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.

Hitch

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!

Before you Learn, Learn How to Learn

41WMr6m43gL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Background

There aren’t a lot of long-form readers today in my network. If you are, hit me up on Twitter. You may be someone who does in fact read magazines and longer fiction, or non-fiction books; but, most are reading micro-content around the Internet. Where and how you put your attention has transformed over the last decade and I’m no different. I had just stopped reading long form content the way I used to.

Last year I had the good fortune of watching the Warren Buffett – HBO Documentary and after a few conversations with friends learned that the best advice he has for people (which he acknowledges most people will never follow) is to “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

 

A number of things culminated toward the end of last year that caused me to sit down and create a plan for increasing my power of knowledge in key areas of importance in my life. Then, last October my good friend Nate Ver Berg dropped Gary Hoover’s The Lifetime Learner’s Guide to Reading and Learning on my desk. I want to share what I learned.

The objective is simple: Increase my power of knowledge in key areas of importance in my life.

The purpose is absolutely clear:

  • I believe it will help me get smarter, faster
  • I can incorporate upgraded beliefs through my practice of reading
  • It is another fast way for me to obtain knowledge
  • Provides mental stimulation
  • Will reduce stress
  • Keep brain sharp
  • Slower memory decline
  • Improve sleep
  • Expand vocabulary
  • Improve memory
  • Improve analytical skills
  • Improve focus and concentration
  • Improve writing skill

My Key Takeaways for reading non-fiction books

  1. It was important to me to have a very specific objective around why I wanted to read.
  2. I now spend less than five minutes gathering key data from the cover flaps, bio, charts/graphs, publisher, edition. I am surprised as how much context I build before I read the first page. Additionally, I will flow through the Table of Contents and ask questions like: what do they mean? is this surprising? does this resonate? If I’m intrigued I’ll even dive into a chapter that stands out to me. I’ll then read the first several pages to get the gist of the book.
  3. Within the first 15-60 minutes I have a good sense of the author’s POV, background and basic take. I’ll also understand the author’s message, key points for me to understand, subject areas within the broader topi area s/he focuses on.
  4. Now it’s time to head to the index (this part is much easier in physical books, but doable on Kindle books as well). I’ll peruse through the index and flip to pages to understand how certain topics relate to the book flipping around the the specific pages the topic leads me to. I’m often surprised to see people, places, words in the index which I didn’t/couldn’t appreciate were related to a subject matter. This expands the knowledge tree.

The Five Ways We Learn

Hoover’s take some time in the book the outline the five ways we learn: study (making notes, asking questions, arguing), conversation (talk to everyone, ask deep questions, probe, LISTEN), observation (pay attention, watch people), experimentation (learn by doing, creative tests) and thinking (make time for thinking – draw, make outlines, sketch, play with ideas, dream up opposite ideas and assumptions, ask “why” about everything, put myself in their shoes).

The biggest takeaway from it all is that we are strongest when we do the combination of reading and learning AND allow information to flow. The latter involved emailing insights and discoveries to friends; explore with others. For me, the writing started almost immediately (in a notebook). I’m not using this blog to allow for the flow of information.

The biggest takeaway from it all is that we are strongest when we do the combination of reading and learning AND allow information to flow.

Conclusion

The most important part of reading is selection. How actively you read matters, but what you choose in the first place matters more. Two people in my network who are voracious readers are Kesav Mohan and Sutha Kamal. They will also openly admit that they are currently going through more books than they should be. I believe they have a good pulse on great books in particular categories and I’m grateful for their support on my journey to increase knowledge.

There are two ways I see to approaching reading: to try to understand the author’s intent, or to attempt to gleam what’s important to to me. I choose the latter.

I’ve now built a solid list of books in the areas of biography, love relationship, parenting, and finance. That’s what important right now and I’m excited to share what I read.

This time of year I often hear people sharing how much they will read in the coming year. Whether you are, or are not someone will read a lot in 2018 I hope you will take some time to think about how you will learn. Wishing you all the best in your quest for knowledge!

Gratitude 2.0: Going deeper in 2018

I’m looking forward to sharing thoughts on this blog related to personal growth, self development and general growth mindset.

Background

Gratitude to me is my being thankful and showing appreciation. I’ve found through my practice of gratitude has slightly shifted the way I see the world for the better. It’s allowed me to slowly remove expectation and replace it with appreciation. In 2017, I spent time on creating and maintaining a daily gratitude practice. With the amount of momentum that has now been built there’s no going back, only going deeper!

There were a handful of activities that comprised most of my effort and energy to build a foundational gratitude practice in 2017. In no order they were:

  • First activity upon waking: Write 3 things am I grateful for this morning
  • Write for two minutes about a joyful moment that occurred within the last 24 hours
  • Shared my gratitude with people in my life (some times to people from my past that I no longer engage with)
  • Specifically show gratitude for the “nothingness” from which everything is born*

These were often documented in a journal, on my Evernote/Notes app in my phone, or said out loud.

*this one is a big deal for me

The net results of my Gratitude 2017 practice

Since I can remember, I’ve been extremely optimistic and positive about my life and the world. That being said, I’ve always lived with a growth mindset, and know there is room for improvement.

What I witnessed through the year were slight shifts in belief for the positive: I believe no one has wronged, or can wrong me; I’m 100% grateful to be alive – what a miracle, I already made it.

Going deeper in 2018

I will continue to practice what I started in 2017 and find ways in 2018 to share with those around me. In general I will deploy gratitude to a greater degree this year: sharing specific things I’m grateful for publicly will likely be part of the plan.

Commission plans, incentive and getting desires sales results

The behavior of sales professionals is easy to shift despite the challenges CEOs face about the lack of revenue coming from the sales organization.

Sometimes I see sales incentive plans that simply outline how much commission a rep will get based on goal. That can work – in mature businesses – especially if the numbers are being met and exceeded consistently. But what about for smaller businesses when the the same type of plan(s) across reps aren’t getting the job done?

Incentive-based sales teams are the second easiest team of any in the organization (first being the leadership/executive team) to shift behavior.

It all comes down the incentive plan. If you, as the CEO aren’t getting the desired results from your sales organization then add to, or change the commission plan.

You may want more top line dollars each month/quarter, you may want a certain amount of booked profit on each transaction, you may want your team to show certain behavior – calls, emails, social activity, face-to-face meetings.

The data that comes back from this is incredible. The fact that other elements below the sales booking number are being measured can provide guidance around what is happening.

Whatever you are looking to have your team do, provide an incentive. You cannot assume that everyone will know what to do.

The incentive will drive behavior.