is what we are. And then there’s the seller brokers. So a buyer broker represents the buyers best interest. Buyer brokers goal is to help that client acquire the target domain name or domains within the specific time frame and ideally within the specific budget. A seller broker represents domain owners. Their job is to find potential buyers and sell the domain to them. Some brokers wear both hats. Here it Name Ninja we focus exclusively on the buy side. Louis Beryl: So maybe you could tell us a little bit more about your story. How did you become a domain name broker? How long have you been in this industry? Bill Sweetman: So, I’ve been helping people with domain stuff for twenty six years at this point, but not full time. I started because I was working for a television network and helping trying to help them understand this newfangled web thing. And as part of helping to understand that I had I wanted to create my own website so I could understand what was involved in building a website. And in order to do that I needed to register a domain name. And so I figured that out. In fact, I couldn’t get my first choice. I had to settle for something else because I didn’t know there were brokers at that time. You know, and over time, as I worked in different sort of media and marketing roles, that people would come to me or know to come to me as that guy that knew something about domain names. And I became more and more sort of fascinated by the creativity of domain names. And I stumbled across this sort of almost at the time, kind of underground economy of people that were actually buying domains as investments with the aim of reselling them. Louis Beryl: And what year is this? What what are we talking about? Bill Sweetman: Oh, boy, oh, boy. By maybe fifteen years ago is when I came across the, yeah, about fifteen years ago there… Louis Beryl: So like post.com bubble? Bill Sweetman: Yes. There was a seminal article, it was a cover story in I think it was Business 2.0 magazine, which I don’t know if it’s still around and but I think that was the magazine. And they did this cover story about this Canadian doctor who was one of the leading domain speculator’s at that time. And they put them on the front cover. And it was something like “The Man Who Owns The Internet”, something something like that. His name is Kevin Ham, brilliant gentleman. And this was I think, the first mainstream article that kind of blew the doors open about this huge underground business of speculating in domain names. So around that time, I’m you know, I’m I’m dabbling in domains. I’m helping people with domains. I’m working as a VP at a big ad agency in Canada. And I actually get the opportunity to join a friend of mine who works for Tucows. Which at the time was, I think, the third or fourth largest domain registrar in the world. And they they were looking for somebody to help manage their internal portfolio with domain names. I eventually got that job, and that was just a life changing experience for me because that was, I think, 2007. So that was my full time, first full time gig in the domain industry. I’m just seeing it from all different angles there, plus managing this portfolio of about 300,000 domain names that were for resale. Louis Beryl: And and this is this is what the larger company owned. Bill Sweetman: Yes. So they own this this portfolio of resale for resale. Louis Beryl: I’ve always wondered about that. So we have these larger companies like Tucows, like GoDaddy, and they’re the registrars. But then we also have all these speculators out there. But then, as you point out, some of the registrars have large portfolios. And it’s kind of always, I’ve always wondered, why don’t the registrars why didn’t they just own all the like, why do they sell them so cheaply? Why don’t they just gobble them all up for for cheap prices and then sell them at more expensive prices? Are there laws around this like… Bill Sweetman: The law has evolved over time? Yeah, I mean, the the the domain registrars actually owning their own portfolios was sort of allowed through a bit of a loophole. And companies like Tucows especially which is a very ethical company, was and still is. They they struggled with this. But there was just too much money to be made and it wasn’t illegal. So they they built up a portfolio and it became a very successful business line for them, which I ran. They subsequently divested themselves of that portfolio. In fact, they sold it to GoDaddy. So GoDaddy and GoDaddy didn’t have a portfolio for a while. They secretly had one for a while. That got shut down. And then they eventually started picking up portfolios. And now GoDaddy actually has one of the largest portfolios for resale. Louis Beryl: Fascinating. And so, you know, in these early two thousands, you know, you’re you’re starting to meet people like Kevin and you’re starting to work at Tucows. How big was the industry back then? You know, how many how how many domain name speculators are we talking about? Is is this a really small community and everyone kind of knows each other? And has that changed a lot as the technology landscape has exploded? Bill Sweetman: I mean, ten plus years ago it was a cottage industry. It really was very small. There might have been ten or twenty people who had great sort of technical expertise and just kind of knew the secrets at the time. And they were you know, they were some of the early stage investors that figured out how to acquire domains and build up these portfolios. They started to mentor other people and it grew. But in terms of size, nobody’s ever been able to figure out how big or small the industry is. But I’ll give you a sense of it, let me back up. One of the reasons people don’t know how big it is is because most of the sales are not publicly disclosed. And and in fact, the bulk of the sales are big ticket sales and they’re never disclosed. But when the the industry as a whole would get together for, like the annual conference, that would be 300, 400, 500 people tops. I think the biggest attendance at any domain industry conference for the domain speculators may have topped out at around a 1,000 people. That includes vendors and suppliers. So, yeah, that’s a pretty small industry. Louis Beryl: Yeah. And, you know, it’s it’s fascinating. You know, just a second ago you were saying, you know, the title of this article was “The Man Who Owns the Internet”. And it you know, it feels like an industry that is perfectly positioned to be more heavily regulated. And I’m wondering why isn’t it more heavily regulated? How have the regulations changed over the last decade or two? Bill Sweetman: Yeah, I’m thinking the the registrars, they’re subject to the guidelines of ICAN, which is sort of a multi-stakeholder community driven organization that sort of is in charge of managing the domain space. But the speculating side, there’s not really any regulations there, partly because it’s like where do you what bucket does it fall in? So and that’s kind of on the one hand, it’s like the Wild West. And there’s great opportunities. But then there’s people that, you know, are that are the villains of the piece and, you know, that’s they behave in the most ethical manner. But there’s there’s not a lot of regulation and and one thing I find a little challenging is that because it’s unregulated, anybody can hang up a shingle and call himself at the domain broker. There’s no certification, there’s this, so so anybody that operates in the sort of domain speculating space that is not ethical kind of tarnishes the image of the majority who are very ethical players. Louis Beryl: Well, I think that’s a that’s a good segue to to get into Name Ninja and and what you’ve built and how you founded it. As a person who has purchased a lot of domain names for businesses and struggled through that, I imagine that most people you meet actually start with the services offered from GoDaddy or Tucows. And so maybe you could tell me a little bit about how Name Ninja fits into the industry of these larger competitors. And what were you seeing that motivated you to start Name Ninja? And what were some of the struggles that you’ve had with building your company? Bill Sweetman: So the motivation to start happened, I was working at Tucows and because we had a portfolio of desirable domains, a lot of times I was dealing with buyer brokers, independent buyer brokers approaching me on behalf of their clients. And so I got to know these people. And, you know, I started to see that, you know, some of these people were they were working off a laptop. They were traveling the world. It seemed like an amazing lifestyle business. And they seemed to be making good money and seemed to be enjoying the work. And I started to think about, wow, I was always getting asked to do effectively what I call buyer broker work. People always asking me, hey, I want to buy this domain. How do I how much is it worth? Who should I talk to? And so I was helping friends and colleagues. Louis Beryl: Can … can I….can I jump in? You’re saying people are always asking you. But this is also like an industry that note that practically no one even knows exists. So how are they even finding you? Bill Sweetman: Well, this is my place to be, my personal professional network. I will be working at an ad agency or a television network. People would know I’m that freak that knew something about the Internet, knew something about domain names. Louis Beryl: Got it. Just because of your background working at Tucows. Bill Sweetman: Yeah, so people just say, hey, Bill, know something about domain names? So I, I started to think about how much I enjoyed just sort of as a side thing. I enjoyed the buyer brokering work. And I also, you know, at that point in my life, I realized that there were some things I was good at and some things I weren’t. And I loved working at Tucows. But but the what I my strengths and weaknesses got really laid out for me. And I started to think, I wonder if I could focus and just be a buyer broker. I wonder if there’s a possibility I could do that. So I thought about that probably for a couple of years and ultimately decided, you know what, I’m going to take the leap. I’m going to take a swing at this. I figured worst case scenario, the folks at Tucows would have me back because I would part ways with them on very good terms. So I kind of made a decision sometime in around 2006 that no no sorry, 2012, that I would put together what I thought would be a service offering that would end up becoming Name Ninja. And I would try it for a year and see what happened. Louis Beryl: And what before you did that. What do you think was the biggest thing holding you back from starting Name Ninja? Bill Sweetman: I’m very risk averse as a person. So the thought of leaving, you know, at that point a VP level job to go out on my own was kind of terrifying. And I was the, you know, the primary breadwinner in the household, too. So that was kind of terrifying. And I I really didn’t know if there would be enough business for me. So, you know, I kind of hedged my bets a bit because when I launched Name Ninja, I offered a suite of services, including buyer broker work. But I also sort of alluded to I could help people manage their portfolios. And this was around the time of the launch of what we call the new TLDs so .club, .ninja, .whatever. So I sort of said I could help people figure that out. And I even sort of hinted that we could help with naming. So I sort of strategically, it’s like, OK, Name Ninja will offer a broader set of services and we’ll see what the clients want. Magically, as it turns out, people wanted buyer broker work and there was enough of it. It’s not like I left knowing for sure this would work. In fact, it was it was the most painful difficult decision of my life. But it did work out. But I did sort of feel I had a fallback plan. I figured Tucows or some of the other companies I’d gotten to know in the domain industry, they would they would welcome me into their fold if this Name Ninja thing didn’t work out. But thankfully, it did. Louis Beryl: You know, I should tell the story of some of the mistakes I’ve I’ve had in buying domain names. And, you know, if I look back to my last business, Earnest. You know, we did eventually own earnest.com. I won’t go into the full story here, but we actually launched with meetearnest.com. You know, when at the very, very beginning we tried everything, both figure out and purchase that domain name. I think I called up or use the domain name brokerage services or via their Tucows or go, GoDaddy. That didn’t work. I hired a private investigator to try to figure out who it was. I think eventually I thought I knew who it was. So I just started emailing them and offering them money. I even at one point had an investor suggests that we should just show up at the person’s house with a bag full of money. Anyway, it took years but we did eventually get the domain name and, you know, it wasn’t cheap. But, you know, I wonder, you know, what do you think about that story? And really, more more importantly, when should an entrepreneur be calling you to think about purchasing a domain name? And and what shouldn’t they do before they call you? Bill Sweetman: Lots to unpack there. You know, I mean, congrats on getting the domain name after all those years. You know, the things you have to watch out for are if you’re the buyer, if you’re going direct to the owner, that’s risky on a number of levels because you’re revealing your identity as as the buyer to the owner. Louis Beryl: And and why is that, why is that important to not reveal your identity? Bill Sweetman: Because they could have assumptions that are incorrect about your your financial status, you know, the scope and scale of your company, your intentions, and, you know, so that can significantly spike the price, not in your favor. Another reason it’s good to work, perhaps with an intermediary, is it removes or it should remove some of the emotional aspects of this, because it’s understandable if you’re the startup founder and you really, really want this name, you’re going to get worked up about that. Then you’re going to get worked up in the negotiations. Louis Beryl: I mean, oh my God, I was so worked up it was practically all I thought about for years. I mean… Bill Sweetman: Understandably, too. Louis Beryl: I was obsessed. Bill Sweetman: But at the same point, you know, it just takes you one human slip of the tongue to say something, you know, a little hot to the owner and the whole deal or potential deal falls apart. And that’s why… Louis Beryl: I would love to hear a story about a deal falling apart. Bill Sweetman: Oh, yeah. I mean, I’ve had I’ve…I mean that why you should hire a buyer broker to act as that sort of neutral intermediary. But I’ve had some situations where we had one deal, it probably took nine months to get the deal kind of into escrow. We’re at the final stages. The owner was very sensitive for a bunch of reasons and the buyer was great. But what happened was the buyer’s lawyer got involved and wanted to speak directly to the seller and I was on that call. I would never allow that to happen without me being on the call. But it was such a personality clash that the seller felt understandably felt quite disrespected. And basically, he was sort of saying, yeah, I’m going, we’re going to cancel this deal. And so I took another month or two for me to get the seller kind of appeased and back to the table. Louis Beryl: Do you still let that happen or are you like, no, we can’t we can’t let the any discussions between the buyers and the sellers? Bill Sweetman: As a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid that. I discourage that immensely because it’s kind of like, well, if you if you’ve made the decision to hire an expert to get a job done, don’t start meddling in it, particularly in the final stages, like. And… Louis Beryl: It’s very, very similar in home buying to where the you know, the it’s usually broker between. broker. Bill Sweetman: Absolutely. Louis Beryl: It can be very emotional. Bill Sweetman: And it’s good to separate those emotions. And it’s good to have somebody…actually let’s use that analogy, because unfortunately, a lot of people buying homes sometimes will walk in and deal with a seller broker and not realize they’re dealing with a seller broker. You seller broker works for the seller. They’re not they’re not looking after your best interests. So with a domain name, a lot of people, you know, they’ll sort of reach out to like a marketplace or they’ll they’ll reach out to the the for sale link on the domain. And they end up talking to a broker and they sort of think that that brokers working for them. And it’s like, no, they’re not. They’re working for the seller. Louis Beryl: I’ve made that mistake, by the way. I mean, did that exact thing. I mean, part of the problem was I didn’t even know how to find folks like yourself. Right. And so, you know, if the domain name isn’t is listed as not for sale on one of these large registration sites. You know, I think a lot of entrepreneurs are just like, well, where do I go next? And then the next place to go, the next most obvious place is, you know, GoDaddy’s or Tucows brokerage service. Right. But to your point, they’re really more seller brokers. Bill Sweetman: Well, it depends like GoDaddy has. You know, they have I think it used to be called domain by service. They’ve renamed it something else now. But they they have a team there. And, you know, they will they will help the buyer like they they’re actually a bit more neutral than some of the brokers out there. But at the end of the day, you know, a client may choose to work with Name Ninja because they’re getting a more direct relationship with a senior person such as myself. And, you know, we’re going to we’re going to go that extra length to figure out who owns the domain, how to reach them and how to, you know, how to get a deal done. Louis Beryl: Well, and I think that was one of the issues that we faced was I think we did reach out to the domain by service at one of these companies. And actually, they pretty quickly came back with we don’t know who this is. Right. Maybe they you know, they sent some email into the ether got no response and that was just like that was it. So it just went nowhere because they they weren’t even able to contact the seller. Bill Sweetman: It’s partly you get what you pay for too right? Like, if you’re if you’re paying sixty nine dollars for broker services, I mean, what do you expect they’ll there maybe send a few emails, maybe try to make a couple phone calls like are you really going to get a lot of investigative work now. So what’s different with, you know, a professional buyer broker that focuses on this is I talk about it being like a cross between detective work and hostage negotiation. You know, what we do is we we spend a lot of time and a little using a lot of different tools to figure out who the identity of the domain owner is. We also spend time trying to understand the psychology of that person. We, we’ll look for videos that they may have been in on YouTube. We really want to understand who it is we will eventually be dealing with. Louis Beryl: My investors suggested showing up at the house with a bag full of money. Do you have…what what other crazy creative tactics have you had to try? Bill Sweetman: The the most recent newest tactic we deployed. I gave it a name. I don’t even know if this is. A real phrase, but I called it flyer bombing. But what we did there was a gentleman in where was he in Southern California, and we just could not get him to really engage with us, even though we had his emails and his phone numbers and his fax numbers and we sent postcards and letters like, come on, dude, let’s have a conversation. So and this is during the height of the COVID pandemic, too. So it’s like, OK, how can we get somebody’s attention? Like, we would not want to send somebody to his door. Right. Because that that that’s just a particularly because they were under lockdown in California. So it’s like so I ended up I ended up hiring a guy who was recommended to me was a sort of freelance person. But he had a background that he was in special forces, in the military, in the US military. I didn’t know this, though, later. But he he got up very early one morning. He mapped out his route. He took a couple of hundred flyers that we designed. And I think it was like desperately seeking John Smith, like the name of the man with a message for politeness. And he printed them on different colored paper. And he got up really early this morning and he went to this guy’s office and to his home and he and using painter’s tape. So I told him we don’t want to damage the paint or the property. But so using painter’s tape, which is removable tape, he plastered, he covered the two front doors of the place so you couldn’t come in or out without seeing these hundred posters. The other one that we did, I was just I thought I just loved it was we discovered that the Spanish businessman would be attending this trade conference in London, England. And and we knew that they had a booth there. So I actually got one of our agents who’s multilingual. I think she speaks six different languages. And she was in London at the time. So we sent her to the conference with our offer letter. And she, you know, basically staked, staked out the booth. And when she spotted him, she went right over and introduced herself and reminded him how serious we were about buying the name. He actually signed the the purchase agreement right there. So… Louis Beryl: I mean, that’s crazy. It’s like a mix of Harry Potter and Mission Impossible. It’s just like international practically espionage, tracking people down and getting domain names. But, you know, it’s kind of funny in a certain sense this is exactly what I thought domain name brokering was all about, like this level. And it really resonates with the experience I’ve had. I’d like to ask you kind of two very related questions. And it would be interesting maybe to talk a little bit about how this has changed over time. I’d love to kind of understand for the majority of your work, what does it really cost to acquire a domain name while at the same time I want to know what’s the most expensive domain name you’ve ever helped someone purchase? Not the actual name. You don’t have to tell me that. But like, how much was like the or like how many figures was the most expensive one you’ve ever seen? Bill Sweetman: Oh, I’ll give you both sides of that. So most expensive was, I think, $1,700,000 US for a two letter .com. And that’s kind of the two letter dot coms these days. They are there’s a there’s a very limited supply of them. Yeah, entrepreneurs in China own most of them as investments. Louis Beryl: I know that there’s been a lot of domain speculating over the last decades. But how did China how to entrepreneurs in China happen to acquire those wide in the same domain name speculators? How did those all end up with Chinese entrepreneurs? Bill Sweetman: Well, there was a period of time, I’m going to say, five, five, six years ago where Chinese investors were looking at alternative assets to invest in because of the Chinese rules about where they could and couldn’t put their money. So domain names were seen as a potentially safe haven. In fact, there was there was this crazy was in the domain industry has called the Chinese boom. There was this period, about an 18 month period where some of the perhaps not so ethical business people in China were literally running around convincing farmers and taxi drivers and people that didn’t even have a computer that they should invest in domain names. And they were selling them tons of crap at over inflated prices and making a killing. But that aside, a lot of Chinese investors and successful Chinese entrepreneurs are very interested in English one word .coms and these ultra short domains. And so that’s why the most of the a good chunk of the two letter .coms that aren’t already spoken for by businesses are owned by investors in China. But we were talking about biggest, most expensive name. Then on the cheapest. And I mean, I’ve had I love when this happens, we’ve had clients approached us and they’ve got a target domain in mind. And we’ll take a look. And a couple of things could happen. One could be potentially even try to acquire the name. And the two sides just can’t agree and, you know, it doesn’t happen or something else happens. But either way, it’s not possible. But, you know, a few months may go by, a few years go by, and we always track to see if the domain is going to expire. And sometimes if a domain is going to expire in the next three months and the client can wait, we’ll say, hey, we don’t even recommend approaching the owner. We think there’s a chance here this domain might expire. And if it expires… Louis Beryl: Bill, I think that happened with us, I think that on both levels, when we rocketplace.com, I remember we met you and we we engaged with you to hire…to help us purchase rocketplace.com. And then I think it was like a Sunday, just like a week or so later you emailed Ben and you’re like, if you go to this link right now, you can buy this for $1,500. I don’t know if that was the exact price, but it was on that order and then just bought. It was like, oh my God, we couldn’t believe it. I mean it was so much cheaper than we thought we were going to get it for. And I think on a second one it wasn’t the .com… Bill Sweetman: No that one wasn’t…the second one which we don’t have to say what that domain was. But but we had actually attempted to buy the name from the owner over whatever a three, six month period. And he just was just had outrageous expectations of price. So we collectively agreed to part ways. And like amazingly, he let the domain expire and we were able to get it for you. And, you know, I think a domain that you you were, I think, willing to pay, I don’t know, let’s say ten grand for something like that. You know, your bill was here’s your seventy five dollar domain name. Louis Beryl: So what do you what’s your kind of average? You know, we don’t we don’t have to get into exact numbers, but like most clients that come to you, are they are they are they buying domains in the tens of thousands of dollars, the hundreds of thousands of dollars? What’s the kind of your bread and butter? Bill Sweetman: Yeah. So a lot of clients come to us wanting to buy a one word .com, and then we have a very frank conversation with them about what sort of budget is required for a one word .com. And that kind of budget is typically six figures. And then there could be an immediate sort of adjustments like, oh, OK, yeah, we think we want a different type of name. And then it may be a two word .com and two word .com. That’s typically in the tens of thousands not hundreds of thousands. I found that on average, our clients are investing about $50,000 for their target domain name. That’s just an average asset. There’s there’s the $1,000,000 plus and there’s the the the pick it up in the expiry auction for a $100. We’ll talk to anybody and help anybody. But if a client’s budget is under $5,000 we may sort of suggest they go the do it yourself route or may suggest some other option for them. Louis Beryl: Yeah. Let me ask the question that I’m sure all the listeners and entrepreneurs out there are asking themselves is, what should they expect to pay a domain name broker like yourself for helping them with the service? And and does that have you what should they not be doing when they are engaging with someone to help them? Bill Sweetman: Well, they should only choose to work with one broker at a time. I mean, shop around if you want, but never have more than one broker pursuing a domain, the same domain for you at the same time. That’s just I think it’s unethical. It’s certainly stupid because you’re competing against yourself. You know, we all get to kind of sort of pricing and stuff like that. But if I wanted to talk about compensation models, because there are different compensation models for buyer brokers. The most common one in the industry is a percentage of the purchase price, and that percentage is somewhere between 10% and 20%. A lot of our competitors have that model. A lot of people are used to that model. It’s very common. We deliberately don’t follow that model because as one of our very early customers pointed out, well, if I’m paying you a percentage of the purchase price, what’s incentivizing you to get me the low, get me the domain for the lowest possible price? So we came up with this kind of hybrid model, which involves usually there’s an upfront retainer and it’s pretty modest, especially compared to the overall budget it’s pretty modest. And then there’s a success fee. And the success fee has two parts. There’s a flat fee component. Once again, it’s it’s more than the retainer, but it’s way less than, what, 10% of, let’s say, the budget would be. And then the other half or the other portion of the success fee is based on a saving you money on the deal. Net, if a client is talking to one of our competitors to charges, let’s say, 15% of the purchase price, almost every case, the fee is going to be lower than that. But also, more importantly, from my perspective, our fee is better aligned with the objectives of the buyer. Louis Beryl: Yeah, and I from again, putting my entrepreneur hat on, which I do 24/7, that feels better because what we’ve done is we’ve aligned expectations around what we think this should cost. We feel like we’re on the same side in terms of saving money and that that feels really good. Bill Sweetman: I also structure our compensation based on the specific scenario. So if it’s like a very early stage startup and, you know, the overall budget is modest, but we think it’s achievable for the domain. And if I already know the owner of the domain or if the domains listed for sale with a buy it now price, then we might even go with kind of an eat what we kill kind of model where there’s no retainer. You do have to sign a contract usually with us. But will you know, maybe there will be a small success fee plus a percentage of the of the savings we get. So we do take it on a bit of a case by case basis. We have an internal rate card. But I do look at the scenario. If it’s a not for profit, I’m going to, you know, come up with a preferred model for them, the repeat client, you know, we’ll work something out. Louis Beryl: What about COVID? Have have how has that affected the industry? Has it has it affected it at all? Has it become more of a buyer or sellers market as a result of COVID? Bill Sweetman: So I would say in March, maybe late March, let’s say March. I think in the domain brokering sort of domain speculating world, there was a little bit of fear. I think some of the clients I know, we had one client pause a project. We had another client cancel a project. So I think for maybe one or two weeks, it looked kind of dire and sales dipped in terms of the what they call the aftermarket, the premium domain market. But just for a couple of weeks. And then the unexpected happened. Certainly for me and for a lot of people is, you know, the world had to figure out how to move online. Those that weren’t moving on weren’t online already. And suddenly the domain speculators were telling me that all of a sudden they were getting way more offers, especially on their kind of lower end inventory, like the two word names, the three word names. And it became a seller’s market and still is. Which I think surprised everybody. And it surprised us. We we were talking to clients maybe, let’s say in April and sort of saying, hey, you know you know that domain you’re interested in. Would you like us to talk to the seller? Because maybe the sellers sort of feeling a bit of pain now and wants to kind of maybe liquidate might be more reasonable in terms of price expectations. But it just didn’t happen that way. People were the speculators were doing really well. And it there was some softness on the very high end for a period of time, a couple of months. But people came back. And so I’m very blessed that I happened to work in the online space and in a particular weird niche vertical that was not significantly impacted by COVID at all. I just I count my lucky stars every day. And I’ve also been blown away by the ingenuity of the creative mind and the entrepreneurial mind to come up with short and long term solutions to this crisis. I just look in awe what people are doing and go, wow, where don’t count the human race out just yet. Louis Beryl: What’s your prediction for the future of the domain name market? How do you think it’s going to change over the next 5, 10 years? Bill Sweetman: Well, I think it’s important to have a global perspective because you’ll sometimes hear people like, let’s say in North America and they’re kind of like, well, everybody that wanted a websites already got one. So like who who needs another domain name or or people will say, oh, there’s apps, you don’t need domain names or there’s VR, there’s voice recognition, you don’t need domain names. Louis Beryl: There’s just Google, you know. Bill Sweetman: There’s the search engines. But first of all, not true. You need an address for the platform that you own. You don’t want to build a brand on a Facebook URL that you don’t own. That would be very foolish but people still make that mistake all the time. Email needs a domain. Domains can be a call to action. You have to think about the rest of the world. You have to think about Africa and India and and some of the growing countries in Asia where their Internet penetration and their online business status might have been in the single digits or low double digits. You know, you look in China where I think the number was something like 2,000 new startups a day happening in China. Most of those are going to need a domain name and the ones that aspire to be to be a global startup, a global business, they’re going to want a .com. There is a lot of demand coming. You know, people will say I’m biased, but I honestly don’t see the demand lessening. But what I do see is people tend to want the same kind of names. As I said, most of the people approaching us, they want to get a one word .com. There are only so many one word .coms in the world. Those assets are very rare and they are increasing in value. Cause you can’t invent you can’t make new Park Avenue real estate you can’t make it out of thin air, I that’s why I said at one point that I find that people engage with domain buyer brokers too late in the process. I try to encourage clients. I wish this happens, happens maybe only 5% of the time. I consider it a best practice. It’s like if you’re going through a naming process, whether you’re doing it in-house or working with a naming agency, get it down to five or 10 of your short listed names. Then go talk to your friendly neighborhood domain buyer broker. Have them give you that perspective on whether that domain or whether each of those what are the chances of each of those being acquired and what might the ballpark budget be and and have that influence your decision. Because sadly, so many times clients will come to us…I mean, God bless them for coming to us, but they come to us and they’ve already painted themselves in a corner. They’ve already booked they’ve already building the website using the domain name. They’re already booked television ads. They’ve told everybody we’re going to be fluffy.com. And it’s like, guys, the lady that owns that, she’s never going to sell that or she’s not going to sell it for the budget you you’ve got we’ve got to come to us earlier. Let’s figure out some alternative options here. Louis Beryl: Last question for you, Bill. You’ve now built a very successful business. If you could go back. 20, 25 years and give the young Bill a couple of pieces of advice about building a business and entrepreneurship, what would you say to yourself? Bill Sweetman: Couple of things. I would say if if you have a good network of people that know and like you and think you’re good at something, don’t don’t be afraid to kind of niche yourself and make the leap, because that network, they’ll be there to support you and refer business to you. And and, you know, if things go south may help you kind of recover from a mistake. So that’s that’s one thing. I would also say don’t be afraid to lean on or just ask for help from your potential partners, even if those partners are kind of competitors. In a sense, I think it was last year was kind of a turning point for Name Ninja in that I worked even more with “competitors”. But it’s a small industry and we were able to collaborate on projects. So I think people tend to be afraid. It’s like I can’t possibly ask that competitor a question or maybe have them work on the project with me. It’s like, yeah, you can. Another thing I would do is very early on find ways to measure what’s important in the business, you know, and we did that by putting a CRM in place within six or nine months of starting the business. And I found that that has given me insight that I didn’t even know I would get. Things like not only the source of leads, but which source actually converts into business. Which for me gave me really good insight as a small business as to where to allocate my marketing time and my marketing budget. Really helped me be able to get analysis of projects and kind of go, oh, you know what, that type of project, we think that they’re lucrative, but they’re not or were burning way too much time on this type of thing or, you know, oh, do we really need to go to that many conferences to get business? Louis Beryl: I mean, it’s it’s a really common thing that we see with a lot of our service providers on Rocketplace. Which is a lot of their business does come in by word of mouth. But just even if you think about breaking that word of mouth down like word of mouth can be an umbrella category. A lot of our businesses aren’t as good at is, well where is the word of mouth coming from? Is it certain folks? Is it like you said, is it coming from conferences, et cetera? And so because they they put everything in the umbrella category of word of mouth, actually, it’s hard for them to understand, like just what you’re saying, where should we be focused, really focusing our resources so that we can grow our business? Bill Sweetman: We specifically asked, you know, anybody that comes to us, if it’s not if they haven’t already been introduced to us by a specific person, we sort of say, how did you first find out about us? Because we have to know, because then they were referred to us by somebody. We want to thank that person that referred them to us. And if it was some article they discovered that I wrote or was quoted in or if it was at an event I attended, I want to know because then it’s like, OK, should I still keep going to events or not? Louis Beryl: Well Bill, this has been amazing. So interesting what experiences you have had. And just peeling back a little bit of what happens in the domain name industry, which practically every entrepreneur has had to deal with, has just really been fascinating. I have enjoyed this immensely. Bill Sweetman: Thanks for having me. Been great to be here.
35 minutes | a month ago
EPISODE 3: Hiring Globally (w/ International Tech Recruiter Ilya Brotzky)
37 minutes | a month ago
EPISODE 2: The Master Translator (w/ Branding & Design Specialist Daria Gonzalez) 🎙
Subscribe to The Startup Stack Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicStitcherSoundCloud The child of Russian and Cuban-born parents, Daria Gonzalez learned at a young age how to move between cultures, languages (a lot of them!) — and later, professions. She’s been an architect, a music booker, a travel journalist and a VC — all of which came together in creating Wunderdogs, a global design consultancy that helps bring cutting edge, often esoteric products to market. We talked to Daria about how her experience making sense of so much difference led to her success in branding, and why marketing matters a lot in this moment, when everything seems so complicated. “People were struggling telling me what their product is about. What is it actually, what is it solving? Eventually I saw the opportunity, helping these engineers build their brand narrative. – Daria Gonzalez Highlights Include Free & inexpensive marketing techniques all companies should be using right now How to build a coherent brand around esoteric products like blockchain & AI Current trends in branding and marketing Daria’s top marketing tips for startups at this moment This Week’s Guest Daria Gonzalez Co-founder & CEO of Wunderdogs Wunderdogs is a global design consultancy launched by ex-VCs and founders that works exclusively with technology-driven businesses. The Startup Stack’s Host Louis Beryl CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible. Full Episode Transcript Daria Gonzalez 00:00:00 Comic sans coming into the bar and the bartender telling him, sorry, we’re not serving your type. Louis Beryl 00:00:07 [Laughing] I love the dad jokes. That was a good one. Louis Beryl 00:00:12 This week. We’re talking to design and branding expert, Daria Gonzales. Daria co founded Wunderdogs, a global design consultancy in 2017. But before that, she did a lot of other things. She was a Siberian travel reporter and architect, a Russian music booking agent, and like me, she got an MBA and became a VC. Although neither of us lasted too long. I wanted to know how did all of those experiences come together in Wunderdogs? Why did she choose to bootstrap? How did the company sweet-spot helping launch highly technical and often esoteric products become the thing that they do most. Daria answered all that and more. But first just tell me a few more jokes. Daria Gonzalez 00:00:52 Yeah. So there were a couple of other jokes and they essentially went from being very cheesy and very kind of mass appeal to being really kind of smarter, but also weird and not very mass appeal. Kind of like every time someone stretches a font a designer cries. Louis Beryl 00:01:08 [Laughing] I feel like that’s the whole joke. That was great. Daria Gonzalez 00:01:14 That is actually the whole joke. Louis Beryl 00:01:17 I think you could do a whole series on a designer cries. That would be good. Daria Gonzalez 00:01:23 You know, maybe you Louis you and I should start a podcast called designer cries. Louis Beryl 00:01:26 I think I just make designers cry. Daria Gonzalez 00:01:29 I think me too. Louis Beryl 00:01:32 I want to, I want it to dive into, your background pre Wunderdogs and we’ll get to Wunderdogs in a second, but I wanted, if you would take a minute, I’d love to understand your journey leading up to Wunderdogs. Daria Gonzalez 00:01:45 I went to an architecture school to get an degree in architecture and I was lucky enough to get a part-time job two years after I started in college. And, I realized within like two months that I was a really $*#&^% architect and I should not ever do it. , I didn’t have discipline, I didn’t have dedication. So I just quit right away and moved to Berlin and launched a booking agency for musicians to kind of host live shows, mostly between Berlin and Russia. I’m half Russian, half Cuban, by the way. So kind of grew up between these two countries, and that did for a few… Louis Beryl 00:02:34 That like you’re Curussian. Daria Gonzalez 00:02:38 [Laughing] You know what, Louis, I’m glad it’s at least not a spy joke, but … Louis Beryl 00:02:42 [Laughing] Yeah exactly. Daria Gonzalez 00:03:16 This is good. This is actually a good joke thank you. [Laughing] But, so I, I was doing this, kind of music business for awhile then, the, I had to go back to Russia to get my final, you know, final exams because I was still starting as an architect from somehow and, went back, decided to stay, and ended up like traveling a whole bunch, across Russia, like in Siberia, you know, far East, very, very kind of, bizarre places. And that prompted me to create a digital magazine for foreign travelers who wanted to see Russia off the beaten path, but didn’t necessarily know how to. So it was kind of like a very inspiring how-to-guide that was also kind of mixed up a little bit with Airbnb or like crowd surf. Louis Beryl 00:03:36 Yeah. And I, and I heard you ended up living in Siberia with dog breeders or, or like, how did, so how did that happen? Daria Gonzalez 00:03:45 Well, that’s how it happened. You know, you don’t want to launch a business, you have to know it A to Z. So, I ended up, yeah, I spent about two months with, deer breeders, actually reindeer breeders… Louis Beryl 00:03:58 Oh they were a lot of deer breeders. Daria Gonzalez 00:04:00 But there were a lot of dogs too. Louis Beryl 00:04:02 Reindeer breeders. Daria Gonzalez 00:04:28 Yes reindeer breeders. , living there for like two months with them are nomadic, they’re, you know, kind of like a real tribe. , it was fun. Louis Beryl 00:04:13 Basically what I’m thinking in my head is you couldn’t be farther from starting a tech creative agency. Okay. You’re in Siberia, you know, sleeping, you know, with the reindeer reindeer breeder tribe, how do you, how do you bring it back? Daria Gonzalez 00:04:28 It’s very, you know, just life happens somehow. So, my magazine ended up being acquired by a large media and, I, you know, kind of from the buckwheat soup and Siberia, I went to be a media producer. So I was producing different digital projects like magazines or, you know, storytelling apps, within that media. And then what happened was there was this media consultant who my boss hired to essentially give us advice on how to build iPad news apps. No one knew that it was a horrible idea and so this media consultant was this young, handsome gentleman. He wore this awesome suit, and everyone was listening to him. And so I came up to him cause I was 24 and no one would listen to me at the time. And so I came up to him and I just asked, you know, how did you get there, where you are? And he said, I got my MBA degree at London business school, but my English was really bad at the time. So I heard NBA. And instead of researching, I just kept telling everyone I’m going to get to America and get my NBA. Until my Mom told me that I was not tall enough to play basketball. Louis Beryl 00:05:48 [Laughing] Daria Gonzalez 00:05:54 So and I started Googling what MBA actually was, learned about Stanford and Harvard and ended up first time in America for the first time. My first kind of place to step my foot on was Palo Alto, which I was a hundred percent sure, was sprawling with drones that deliver pizza and, you know, Elon Musk just walking around, but, instead I saw kind of a village, and it was a little shocking to me, but, it grew on me and, as you know, as I thought that I needed to learn business to become a better entrepreneur, I, you know, was attending all of the classes tirelessly, but by the end of my time at Stanford, I, I kind of realized that, I don’t really like business that much. Louis Beryl 00:06:47 And then from there you go into VC. Daria Gonzalez 00:06:50 Yes. And I know we talked about it yesterday. I know that you really like me saying this, but I’ll say it. I think that this is the kind of least businessy job you can get after, after a business degree, because there’s not even that much accounting involved now. Louis Beryl 00:07:09 You know, I also went into VC after my MBA, so we share that and neither of us lasted particularly long. Daria Gonzalez 00:07:18 Yeah but you know, to be honest, I feel like it’s actually like a really cool profession, especially if you are, you know into this type of just kind of lifestyle and I learned a lot, you know, when I, when I was, in VC and we were investing in, you know, predominantly, super deep tech, kind of the IP driven, you know, startups, I learned a lot about technology and it was just fascinating me, you know, and, eventually, you know, what I started not noticing though, is that all of these really great mostly engineer, type of founders would, you know, really believe in their product, but they would kind of struggle looking past the product features and into the story. So they were struggling telling me what their product is about, what is actually, what is, what is it solving? You know, how is it helping people? And most of their decks also looked quite, just kind of not professional unpolished. And, it was really hard for me to like even getting through these decks because it was just kind of a challenge and eventually I just kind of saw the opportunity, that, you know, helping these engineers, build early stage brands build, you know, the narrative builds the visual appeal of what their products are, could be a great kind of window of opportunity for us. Louis Beryl 00:08:51 So tell me, tell me about starting Wunderdogs and what the real impetus was like, okay. You know, how did you and your co-founder meet? How did you decide this is it, this is what we’re doing. Daria Gonzalez 00:09:02 Essentially. I miss design a lot. And, I saw that all of these people needed design services. , and so I thought, you know, I’m just gonna put out a Facebook post because I’m an old person. I don’t use TikTok. So I put out a Facebook post just saying, you know I’m doing logos now, why don’t you guys come and have me and the person who is my co-founder, her name is Olga. We actually met at that VC that we worked at, we were part of a seed stage fund called GVA capital. And this fund was famous for having bought a huge building that used to be a Catholic church in the middle of San Francisco. And, transferred it into an essentially kind of like an event space. Right. So, my office was inside of a church essentially. Daria Gonzalez 00:10:00 And Olga, my future co-founder was leading all of the operations for conf like renovation, construction, obtaining permits. And it was such a crazy ride that was so hard. And I, you know, I was looking at this amazing woman and I thought, you know, whatever she does, she will always get it done. And of course we bonded a lot in terms of just kind of being entrepreneurial. And, at the end of the day, when we saw this opportunity, she was also eight months pregnant at the time. , we just kind of, yeah, we just kinda went for it. , and, we just called ourselves Wunderdogs. That’s another interesting story. , okay. Tell Louis Beryl 00:10:42 Me why, why didn’t you call yourself Wunderdogs? Daria Gonzalez 00:10:44 So when, when we decided to start Wunderdogs, I used to live two blocks away from the original birthplace of Hell’s Angels actually. , and that was, in the, in the neighborhood called Dog Patch, in San Francisco. And so that’s essentially how, was one of the reasons why we called them Wunderdogs, the actual kind of smarter idea behind it is that we take underdogs, you know, do some magic, do some wonders, and then they become big dogs, which kind of ties up to our value proposition if you will. Which is how being a high growth, you know, early stage, mostly organizations launch their products, and grow them. Louis Beryl 00:11:32 You’re back at the very beginning, you’ve just named the, the creative agency, Wunderdogs, it’s you and Olga, tell me about finding your first clients. How did you do that? Daria Gonzalez 00:11:41 It’s fairly easy if you are the only creative person graduating out of a hundred, 450 people business class to be very so I definitely, even though when I was graduating out of Stanford, I didn’t exactly know what would be the value of this two years. I spent in business school. This definitely kind of already paid back, because, you know, I was the one who was always drawing something during all of the classes instead of making notes in the lectures. So, I kind of back there built this personal brand of, you know, the creative one. And, when we started it, the first clients I had where, you know, my classmates or people who knew me from there who were starting businesses and just saw my notes on Facebook and came in and, you know, that’s how we kind of were operating for maybe the, even like the first six months and then, word of mouth, converted it into, you know, second, third, four, four times removed, folks and maybe other creative or design folks will also share it with you, but it’s actually extremely hard to do good marketing for a foreign agency and possibly lose. Daria Gonzalez 00:13:02 That’s why… Louis Beryl 00:13:03 I know shameless Rocketplace plug Rocketplace is a platform that helps you find new businesses. That’s exactly why we exist. It is difficult. Daria Gonzalez 00:13:13 Yes, so it’s very difficult and predominantly it is difficult because it’s a very human to human business. So a brand, you know, is your baby. You don’t want to be trusting it to the strangers yet. You realize that you can’t really raise it on your own. So people are extremely risk averse when it comes down to, you know, creative services around their startups, especially startups. , and that’s why it’s very hard to just be like, ah, let’s just run this campaign, on LinkedIn and just people are gonna come to you. , and another reason it’s also like, it depends on what type of agency you are, but, I would say that our prices, even though they’re not very high spec, especially kind of California level, they’re still too high for like a successful LinkedIn or any other marketing campaign. Yeah. There’s just way too much steps and way too much education also to be done to a potential client before actually finding them. Louis Beryl 00:14:20 I want to come back to finding your first clients starting Wunderdogs. I know that you bootstrapped Wunderdogs and, but you were, you, you had VC experience. So you know, all these founders who are raising money and you’ve seen that you probably have a bunch of Stanford business school classmates who are also raising money. I want to know why, why did you, why did you do it and, and how did you make it work? Daria Gonzalez 00:14:45 Well creative agencies not necessarily venture business, right. So we do not experience as much of scaling and growth as most of the investment worthy. Let’s go that way. Businesses do. , and, no, not really. So I never really wanted to launch a high growth business, or a startup let’s call it that way because I, it’s a very kind of personal thing. I just don’t really like to know that I owe people anything and, with all of this kind of, you know, investments and, and people kind of losing money, it just, you know, I came from, from the type of, kind of financial backgrounds that it’s makes me feel uncomfortable when I know that I can lose someone else’s money. Yeah. So I just didn’t want to be dependent on anyone on and especially because I knew exactly what type of company I wanted to build, and I didn’t really want to have to follow the advice of people who not necessarily were aware of my industry. So kind of, I would, I would say it’s both of these reasons. Yeah. So we, we just had a little money saved up and we, kind of went for it. We always were setting up certain timelines, you know, as in, if in three months we don’t get here done, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it. Or if a next two months we don’t get here, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing it Louis Beryl 00:16:23 Well in, tell me tell me more about that. So, you know, in those first three, six months, what were the very hardest things? Daria Gonzalez 00:16:29 So clients were still hard for us and others, I would say another thing that was hard is, and it’s something that we actually still sometimes encounter is, how hard it is to position ourselves in the agency world. Because, even though I truly believe that for the startups, especially, or even, you know, larger, innovative organizations, we really provide a very kind of crystal clear value. We provide everything at very high speed at, you know, with an understanding of how technology businesses work. , and we also don’t have we’re, we’re fully remote by choice. , we, we kind of started that way and we, so we also don’t have this huge overhead costs on, you know, the offices and some excessive personnel sometimes that, yeah, it’s still, it was still very hard to convince people that without an office we can provide, you know, high quality work. They were all very used to, you know, the fact that if I, if I work with a creative agency, like fancy looking assistants, should let me in this beautiful room and there should be all of these crazy images and advertisements that they’ve won Webby awards for. But the point is to listen to my taste and experience a lot of the creative agency, traditional industries, extremely outdated, and a lot of their perks and kinds of traditions. They are just going, becoming roadblocks to providing high quality work on time and on a budget, especially on a startup budget. Louis Beryl 00:18:22 Okay. So today Wunderdogs is a global design consultancy, and you have a whole bunch of services and you actually serve clients from very small, just starting out to really large, Fortune 500 sized companies. I’d love to hear a little bit more about, you know, when we say global design consultancy, what does that mean? What are the services that Wunderdogs provides? Daria Gonzalez 00:18:47 It’s kind of, I feel like all of these attempts to explain what the firm does in one word, like creative agency, design, consultancy, you know, design firm and all of these fancy future proof and to end solutions is horrible. It’s a horrible tradition, but unfortunately, many people still kind of require some sort of a lingo, to build trust. You know, so we essentially, in a way, also another kind of piece of information here is that branding itself is extremely complex as a service. It’s really hard to explain to folks who have never done it before, or never worked with anyone before on what it is, why it matters. , and so lots of agencies call themselves nowadays design consultancies to project. This kind of 360 approach is that their team will apply to the client’s brand, right? Because the actual translation or kind of meaning of branding is what people talk about your company when you’re not in the room. Louis Beryl 00:20:03 A very impressive marketer once said to me that your brand is the sum total of all the experiences that people have with your company all the time, right? Whether or not that’s those experiences are, you know, when they’re using your product or when people are talking about your product. Daria Gonzalez 00:20:23 Exactly. That’s exactly it. And then now imagine how hard it is to actually explain what the hell does this mean to someone who never deals with this before. And so essentially what Wunderdogs do the way I am trying to position ourselves is, we are we are a creative firm that assists with everything related to product. So think about this, right? You need to launch a product or you need to fundraise. What would you need from creative people to do that? You will need to help to create a story. You will need help to make it into a pitch and design a pitch deck. You will need help with, you know, logo, visual identity. You will need help to understand who to talk to and kind of what channels to use. And then further down the line you’ll need help, with your digital landing and then, kind of a strategy on how to approach this product launch. And it wasn’t this, even though to me, it already sounds pretty straightforward. I understand that it’s like a lot, a long list of bullet points. Louis Beryl 00:21:31 Our, our audience, we have, we have a lot of, a lot of founders, a lot of people working on innovative things out there, listening to our podcast. You know, when, when a client is approaching Wunderdogs, what is, what is the ideal client? What are the, what are the things that they’re doing, or the questions that they should be asking when they’re, when they think about working with you or working with a different agency or working with an agency at all? Daria Gonzalez 00:21:57 , our ideal client, is a company that’s technology driven. So they’re building something new. And most of the time they actually struggle with translating complex tech language and to approachable and relatable narrative, both kind of text-wise and visuals wise. , so that’s, that’s our ideal client. So probably 70% of our clients are B2B enterprise deep tech, complex satellites, you know, technologies, because what we’re really love is to dig into complex stuff and rearrange it to me get, you know, Louis Beryl 00:22:41 And that must be, I mean, I know you’ve got some background in this from your VC days, but it must be really tough learning about all these esoteric deep technologies for you and your team, or is that part of why you love it? Daria Gonzalez 00:22:51 It’s tough. It is tough. And it’s part of why we love it, but also, you know, we, we kind of developed a, a huge amount of frameworks and ideas on how for, you know, kind of a, a standard copywriter, for example, to approach, complex solutions with us. So that it’s also quick and doesn’t take too much time to understand, for them. So, that’s, what’s interesting about it because, unlike my perception of creative agencies, what we do is, we try to optimize all of our work streams, in order for the hardest client to become our easiest and most favorite client kind of to become our bulls-eye audience. Right? So that’s, that’s, that’s why I think there’s a huge opportunity because lots of other creative agencies love working on things like, you know, music festivals and, restaurant design, which is really great. But someone has to be doing, you know, high-tech and deep tech as well and it’s very different. Working with startups, their pacing is different. Everything is always due yesterday. There’s lots of pivots you’ll have to be very flexible and agile to be able to iterate you, can’t take a task and spend a month without coming back to them. It’s all, you know, it’s just a very different framework for framework of work. And for me, it’s the ideal one because I get to combine my favorite startup pace with creativity. Louis Beryl 00:24:21 And, and so tell me more about, you know, working with these companies. I mean, how do you set expectations? How do you measure success? Daria Gonzalez 00:24:28 , yeah, so it really depends on mostly the size of the client, I would say. Right? So, different businesses have different types of measure of success. So for example, for our youngest, clients who are probably pre-seed or early stage startups, most of them come to us to help fundraise. To design a pitch deck or create a narrative and help them create an investment worthy narrative, so to speak. So for us, the measure of success is mostly how much money we help them raise. Or our decks help them raise obviously founders, you know, they do a lot of great work to do it themselves as well. And so, for, but for example, for the very large clients, they are ready to spend money to do testing on the branding, and tested with the ideas, and we can provide the service as well, but that’s something that typically comes with what size, you know, how much, how much you want to be investing in order to really make sure that what we’re creating is spot on right away. Daria Gonzalez 00:25:35 And so the smaller the client is the more they’re willing to be iterative and kind of infiltrate the brand in their day-to-day operations and, and make mistakes and see how they can be adjusted. But the larger the client is the less they want to fail or the less they want to pivot with their brand. And so the more they want to be investing and making sure that before the launch of the brand, it’s tested through the audience, to be honest, I really love the startup approach more, but I totally see the value of, you know, the larger clients approach as well, Louis Beryl 00:26:13 Transition to what’s going on in the world. Daria. I know that you, your company has always been remote first and, you know, with everything going on in the world with the pandemic, it actually looks very precious in that you’ve built a remote first company. I’m wondering, what is your opinion on the, on the, on the trend of being remote first, do you think that, our clients going to continue to be more accepting of, of working with remote first companies, has it gotten easier to, work with now that, you know, remote first is actually what they expect Daria Gonzalez 00:26:46 During the economic downturn, you know, it’s hard to say that our work has gotten much easier just because people are more conservative with money spent, especially on marketing, for some reason. But, to be honest, Louis, yes. So I would say that people become way more, open to working with a remote company. And, I feel like, you know, in the last two years, and we’re only two and a half, almost three years old, but we’re fairly young. , and in the last two years, we did kind of manage to break this glass ceiling, of, you know, just by delivering very high quality work and having our work, you know, featured and, and, awards or media. , but it was still a little hard because people expect you to wear an office looking clothes and sit somewhere in the office at least. But, right now having had remote experience and, you know, you notice that I have a perfect wifi connection at old times. My, my entire house is perfect, kind of an office spot for, for me, you know? And so it is for all of my teammates. So in terms of, being a remote company, I feel like it become, it became easier to present ourselves as such, and also it actually provides additional level of just kind of calmness and trust for our clients, because they know that we are sort of thriving in this environment, as opposed to trying to adjust to something that’s extremely novel for us. Louis Beryl 00:28:27 Your company Wunderdogs was prepared for kind of this remote work revolution, but what about your clients? How do you see them adapting? Daria Gonzalez 00:28:36 So we also, again got really lucky because a lot of our clients are tech driven businesses, and I feel like they are prone to adoption way more than more traditional businesses. And a lot of them already had partial remote teams, whether it’s, you know, it team that works elsewhere, or just kind of having several offices. I feel like working with cutting edge companies was really helpful for us, in this sense. But, we also still work with a whole number of, you know, more traditional stores including even retail and with these folks, it’s been very hard on them. So from our end, we actually launched a couple of initiatives as well to provide higher discounts for, you know, companies that want to do “digital transformation” or set up an e-commerce direct to consumer experiences. And, it’s been harder on them, but I feel like it’s kind of good for our business because people think digitally, they think, how to adapt and innovate more nowadays, even if they are traditional business. And, I think that, you know, it’s, it’s really interesting for us to be working in such an environment, but we are trying to help as much as we can. So for example, for a month, we opened what we called Wunderline, which is essentially a professional hotline for founders and kind of business leaders who need any type of advice on how to build a website. Louis Beryl 00:30:19 That’s awesome. Daria Gonzalez 00:30:20 It was really fun. We ended up talking to over a hundred startup founders. , we, you know, someone from our team was on call for two hours every day, for a month. And, we got a lot of like incredible connections and gave away a lot of advice, learned a lot. , and also got like this amazing, just kind of feedback from people around us and actually helped a whole bunch of people. So, you know, we’re feeling fine during the crisis, but we want to help others who are not. Louis Beryl 00:30:57 So another thing I wanted to talk to you about is being a female founded company, and you’re a female founder, your co founders, a female founder. And, but yet you work in a lot of traditionally male dominated industries; technology, VC, you have clients in blockchain and crypto I’m sure, like, and Shell. What’s that, what’s that been like? And, I’d love to hear about, you know, how, how you position the company and how you, you know, any things that you think are changing. Daria Gonzalez 00:31:33 Yeah. So to be completely honest with you in my very personal experience, and you know, I also come from Russia and, some argue it’s way worse there, for a female founder, some actually argue that due to like the USSR, legacy, it’s actually more equal rights in the professional workplace. But, you know, I would say that I actually never really encountered anything that happened specifically to me in the workplace that would make me feel, you know, like I’m less important in the room or unwelcome or threatened, but I’m kind of always also like a tough person. You know, I don’t look like one, but I have a thick skin. I haven’t personally touched on that trend, but I do know that it exists. And, you know, a lot of my female, colleagues and, you know, especially in the creative industry as well, it was so bad probably 10 years ago. , two amazing founders launched a 3% conference, which was a conference about, kind of the fact that there were only 3% of women and the decision-making roles and the creative industry, but it’s mostly about, you know, large creative agencies. So what the funny thing is, out of six people in our executive team, in our company in Wunderdogs, only one is a male. And, it kind of happened by chance. We didn’t really, you know, for, for some of our designers, we even once did kind of like a blind testing on purpose to test if we’re biased towards one end or another, we, we didn’t know who the person was until we actually, you know, saw the, the, the design test that they, they did. And, you know, we have an incredible design team and, you know, a lot of it’s, it’s really fun for me and very kind of hopeful for me to watch how pretty much maybe almost half of our clients are actually either have, either are founded by a woman, startups that run by a woman or have women in decision-making positions. , and, you know, we actually provide quite high discounts as well to people, to minority leaders and female founded companies as well, because we are in a, we’re a small agency, but we’re trying to support other folks, as much as we can. So can’t comment much about the hardships, but I know they exist. Louis Beryl 00:34:16 I want it to end with, you know, as you think back to the starting of Wunderdogs and where you are today, there are a lot of, a lot of entrepreneurs are listening to this podcast. And a lot of these entrepreneurs want to start agencies just like yours, whether that’s a creative agency or a different type of agency, what would be the advice you would give to those, those budding entrepreneurs thinking about starting their own agencies? Daria Gonzalez 00:34:40 So in terms of advice, you know, we started as a very non traditional creative agency because neither me nor Olga, my co-founder, had kind of a pure, you know, designer or brand strategist experience. And, we have struggled a bunch because we didn’t have it, but we also managed to leverage our difference. And, I think what really works for us as a Wunderdogs dose is our additional experience. We’re not only designers, we’re also former investors, former founders, you know, operations and so on. And I think a lot of times, if, you know, if we talk exclusively about designers and the design world, a lot of times designers, state designers, so they can be very keen and adept in terms of design principles and new trends and tools. But if you want to really launch an agency and you want to be a solo, or do you want to be a solo who serves clients, you have to be more than that. , you have to really educate yourself on the type of industry the clients work in and on the type of, you know, just kind of where the world goes, where their business goes, because what’s important, especially nowadays, at least with the clients that we work with is that you’re not just providing design, you’re helping them solve their business problems by means of design and creativity. Louis Beryl 00:36:11 This is true, whether you’re building a design agency or an accounting. Daria Gonzalez 00:36:15 Exactly, exactly. You have to understand what their pressing needs are, how to address them and think kind of beyond, you know, as I mentioned before, what’s cool or trendy, and more into what actually is the solution. What can help them, what can empower them? Louis Beryl 00:36:33 This has been great Daria. I really appreciate it all the time. Thank you for being on the startup stack. It’s been really wonderful, wonderful hearing about Wunderdogs. Thank you for all the time today. Thank you Louis. For more on our conversation today, visit www.rocketplace.com/podcast. We upload a new episode every week. So if you haven’t yet make sure to subscribe to the startup stack in Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to it. Thanks again for joining us. See you next week. Announcer 00:37:06 The Startup Stack written and edited by Hannah Levy, produced by Leah Jackson.
32 minutes | 2 months ago
EPISODE 1: The Search Is On (w/ True Search Founder Josh Withers)🎙
Subscribe to The Startup Stack Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicStitcherSoundCloud It’s safe to say that no company had the 2020 they forecasted. But is it all doom and gloom? Not according to Josh Withers, Founder and General Manager at True Search. This week on The Startup Stack, Josh walks Louis through the year in search, including what companies are hiring for, and why — unexpectedly — so many search companies have been busier than ever. “We’re getting inundated by old world brands that historically weren’t even online. They have to completely transform overnight — and they don’t know where to go. “ – Josh Withers Highlights include: How to pick the right executive recruiter for your company How remote teams are adapting and how remote hiring has changed Current trends in search and executive leadershipHow True is making diversity a central element in all of their searches This Week’s Guest Josh Withers is one of the founders of True and the general manager of True Search North America. He has more than 15 years of experience in executive search and is a specialist in the tech recruiting space. The Startup Stack Host Louis Beryl CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible. Full Episode Transcript Louis Beryl 00:00:00 Why did the elephant get rejected for a job? Josh Withers 00:00:03 No idea. Louis Beryl 00:00:05 His qualifications were completely irrelephant. BOOM! Josh Withers 00:00:11 I mean, you can’t see my face. Louis Beryl 00:00:12 [Laughing] If only you can see your face on the podcast. Louis Beryl 00:00:16 This week we’re talking to Josh Withers, Founder, General Manager at True Search global talent and recruiting company. I’ve known Josh since 2012 and the search industry has changed a lot since Josh entered the game. Like most things changed it’s changed a lot in the last six months too. We talk about it at all, from how the tech industry and search is on fire right now, all the way to hiring with remote teams and how companies are very quickly adapting. And also to the industry is focused on diversity, what true is doing on their end to make diversity a central element in every one of their searches. We also get a lot of advice from Josh along the way. Let’s get into it. I remember sitting down with you and your partners. I think it was eight years ago right as you, you know, they were probably six or seven of us in a conference room right as you were starting this firm. And, you know, honestly, it’s incredible to see all the success that you’ve had with True and how, how much has it’s grown, how much it’s grown. I’d like to ask you. As you reflect on this success, what do you think some of the driving forces have been that it’s enabled you to grow so much and so quickly? Josh Withers 00:01:20 Yeah. I sort of reflect on this occasionally. I think it’s, I think it’s a number of things. I, you know, one, we were and still are pretty focused on tech. And so just, just that alone gave us incredible tailwinds. Right. And so, you know, we, we can’t take all the credit for the growth cause certainly that industry was booming. , you know, all throughout our, our career, uh, at True so far. And even right now, uh, we’re experiencing a huge upswing in activity kind of post, you know, people getting used to these shutdowns and things. And I can speak to that if you want later. But so that, that was definitely part of it. But, uh, aside from that, there were a couple of things we did early on that I think we’re pretty different. So one, we launched what is now called Thrive, which is basically a tool for us to track who we’re talking to, but also show clients who we’re talking to and who we’re going after. And just giving full transparency into our process. It’s like opening up your, you know, your CRM or whatever, and say like here’s the funnel and here’s what’s happening in the funnel. , and, and most firms just didn’t do that. Right. And so now, even though you can buy our software, you can buy competitive software, you can build your own. Louis Beryl 00:02:36 I mean, which is incredible. I don’t know if you want to talk about it, but Thrive has become an incredible business just on its own, right? Josh Withers 00:02:42 Yeah, no, totally. I mean, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a real SAAS business, uh, you know, it’s on it, it’s kind of a standalone business at this point. We have corporate customers. I don’t know if I could talk about all of them, but, you know, some, some large name brand household companies use it in their executive search teams. , and then a variety of private equity and venture firms. And then even some of our direct competitors use it, and our, our feeling on that was, you know, the industry is going to move forward in this way and we would rather have them buy our software than somebody else’s. And it also just helps that software just get better, not only for the industry, but for us, because, you know, they come with new ideas and new feature requests and things like that. So, so, so that’s been, that’s been fun to kind of see that journey, and also see a software company being built, because we help software companies all the time, or at least I do that’s, that’s my specialty. So I was really interested in kind of walking a little bit. Right. But that was like, that was pretty new at the time and was a big differentiator for us early. , and even now like the firms that have sort of bolted this on, it’s not like it’s core to their DNA or philosophy to be completely transparent and candid on what’s going on. So I think, you know, some firms were like reluctantly pulled into it, frankly. And we, we sort of had that sensibility from the beginning. So that kind of consultative open piece was, was definitely a part of it. I think also we’ve never focused on BD or sales revenue. We just never have. We still don’t, we don’t have quotas for our teams. You know we do measure client satisfaction. We measure candidate satisfaction. We measure the team that you’re working with, their satisfaction, both down sideways up. Right. You know, our whole thing is like, if your, if your clients like you, your candidates like you and your team likes you, you’re probably going to have plenty of work and that’s, that’s born out. Right. Most of the people that are here have built more than they’ve ever built anywhere else, even though we don’t have quotas[c][d]. Right. , so, so that’s another piece and that definitely became an attractive point. There’s some other pieces about our culture, that I think are also attractive, but we were sort of like adding clients and then adding people and adding clients and adding people. And then as, as the sort of word got out on both fronts that we are here, we are doing something different. We, it kind of snowballed and, and we just scaled quickly. So, you know, across the different business units and everything else that we’re doing, I think we’re around 340 350 people, something like that, the bulk of it will be on the recruiting side. So, you know, we just passed. We’re the seventh largest search firm in the U S at this point. , I don’t really know the global numbers, but we’re more of an emerging player there. , but yeah, it’s been quite a ride. Louis Beryl 00:05:26 Yeah, that’s great. I, you know, I think I’d love to maybe just take a pause for a second. You guys have become so big in our industry. I think I forget for a second that some of our listeners might not, might not know who true is, but you know, you have 14 offices around the world, you know, maybe you could take a second and tell us a little bit more about, you know, what is True today? What are you guys really special about? Josh Withers 00:05:48 And so, you know, when we started, we, as I mentioned earlier, we were really focused on tech. And I think to some degree that’s still true. Like the bulk of our will be with, kind of pure play tech companies, whether it’s, B2B or conser, that said, we’ve also expanded quite a bit into areas where maybe they’re tech enabled either services or, you know, conser companies. And really what we’ve done is, is set ourselves up as the firm that you can go to when you need a, a growth executive, you know, someone who can kind of take you to the next level, whether it’s a, a seed company or a public company, if you need someone that can really change sort of the, the fate of sort of what that function is doing or what the business is doing, bring some innovation, bring some scale.[e] That’s really our sweet spot. You know, where, where we’re not great is like the maintenance mode exact for the fortune 50. Like that’s just not us. Right. , there’s plenty of firms that do that. Or maybe not plenty, there’s a few, you know, four or five big ones, but, but we know sort of the innovative growth people just cause that’s what we’ve been doing this whole time. And so it doesn’t matter if it’s an old line world, you know, business that’s coming to the new world and wants to digitize it or whatever, or if it’s like a digitally native, you know, that that’s sort of our wheelhouse and our network. You know, we’ve so we’ve grown geographically, as you mentioned. So , pretty strong coverage here in the U.S. and, you know, we operate in any kind of state that needs us with, you know, the, the kind of key or bulk of the offices being on the coast and then internationally, we’re pretty good size in Europe at this point. , so the main offices are London, Berlin, and Stockholm. Uh, and then, uh, and then I’m probably going to even miss some offices and then Asia Pac, so Australia and Singapore are growing nicely. The client base sort of looks very similar to what it does here in the U.S. right. What I kind of just mentioned, the other thing that’s happened, in terms of what we do and how we help, uh, one way to think about it is just from a functional perspective. So most of the work we do is kind of CEO and board, and then the direct reports into, to CEOs. So that will be, you know, we have a team that specializes in go-to-market. So sales, marketing, customer success. Uh, we have a team that specializes in what we call PDT, uh, product, data technology, that’s your VPs, eng, product management, CTOs, things like that. We have a CFO team that does all kinds of financial officers. You have, uh, people in the talent and legal team, which is, people, han resources, talent, acquisition, uh, legal general counsel, and then the CEO and board practice, of course. , and then from there, you know, we will do some second line or third line work with, with larger companies. But if it’s a startup, it tends to be kind of like head or like VP level and up. Louis Beryl 00:08:39 There, there’s been an incredible amount of growth. What have been some of the challenges from, from this growth? Josh Withers 00:08:45 Yeah, I think it’s not unlike a lot of our clients, you know, one is just operationally keeping all the systems in place and the training in place that you need to sustain it. Things break along the way and you need to kind of redo it. Right. And culture is the same way, right? Like we, we sort of pride ourselves on having a little bit of a different or unique culture for the search industry. And so how do you, how do you maintain that? Right. , so it was just an active kind of focus of ours, you know, constantly talking about it, being very thorough in interviewing and vetting processes. , we didn’t always get it right, but I think we’ve learned along the way, how to try to, kind of keep closer to it or ensure that we’re staying on the right track. We’ve also hired like some really killer, like operational people across, you know, marketing and finance and training and recruiting and things like that for our internal stuff where, you know, the founding team myself included, we don’t really have to like focus on that much because we have it’s in very capable hands and, you know, I still do recruiting myself. Right. Those are, those are probably the hardest things. , and you know, we’re, we’re still to some degree struggling with them. We were also like a very, we try new things kind of place. So I sort of joke with people when I’m interviewing. I don’t, I don’t really mean this, but I think it speaks to the point. I basically say like, if you’re the type of person that eats the same turkey sandwich from the same deli every day, we might not be for you. Because we’re constantly changing and trying new things. And so what that means is, you know, the minute you learn something it’s going to change. And so, you know, whether it’s a system or policy or messaging or whatever. , and so, you know, like there’s a certain level of, uh, adaptability or, uh, uh, ambiguity that you have to be sort of, willing to accept here. Louis Beryl 00:10:29 How would you describe what it is to be an executive recruiter? And why should your future clients, why should they think about hiring you versus maybe talking to their investors or you, or, you know, searching within their own network? Josh Withers 00:10:46 So I think, you know, you should start with your own network. You should start with your investor’s network. , absolutely. You can meet some great people through that. , they can help, you know, if they know you and they know the culture, then you know, some of those cultural fit questions I mentioned, maybe, maybe you lessen the risk there because there is a sort of common DNA or understanding of who you are. That said, you know, the individual’s network is limited, right? A lot of the people that tend to get referred to as entrepreneurs from a board network are people who are already in great jobs, or maybe don’t want to go back to that early stage again. And so they’re great as folks to bounce ideas off of and think about like, Hey, how am I going to build this company? What should this spec look like? How should I be thinking about this hire? Like those, those are all useful things, right? Outside of just, you know, finding someone that can come take your position. But once you get sort of one step removed from that, like an immediate network, the amount of risk you take on someone just goes up, right. There’s less accountability because they’re not as tight in your network. There’s less of a chance for cultural fit. Because they don’t know each other as well. Right. , and so, you know, figuring out a way to design a process, that’s where it comes to being, bringing in an outside recruiter. Right. So we can work with you to figure out is this the right spec? How’s the market gonna react to this? What are the challenges you’re going to face? , what’s the comp levels we should be thinking about? Louis Beryl 00:12:15 What are the trends on top you should be thinking about, you know, uh, what is, uh, what does a good process look like? What are the, what are the pitfalls of a process? How do we design it the right way to eliminate risk? How do you do back channel referencing and on sheet referencing? What’s the difference when you do them? You know, how do you negotiate compensation? You know, they’re there, there are so many aspects of this. , and then just how you cover the landscape of potential candidates in the right way. Like, should you only look in your domain? Should you look outside? What are the trade offs, right. Do you look at a proven, uh, been there done that exec or do you look at an up and comer? What are the trade offs? What does that mean? How do you do the searches differently? Louis Beryl 00:12:54 A couple of the things that I always think about also, including everything you said, which I think is critical is two things that I think really for me, I, one of the reasons that I always like and recommend working with executive search firms. Which is really helping the company they understand what good looks like. And I think sometimes if, especially for younger entrepreneurs or newer entrepreneurs that are looking in their network, if they haven’t surveyed the market, there, there can be some uncertainty there, even if they make a hire of like, what else was out there. Right. And, what does great look like for our company right now? And then I think the other thing I always think about is quite honestly, just speed, speed to hire, right. Is that, you know, even if I ended, even if a company ends up hiring through their network, is it worth that taking three extra months to, you know, or six extra months versus finding a great hire faster, or getting, you know, getting to that decision more quickly. So those are some of the ways I always think about it. Josh Withers 00:13:53 Yeah. I mean, those are all, those are all spot on, and to your point around, like what good looks like. It’s really interesting. I had this conversation the other day with, uh, with someone, I guess it was internally, but, it was an investor in a, in a business where we just placed on one, you know, my, my sort of comment was their, their bar was too low when we were going through the pitch process and they were kind of sharing profiles. They liked it, we knew that we were going to crush that search because we knew we can get better for them than what they thought they could get for themselves. And that’s what happened. So that, that actually happens like a fair amount. We sort of see some of the calibration candidates that are misspeaking speaking to them. We’re like, Oh, okay, well, this is, this is easy to make them happy. Right. And then in other cases, it’s sort of the reverse it’s like for whatever reason, what they want is just too aggressive, right? Like I’m not going to name names, but I talked to the company the other day. And so it’s, pre-revenue, it’s in a super, niche-y like deep tech space. They don’t like any of the other players out there. , cause they don’t think they have figured it out or solved in the right way or whatever. And a lot of the industry is not local to where the business is, but they still want a CEO from this space. Right. And I’m like, that’s not going to happen. You know? And, uh, what you, what you’re gonna, what you’re gonna wanna do is, you know, look at adjacent industries. I mean, you can look at the domain, certainly. Maybe there’s some people there, but you want to, are there adjacent industries we can look at. Are there up and comer profiles we can look at that still solve a lot of the pain points because you know, frankly, most of those proven execs aren’t going to take a pre-revenue role. This is a CEO role and you know, like I I’ll probably lose that pitch, you know? Cause I was, I was probably, they probably didn’t love that. I think the clients, I like to take on them, the ones that go actually like we can have some back and forth about it and, and you know, we can go test the waters together. Right. I don’t mind that. Like we can go look at the proven people and see what they say. I can tell you what they’re mostly going to say, but let’s go find out if that’s true, but let’s also look at these up and comers at the same time. So that way we’re not finding ourselves three months later with zero traction. Right. We can do both, you know? Louis Beryl 00:16:03 I mean, what would you say? How much, wow much client education would you say as part of your job versus the recruiting part of your job? Josh Withers 00:16:11 Yeah, I mean, it, it, it varies, uh, I think if it’s, you know, first time founders, then a lot of times we are helping them through some of the basics of the process. We, we even help, you know, as asked, right. Like helping the team interview. Right. So what are some of the questions they can be asking? How do you focus? Right. Like, so sometimes what we do or what we see in interview processes is, you know, you’ll have six or seven people on the, on the interview panel and they’re all sort of asking the same questions and asking about like career history and, you know, you’re, you’re not really getting to know the candidate that way. Right. You’re getting a surface level sort of introduction. But if we can utilize the strengths of those people to really drill in on the areas that matter most to them and where they’re deepest, and then we can kind of take the holistic view across everything. And then we have a much clearer picture. So helping set up things like that, or even just like, again, kind of going back to something earlier, but like how to, how to conduct back channels in the right way back channel, referencing. Meaning not references that were given by the candidate and doing that in a way that doesn’t burn their confidentiality. Right. , and then setting up processes on the end. So we like to do some sort of a, like a working session at the end, whether it’s, uh, uh, tackling a specific problem or it’s presenting a a hundred day plan or whatever, it’s kinda like a mock board meeting, if you will, or an E team meeting. , we like to do that. The end it’s usually anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours…. Louis Beryl 00:17:38 That’s part of the interview process? Josh Withers 00:17:40 Usually it’s like the finalist. Louis Beryl 00:17:42 Yeah. I couldn’t agree. I couldn’t agree with that more, by the way. That’s what we, whenever we were hiring an executive, always the final step was that, you know, let’s see your hundred day plan for this role. Right. And present it to the rest of the, I mean the interview panel, but essentially the executive team, since we’re talking about executive hiring that’s right. [f] Josh Withers 00:17:59 Yeah. Yeah. And so, uh, you know, the, the, the shortcut that I think people make without using a firm like us is they don’t do that. Right. They, they probably shortcut on references cause you know, they’re busy, right. Like they got stuff to do. And if it was, it was a person referred from their network, like they feel like, okay, that’s good enough. And I don’t have to go probe down. But like the reality is we get checks all the time like, yeah, that person’s a good hand, which is great, but are they good for your role? Right. Like that’s a different question, you know, and one person that’s great for this company is not a great fit for this company, even if they’re in the same space in the same stage. Right. And so, you know, drilling in on those specifics, I think is important. Louis Beryl 00:18:39 So let’s say you have an entrepreneur out there, future client they’re, they’re convinced that they want to hire an executive search firm. What advice would you give to this, this person on what are the questions that they should be asking before they hire a specific firm or as they’re interviewing different firms? Josh Withers 00:18:55 Definitely ask if it had sort of a job description that’s been built, they should share it. , if they have any ideas of candidates that they like, they should share it. , that way they can get feedback on, does this, does this all line up with what you think we can attract? Right. What is your opinion on that? Right. Yeah. , and so in some cases, you know, you, you definitely want to have a firm that’s aggressive and will overreach for you and call people that are, you know, ambitious. Right. , but you know, hopefully they have a backup plan in case that doesn’t work out as well. But, but, uh, but yeah, so get their opinion on this, back in space. And then tell me the last, you know, five, six, 10 searches you’ve done that are similar and what the, what the results were. And can I call two or three of those references if you do that, that’s, that’s a helpful check, but then, you know, you spend a cycle or two with them, you know, an hour, you know, two chunks of 45 minutes to really understand, you know, is this someone that you feel like you can partner with from a, just a chemistry standpoint, you know, like you’re basically going to be talking to these people at least once a week for three months or more. And so, you know, it’s a short term ah marriage, you know, and so you kind of have to, you kind of have to want to be with that person through that journey.[g] Louis Beryl 00:20:11 I would say in every case the higher that we’re making here is an incredibly important one for the company. Josh Withers 00:20:15 Correct yeah. Louis Beryl 00:20:16 You know, the feedback I get from entrepreneurs really centers around two things. I think the first is about costs, you know, and I would love to get your opinion on costs and how entrepreneurs should think about that. Some firms have equity components, others don’t. And then the other thing that I hear from entrepreneurs is yeah, that firm seems great, but I’m just going to be with junior people anyway. And so I’m not even going to be speaking to the partners, so to speak that I got recommended to, you know, what are your opinions on those two points of criticism that I hear from entrepreneurs? Josh Withers 00:20:48 Yeah. I mean, so on the cost thing, it’s, it’s kinda, it goes back to a little bit about what we talked about. Like if you do it yourself and you waste an extra three months or you, you know, you, you hire the wrong person or someone that’s not as good as you could have gotten, what is the sort of lost opportunity costs there in terms of your revenue and valuation and things like that? , yeah, like at the end of the day are, you know, a $100k fee or $85k fee or $150,000 fee, whatever may seem like a lot. But if you look at hopefully right, what that person brings to the table in terms of upside is, is way beyond that. Right. So there’s a multiplier effect that, that you should be getting with these types of hires so that, you know, they’ll, they’ll either buy into that or they won’t, but like, that’s the reality if, if you can place executives like that. [h][i]Right. , and we’ve seen it time and time again with clients of ours that have gone on to be wildly successful where, you know, paying our fees was nothing to drop in the bucket. Right. , even though at the time it might’ve felt, uh, painful. Right. And then on the, on the sort of more junior person side, basically in our industry, we refer to that as the bait and switch, you know, Louis yeah I’ll totally do your search by the way, here’s this junior person that’s not going to do your search. So, you know, ask the question, who’s going to be on this search team. What are their roles? Right. If you ask those questions, if they’re, if they’re, if they’re not truthful with you up front and then they switched later, you know, that’s obviously a bad look and I’m sure that happens out there. Right? I would hope and think that most of our competitors , who I think highly of frankly, are our core competitors, they’ll tell you the truth and you may not like the answer, right. They may say, Oh, well, we’re going to have these other people and they’re going to do this part. And this person does that part, but hopefully they are truthful with you. You, you want to know what you’re getting to your point. Right? So like I, I personally try to bring, if I’m going to bring, if I’m going to use a broader team, I try to bring them into the initial conversation. So that way everyone gets to know each other and we kinda know like, okay, this person has expertise here. And we are, we’re more than happy to outline like, Hey, this is what each person is doing in this effort. , so, so there aren’t any surprises, but I do think it’s an important question to ask, uh, alongside the other ones around like previous work references, that sort of thing Louis Beryl 00:23:10 I want to, I want to shift to the trends you’re seeing and, you know, we’ve got some huge things going on in the world. , we’ve got COVID and global pandemic, we’ve got Black Lives Matter protests and social unrest across the country, a huge focus in the entrepreneurial community, around increasing diversity. We’ve got actually tech companies, thriving and hiring like crazy. I think actually some of the, you know, what I hear over and over again is some of the last couple months have been some of the busiest months ever for people. You know, what, what are you, what are you seeing out there? Josh Withers 00:23:42 We just had our biggest month ever in the history of the firm. Louis Beryl 00:23:45 August? Josh Withers 00:23:46 August. Louis Beryl 00:23:47 And I, and I think when I chatted with you a month ago, you told me July was the biggest month ever in the history of the firm. [Laughing] Josh Withers 00:23:52 I think it was the second biggest maybe, but like, yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s crazy. Louis Beryl 00:23:57 I mean that’s crazy. Josh Withers 00:23:58 Yeah, it is. So, so…. Louis Beryl 00:23:59 Congratulations. Josh Withers 00:24:00 Yeah. No thank you. I saw something. I didn’t read it. So I, I can’t, I can’t claim to know what he said, but, uh, Byron Deeter from Bessemer, who’s obviously super educated and kind of forward thinking on enterprise SAS. , yes, I’ve worked with Bessemer and Byron, so a little bit of a plug, but, he, he talked about sort of the acceleration of cloud and how it’s having its iPhone moment. I sort of, I agree with that. I was, I was trying to articulate it to my Mom the other day and I was so, you know, pardon my terrible analogy here, Louis. But if you go back to like the, the, the time that cars were invented, what was that like the late 1800 or something like that? I’m like, but how many more years until cars were actually like a thing where everybody had them, like another 60 plus years, 80 years, I don’t know, a long time. Right. What if a virus came along and killed all the horses, right after cars were invented, cars wouldn’t take off faster, you know, like that’s what’s happening. Like basically anything in person is, is, is in trouble right now. And so the acceleration to the cloud has just happened so much faster in every industry. Healthcare, right? Like we have a healthcare team, like they’re on fire. Can’t keep up. Our FinTech team Financial services is all transitioning. There’s no branches anymore. Right. People don’t want to do things physically, but that’s on fire. Right. , that’s mentioned infrastructure security, like all that stuff. , and then even conser, you know, obviously there’s certain parts of conser, like, you know, fashion, you know, people aren’t dressing up, so they don’t really buy as many clothes. But you know, there’s a lot of parts of a conser, especially in media gaming entertainment that are just like on fire. And so I think, you know, basically it just completely accelerated moving into the digital and tech world and that’s where we focus. And so we’re just getting inundated by even old world brands that historically weren’t even online ; they have to completely transform overnight. And they don’t know where to go. [j][k]Their old firms that they used to work with and manufacturing or utilities, they don’t know what to do. Right. So it’s firms like us that can help. , so that that’s like, that’s the biggest thing we’ve seen in it. You know, it feels weird to be that busy in the middle of this time, frankly. But, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re happy that it’s the case. Of course, Louis Beryl 00:26:20 Maybe to jp back to the remote experience we’re having right now, I’d love to understand. I imagine there must be some really unique challenges in the search process. I mean, you know, these are such important roles for companies and how are you, how are you giving advice to your clients? I mean, our clients like, okay, we’re going to go through the process, but at the very end, I want to meet this person face to face. Or, or is that not happening? What are people doing right now? Josh Withers 00:26:44 Yeah, it was it’s, it’s evolved, you know, like the first couple of months. So we had a lot of searches go on hold, cause they’re just like, I don’t, we can’t, we can’t do this right now. You know, then it was like, okay, a month, three month, four. It’s like, well, you know, we still need this person. Like, let’s, let’s fire it back up. Louis Beryl 00:27:01 But like on our businesses growing, right, I’ll do this. Josh Withers 00:27:04 Yeah. But like, how do we do it? So there was a lot of conversation around how do you do remote interviewing? How do you take some of these best practices and processes into a digital world? And so we actually did a round table or, you know, uh, uh, town hall, I guess, where we invited a bunch of talent partners. I had a few of them on a panel with me and we kinda shared what we were saying and things we were recommending and had the audience participate as well as it was, it was kind of a fun thing, but it was like super new. And like everyone was talking about it. Right. And like, one of the things that we were talking about was like, okay, like how do you spend enough time with someone to get to know them , from a cultural perspective? Cause you’re not doing closing dinners, you’re not doing lunches or whatever. You’re not doing outings, you know? And so how do you do that? And so, you know, I had one client that had a, they had a Zoom open-ended Zoom conversation where they literally made dinner and had a bottle of wine while they were doing it. Right. And they just talked and they, and they sort of stated ahead of time, like, hey, we’re not really going to talk about business. We just want to get to know each other as people again. So this is her CEO search and they ended up hiring this person. But, but yeah, it was tough. And so there’s a lot of conversation around how to do these creative things to do, et cetera. And then it kind of tapered off. Like we don’t get that question anymore. It feels like people adapted super quickly. And also like, it also feels like there’s not really an end in sight. So people are just like, it is what it is we have to, we have to solve for it. We have to get used to it. , and so they’ve done that now, whether they’re using different types of tech, for video interviewing or whatever, there’s different tools out there, I’m sure that’s happening. And then, you know, to some degree in person meetings are happening. But they tend to be in people’s backyards or on a hike or at a park or, occasionally in the, in an office because there’s no one else in the office. So it’s safer to people that go do that if they want. Right. And I think, you know, we also take into account local laws and county laws. And so that gets tricky too. You know, I have a client in another state and I just, we had to brush up like, what are the county laws? Like, is it okay for, for people to be in an office together? Right. Cause some places it is some places it isn’t right. And so, you know, I think taking, taking into account the county laws, taking into account, like some people’s personal stance, you know, how conservative are they versus not you? I talked to a candidate the other day that the company itself is less conservative. So they have like 10% of the workforce coming back into the offices, which isn’t a lot, but you know, the percentage coming back and this person was interviewing was like, look, I’m, I’m just not gonna be comfortable with that anytime soon. So I’m going to withdraw from the process. They’re two, they’re more conservative or sort of the less conservative than I am and I don’t think that we’re matched, which is really interesting. Cause you never had to think about your like COVID philosophy as like a checkpoint on a spec for something, you know… Louis Beryl 00:29:54 I mean the world has changed. It’s incredible. But you know, to your point, people are adapting really quickly. Josh Withers 00:29:29 Really quickly. Yeah. Louis Beryl 00:30:00 I want to end with a final question, which is, Josh today, if you could give advice to the younger Josh, whether before, before you started True, you know, the other, the younger Josh Withers there’s out there, who are thinking maybe, you know, maybe they’re already in executive search, but you know, they’re still working for that other firm may be thinking about, should I start my own firm? What advice would you give to those budding entrepreneurs? Josh Withers 00:30:41 We’ll just come here instead, but no, no, yeah. Louis Beryl 00:30:30 [Laughing] Yeah that’s good I like that. Josh Withers 00:30:32 Yeah yeah. Well we’ll set you up, but , no, I mean, I look at this, this is sort of probably somewhat cliche, but I mean, I would give this to any, any person at any stage in any industry, but like stay hungry, stay humble. You know, if, if, if you’re constantly working constantly learning and having low ego about it, knowing what you don’t know, trying to fill the gaps and you’re constantly doing that. I’m like, I just look back like, yeah, we’ve, we’ve grown quickly and we’ve crossed a lot of different gates along the way, but I sort of look back every two years and go, wow. Like we didn’t know anything two years ago, you know? And I sort of feel like if you don’t always feel that way, then you’re kind of doing it wrong. You know. Louis Beryl 00:31:10 Josh, thanks so much for the time today. It’s awesome. Hearing all about the story and getting all your advice. I really appreciate it. It was really great. Thank you. Josh Withers 00:31:18 Yeah. I enjoyed the conversation. Thanks. Louis Beryl 00:31:20 For more on our conversation today. Visit www.rocketplace.com/podcast. We upload a new episode every week. So if you haven’t yet make sure to subscribe to The Startup Stack in Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to them. Thanks again for joining us. See you next week. Announcer 00:31:53 The Startup Stack. Written and edited by Hannah Levy, produced by Leah Jackson.
1 minutes | 2 months ago
Meet the Hidden Heroes of Startupland🎙
Talking to the service providers on Rocketplace is the best part of my job. Their stories are incredible. Their tips are invaluable. Their jokes are…well, honestly the jokes are terrible, but you didn’t come for the comedy. So after months of talking with them and thinking “wow, someone should really be recording this” I did just that. And now we have a podcast! It’s a short thirty(ish)-minute series that explores sometimes obscure Rocketplace service areas like SEO or global recruiting through interviews with some of Rocketplace’s best providers. We’ll also get to know these often hidden entrepreneurs, the ones behind so many great startups. What did they build and how did they do it? What were the hard parts and where do they see their industry heading next? (Plus much, much more.) We’re calling it The Startup Stack, and it’s hosted by me, Louis Beryl. If you want to know how to secure a domain name, or when to hire a CFO, or what executives are talking to their coaches about mid-COVID-19 — we have the answers! You’ll also hear a lot of great stories — and many (many) awful jokes. The show launches [INSERT DATE] and we have new episodes weekly. So give it a listen! And if you like it, subscribe. Talk to you soon. Louis, Rocketplace Founder & CEO
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