Focusing on the #codeless space

Image Credit: Pablo Stanley

I have spent most of my time since 2004 operating businesses. While my background by education is engineering and my experience for two decades has been growing businesses, I do not have a knack for software design and product development. I’ve tried to learn how to make websites, tried to learn how to program, but it never really stuck! For me, it just needs to be easier.

So it came as a surprise to me when in December 2019 – just a few shorts months ago – I decided I would allocate some of my time into the role of an Entrepreneur-in-Residence to spend a lot of this year investing in the #codeless (aka #nocode or #lowcode) software development world with the purpose of building a SaaS business.

As I reflected on my life over the last few years a trend had emerged. I was noticing that while my clients were accelerating their revenue lines they were doing so faster than I anticipated. I am well aware that I’m best at what I do, but the results were exceeding my expectations. I also noticed that many of my clients were using tools that I had never had direct experience with.

It’s a new reality. Since January of 2020 I’ve connected with some of my friends in the #codeless space – investors, operators, founders, and creators. I’ve gone in and looked in to the space and tools. I’ve joined a small community of makers based out of Atlanta.

Over the last 12-18 months there has been a growing community – I’ve heard estimates of anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 people – across the globe creating and validating software ideas faster than ever. Not too many examples of any of them generating profitability yet, but there is plenty of opportunity to leverage the tools for existing businesses and it will come for those creating the tools.

In the last 75 days I’ve made a few interesting observations and built a handful of applications and workflows:

  • Building software and playing with tools doesn’t feel as daunting as it used to
  • Playing with ideas increases my knowledge of databases
  • Designing and laying out workflows is utilizing a different part of my brain, building new muscles

The overall journey feels comfortable given three years ago I made the switch from business executive to independent consultant. Moving in to this new world feels like a natural extension. I’m exited to share what I learn.

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A sneak peak in to part of my morning routing

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For the last decade I have been partnering with visionary leaders who have a desire to accelerate their business and push their personal growth to new heights. As an independent consultant for the last two years about 30% of my work is with early stage companies who are taking their understanding of the market and trends and are either solving a meaningful problem or fulfilling a new or growing desire. These leaders are particularly compelling to me when they are fully committed to themselves, have a large appetite to learn and have a large vision for themselves and the customer they serve.

There are three categories of businesses you can create today: service, physical goods, or information products. Many of these leaders tend to focus on service and information. However, when I met with Sky Gilbar and David Silverander, co-founders of Hitch, I was excited to speak with a team tapping into their superpowers and the physical goods category in the food and beverage carry space!

Sky and David’s company has a profound mission to make life easier for everyone who carries food and drink on the go. Hitch is a sustainable brand offering cleverly designed reusable storage to carry food and drink on the go. Their first product is the Hitch Courier, the world’s first water bottle that has a reusable, leak-proof coffee cup hidden inside.

The market for food and drink carry is large and growing. Transparency Market Research estimates that the reusable water bottle market is expected to rise from a $7B valuation to a $10B valuation by 2024. The everyday segment is expected to be the most lucrative segment of the space. When you go beyond water bottles, the data is scattered. It’s likely that the total resuables market will be around $22B by 2022. 

But how we carry reusables is at odds with the current trends and day to day reality. A dense McKinsey report unpacked by Fast Company presents a $900B packaging industry that is growing and growing. The actual logistics of carrying raises the question: How? The reality is there is only so much space when you’re carrying a water bottle and then asked to carry a coffee cup.

There’s a growing trend of people asking if there’s a better way to carry their food and drink. A recent internal Hitch survey found that 80% of people who carry a reusable water bottle won’t carry a reusable cup because it’s too hard to carry. So when you ask someone to carry a water bottle they may carry it, but when you ask them to carry that + another reusable you run into a carry problem, a human problem: too many reusables.

For coffee and water consumers the best experience would be to have a carry product that would allow for both. For people who already carry water bottles, the bottle could carry the reusable coffee cup for you. Think of a premium full-size water bottle with a removable barista-approved coffee cup hidden inside. The water bottle and cup are both double walled, stainless steel, and the cup is coffee shop ready, meaning it’s full-sized and includes a leak-proof lid.

For companies, Hitch presents a new business opportunity. There are many companies looking to freshen up their brand image with digital transformation, sustainability and diversity/equality initiatives often leading the way. Others have connected closely with the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Consumption platform. With Hitch they can:

  • provide means to cut costs for themselves while showing benefits for their employees and their communities.
  • meet their employees through personalized customization.
  • Build brand loyalty
  • Improve the carry experience for their employees through superior design

Hitch is about to drive a movement where millions of people will think consciously about what happens when they use an object, like a paper cup, for just 10 minutes before it goes off to a landfill. There is a growing awareness that paper cups cannot be recycled with cities and coffee shops introducing surcharges or banning them from their coffee shops voluntarily. 

Sky and David have the right background to tackle this market. Sky had led product design and storytelling for multiple startup companies, he co-founded Snapwire, a platform connecting mobile photographers and brands. He’s brought his talents as a consultant to brands like Google and Coca-Cola on brand, sustainability, product, and experience design. David’s wheelhouse is sales, operations and finance having most recently been the COO of an athletic apparel manufacturer. Both share an appreciation for the value of a deeply considered brand with a meaningful vision. 

Sky and David have assembled an impressive team that has the ideal skill set to help them bring an excellent and innovative product to market. With the support of an experienced mechanical engineer and an award-winning product designer, they undertook a deliberate and purposeful design process that has resulted in a truly impressive marriage of aesthetics and functionality. 

Sky and I were introduced in early 2019, got to know one another and spent most of our initial conversations on how to leverage what an individual is best at. When Sky reached back out in the summer I was excited to learn that he had partnered with David and they had launched a project with a large vision leveraging their individual strengths. A tough call to make for many entrepreneurs is burning the boats and taking the island. They both made that call.

Today I am happy to announce that Hitch and Vik Duggal are partnering. I’m excited to join the team as an advisor and help launch the first product.

Let’s do this together!

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How an executive assistant grew her practice by following a clear playbook

The Vik Duggal Workshop aka The Workshop is an offering that is part of DuggalConsulting. Two years ago I started helping friends who wanted to live the consulting lifestyle I had created. I do this through a 2-day offsite specifically dedicated to refining the offer to be sellable immediately after leaving. Some friends take advantage of the ongoing support I provide for six months afterward.

This is my way of taking what I’ve learned creating DuggalConsulting – a business that serves companies ranging from VC-backed technology startups to large companies doing $12B in annual revenue – and by serving my clients to help friends unlock their full potential.

In this case study, I interviewed Ferren Warner from ACE – an executive assistant service that is building a larger business after The Workshop.

Ferren Warner, Founder/CEO, Ace

1. What made you sign up for the workshop?

I knew that my business had a cash flow problem. Honestly, I started the company with my first client being my mom. Yes she was my mom, but as the Chief Medical Officer of the largest public health plan in Southern California transitioning into a consultant traveling 80% of the time.

I thought she was the perfect person for phase one. I think I took for granted that I didn’t have to raise money or bootstrap. I just started doing what I knew best and trusted the rest would go from there.

I quickly realized 15 clients and 10 team members later that I was really in business. Year 1 “proof of concept” was done. And I was headed into Year 2 attempting to up-level everything (team, service, client coverage). I quickly realized to do it well meant a shift in the entire business model…but I didn’t know how to get there.

I was also intrigued. I knew what Vik had done for himself and I saw first hand the success of his hard work (full disclosure he’s a client). I envied the model he was living and breathing. I wanted to learn how to manifest that for myself and my family.

2. What was the most impactful part of the program?

There were so many wonderful parts of the workshop!

(1) I loved the opening and how we were asked to explore answers to a series of prompted questions. My favorite “why are you here?” and “who are you doing this for”. I revisit those questions every, single day. It motivates me beyond words.

(2) crafting our target audience. I can’t believe I had never done this before. I think I was stuck in this “thank god anyone wants this service” mode that I didn’t take time to think through whether I thought they were the ideal client or not. I now have it firmly in my mind who the ideal client is.

(3) Crafting my sales proposition. This was a light bulb shattering moment. When I was finally able to have the words to describe what ACE is meant to be. Not just an on-demand VA service. It’s so much more than that. The value of the service, the ambitious but attainable goal…my mission felt very clear and I am now able to easily identify where my growth opportunities are.

3. What kind of results did you get from the program?

In 30 days I was able to:

– identify my current client base and identify who my ideal clients are, 

– I was able to speak comfortably about the future of the company with existing and new clients, 

– I was able to convert existing clients to the new model, 

– I onboarded new clients, 

– I have made improvements to internal operations with the team and how we function, 

– I brought in $72,000 in the first 45 days and am set up to bring in another $600,000 in the next year.

4. Anything surprise you about the program?

-I was surprised by how emotional I got. What I experienced in that workshop really changed my life. We were talking about everything in the construct of what to do with my business, but the potential it unlocked changed the way I think about my life (and that of my husband and kids). I’m so grateful. Yes, I actually cried at times (outside of the meeting of course).

5. What did you think of the facilitator?

He’s alright 🙂 KIDDING. Vik is incredible! He’s the reason I even came. It was not an insignificant amount of money for me to come, but I didn’t think twice about it. I jumped two feet in because again I’ve seen the outcome of what he’s done for himself and others. I’ve seen his magic. It’s pretty infectious.

6. Who do you think this program is for? 

This program is applicable for almost anyone at any stage of their business journey. I believe it’s for those who are just starting and looking for positioning and value prop support, I believe it’s for those whose businesses grew so quick and organically that they haven’t had time to pause and roadmap (that was me!), I think its for those who are struggling to figure out how to pivot / save their company when they’ve think all options are exhausted… but mostly I think it’s for those who know that life can be exactly what they dream it to be, but need a bit of support putting that into fruition. I feel like I’ve been fortunate to be put in the right place, with the right “support”, at the right time. I’m ready to help others live the richest, most enjoyable, stress-free life they can live. Ace is ready to take off. Let’s do this! 

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