Transcript of Interview with David Greer
Dan: Welcome to another episode of Shoulders of Titans. This is Dan Lok, and today, I have the privilege of introducing you to a successful entrepreneur, an author, and also a professional speaker—someone who also happens to live in the beautiful city of Vancouver. David, welcome to the show.
David: Thanks, Dan.
Dan: Well, David, before we get into the business and entrepreneurship, tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into what you do today.
David: Sure. When I was very young, I think probably around 14, I came to the realization I wanted to take computers and business and put them together. And I was fortunate in the 70’s in high school to have access to computers and be able to program at a very young age. I ended up going to the University of British Columbia to get my computer science degree.
Through a number of circumstances, I ended up joining a young software startup when I was in fourth year. It was named Robelle for the two founders, Robert and Annabelle, and I was the first employee. We were on the leading edge of a mini computer revolution, and Bob and Annabelle required that if I joined the company, I had to write my first technical paper.
So in fourth year, when I was at UBC, I had to ask my professors for permission to take a week off so I could fly to San Jose, where I gave my first presentation. I was 22 years old, standing on the San Jose convention floor, selling software. Of course, I had absolutely no idea that’s what I was doing. I was telling a bunch of computer geeks about this cool stuff and what I could do for them. It was years later before I learned that that was the essence of marketing and sales. I liked the place; I stayed for 20 years and developed it into a global powerhouse.
Dan: David, so from there, being an employee to getting involved with the company, how long were you with the company?
David: I was with the company for 20 years, as I mentioned. I started as an employee. Then, we created an R&D company that I was half owner of, and I became president of that. Then, Annabelle, the “Belle” in Robelle, wanted to retire in 1991. So I bought her out, and we folded up the R&D company into the parent, and then Bob became CEO and I became president, and we ran it together for another 10 years.
In 2001, Bob and I had a difference of opinion regarding the strategy of the company. The way we solved that was that he ended up buying me out. I moved from employee to part-owner to more of an owner through that two-decade journey.
Dan: I’m sure that two decades was all smooth sailing, right?
David: It was never a challenge.
Dan: I’m sure no problems at all during the twenty years. But seriously, what was it like? What did you to grow the company, first of all? Let’s start with that. What did you do to grow the company?
GROWING THE COMPANY
David: Well, to start with, we picked a market that was growing very fast. I joined the company in 1979, and Hewlett-Packard had reintroduced to the market only two years before their Hewlett-Packard 3000 mini computer system. At that time, HP was the 49th largest computer manufacturer in the US. So a lot of people were taking risks to even choose them as their vendor, but many people did. And they sold a lot of that platform. We were an independent software vendor, so we had an arms’-length relationship with HP.
We had two home-run product lines. One was the #1 integrated development environment for that platform, and the other was the high-speed database extract tool. Major divisions of Fortune 500 companies, major parts suppliers in Detroit, $100,000,000 a year and up. Almost every major aerospace company—Boeing, Grumman—they were all using these computer platforms, and they were building databases faster than HP could build faster hardware. We had a software solution that could get their overnight batch reporting finished in time before employees had to log in in the morning.
So we had some very critical solutions in a market that was very fast-growing. Then, Bob and I had a strategy of thought leadership, so for 20 years, he and I each wrote a new paper every year. We traveled the planet giving presentations to technical and management audiences to create belief in this obscure, Vancouver-based software company you were going to trust your whole business to.
Dan: So even back then, you were doing kind of education-based marketing. Now, people talk about thought leadership and things like that, but back then, you were kind of the pioneer of the whole thing.
David: I found that in my experience, Bob and I did many, many pioneering things. Now, people have names for many of those things, and it’s become more formalized. We obviously did it totally by the seat of our pants. We did it by a lot of experimentation and finding out a whole crapload of stuff that didn’t work. Not all of our papers were successful. We just kept trying. I think that that’s truly what we have to do as entrepreneurs. We have to be willing to experiment. Of course, I, like most entrepreneurs, tend to get married to my idea, thinking it’s the greatest thing, whereas you have to realize it’s just an experiment. Go try it, try it for awhile, see if it works. If it doesn’t work, then go try something else.
Dan: During that time, what were some of the biggest challenges that you overcame, and what lessons have you learned from those?
David: I can put them into some classifications. There were some very deep technical challenges. Among the many skills that I think Bob and I brought to the table, we were, I think, pretty smart computer programmers. To do some of the things we needed to do, we had to just write some really clever software and solve some really challenging technical problems. So overcoming technical problems was part of the challenge.
The way the company grew, it kind of grew wherever Bob and Annabelle lived. It started in their apartment in the west end of downtown Vancouver. Then, it moved to their townhouse in Tsawwassen, which is a suburb to the south, and then to their house in Aldergrove, which is a suburb even farther away to the east. So we were doing remote computing in the early 80’s.
David: One of the challenges we had to overcome was that we found the telephone was useful at times. Like if I was stuck on a very difficult technical challenge, and I called Bob and I interrupted whatever he was doing, that was like a good use of the telephone. However, if Bob called me to figure out where we were going to have lunch next week, and I was in the middle of a really deep dive into some software technical challenge, we found that that wasn’t a really good use of the telephone. We liked snail mail; it just was slow. But what we loved about it was, we could go and get the mail when we were ready to get it. So in 1985, we co-invented host-based e-mail to solve that problem.
There were probably a thousand people at that time that invented host-based e-mail. I think that what happened was, the computers got to a certain point, a certain amount of connectivity, where it made total sense. But we did it independently of all the other people who did it at the same time. So we overcame a large problem for ourselves by inventing an electronic mail package.
We then had our first customer, Derek Penton, of the Penton Group, which is now Grainger’s, a very large industrial supply company. He was one of our first test customers outside of the technical realm. We eventually prodisized that, and I think we had about 200 customers worldwide. It wasn’t our biggest success, but by anyone’s standard, it was a really good success. We translated it into German and French and Swedish and had many customers overseas as well as in Canada and the U.S.
That’s kind of the depth and breadth of some of the ways we tackled things. We realized we had our own internal problem, and so we came up with the solution. Then, because we were pretty good product people, we prodisized it and found a way to sell.
Dan: So you solved the problem for yourself and then saw how you could take the solution to other people in the marketplace and how you could benefit them as well.
David: Yes, and we also did a lot of pioneering work in trying to teach people what electronic mail was good for.
Dan: Very interesting.
David: Because remember, it hadn’t been invented yet.
Dan: No gmail yet, huh?
David: No. Microsoft hadn’t released its free Outlook. That all happened around the late 90’s, early 2000’s, as the internet was also exploding.
Dan: It’s also amazing, David, how things that nowadays people take for granted, that back then, it was a big deal just to have e-mail.
David: It was a huge deal. Of course, for me, it’s fascinating, because as I watch people walk down the street doing e-mail on their phone, I wonder if they’re going to bang into a lamppost or get run over at the light. But I can’t help but think they lost the thrust of what Bob and I were getting at. We invented email so that we could get it on our schedule. I have gone back to treating e-mail more that way. I time-box it, and I try and only do it two or three times a day. If it’s urgent and important, text me or call my mobile. I kind of feel like I’m going back 30 years.
ENTREPRENEURS AND INTERRUPTIONS
Dan: That’s actually a great point, because now with technology and social media, a lot of entrepreneurs are interrupted all the time. Even with technology, staying focused is a big problem for entrepreneurs. So what’s your take on that, David, when you work with entrepreneurs?
David: I would suggest, Dan, that we as entrepreneurs let ourselves be interrupted. We maybe don’t do this with total conscious thought, but in some of my presentations, and what I talk about in Wind In Your Sails, I think entrepreneurs should put way more conscious thought into that. For the last several years, for example, when I’ve had a senior leadership position, I’ve let my team know that I’m not going to read company e-mail on the weekend. Period. Then I lived it. I made sure I read no company or responded to any company email on the weekend, which actually takes a lot of discipline.
And I let the senior management team and my team know if it’s urgent and important, here’s my cell number. Text it or call. What happens is, there’s rarely anything so urgent or important that they’ll call you or text you.
Dan: Usually nothing is that urgent. We make everything seem so urgent.
David: Exactly. Maybe once a year.
Dan: That makes sense.
David: So again, you have to actually make really conscious choice around these things. Otherwise, you do live in response mode. You live in a fire-fighting mode rather than a strategic mode. And you as the entrepreneur always have the biggest lever on the business. You are the person who will make your choices. You will have the biggest impact on the business. And I encourage entrepreneurs to be more conscious in the choices that they’re making.
Dan: I’m curious. From there, you exited from the company. Now, you’re working with entrepreneurs. You’re helping entrepreneurs. What made you decide that this is the career you want to pursue?
David: Well, let’s back up a little bit, because I did do something completely different. I think entrepreneurs, by their nature, are just wild and crazy people.
Dan: Yes, we are.
David: And I think we should give ourselves permission to be wild and crazy. So part of my story is that when I sold out of Robelle in 2001—it’s true I was busy chasing the next deal—a guy smarter than me sat me down and said, “David, your kids will never be 11, 9, and 5 again. Do you need to work right away?” I was like, “No, I have a nice check in my jeans. I’m not done for life, but I don’t need to work right away.” Karalee and I made a decision to commission a sailboat in the south of France and to home school our three kids while traveling more than 5,000 miles in the Mediterranean basin.
As a technology entrepreneur, if you wanted to take the last 30 years and choose the best two years to sit it out, 2001 and 2003 would be your best choice. I take no credit for that. That was just fortuitous, but it really allowed me a break after 20 years of just really, really powering up with Robelle and building it into a very successful company. I really needed that break. And it’s a legacy I have for our family for the rest of our lives.
When I came back, I was not positive of what to do. A lot of entrepreneurs that have sold out first give back by angel investing and looking at new startups. So I did that from 2004-2007. I made a number of investments in startup companies; I served on a number of boards; I worked for options. I eventually concluded that that was not fulfilling enough for me. It wasn’t engaging me enough. Remember that I was 22 when I gave my first presentation, and I grew very fast. By age 25, I was the go-to person for giving demonstrations of our software at trade shows, because I had a real knack of asking people what their problem was, getting to the core of it, and then just showing them the 5% of our product that really solved it.
And in working with young—not necessarily in age, but young in role–entrepreneurs, it just was taking so long to get them up the ladder. I finally decided to go back and find more mature companies and work with entrepreneurs that have had to learn a bunch of things the hard way and are more ready to look at new ideas and try new things. And then there was a series of three executive positions. But I did them all because I was helping an entrepreneur friend.
My last gig was VP of Marketing with WebTech Wireless. I was helping out Scott Edmonds, who at the time was CEO of WebTech. It’s North America’s 10th largest provider of telematic solutions. Then after I left WebTech Wireless, I started a process where again, I was experimenting. I knew the marketing/sales landscape was really changing, so I started a process to interview 45 entrepreneurs and senior sales and marketing executives about their #1 challenge in sales and marketing. Through that process, it became clear that I was thinking of doing a white paper and publishing that, but then it became clear it was a much bigger scope, and I ended up writing Wind In Your Sails.
Then, through that process, I came up with the decision to become an entrepreneurial coach and professional speaker. My long-term vision, or what drives me every day, is I want to help 100,000 entrepreneurs step into their single, biggest challenge. That’s my big, hairy, audacious goal.
Dan: I can see that it’s almost like you said, when back at the age of 22, once you experienced being a speaker, being a thought leader, being on stage, not just doing demos, but helping people, providing solutions, impacting businesses, and impacting lives, it sounds almost like a full circle. Now going back to you, that’s when you feel the most alive, the most excited. You took some time off, and now this is your new mission. Did you find that when you were an angel investor that maybe it was a bit too hands-off, a little bit too passive? I’m just guessing, but did you want to work more hands on with entrepreneurs, helping them, nurturing them, developing them?
David: Yes. So for sure for me, I needed to be more hands-on. I think in the role as coach with entrepreneurs, I am OK being more hands-off, because I’m working directly with entrepreneurs and really helping them, coaching them to their next level, whatever is next for them, in a direct way. But yes, as a board member, and I’m just such an ops guy, and someone who’s just got so much done, that yes, I found the hands-off approach just wasn’t—I thought, I don’t know, maybe in a decade, maybe in a decade and a half, when I’m in my seventies, I’ll slow down enough that that’ll work, but not right now.
MISTAKES ENTREPRENEURS MAKE
Dan: That makes sense. So, David, let’s dive into some strategies. With entrepreneurs, when you work with different companies, different entrepreneurs, my first question is: What do you see as common problems or common mistakes that entrepreneurs make that may be holding them back from growing their company?
David: So in Wind In Your Sails, I have 10 strategies. My experience is that most entrepreneurs are really good at three or four of them, okay at another three or four, and might have two they’ve never thought of. So that’s part of why I did the book the way I did, because it took me a long time over my entrepreneur career to actually become aware of these 10 areas your business you can focus on. So that’s one piece. I wrote the book kind of in order, or in an order, and I started with the entrepreneur, because I think how you show up as an entrepreneur is important. We talked about the discipline around firefighting and e-mail and response, so I would say for most entrepreneurs, that’s a rich place to start.
In my new keynote, “Slow Down to Speed Up,” I talk about four vital actions every day. I talk about the start of your day, your plan for your day, your connection to people for that day, and your finish to the day. And literally making one choice for a week to change one aspect in one of those four areas. It’s that sort of small change that can lead to huge changes down the road by just focusing on how you show up every day.
Here’s the deal, and I’m sure every entrepreneur knows this: You have a bad drive to work. People cut you off. You haven’t had enough sleep. You come in, and you’re hot under the collar, and you kind of snap at the first few people you talk to. People assume the business is having a terrible day, because if the entrepreneur’s showing up having a bad day, the business must be having a bad day. Because there’s just this magnification that comes from the entrepreneur. Whereas if you’re strategic and you’re in control and you’re careful about your responses, people are like, “Yeah, yeah, I should do more! We are really flying here! We’re in control!” It’s all about how you show up. So I think that the entrepreneur, him- or herself is the first.
Then the second strategy to talk about from Wind in Your Sails is corporate strategy. I was just responding to someone earlier today about most entrepreneurs. We all suffer from this, me included. In fact, I have my own coach so that I get past this blind spot. In the business rather than on the business. The only way you really successfully start a business is by doing everything. And that was the bottom line. We just went, “We’re crazy, right?” And eventually, we learned how to delegate and hide off activities that we didn’t want to do anymore, but it was a long process.
David: My belief is that if you want to become a high-growth company, you need to spend a minimum of two days in annual planning off-site with your senior management team and at least one day a quarter. You need to put it in everyone’s calendar, you need to commit to it, and you need to make it happen. In addition to one-on-one coaching, I also do strategic facilitation, but I will only work with an entrepreneur who will agree to 12 months. I’ve so often worked with entrepreneurs for two days and come up with that initial plan, which is an initial plan. When you had no plan, and now you have a plan, it’s massive progress. But it’s version one. And it’s probably version three which will finally really start making it happen, but the only way to get to version three is to struggle with version one. The way you keep getting better versions if you keep doing quarterly off-sites, you keep doing the annual off-site, and you keep working on your strategy and your plan.
Another advantage of that is it gets the whole team thinking about the strategy, and it’s a case of the sum being much greater than the parts. That’s the process, and coming up with the appropriate strategy is another key piece. Because as entrepreneurs, if we don’t do that, my experience here is we’re wildly off in all directions. Either that, or we say, “We’ll do what we did last year and do it 5% better.” But maybe your market’s growing at 15%, so “5% better” means you’re losing market share.
Dan: Would you say it’s basically all the senior management? They go off-site? It’s basically thinking together?
David: Yeah, and I have a lot of process. I use stuff from Jim Collins, I use a lot of stuff from Vern Harnish, from Rockefeller Habits and from his new book Scaling Up, and from his one-page strategic plan template, which I think is a fantastic template to get everything down in a couple pages. It also outlines the financial piece of the business. We have the operational and marketing cultural purpose pieces of the business. And you need to visit all of those at least annually.
The other thing that Vern Harnish and Jim Collins talk about, and which I’ve seen more and more entrepreneurs talking about, whether you’re in high tech or any business as a society changes, is that you have to start three years out and work back. “What happened last year? Let’s work forward.” It’s “Where do we need to be pointing the business to be successful in three years, and what does that look like? Broad brush strokes, the markets we’re in, market share, revenue. It’s not going to be perfect, but at least that’s where we’re aiming.” And then from that, you work out to whatever you need to do this year so you can actually get there in three, and then what do you have to do this quarter?
I remember going to my first ever Vern Harnish event and being presented with that idea of thinking three years out and working backwards, and I thought someone had landed from outer space. It was like a completely turn-me-upside-down thought process. For someone who hasn’t gone through that, I think it can be really revealing. It can just have huge impact.
Dan: It’s so simple, but very profound.
David: Yeah, and I found that all great things are really simple in concept and really brutal in execution.
BUILDING MARKETING AND SALES
Dan: We talked about a couple entrepreneur strategies. What about marketing and sales? How do you build those?
David: Again, I think you have to be very clear about the market you’re in. I think you have to be clear about your brand promise. For me as a coach, I’m really clear on my brand promise. It needs to be a measurable brand promise, so my measurable brand promise is to you or to any entrepreneur: If you spend 1 hour with me and one-on-one coaching, 1 hour with my book, or 1 hour at one of my presentations, you will have three ideas to accelerate your business in the next 90 days.
Dan: I agree. It’s very, very clear what the promise is, and it’s got a time frame, vs. some coaches that say, “You work with me, and you might get something.” But yours is very defined. I love it.
David: Yeah, and either you’ll get three ideas, or you won’t. I’m not going to promise you how much acceleration you’ll get, but you will accelerate if you work on those ideas, and that’s my promise to you. And it’s a measurable promise. After 90 days, you can tell me, “David, you are full of you-know-what. Because none of that came true.” And that’s fine. There may be a lot of reasons for that, and I’m always willing to talk to an entrepreneur and say, “Let’s figure out why not.” Because I believe my own stuff. It’s not like marketing bunk. Too many companies have marketing bunk. They say stuff, but then they have no system behind it. That makes it work.
In the book, I talk about Provident Security, which is a security firm based here in Vancouver, and I love Mike Jagger, because he took an industry and turned it on its head. The reality is that in the alarm business, when an alarm goes off, what happens 99.9% of the time, is nothing.
Dan: I was going to say that. It’s nothing. Exactly.
David: So Mike stepped up to the plate and said, “I’m going to make this a brand promise. We’re at your door in 5 minutes, or your money back.” So he made that promise, and he launched his company. Then, what he discovered was, “Oh, holy cow, this is really hard. This is really, really hard.” Like in the initial days, as I recall in my conversation with him, it took 1-2 minutes to call the right person and find out where they were and to get them assigned, and then you only needed two traffic lights to go red on you, and you weren’t going to make your 5-minute window. Now, it’s completely automated. They dispatch the right person, and I think it’s 1-3 seconds using a computer system that’s fully automated and messages directly to the person who’s out in the field, to their mobile device, and tells them where they need to go. He’s built an amazing, amazing set of systems. He’s built what I call in the book a “promise delivery system.” He’s made a promise, but he’s also developed the system that will actually deliver on that promise.
I think two things are missing in a lot of marketing and sales. Sales should be for leads that are going to close in a relatively short fixed amount of time. I’d say 90 days, or better would be 60 or 30. All too often, people that may be interested sometime were not ready to buy. That’s really marketing. That’s lead and lead nurturing. We tend to treat it as sales. I think the other thing from all the sales experts that I know is, you have to have some sort of process to qualify, and there needs to be metrics around each stage in the process that are relatively objective, not subjective. Every salesperson I’ve ever met, including me, thinks they’re going to close the next setup.
But even with complicated sales like software, in a real battle we may get fairly simple. If you were really interested, we were prepared to send you a 30-day trial of our software, which you could install and use for 30 days. It really was time limited. After 30 days, it would stop working. If you had especially the database solution, if you had put it in production and people had actually started to get used to it, you got the phone call the day the 30 days were up, because you had to buy. Because now they depended on it. There was quite a bit of predictability to the pipeline, because you knew how many trials you sent, and you knew how close they were. We had enough track record to know about how many of those would likely close.
So again, you need a documented process, which is missing, I find, in many organizations, even relatively mature organizations with fairly large sales teams. I’ve helped facilitate the creation of the sales process. Usually, your top salespeople have figured out to a process that works. Then, it’s just a process of extracting that information, getting some agreement from management and from the sales manager, and building that process and then starting to build the metrics that actually can measure some of that. That’s how you get better visibility into the sales pipeline and what you can actually believe and not.
THINKING THROUGH A BUSINESS PLAN
Dan: I’m curious to get your point of view, David. We now have technology companies, say a lot of Internet companies, that have the business model where it’s mostly about users. It’s about getting market share. A lot of tech companies, as you know, don’t focus so much on revenue. I get a lot of those type of views as well. They say, “I’ve got this idea, or this app, or this technology,” but they don’t really think it through how they’re going to make money with this. What’s the business model? What’s been your experience?
David: I’ve seen a lot of those too, and most of them, I walk away from. The truth of it is, there can only be a few Facebooks and Twitter. Obviously, there are some markets and places where you might have some special expertise, where if you could build a big enough audience, then there are ways to monetize it. So it’s really, “How believable is it that you would build the audience that you are telling me that you’re going to build?” So someone comes to me and says, “I have 20 years of experience in this vertical, and this is what I’ve observed, and this is what I know is a common problem, and the way I’m going to build an audience for that market places to solve this problem. We’ll do it for free, because then we’re going to monetize it by doing this to that audience,” I’d probably have quite a bit of time for that person. A lot of domain expertise. I’ll start by assuming they’re pretty knowledgeable about the problems, and to then you have to sanity check. Will it make enough sense?
I’m not against it as an idea, it’s just—I forget how many apps there are on the Apple apps store. It’s three million, four million, five million, something like that. And it’s a handful, it’s hundreds, that make, I think—I’m doing this out of my head, which is very dangerous for me—but it’s a very small percentage that make a vast majority of the money. So how is this different than going to the casino and gambling? What is your key differentiated advantage, which gets back to marketing. What share do I get, what are you bringing to it, and why will people love this?
CHALLENGES THEN AND NOW
Dan: Do you think that the tech world, today’s business environment, is more challenging today, or was it more challenging back then?
David: I think it’s always challenging. I think the difference today in some ways is that with the advent of social media, I think it has got to be a much noisier place increasingly. it’s been difficult for quite a while, like a decade, but I think it’s even harder today to rise above the noise. That’s why in Wind in Your Sails, I talk about segmentation. People say, “I’m going to market to the whole world.” Well, you can try boiling the entire Pacific Ocean, but I doubt you’ll have enough heat to actually warm it at all. Whereas if you choose a very small pond, you don’t need a lot of heat to change the temperature. So, again, what are your ponds, and how are they related to each other, and how could you take five ponds and make them into a bigger lake?
All of your strategy and thinking around those marketing segments kind of uses cases and profiles of people, because even if they are in similar markets, some are my age. They may have very different motivations for being interested in a particular solution than someone my children’s age. My youngest still lives at home, so we share the same address and postal code, so you could say we share a whole bunch of other things that make us look similar. But just our age difference alone means that we have very different motivations
Dan: One of the things I love about your book is that you have case studies throughout the entire book. You teach a strategy and then go into some case studies. I find that they are very fascinating. Do you have a good story or case study that you love in the book that you can share with us?
David: Well, I shared one. Provident Security is one of the stories from the book. I mean, I love them all for their own reasons. A third of the content of the book is other people’s stories, which I think is important,. One that just comes to mind is Jeff (?). I can never pronounce Jeff’s last name. It’s a really interesting case history of two partners. They founded a company, and one of the partners immediately said, “For personal reasons, I need to move from Vancouver to London.” Then it turns out that the UK is actually the best place to launch their product.
I love it because the partners agreed early on what it takes it would look like. I love it because they had a product idea, and they met with some very senior managers of hospitals in the UK who essentially told them they didn’t care about their product idea. And they were clever enough to ask, “What do you care about?” One of the managers looked over at a fridge a full of blood and said, “I care about what’s in that fridge.” It turns out that managing blood units in a hospital was a really tough problem. Jeff and his partner then took a really sexy 1970s technology called barcodes. Blood units already had barcodes on them. What their innovation was, was to put a bar code on a human. Again, simple, simple, simple idea, right?
I built them some software, and of course, they were building mobile units that could read these barcodes well before that technology really existed. So they were still way out there in terms of innovating. But, and I think I talk about in the book, a unit of blood in a hospital costs $1000. That’s what it costs. So for them to be able to save units of blood and to predict what was really going to be needed in the OR as opposed to, pre-Neoteric, the solution was to always have too much blood, because you never knew how much you’d need. There was a lot of waste, a lot of extra work. They solved that problem, and then in the end, they had a really—I won’t give it all away, because I want you to read the book—but with their whole exit and how it came about and the honor of the people they were dealing with, I think their story is also very much a people story. Jeff and his partner Lynn were very committed to the people in Neoteric (???) (43:01; also see above), and then they ended up selling to someone who had a lot of integrity and really cared about the people and relationships, which is why they successfully exited.
HOW TO VIEW TECHNOLOGY
Dan: I love the way you think about technology, because a lot of tech entrepreneurs especially, they’ll make this new technology because it’s cool or because they like it. But the way you were doing it, the way you think about it—entrepreneurs always believe we are—and an entrepreneur is a person who solves people’s problems at a profit. I always liked how you think about it as solving people’s problems. Is there a need in the marketplace? If so, let’s build a piece of technology to help solve that. Is that how you think about technology?
David: Absolutely. I’m 100% in agreement. I meet hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs who say, “I’ve invented this. Tell me how to sell it.” Usually my first question is, “Can you tell me someone who would buy it? If the perfect person to buy this walked through the door today, tell me everything you know about them.” That’s always my opening question. “Tell me everything you know about them.” And I would say 99 times out of 100, with just kind of pure play tech entrepreneurs, they have no idea.
Dan: Even at a young age, you were a great salesperson. And yet a lot of entrepreneurs are like techies: They like the technology, but they are not necessarily good with people and reading the market. Is that a problem?
David: I think it really is. For me personally, we go back to when I was 14. Because of a high school teacher and taking the tour of the Alberta government legislator computer systems, I knew I wanted to take computers and business and put them together. To me, that always meant finding a way for them to work, which meant you had to go solve problems. Before I joined Robelle, I actually worked for Premier Cable Systems, which at that time was the largest cable company in all of North America. It covered Vancouver, Burnaby, and Richmond. They were computerizing the largest cable inventory (?) system in North America. So massive challenges, massive technical challenges. I was exposed to these real-world problems every day. Literally every day. For example, people couldn’t log in because the system wasn’t fast enough, or the system worked fine and then it fell over on its head and had terrible performance problems. People that were doing key entry of information into the system needed to have minimum I think a second and a half response time, because that’s what they needed to do their job. So I was just exposed to all this real-world stuff.
I think our schools do a great job of teaching engineers, but there’s a limit to how much a school can really emulate the real world stuff. And also schools give you the problem already dissected. They say, “Here’s the problem. Here’s what you’re going to create. Here’s the problem you’re going to solve.” Then you have to go engineer it. A lot of the art, and really where you become a tech entrepreneur, is building your skills in identifying problems and understanding deep needs from wants.
A lot of people say, “I want this.” Well, that’s great. Are you going to pay for it? The answer is usually no. So the other question that I coach a lot of entrepreneurs on is, when you ask someone, “Is this a problem?” and they say “Yes, and this is what I want,” I say, ask this fantastic three-letter question: Why? W-h-y. If you can ask why three times to someone—okay, you want to have the thing dancing on the pinhead. Well, why is it important to you two have the thing dancing on the pinhead? “Well, because my boss needs it to dance on the pinhead.” Tell me, why is it important to your boss? Ask it three times, and usually, you will either be converging on a root problem, or it’s going to be all over the place. And if it’s all over the place, you’re on the wrong path. And if you’re converging on a root problem, you’re probably getting down to a real deep need. And if you’re solving real, deep needs, you’re usually in good shape.
IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A COACH
Dan: Those are very powerful questions. I’m curious how important you think it is as an entrepreneur to have a coach. Like you said, you have a coach now, and you believe in coaching. I’m a very big believer in coaching as well, so why shouldn’t every entrepreneur have a coach?
David: We are completely blind to ourselves. There’s no other way to say it. We need someone else to shine the light into the dark corners that we don’t want to look into.
Dan: It doesn’t matter how unsuccessful, how “beginner” they are, or how successful they are, we’re all blinded. We’re too close to our business.
David: We’re too close. I’ve had this conversation a lot with my coach, who’s Kevin Lawrence. CoachKevin.com. He’s interviewed 300, 400, 500 entrepreneurs now in his career, and we are wild and crazy people. We are different from the rest of the population. That is the bottom line. We are just wired differently. And I think almost everyone can really benefit from a coach, but I think entrepreneurs in particular can, because there is no work/life balance. What BS for an entrepreneur.
Dan: Amen to that!
David: There’s life! We just go do exciting stuff that just gets us out of bed in the morning. And we’re attracted to the next red, shiny ball. It’s what makes us go. And it isn’t always in our own best interest to go let ourselves wander off into the next red, shiny ball. That’s why you need to do strategic planning. That’s why you need to build a plan that only has three simple goals, so that your team can whack you over the head and say, “This was not the shiny red ball that we agreed to go pursue. Maybe in the next strat meeting, you can bring up your new, red, shiny ball. But for now, these are the three we agreed to go pursue, so let’s go.” Your coach helps with that as well.
FINDING THE RIGHT COACH
Dan: Let’s say an entrepreneur is looking for a coach. “But David, there are so many coaches out there!” Everybody’s a coach nowadays, right? How do they go about finding someone that’s the ideal coach for them?
David: I think you have to spend some time with them. I think you have to look at their background. I really focus on entrepreneurs who’ve got their business to at least a million a year in revenue. I’m really not that interested in working with startup entrepreneurs. I talked about some of the reasons why. I think I work better with entrepreneurs who’ve got scar tissue. That’s just me, so partly, I think it’s coaches choosing the right clients, and then I think it’s clients also. You have to look at the coach and their background and see if it resonates for you. If it doesn’t resonate, walk away. Go find someone else. You will find the right coach. But you have to find some resonance in both their background and in your interaction with them.
For example, I’ll spend an hour coaching anyone, startup or otherwise, for free. Just to give someone the experience of what it’s like to be coached, and just as my way of giving back to my community. I make that a standing offer I have, that I’ll happily give any entrepreneur an hour of coaching. After that, people then at least have a better idea of what it’s like to have a coach and what that experience is like. I know some coaches don’t offer that; some do. But that’s another potential. I think you have to meet face-to-face, or at least a pretty deep telephone conversation, and see if there’s a fit.
Dan: And what attracted you to your coach? What attracted you to Coach Kevin?
David: I met Kevin at a Vern Harnish event, because he is a Gazelles-certified coach. That’s Vern Harnish’s organization. And in 5 minutes, Kevin made me more uncomfortable than I had been in a decade. He gave me his card, and I had it beside my phone for 3 weeks. And I tell you, that phone was too heavy to pick up. Then one day, Kevin called me, and he said, “You know, I felt something when we interacted at the Vern Harnish event. Do you want to talk some more?” And we did. I ended up being his client, and I’ve been his client for 8.5 years now.
Dan: Wow. 8.5 years.
David: Yep. We’ve done some amazing, amazing things together.
Dan: That’s how a good coaching relationship should be. It’s not a quick fix. “David, please solve all my problems in an hour.” It’s not that type of relationship.
David: No, it isn’t. And in fact, Kevin insisted that our first coaching session was two full days. And man, we did a crapload of stuff in those two days. Both of us got antsy, and we walked from Jericho to the Cambie Bridge and back, talking and strategizing and doing stuff. He was sending me text messages with ideas we were discussing while we were walking.
Dan: So it’s an in-depth kind of coaching. It’s not just an hour call. It’s very in-depth. And you get to know the coach very well. The coach knows you very well, and what you need to work on.
David: Yeah. There’s a sales maxim, a coaching maxim, and I think it really applies, which is: Connect, then forward. That’s why you can’t expect miracles out of your coach out of the gate, because the two of you have to connect as two humans. And that’s why I love that Coach Kevin spent 16 hours with me so that we just deeply connected out of the gate. Then, we were able to move forward at a pretty good pace. And my preference is to do at least a half day initially, or even a full day, and then—
David: Face-to-face. And then the first six months, at least a half a day a month, plus face-to-face and one one-hour call.
Dan: David, do you give any group coaching?
David: Every time I facilitate strategic planning, I’m group coaching. Group coaching can mean a lot of different things. But there’s no question that when I’m doing facilitation, I’m doing a lot of coaching of the group and group interaction. But again, I only work with an entrepreneur and his or her senior management team. It always starts with the entrepreneur as the client, and what they’re trying to achieve, and then really helping to coach the entrepreneur and their team in ways that they can connect better and work together as a team.
Dan: That’s fantastic. So for our listeners, if they want to get hold of your book, what’s the best way to do that?
David: WindInYourSails.CoachDJGreer.com. To reach me, it’s just CoachDJGreer.com. That’s David James Greer. There’s a contact form that’s really easy to fill out if you want to reach me. And my phone number is at the bottom of every page. That’s my cell number, and I’m happy to speak with you.
Dan: They could also get the book on Amazon. I got mine on Amazon as well. They carry your book on Amazon. Any final thoughts for our listeners? Action steps that they could take?
David: Yeah, I think, How do you want to show up in the office tomorrow?
Dan: You always have these powerful, deep questions. I love it.
David: Make a conscious choice to how you’re going to show up in the office tomorrow. Try that. There’s one thing for you to try.
Dan: Awesome. David, thank you so much for inspiring us today with your amazing story and your wisdom and sharing your thoughts and ideas. I appreciate it. I’m certain that our listeners got a lot out of it as well. So thank you so much.
David: Thank you, Dan. It’s been awesome. I really appreciated the time together today.