Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Lesson #303: How to Find Expert Consultants for Your Business

Posted By: George Deeb - 10/16/2018

From time-to-time, you may need to find a consultant to help you with your business.  Sometimes, those needs are high level, like settin...

From time-to-time, you may need to find a consultant to help you with your business.  Sometimes, those needs are high level, like setting strategies or marketing plans.  And, other times, those needs are more point solutions, like a pro in search engine optimization or product sourcing.  Whatever your need may be, there is most likely a consultant out there that is immediately available to help you.  The problem is finding them.  This post will tell you how best to fill your consulting needs.


Not all consultants are created equal.  A business generalist will not have the depth of a domain expert, as an example.  But, on the flipside, maybe your business problems are so broad, that a jack-of-all-trades is well equipped to point you in the right direction to start, to then dig deeper with a different pro on that specific topic, once it is identified.  And, consultants that are well versed in solutions for enterprise scale companies, are most likely not the right consultants to help early stage startups, with much lower budgets.  So, be very clear on exactly what is needed for your specific pain point and company size, and focus there during your consultant interview process.


Now you need to decide how long you think this consultant will be with you, and whether it is a full-time problem or a part-time problem.  Some consultants prefer bigger, longer, full-time assignments.  And, other consultants prefer smaller, shorter, part-time assignments.  So, depending on what your business need is, will dictate what type of consultant you will need, and more importantly, where to look for them.  You will also need to decide if the work needs to be done on-site, in your office, or if the work can be done virtually from the consultant’s office.  The advantage of virtual consultants: it opens up the world of potential talent to you, instead of simply finding someone willing to work in your home market.  That said, some work simply needs to be done in the office working hand-in-hand with your team, for efficiency sake.


Like when hiring employees for your business, it is always best to start with someone you know and trust.  If not for the work itself, for the introductions to potential consultants for you.  So, maybe send an email to your fellow business colleagues or fellow CEO’s, asking if they have run into the same problem in the past, and if they are aware of any experts on that particular topic.  Having that “stamp of approval” from someone you trust that has worked with the consultant in the past, should increase the odds of a successful outcome from the project.


There are several websites out there that have built marketplaces to find consultants by topic, budget and location.  Those include companies like Catalant (US focus), SpareHire (US focus), Talmix (EU focus) and Expert 360 (AU focus) where you can post your exact needs, and experts will bid their expertise and costs for you to choose from.  LinkedIn also has a solution here called Pro Finder, but it is not as big as the other sites listed here, in terms of activity on that site.  There are also sites like GLG and Coleman, where they have a network of thousands of specific domain experts, that you can get on the phone for an hour of their time, typically focused on enterprise scale companies.  So, consider posting your needs on these sites and see how it goes.


Social media is also a good place to look.  Most people on LinkedIn have been recommended by their peers as experts on specific topics.  For example, my LinkedIn network has tagged me as an expert in startups, entrepreneurship, business development, e-commerce, online marketing and venture capital, to name a few.  So, search for people with the keyword topics you need to solve your pain point, and ask them to point you in the right direction.  Someone with 99+ recommendations around the key term “fundraising”, is probably a pretty good fundraiser.  Same thing on Twitter.  Many people on Twitter add hashtags to their profile description with skills that they want to be known for, so search for those Twitter users (e.g., #BusinessCoach).  The problem with Twitter vs. LinkedIn, in Twitter’s case, people are attaching tags to themselves, so you don’t really know if they are really a pro on that topic, or not.  Whereas on LinkedIn, the tags have been made by third party individuals, which adds materially more credibility to their expertise.


If you are looking for very specific point solutions, the freelancer websites could be the way to go.  For example, the other day I needed an expert on the cloud ERP technology Odoo, and I went to freelancer sites like Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr or Guru, where you can type in keywords of what you need, and their search engine will bring back the various talent in their database that should fit the bill.  There are many other freelancer communities based on your specific skillset needed, but the ones I listed above are the big one-stop portal sites that have a little bit of everything.  What I like about the freelancer sites, is you can see how busy/engaged these freelance consultants have been to date, and what their past client reviews have been.  So, again, the importance of third party validation to make sure you are making a smart engagement.


Most of the above is talking about finding specific individuals that can help you with your consulting needs.  You could also consider engaging consulting firms that specialize in your particular pain point.  And, no not the big firms like McKinsey, Bain or BCG, as they work on huge budget projects for huge enterprise companies.  I am talking about the boutique firms you never heard of, like Maddock Douglas, whose expertise is around business innovation and are willing to work with early stage businesses in their target industries.  You can throw Red Rocket in this bucket for your growth strategy needs.  So, do a little digging on Google (e.g., “Chicago Brand Strategy Firm”) and see what you stumble on in the Google results.  Then, ask to speak to their references before engaging them.


Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding around how to find a consultant for your business and your specific pain point.  It is very important you do your homework on that person or firm, to make sure they are the right person to solve your exact situation.  The worst thing you can do is try to force a square peg into a circular hole, as all that will do is result in you wasting valuable time, energy and money to only end up in exactly the same place you started . . . stumped!!


And, just like that, the content for our third book is now complete.  We hope you have enjoyed reading our 303 startup lessons, to date, and continue to leverage them as your trusted how-to handbook for entrepreneurs!!  And, given the topic of this post, we are hoping Red Rocket has proven itself over the years, as your expert growth consultant of choice.  If there is anything we can help you with, don't hesitate to call.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Lesson #302: Business Lessons from the Great Conductors

Posted By: George Deeb - 10/09/2018

I don't usually talk about my personal life in this blog, but the opportunity presented itself.  Music has always been a passion of...

I don't usually talk about my personal life in this blog, but the opportunity presented itself.  Music has always been a passion of mine and played an important part of my life.  I composed a symphony at the age of 16, was the principal clarinetist, rank leader and fanfare band director with the University of Michigan Marching Band while in college, and am a self-taught pianist.  So, I know a little bit about music, as I do business.

I was not surprised when my life-long friend thought I would be interested in watching the below 2009 TED Talk from Itay Talgam, the Israeli musical conductor, which he recently sent to me.  What did surprise me was the content of this video, and how Itay was able to brilliantly tie together leadership lessons from the great conductors in music to similar leadership lessons in the business world.  Take a watch of this video, and then we will continue our discussion below.

As you can see, Itay does a great job of critiquing many different great conductors and their styles, including Carlos Kleiber, Riccardo Muti, Richard Strauss, Herbert Von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein.  A couple things really stood out to me in this video, that you can apply to your businesses.


In music, the job of the conductor is many fold.  The conductor will interpret the music as written by the composer.  The conductor will set the tempo changes.  The conductor will make sure the many individual players perform in unison.  Doesn't that sound familiar to a business CEO, that interprets the business climate, sets strategies, determines the pace of growth and gets all the employees working in harmony towards to goal.  They are exactly the same!!  In both cases, it is a balance between the leader and their staff towards hitting their goals, as a team, while leveraging the individual strengths of its members.


As you saw in this video, no two conductors are the same.  Some gesture with arms big and bold, and others are hardly moving.  Some use a baton, and others their hands.  Some overly emphasize each of their desires, and others only emphasize what they think is most important.  Some are most dynamic during dynamic points in the music, and then change styles entirely during softer points in the score.  Some take a very visible leadership role, and others let the musicians take the lead.  And, like in business, no two CEOs are the same, from A-type personality dictators all the way down to B-type personality enablers.  The key is finding the right style works best for you and is most needed for your business situation and team members; one that will resonate with the team and get them to follow your lead towards hitting your collective goals.


When you saw the video of Riccardo Muti, it looked like he was physically going to suffocate the life out of Don Giovanni, the primary character of the opera he was conducting.  His style was so micro-managerial in nature, that he had to overly communicate his desires to the musicians, at all times, as if the musicians couldn't logically figure out what to do on their own.  As Itay said, he was using the musicians as "instruments, and not as partners" in creating great music.  And, what happened to Riccardo Muti with with that leadership style?  The 700 musicians of La Scala all signed a letter asking him to resign, which he did.  That would be no different in the business world, when you have disgruntled staff wanting to leave a company being micro-managed by an authoritarian CEO.


On the flipside, the videos of Carlos Kleiber and Herbert Von Karajan showed exactly how a conductor should lead.  They weren't overly animated the entire time.  They only got more animated at certain times when they wanted to make sure the music reflected their most-important desires.  At the other times, they calmly set the tempo and let the musicians do their thing.  And, when things were going well, they just soaked it up, visibly showing their pleasure, which served as a pat on the back to the musicians for a job well done.  But, to be clear, when things were repeatedly going awry, a quick glance to the erring musician told them it was time to fix their performance.  This is exactly how a CEO should lead--only get involved when they have to, reward their staff for a job well done and put out business fires as they arise.


My favorite conductor video was the last one, by Leonard Bernstein, one of my favorite composers and conductors of all time, pictured above.  In his video, I was amazed to see his arms did not move once.  Is that even possible for a conductor?  He conducted the entire piece with his eye gestures only.  First, he did not want to get in the way of the musicians shining on this piece.  Second, without overt leadership actions by the conductor, the musicians are forced better to listen to each other in creating one perfect ensemble.  And, third, he is emphasizing the point: at times, less is more.  Each of these are equally important points in the business world.  CEOs need to let their staff shine and get them to work better as a team, even without excessive management, all while getting increased efficiency and focus.


Anyway, I hope you like this comparison between the music world and the business world, two passions of mine that were expertly intertwined in this video by Itay Talgam.  As you have seen in this video (and in your businesses), great conductors (CEO's) "do not interfere" with the creation of great music (businesses) and mentoring great musicians (employees).  Instead, they study their score (business climate) and figure out the best interpretation (business strategy), which they clearly communicate to their musicians (staff), and get out of their way.  I really loved this video!!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at:  @georgedeeb.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Want Your Business to Grow? Complete One Material Action Per Day!

Posted By: George Deeb - 10/05/2018

When you are running a small business, it is really easy to get distracted. Firstly, your own CEO job most likely has a lot of differen...

When you are running a small business, it is really easy to get distracted. Firstly, your own CEO job most likely has a lot of different tasks, from chief strategist to chief bottle washer. Secondly, your team makes many demands on your time, mostly to help point them in the right direction on their projects. And, thirdly, it’s just too easy to get sucked into the random inbound contacts that come into your email box or through social media.

All I can say to you entrepreneurs who are “floating in the wind” of poor time management is: unless you are doing at least one material thing each day to move your business forward towards new revenue or profit heights, you are never going to grow your business as quickly as you could. Allow me to explain.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter: @georgedeeb.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lesson #301: Sales Enablement Tools Help Accelerate Sales

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/28/2018

Over the last several years, many technologies have been developed to help accelerate and automate the sales and marketing functions.  F...

Over the last several years, many technologies have been developed to help accelerate and automate the sales and marketing functions.  First, it was upper funnel tools that help drive customer awareness and consideration through marketing automation, which I have previously written about.  Then, came the middle and lower funnel tools that help drive customer evaluation and purchase through sales enablement tools, which I will talk about in this post.  These sales enablement tools can make a material difference in helping you drive revenue faster, consistently across your entire sales team.


At the end of the day, sales enablement tools arm your sales team with the content, guidance and training they need to effectively communicate and close buying customers.  This includes tools for salesperson training, coaching, content development, communications and customer engagement, coupled with performance analytics reporting designed to best optimize the sales process.  Sales enablement is not about your sales operations (e.g., territory management, capacity management, compensation, systems/CRM/CPQ/SPM, sales forecasting, sales reporting, contract management), which is typically managed by an entirely different sales operations team.


The goal of using sales enablement tools is to set up a scalable and repeatable process to drive revenues, for the entire sales team to follow, anchored by quantifiable metrics and reporting to help prove the ROI of the sales team as a whole, and the individual salespeople therein.  It also serves as the bridge between the sales, marketing, product, and brand teams, to ensure the appropriate documents and messaging desired by marketing, is actually being used by the sales team.  It is designed to make sure the customers see the most preferred content, at the most preferred times in the sales cycle, mapping to the customer journey and increasing conversion rates in the process.  It is also the best tool to create the feedback loop from customers through the sales team back to the product and marketing teams, so they can make the appropriate changes on their end, based on real time customer feedback.  Re-read this post on how important it is for the sales and product/R&D teams to be tied at the hip in creating this customer feedback loop.


There are really three major functional purposes for sales enablement tools: (i) sales content centralization and optimization; (ii) technologies to automate the process; and (iii) sales team reporting and analytics.  The first section is all about organizing the sales content (e.g., email templates, decks, case studies, white papers, competitor intelligence) so it is easily searchable by all sales team members, in a consistent format controlled and approved by the marketing department.  The second section is about setting up ways to automate prospecting, triggering automated emails or direct messaging.  The third section is about getting visibility and insights around the sales team’s activities, demos, win rate and leads generated, optimizing the sales process and qualifying leads along the way.  It tracks data not only from the sales team (individually and collectively), but from the customers’ engagement with the content (e.g., what content did they read the most in the deck, which email template had the best response, what message most lead to a conversion).


Here is a list of the most needed tools within a sales enablement platform:

Content Template CMS—prebuilt for fast and consistent content creation
Persona Management—different content for different end users
Activity Alerts—triggered when prospects take a certain action with content
Automated Actions—emails automatically triggered when certain actions happen
User Success Analytics—are salespeople doing what you want them to do
User Engagement Analytics—which content most used by salesperson and team
Customer Engagement Analytics—at the customer and aggregate levels
Content Creation—ability to create content right inside the platform
Advanced Search—easy to quickly find content by user, type, customer, etc.
Content Importability—ability to quickly upload your current content into system
Presentation Support—ability to present live in person, screen share virtually or on mobile
Content Scoring—which content is most effective to getting a desired outcome
Machine Learning—system learns over time and makes recommendations


These are example metrics that will come out of a sales enablement platform that needs to be optimized, both at the individual and department levels:

Time to Revenue
Quota Attainment
Sales Cycle—Funnel Optimization
Time Spent Selling (vs. other tasks)
Content Usage (by sales team and your customers)
Product Mix (are we selling most desired products)


According to the market research firm, Aberdeen, who studied the benefits of companies using sales enablement tools vs. companies that were not, you can expect the following results, on average, by using sales enablement tools:

2.2x more effective at linking sales actions to revenues
83% more effective at improving productivity with technology
58% more effective at finding, training and retaining sales talent
32% higher sales team quota attainment
24% higher individual sales person quota attainment
23% higher conversion rate

So, as you can see in the above data, sales enablement tools are well worth the investment and should have an immediate payback, if used correctly by sales managers, the sales team and other stakeholders in the business.


There are several key players serving the sales enablement tools market, including Guru, Clearslide and CloudMap.  You can get a good overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the various sales enablement vendors in this great market landscape and list of customer reviews from G2 Crowd.  In addition, beyond traditional sales enablement tasks, there are many other tools to consider to help accelerate sales, including outbound sales call/email tracking and analytics (from players like Outreach, SalesLoft and Yesware) and sales team coaching and onboarding (from players like Gong, Level 11 and Brainshark).  So, research which tools are most needed for your business, and put the most appropriate sales-related technology stack in place.


With sales enablement tools in place, it has never been easier for sales managers to get visibility into what is working and what is not working in their sales process, and training the best of those activities across the full team.  And, it has never been easier to get insights from the actions taken by your customers around your content, to optimize what is most likely going to accelerate conversions from your future efforts.  So, if you are not using sales enablement tools today, perhaps it is time to start.  Especially, if you are a B2B company looking to optimize your outbound sales team.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Lesson #300: Top 10 Traits of High-Performing Marketing Teams

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/21/2018

eCommerce marketers today face two big challenges: designing strategies and campaigns that will stand out from the competition and stayi...

eCommerce marketers today face two big challenges: designing strategies and campaigns that will stand out from the competition and staying abreast of the technological developments needed to compete with and conquer other online companies worldwide.  I reached out to my colleague Erika Jolly Brookes, the CMO at Springbot, an ecommerce marketing data analytics company, to help me in identifying some common traits that are found in some of the most powerful marketing teams in the industry.  Here is what we came up with.

1. They Don’t Make Excuses

The only thing worse than an apology is an excuse. Customers and managers don’t want to hear either one. To be clear, marketing companies DO face circumstances beyond their control: system failures, family emergencies and customers with unreasonable expectations. In all cases, a professional marketing team takes responsibility for all problems or issues that arise in their products or services – even if these issues are not their fault.

2. They Creatively Find Ways to Exceed Expectations

Effective marketing teams always under-promise and over-deliver. They wow their customers with their exceptional customer service, impeccable work ethic and innovative marketing efforts. They solve problems, provide answers and finish ahead of the deadline. In an industry where mediocrity is commonplace and often expected, marketing teams understand one thing: going over the top for customers and managers produces greater job security than any other element of business.

3. They’re Constantly Evaluating Their Performance

High-performing marketing teams are never satisfied with their performance. Their success is not determined by what they’ve accomplished, but instead how that accomplishment springboards to the next challenge. They scrutinize every element of their workflow and look forward to refining their processes for each new campaign. Celebrate your victory, and then get ready to make the next one even more effective.

4. They’re Always Innovating

If there are rules in marketing, your top executives know about them, but they are more focused on finding the next big trend, bright idea and game-changing solution. Great marketers take what they’ve been given from management and create something new out of it. They utilize all tools at their disposal and even develop a few new ones to fuel their high-minded ambitions.

5. They’re Customer-Focused

If marketers are to remain relevant, they have to understand their audience. Translation: They have to care about the customers the business interacts with every day. They have to understand what their customers’ needs are and what they are looking for from the company. They have to adopt their customers’ success as essential to their own. Top-level marketers are empathetic, good listeners and always looking out for their customers’ best interest.

6. They Know How to Make Money

Marketing teams know all too well the impact of revenue. Today’s online marketing tools and strategies, such as omni-channel eCommerce, give marketers instant gratification by allowing them to generate revenue faster than ever before. Marketers can also enjoy a wide range of revenue streams. This produces new challenges and opportunities for growth. Being driven by revenue is fiscally healthy and leads to a greater ROI on your marketing spend.  Re-read this post on driving marketing ROI.

7. Their Goals and Growth are Measurable

Marketers deal with numbers every single day. So, it should be no surprise that their goals and level of growth can be measured using hard data. Without a data-driven marketing approach, online companies have no clue where they are or where they’re going. You can’t dispute metrics, but you can learn from them to carve out a path moving forward.

8. There is Structure in Their Organization

Many high-level marketing teams can appear to be running around chaotically, but don’t be fooled by the hustle and bustle. There is a method to the madness, if everything is thought out and well executed. Effective marketers plan, schedule, analyze and create endless strategies for nearly every move they make. They rarely go into a marketing campaign or new phase of business without a game plan
9. They Collaborate

The highest performing marketing organizations are exceptional at working together and collaborating on projects. Each member of the team understands the value of experience and knowledge. Everyone knows that the entire team is better and stronger because of the experience and knowledge of the other members. They approach collaboration with the mindset of discovering and drawing from each other’s talents and expertise.

10. They Can Operate on Flexible Budgets

Large brands operate on expansive budgets, but small-to-midsize eCommerce companies (like most of your businesses) have a fraction of the resources. Invest in building an agile marketing team that knows how to materially move the revenue needle without a material marketing investment, and you’ll be well-suited to ensure your success online against bigger competitors.  Re-read this post for example growth hacking techniques.

If you follow these tips, you can build a marketing team that is highly skilled to execute marketing strategies that will out-perform the competition.  Thanks again Erika for helping me with this piece, and be sure to follow Erika on Twitter at @ebrookes.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lesson #299: The Search for Product-Market Fit (the Holy Grail)

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/10/2018

Every entrepreneur believes they have the greatest product that is going to revolutionalize the world, worthy of venture capitalists bat...

Every entrepreneur believes they have the greatest product that is going to revolutionalize the world, worthy of venture capitalists bathing them in piles of cash to achieve their dream.  But, venture capitalists don’t back products, they back winning business models.  And, winning business models are anchored by companies that have the potential to generate lots of revenues with easily scalable, repeatable and profitable sales and marketing strategies.  And, none of that will be truly determined, until you successfully test and optimize your product-market fit with potential customers.  This post will help you learn exactly how to do that.


Product-market-fit is the point at which you have identified the best target industries, buyers and use cases for your product, to the point sales become repeatable and scalable and your product is flying off the shelves.  It is the holy grail for most startups, that dictates whether they are on the path to being the next one-in-ten “10x” investment return companies for their investors, or the next three-in-ten flameouts that crashes and burns out of business. 


To me, there are several distinct phases in the search for product-market fit: (1) you need to have a basic understanding of the market landscape and the key pain points being solved by your products; (2) you need to research the various industry verticals and potential buyers where your product may sell, to find the one where you think your business will have the most success to start; (3) you need to take your product to market to validate your hypotheses, and begin to optimize your target clients, use cases, messaging, price points and go-to-market strategy; (4) you need to close your first clients and learn your conversion funnel metrics, marketing economics (e.g., CAC and LTV) and learn user behaviors like their product engagement levels, utilization rates and lost customer churn rates; (5) you then optimize the above to make your sales process repeatable and scalable in a large market vertical, including optimizing your hiring, employee training, customer onboarding, the sales-to-operations handoff; and (6) you validate your ability to scale is profitable, your churn rates are low and will result in a material size business.


The best way of doing market research is actually talking to your potential customers, dozens of them.  And, no, not in some online survey; in an actually face-to-face or phone meeting with them, that is more interactive, and you can see how the conversation evolves in real time.  Ask them what their current painpoints are around your industry, products or competition, or how much they would be willing to pay for that solution, you would be amazed what great insights come out of their mouths.  They’ll tell you exactly what you need to build to make their lives materially better.

In addition, seek insights from your employees, especially your sales and operations team.  Your sales people are in the market everyday talking to customers, you need to have a process to get those insights into the head of senior management.  And, your operations team is typically seeing all the problems with the product and hearing the complaints from your customers.  Any customer facing complaints need to bubble up to management and the product team, so they can quickly fix them.  But, worth mentioning, make sure you have a large enough data sample here—the opinion of one person, is just that, an opinion.  But, hearing the same points over and over again from multiple stakeholders, is something you most likely need to jump on fixing.


There is not only one correct answer for determining product-market fit.  You need to be tinkering and testing with all the inputs along the way.  For example, try three different price points, and see how far you can push it, before the customers start complaining or your conversion rates fall.  Or, as another example, A/B test various sales pitches, emphasizing different aspects of your product, to figure out which specific feature is the one that gets your customers the most excited.  Then double down on the winners after each iteration along the way.


It is very easy to say your product appeals to many different industries and many different use cases, let’s go out and sell our products to them all.  That is a recipe for disaster.  When startup budgets are limited, it is always better to have a much more narrow focus, to start, and go really deep in that one narrow vertical.  That will make you the clear industry expert in that domain, which will help spread the viral word-of-mouth and stimulate growth materially faster.  In this case, it is much better being the master of one domain, than being a Jack of all trades.  After you have built your scale and profitability in your first vertical, you take those “bullets” and fire them away in the second and third tangential verticals to your first.  But, before doing do, make sure you have documented your process, learnings and framework from the first vertical, so you can apply to the next verticals, so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.  And, at all times, make sure you stay focused on the long term vision.  Don’t get swept up in the whims of the market that can having you chasing rabbits into unprofitable rabbit holes.


As you will learn, the behaviors of one industry, buyer role or use case, may have a materially different “rhythm” that another.  So, you can assume what worked in one vertical, will work exactly the same way in the next vertical.  Everything could be different.  From your go-to-market strategy, to your sales cycle to your sales funnel metrics.  For example, let’s say you are selling marketing technology.  The needs of an enterprise level chief marketing officer (more strategic), will be different from the needs of lower level enterprise marketing manager (more tactical), will be different from the needs of a marketing agency serving that same enterprise client (more service oriented).  So, customize your pitch accordingly, depending on who you are pitching.


First of all, you need to calculate your total addressable market size, to make sure you have a realistic chance of materially scaling your revenues.  Second, you need to make sure you have a product that can withstand the onslaught of competition that will follow you into this market, if you are successful.  That typically means having some clear competitive moat or customers who are not sensitive to price.  For example, products related to “wisdom” typically come at premium and defensible pricing to “widgets”.  And, third, think through your lifetime value of your revenue stream.  You want products that are consumed frequently, to drive high repeat purchases, and solve major pain points for your customers.  As I have said many times in the past, you need to be building “painkillers” for your customers, not “vitamins” to have any chance of materially scaling your business.


You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and the same holds true for your product-market fit.  So, you need to figure out what key data points will help you track your success here.  Some of those data points are pre-transaction, like sales cycle, unit-level economics and conversion rates.  And, some of those data points are post-transaction, like repeat buyer percentage, lost customer churn rates and average daily usage of your product by your customers (e.g., how sticky and engaging is the product).  So, figure out what makes your business tick, in terms of product-market fit, and track and manage against those data points.

David Skok, the venture capitalist at Matrix Partners, wrote a terrific blog post on this product-market fit topic.  It included a great list of the key questions you need to be asking yourself along each step of the product-market fit process.  And, it included a great calculator template to see how you can score your product-market fit.  Create a similar calculator for your own business, and you will quickly learn if you are heading in the right direction or need to retreat into a new direction.


Just because you found the holy grail of product-market fit, doesn’t mean you will keep it.  You need to constantly be re-learning the market conditions and talking to your customers to learn how their needs may be changing over time.  Constantly stay “paranoid” of losing your customers, to keep your competitive edge at all times.


As you can see, determining and optimizing for product-market fit is a really big deal.  It can be the difference between a huge win for you and your investors, or a complete loss of invested capital, even with a really great product.  If customers are not lining up to buy your product, or your product isn’t sticky enough to retain them, or your product creates unnecessary strains for you or your customers while fulfilling your services, it is time to go back to the drawing board, and start rethinking your product strategy.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Friday, September 7, 2018

We Acquired a Company With Remote Employees. Here's What We Learned.

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/07/2018

Red Rocket recently acquired Restaurant Furniture Plus , a B2B ecommerce website selling furniture to restaurants. What made this busin...

Red Rocket recently acquired Restaurant Furniture Plus, a B2B ecommerce website selling furniture to restaurants. What made this business different from most of the other businesses I have managed was the fact it was 100 percent a virtual company. The founders worked from their homes in California, and the fulfillment team worked from their homes in Ohio. We decided to try to continue to operate the business as a virtual workplace, with the owners working from their homes in the Chicago and Raleigh, N.C., areas and the rest of the team working out of their homes in the Cleveland area. It has been an interesting learning opportunity that I wanted to share with you as you consider the pluses and minuses of virtual teams for your business.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Top 5 Things to Do Before Scaling Marketing Efforts

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/04/2018

I recently wrote about scaling companies, and the importance of having a solid marketing plan in place to support that growth. But what ...

I recently wrote about scaling companies, and the importance of having a solid marketing plan in place to support that growth. But what I didn’t talk about was when should you turn on that marketing in the first place? The answer is pretty intuitive—not until you are ready! But, what does that specifically mean? Read on.

Read the rest of this post in Forbes, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Lesson #298: Top 5 Trade Show Marketing Ideas

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/24/2018

If you are a B2B marketer, industry trade shows are often the ideal meeting place to network with your industry peers, all in one central...

If you are a B2B marketer, industry trade shows are often the ideal meeting place to network with your industry peers, all in one central place.  So, incorporating trade shows into your marketing plans is often a terrific way to get in front of your target customers.  For example, with me now an owner of Restaurant Furniture Plus, where better to find a bunch of restaurant executives to sell our products than the National Restaurant Association Show (“NRA Show”) each year.  There are many ways to get the word out about your company at trade shows, with varying degrees of cost.  Below are the top 5 options to consider, in order of cost, from least expensive to most expensive.

1. Speak

The best thing to do is position yourself as an authority on a certain topic that is relevant to the audience of the show.  The show organizers are always looking for good speakers to fill their agendas, and why can’t that be you!!  You never want to pitch your company as the primary topic, as the show organizers won’t let you simply stand up and promote yourself.  You want to pitch a topic that is educational to the attendees.  Maybe the NRA Show attendees would be interested in learning the hottest new trends in restaurant designs and restaurant furniture, as an example. 

And, where you can, find a brand name customer of yours to collaborate with on that pitch to the show organizers.  Instead of you pitching your own success, it would be even better if your customers can pitch that success for you.  So, as an example, get Chipotle’s head of new store design to speak to how you helped them reinvent their prototype to stand out from the crowd.  So, look for collaborative pitches with your customers, as the show producers love getting brand name speakers on their rosters, much more than unknown startup executives.  And, the best thing about speaking, there are typically no costs to you, other than the travel time and costs to get there.

2. Attend

If you can’t become a speaker, make sure you at least become an attendee of the event.  Attendee costs are typically not that expensive, and they can yield a big pay day as you are networking throughout the event, rubbing shoulders with prospective customers at the lunches, break-out rooms and while walking the exhibit halls.  Attending also has the additional benefits of educating yourself on key industry trends and keeping an eye on how your competitors are marketing themselves at events like these.

3.  Advertise

There are several ways to advertise your business at or around events.  Maybe there is a trade show magazine or directory, that you can buy an ad.  Or, a show website or email list, you can buy an ad.  Or, maybe you advertise on things related to the show, but, not through the show itself.  That could include handing out fliers to people in the hotel lobbies or bus shuttle stops near the show.  Or, buying ads targeting fans of the show on Facebook.  There are options for all size budgets here, depending on how creative you want to get.

4. Exhibit

Having a booth as an exhibitor is one of the more expensive options.  Because the booth comes with a cost of the booth (e.g., $5,000) and the space rental (e.g., another $5,000), and you typically have to have a couple people manning the booth, including all their travel related costs for those days.  But, at least with having a booth, you are ensured of having good visibility to people in the exhibit hall, provided you locate your booth in a highly trafficked location (so study a show map before committing to a booth location in a bad location).  Also, don’t forget to have handouts ready at your booth, so visitors can take with them, to remember you by when they are back in their offices (e.g., personalized zip drives with your logo on it and company presentations included).   Based on my experience, if you can at-least break even with sales coming from leads generated by your booth after the show, you are doing a good job.

5. Sponsor

Becoming a key sponsor of the show, typically comes with a very high expense.  Maybe you sponsor the show’s lunch for the day, paying for the meals of all, in exchange for you getting premier brand exposure and a 5 minute sales pitch during the lunch.  Or, less expensive things, like paying for the show badge lanyards, and getting your logo included on the lanyard.  Or, paying to get your flyer included in the shows “goodie bag” for attendees.  There is a wide range of options to consider here, at a wide range of prices, depending on how big of a splash you want to make at the show.

Where to Find Trade Shows to Attend

When looking for new trade shows to consider in an industry, I typically start at Google.  For example, maybe with a “restaurant industry trade show” search, to see what I stumble on.  I’ll also research the key trade associations (e.g., National Restaurant Association) and key trade publications (e.g., Nation’s Restaurant News), as they often produce large annual events and have large followings.  So, do a little digging, and you’ll be surprised how many options you will uncover.  For Restaurant Furniture Plus, I found about 20 different shows on various topics in various locations throughout the year to consider.

How to Prioritize Which Trade Shows to Attend

It is hard enough for an early stage company to afford one trade show, yet alone 20 shows.  So, until you are much bigger in size, with unlimited marketing budgets, you will have to be very strategic in how you prioritize which trade shows to attend.  For example, a gathering of Restaurant CEOs may be perfect if you are selling a strategic solution to companies, and a gathering of Restaurant Executive Chef’s may be perfect if you are selling them a new food option.  So, figure out which shows will have the highest number of target customer prospects (not target companies), and go from there. 

Obviously, you will also want to bias shows closer to your home region, will save on costs and make sure logical target customers will be there.  As an example, it would be hard for Restaurant Furniture Plus to leverage a trade show in Europe, when there isn’t a cost effective way for us to ship our U.S. made furniture to overseas customers, as an example.  Not to mention the higher travel costs of flying to Rome vs. flying to Chicago to attend.

Concluding Thoughts

Trade shows would not be my first marketing effort for an early stage company.  I would bias more cost effective things like Google search ads and targeted ads to my prospective customers on LinkedIn first.  But, when you can afford to add trade shows to your mix, you should.  But, they are not cheap.  As a benchmark, the average cost per B2B lead may be $250, and the average cost per B2B lead sourced from a trade show may be $750, around 3x more expensive!!  So, just make sure you have a high enough average ticket, to cover that level of marketing investment before taking the plunge.  If you are selling $50,000 orders of furniture, you are in good shape.  If you are selling $50 orders of napkins, you may want to look elsewhere.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the importance of trade shows for B2B marketers, when to use them and the range of options and costs to consider.  Don’t forget to bring enough business cards with you!!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Lesson #297: Top 10 Warning Signs Your Startup Will Fail

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/17/2018

Being an entrepreneur is no simple task, given 90% of startups collapse. But, based on the learnings from these past flame-outs, there ...

Being an entrepreneur is no simple task, given 90% of startups collapse. But, based on the learnings from these past flame-outs, there are some leading indicators that can identify whether your startup is headed for failure. I collaborated with my colleague, Taylor Ryan, a five-time serial entrepreneur, author and expert digital marketer (currently the CMO at Valuer.ai) to come up with the following list of warning signs that you should look out for in assessing the health of your startup.

1. Lost Focus on Primary Goal

For some startups, their focus can divert to unimportant factors than the primary goal at hand. A successful startup learns to prioritize its efforts, and stay religiously focused on that end goal. Keeping the team firmly focused on the end goal can also be beneficial for the work environment as it will keep the team all rowing in the same desired direction. If you see a startup flailing in the wind of change, going in multiple directions based on the "flavor of the month", you know that business is in trouble.

2. Poor or Slow Execution

There are startups that begin with innovative concepts but cannot execute them properly. This is due to a number of reasons – lack of relevant resources, lack of motivation or poor  working habits for starters.  Firms that are properly tracking their progress with regard to a particular project will quickly see if they are falling behind and come up with ways to correct the problem before it becomes a material one. Those that are not executing well will suffer deficits in capital or timelines. There is also a problem with the speed in execution, with many startups not being able to push out products or services as fast as their competitors. Speed is critical, to staying ahead of your competitors as the first mover, and not being forced to play catch up..

3. Lack of Customer Engagement

A lack of customer engagement is something many early-stage startups face. There are a many possible scenarios in which customers might lose interest in a product or service.  Maybe the startup didn't properly research the market to ensure meaningful demand?  Maybe sales and marketing efforts are not the best strategy for that business?  If you don’t truly understand your customers pain points, they will never have a serious interest in your product or service. It is best to figure out why customers are not engaging, sooner than later, to try and resolve those product or marketing related issues to see if they are fixable, before deciding to cut your losses and close shop.

4. Poor Teamwork

Sometimes, perfectly capable and promising startups begin descending into failure because of differences among team members or lack of effective teamwork. This does not necessarily have anything to do with how well a person or a group of people can perform in the workplace.
It just means, at times, some people cannot work well together. It is a startup CEO's responsibility to know what is required to keep the team gelling and how to improve the team's performance in thinking and acting like one well-oiled machine. If ineffective teamwork goes undetected or unresolved for an extended period of time, the startup will struggle to recover.

5. High Employee Turnover Rate

If the employee turnover rate is high and recurring, it could be an indicator of a failing startup.
There could be a number of reasons why the turnover rate is high. For one, a startup’s culture plays a strong role. If employees are unsatisfied with the work environment, don't like the people they are working with or don't have confidence with their management, they will most likely be looking to leave.  So if you have a revolving door with your staff, something is wrong and needs to be fixed, as you can't scale a business on a wobbly foundation of talent.

6. Lack of Adaptability

Any startup that says it is immune to changes in the market is setting itself up for failure. External market forces ultimately dictate how your startup will fare against changing trends and competitors in the industry. If a startup doesn't truly understand or disregards what is happening outside of its own office, it is doomed to fail.  For a startup to truly reach success, it may have to pivot several times until it finds the right mix of product-market fit. If a startup does not pivot fast enough, that is usually a sign the end is near.

7. No New Product Development

For a startup to stay relevant, it needs to constantly be reinventing itself. Your product development efforts are never done, as you should always be striving to improve from version 1, to version 2 to version 3 over time.  Because if you don't, you can rest assured your competitors will clearly copy whatever you are doing successfully today, and will be improving their business at your expense.

8. Unaware of Finances

Every good startup should always be aware of its financial situation.  But, you would be surprised how many entrepreneurs have no clue about their finances, and hence cannot easily predict they are about ready to slam into a brick wall. There needs to be financial reports, dashboards and KPI's that a startup studies closely each week to understand how much it is spending, earning and retaining vs. its goals.  You can't manage what you are not measuring, so make sure you get your key reporting metrics identified and tracked.

9. Creative Block or Stubborness

Oftentimes, a startup’s team gets hung up on a particular perspective or approach to an issue. When things are not going well, it is important to push the team to change their perspective and try something new and creative to solve the problem. Startups that are heading towards failure are often unsure of where they should be heading as a company, and lack the creative thinking skills that are required to ideate potential solutions. Or, they are simply inflexible and not willing to entertain a different approach.

10. Boredom

The team getting bored with what they are working on can surely be a startup killer. Early in the startup’s life, the team is motivated, as the venture is exciting to work on, and the team enjoys working towards the success of a startup. Hence, everyone works with dedication and puts in long hours.  But, the reality is, after the euphoria wears off, it is easy for the team to get bored with their work.  It could be due to their attention diverting elsewhere, lack of motivation, or monotony in the day-to-day grind of the workplace, especially if the business is not succeeding as planned. A good entrepreneur will figure out ways to keep its employees engaged and motivated at all times.

So, do a critical assessment of your business to make sure you are not about ready to drive off the cliff.  If any of the above resonates as happening with your business, it is time to put an immediate fix in place.  Thanks again Taylor for working with me with this post.  If any of you need help connecting your startup with logical corporate partners, Taylor and his Valuer.ai platform could be your solution.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Entrepreneurs Mellow & Mature With Age

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/06/2018

I've been an entrepreneur for most of my life. I started an odd-jobs business in high school, founded a collectible comic-book busin...

I've been an entrepreneur for most of my life. I started an odd-jobs business in high school, founded a collectible comic-book business in college and launched my first venture capital backed startup -- an adventure-travel company -- in my 20's. And my entrepreneurial endeavors continue today. I'm in my late 40s, running Red Rocket and managing our portfolio investments, looking for companies to buy and advising hundreds of early-stage businesses. Given this winding road of past experience, my approach to managing businesses today is very different than when I was younger. The experience I now bring to the table has materially mellowed me as a leader. But I didn't have that background or that perspective when I was younger.

Read the rest of this post in Forbes, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Where to Find Expert Consultants for Your Business

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/06/2018

From time-to-time, you may need to find a consultant to help you with your business. Sometimes, those needs are high level, like setting ...

From time-to-time, you may need to find a consultant to help you with your business. Sometimes, those needs are high level, like setting strategies or marketing plans. Other times, those needs are more point solutions, like a pro in search engine optimization or product sourcing. Whatever your need may be, there is most likely a consultant out there that is immediately available to help you. The problem is finding them. This post will tell you how best to fill your consulting needs.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Lesson #296: Copy Proven Ideas for Quick Success--A Fortnite Case Study

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/02/2018

The best ideas are not always the most original ideas.  As we have learned in my past post , copy-catting others' proven ideas, perh...

The best ideas are not always the most original ideas.  As we have learned in my past post, copy-catting others' proven ideas, perhaps in different markets or ways, may be the quickest path to success.  And, nothing illustrates this point better than Fortnite Battle Royale, the video game made by Epic Games, which my son introduced me to this year.  To me, Fortnite appears to have pulled a page right out of the The Hunger Games movie playbook, copy-catting it into a huge success.  Allow me to further explain.


The Hunger Games was a top selling film from 2012, directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence.  The movie was based on the best selling book by Suzanne Collins.  To date, more than 17.5 million copies of the book has been sold worldwide (grossing $169MM in book sales for this first of three books in the trilogy alone) and the hit movie has grossed another $752MM in sales worldwide on top of that.  I would say that was a pretty huge success for the author, the book publisher and the movie producer.


Here is The Hunger Games plot as copied from Amazon's book description:  "Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning? In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV."  Now keep this firmly imprinted in your memory, for what is to follow.


Launched in 2017 (five years after The Hunger Games--about the amount of time it takes to develop of video game of this scale), Fortnite Battle Royale has become one of the highest grossing video games of all time, set to have over $2 billion in sales this year (yes, billion with a "b").  They sold over $300MM in the last month alone, suggesting it is now on a $3.6BN annual run rate!!  Here is the game description, as copied from their website: "The battle is building! Fortnite Battle Royale is the free 100-player PvP mode in Fortnite. One giant map. A battle bus. Fortnite building skills and destructible environments combined with intense PvP combat. The last one standing wins."  Sound familiar!!??  It is basically the same plot as The Hunger Games.


In both The Hunger Games and Fortnite Battle Royale, a bunch of contestants are entered into a fight to the death with a last man (or woman) standing in both cases. The contest is set up in a way that the battle takes place within a fixed geographic space, that gets manipulated to be smaller over time, forcing the last remaining contestants to battle each other at some point.  Both drop the contestants into an unknown environment and make them race to find the closest and best weapons.  And, in both cases you have no visibility into where your competitors are coming from, so you can be unexpectedly attacked from behind at any time.


There are many advantages of copy-catting.  First of all, it de-risks your venture based on the proven learnings and investments of others.  Why experiment with a new idea that has a 90% chance of failing, when you can double down on a proven 10x return winner.  Secondly, you may be able to take a great idea in a good market and make it a great idea in a huge market.  Look what happened in this case study--a $169MM book become a $752MM movie become a $3.6BN video game all with basically the same blueprint.  Let this be a lesson to the book and movie industries, perhaps the video game industry is where you can really create the most wealth (at least with products targeting teenagers).  In just a short period of time, using what I feel is a copy-catting strategy (that I doubt they will ever admit), the founder of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, has just become the newest member of the billionaire club!!  Not so bad for a couple years worth of work, retooling someone else's playbook.  I am surprised The Hunger Games hasn't sued Fortnite for copyright infringement.


So, for all you entrepreneurs out there, looking to become the next unicorn billionaire, your path to success and wealth does not need to be a unique one.  Look for proven ideas that you can repurpose into your own.  And, in the process, you will materially accelerate you product development curve and growth trajectory.  At the same time, if you are working on a great idea in one market, perhaps it will be a much bigger idea in a different market.  As an example, I bet Marvel is happy they transitioned from a low revenue comic book company to a huge revenue movie production juggernaut ultimately acquired by Disney for $4BN.  So, who is ready to help me start building my Revengers video game, a Fortnite-style fight to the death between Avengers-style superheroes of your choosing set in a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur setting!!  Sounds like three home runs in one, to me!!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Lesson #295: Top 5 Media Buys for First-Time Marketers

Posted By: George Deeb - 7/20/2018

Getting the word out about your startup business is always a challenge, but at least there are a handful of techniques you can focus on ...

Getting the word out about your startup business is always a challenge, but at least there are a handful of techniques you can focus on to jump start your early marketing efforts, all of which are available on a cost-effective basis.


Paid search is clearly an obvious choice.  When people are searching for your products or services on the search engines, you need to make sure they can find you.  Organic search from search engine optimization efforts are out of your control (although you should do your best to optimize your site for success there).  But, paid search is 100% in your control and can drive immediate traffic out of the gate.  Yes, there are other search engines beyond Google (e.g., Bing, Yahoo, Ask, AOL), but Google controls 65% of the search market and an even bigger percentage of the mobile market for search, given their Android platform powers over 80% of the mobile phones out there.  So, if you were going to focus on one place, Google is it.  Re-read this post for specific search engine marketing strategies to help get you started.


With over 80% of Americans having a Facebook social media account, it is the single largest media property with which to market to target customers, all in one place.  And, better yet, Facebook brings levels of customer targeting that have never before been easier or more cost-effective.  To give you a sense to how easy it is to drill down to your specific demographic, psychographic or other consumer interests, check out this great infographic of what targeting is possible on Facebook.  If you have the time to focus on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or other social networks, you can add those in after Facebook.  The only exception would be if you are a B2B business, where LinkedIn may be a better place to start.


If you are a product seller, there is no better place to get started than Amazon; more than 65% of all shopping searches start at Amazon (who has successfully wrestled that function away from Google over the last few years).  Not only can Amazon help you with marketing to their audience, but they can also help you with any warehousing or distribution needs for those products they sell for you.  There are other marketplaces like Walmart, Jet, eBay, Wanelo, Rakuten and Sears.  But, if you are trying to move the needle with a ton of volume, there is no better place to focus than Amazon.  That said, when you are setting up your Google Adwords campaign above, I would also turn on Google Shopping campaigns and distribute your product feed through their shopping search capabilities, as well.


The above three categories are helping you find new customers, but there is nothing more effective than going after known past customers or prospects using retargeting techniques.  In terms of how it works, as a user visits your website, the retargeting technology drops a cookie on their computer, which follows them across the internet. Then, as ads are run on those third party sites (e.g., checking email on Yahoo, reading news on CNN, watching sports on ESPN), retargeting companies can push your ads to those exact same users.  This works particularly well using dynamically generated creatives that publish the exact same products the users were looking at on your website.  Especially, when you are targeting users that went all the way through the purchase process on your website, but abandoned their cart or checkout process.  Criteo is the biggest player in this space, claiming that can get your ads up on approximately 2,000,000 websites, including many of the big ones like Facebook.  Their reach is around 6x larger the next biggest player, AdRoll.  Google and Facebook also offer retargeting options of their own ad platforms, but the advantage of Criteo is their functioning as a one-stop shop for retargeting across the web, as Google can only get you on their network sites (about 25% of the reach of Criteo).  That said, the rates on Google and Facebook can be cheaper, without Criteo’s middleman fees included.  And, retargeting can be more expensive than the other options above, so start with those first.


Once you have found known customers that have an affinity for your product or service, nothing is better than finding look-alikes to those customers, with which to focus your new customer marketing efforts.  For example, if you copy and paste your customer email list into Facebook’s advertising tools, they will recommend new prospective customers to market to that share similar attributes as your customers.  For example, let’s say you are selling beauty products, and Facebook can see that your customers’ emails match to 18-25 year old women that are fans of Style magazine and listen to Ariana Grande music, then Facebook can match to those exact lookalikes.  Very cool!

Anyway, there is a wide world of options to consider when setting your marketing strategies, campaigns and tactics.  But, if you are looking for a quick cheat sheet on how to start driving new customers in mass, using cost effective, pay for performance techniques, then these five options are the way to go.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sales Enablement Tools Are the Key to Making More Money

Posted By: George Deeb - 7/07/2018

Over the last several years, many technologies have been developed to help accelerate and automate the sales and marketing functions. Fi...

Over the last several years, many technologies have been developed to help accelerate and automate the sales and marketing functions. First, it was upper funnel tools that help drive customer awareness and consideration through marketing automation. Then came the middle and lower funnel tools that help drive customer evaluation and purchase through sales enablement tools, which I will talk about in this post. These sales enablement tools can make a material difference in helping you drive revenue faster, consistently across your entire sales team.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Want to Scale Revenues? It's All Math!

Posted By: George Deeb - 7/05/2018

Over the last year, I have been networking with key influencers in the tech startup community in the Raleigh-Durham area.  I had the joy...

Over the last year, I have been networking with key influencers in the tech startup community in the Raleigh-Durham area.  I had the joy of meeting Alex Osadzinski, a seven-time successful serial entrepreneur  and venture investor in town.  Alex's career took off as an early employee with Sun Microsystems between 1986-1994, helping lead their meteoric rise to over $1BN in revenues in only a few years. And, since then, he has helped enterprise software companies rapidly scale their businesses to new heights, most recently as the CMO at Relias Learning, whose sales have almost tripled to almost $200MM since he got involved in early 2016.

Read the rest of this post in Forbes, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Lesson #294: Marketing Attribution: What Is It and Why It Matters

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/20/2018

Long gone are the days of blindly spending marketing dollars without a data first mindset to clearly calculate and prove you are driving ...

Long gone are the days of blindly spending marketing dollars without a data first mindset to clearly calculate and prove you are driving a return on your marketing investment (your “ROMI”).  This previously linked post demonstrates how to track your ROMI at the 30,000 foot view, based on your overall business revenues vs. costs, or at the unit level of an average transaction.  But, if you want to really fine tune your efforts to maximize your ROMI, the best marketers turn to marketing attribution tools to help optimize marketing within every sub-channel of their business.  Let me explain.


According to Wikipedia, “marketing, attribution is the identification of a set of user actions (‘events’ or ‘touchpoints’) that contribute in some manner to a desired outcome, and then the assignment of a value to each of these events.”  Boy that was a mouthful.  Let me translate that into “simple talk”.  Your customers are interacting with your business in many ways.  Let’s say you are a retailer, and one customer may be visiting your store, your website, your mobile app, your direct mail catalog, etc.   Marketing attribution helps assign value to which of those channels (if not all) should get credit for the sale.  So, when you go to calculate your ROMI for that business unit, you are fairly matching revenues with marketing costs.


The above makes it sound like marketing attribution is a relatively straight forward thing to calculate, which it can be if the customer clearly only visited one channel.  But, what happens when they concurrently visit multiple channels; that is when the calculation becomes much harder.  Let’s continue our example from above.  Let’s say a customer receives a catalog in the mail, decides to go to the website to learn more, and decides to purchase the product in the store?  Now, who should get the credit?  The answer:  they all should get partial credit, and that is where marketing attribution tools come in to help you calculate that.


Determining who gets the most credit for a sale is the big debate.  Should the first touch point get the most credit, as the transaction most likely started from them?  Or, should the last touch point get the most credit, as that is where the customer actually pulled out their credit card and purchased the product?  The arguments can clearly be made both ways, especially by the marketing managers in each of those respective departments!!  To help me with determining my ROMI, I tend to bias the first touch point (e.g., the catalog that arrived in the mail), to help me assess if I should keep spending monies on that specific tactic, or not.  But, oftentimes, I simply split the credit evenly between each channel that touched the customer during that sale cycle.


Many companies turn to sophisticated software packages to help them.  Some of the more sophisticated tools are found in expensive enterprise grade solutions from Adobe and others.  But, there are others that serve the SMB market, as well, including Bizable, Bright Funnel, LeadsRx, Looker, Track Maven, Active Demand, Tealium, ABM Analytics and Attribution, to name a few.  You can learn more about those products from their websites, or the marketing attribution sections of software user review sites, like G2 Crowd or Capterra.


Are you too early in your growth curve to able to afford software here?  That is okay, here is how you could calculate marketing attribution on your own.  Let’s say you spend $10,000 on a direct mail piece, and you get 1% (100) of those people to buy a $200 product from you—50 through your call center and 50 through your website.  You know the website orders were tied to the direct mail piece, because the user needed to enter a unique promotion code to redeem the offer in the mailer.

In this example, to me, I would attribute 50% of the 50 web orders to the catalog and 50% of those web orders to the website, as they both equally played a role in the sale.  So, the catalog gets credit for 75 orders ($15,000 in revenues) and the website gets credit for 25 orders ($5,000 in revenues) from this one campaign.

Then, you need to carry that logic through to expenses.  You need to allocate 75% of the mailer costs ($7,500) to the catalog division and 25% ($2,500) to the website division.  And, in reverse, if the website has costs to operate, let’s say $10 per transaction (or $250 in total web orders from the mailer), you need to add those costs to the catalog division’s total campaign costs.  The call center costs of $25 per order (or $1,875 in total catalog orders) will be incurred entirely by the catalog division, as the call center was not used by the website orders.

So, totaling it all up from this campaign, the catalog had:  $15,000 in revenue less $7,500 in mailer costs, less $1,875 in call center costs, less $250 in website costs.  For a total profit of $5875 and a total ROMI of 2x (ignoring product costs).  And, the website had:  $5,000 in revenue less $2,500 in mailer costs, less $750 in website costs.  For a total profit of $1,750 and ROMI of 1.54x.  Voila, both divisions that participated in the sale, sharing in the sale credit in a fair and equitable way.


There are many instances that create calculation challenges.  For example, who gets credit for the REPEAT sale—the channel that began the customer relationship, or the channel that got the repeat order?  Here, I would bias the most recent channel, but don’t lose credit for the lifetime value calculations of the first channel.  Or, what happens when the tracking data is incomplete, and you are not sure who should get credit for the sale?  Then take the untracked orders, and allocate them pro rata in the same percentages of the tracked orders.  So, an an example, if your website accounted for 50% of your clearly tracked orders, there is a good chance it represented 50% of your untracked orders, as well.  So, add those untracked orders to each respective tracked channel.  This is as much an art as it is a science, so it will take time to set your rules and optimize them over time.


Hopefully, you now better understand what marketing attribution is, and why it is so important to track:  it helps you to fine tune your ROMI calculations by marketing channel to make sure you are optimizing your marketing spend by channel.  The better you understand your customer behaviors (e.g., touchpoints) with a customer-centric omni-channel mindset, the better you will be able to truly take your marketing efforts to the next level.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Reflections After a Year in Raleigh-Durham

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/06/2018

As you know, Red Rocket opened an office in the Raleigh-Durham area a year ago.  As I was reminiscing on my life changes over the last ye...

As you know, Red Rocket opened an office in the Raleigh-Durham area a year ago.  As I was reminiscing on my life changes over the last year, I thought it would make for a good blog post for any of you looking to break into a new market, or perhaps considering a move of your own.


  • Chicago is one of the most world-class cities, with around 9MM in the metro region, and the business community largely centralized in or near downtown Chicago.  The RDU area, in comparison has 2MM people in the metro market, geographically spread across very disparate cities (e.g., Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Morrisville).  The RDU area lacks the identity of being one central city, and the competition between the cities that comes with that.
  • The Chicago economy has a lot of challenges with Cook County and the State of Illinois near bankruptcy, with rising taxes resulting in a leaky bucket of a slowly declining population.  The Raleigh-Durham area, on the otherhand, is exploding.  The population is forecasted to approximately double to 3.5MM over the next 20 years, creating new tax revenues.  Both Amazon and Apple are giving Raleigh a serious look for adding tens of thousands of jobs in the region, with new second headquarters locations.
  • Chicago is a pretty diverse city in terms of industries served, including companies the technology, advertising, financial, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, consumer products, aerospace and other industries.  The Triangle area is very deep in technology and life sciences, as their primary industries served. And, the technology here is much more B2B facing, with a much smaller B2C community.
  • The pace of business is a lot faster in Chicago, with a bigger sense of urgency to move at light speed.  People moving to the Triangle area, often do so to create a better lifestyle.  So, a lot less late nights and rush to get things done quickly in the area.  Which can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.


  • Chicago is a much more mature startup ecosystem, built over decades.  You have seen serial entrepreneurs build one successful startup after another, and reinvesting their "winnings" from their prior companies, back into the ecosystem with their next companies, spreading equity deep and creating hundreds of millionaires in the process.  Chicago has clear leadership propeling the ecosystem forward, in terms of what it wants to become in future years, and is flush with capital from investors across all stages of investment.
  • The Triangle feels like Chicago about 10-15 years ago.  It has all the ingredients to make for a successful startup ecosystem, with a lot of key players in town trying to take the region to the next level.  But, the region is desperately short on capital, and needs more funds in town to support the local startups.  And, only a handful of entrepreneurs have built unicorn scale companies, with equity largely concentrated with the founders, many of which have not reinvested their "winnings" back into the startup community.  For this reason, many of the successful startups, typically sell much earlier in their growth curve, than their Chicago counterparts, and include a lot more "first timers".
  • Both markets have world-class universities to lean on for talent and research innovation.  Chicago with greats like Northwestern and the University of Chicago. And, the Triangle with greats like Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
  • Both markets are equally conservative, not wanting to make mistakes with their venture capital investments.  Both markets equally unlike Silicon Valley with their "failure is a badge of honor" mindset, not afraid to swing for the fences on long shot game-changing ideas that may explode to success, or miserably flame out.
  • Chicago invests about 2x the amount of venture capital into startups than the Triangle area does each year, most of which into the technology industry.  Raleigh-Durham splits its investments between the technology and life sciences industry.  So, that means there is about 25% of the capital going into tech startups in the Triangle area, as compared to Chicago.
  • Both markets have equally warm and welcoming members of the startup ecosystem.  I had no trouble meeting about 200 key influencers in town over the last year, all willing to welcome me to the market and offer whatever assistance they could.  Just as easily as I could in Chicago.


  • I typically like to work with growth stage B2C companies.  Those basically don't exist here in any material quantity.  Many of the B2C startups that have to gotten to that point, are sold beforehand.  So, it is like looking for needle in the haystack for B2C.  But, there is plenty of B2B here to keep me busy.
  • I am loving running our newest acquisition, Restaurant Furniture Plus.  I am glad I was able to find a good business, that was not in the region, that could easily be managed virtually from here.  It is so much fun building another business of my own, in addition to my Red Rocket work.


  • I moved to a bigger, newer home for half the price of what I was paying in Chicago.  For example, my real estate taxes dropped from $20,000 to $5,000 a year.  So, I love the cost of living advantages, for largely the same nice suburban lifestyle I left behind.
  • Our neighbors are all friendly and welcoming.  We live in the Cary area.  So, there are a lot of transplants from the north, like us.  Both regions lean liberal, politically (which is an outlier within the more broadly conservative state of North Carolina).  And, both regions are very diversified, ethnically and racially.  The people are down to earth here, and less concerned with competing for material things.
  • Because the population is growing so quickly, the schools are having a hard time keeping up with the growth, which creates overcrowded classrooms and constant redistricting as they add new schools, in many areas.  But, overall, I think the education experience is actually equal or better to what we left behind, forcing the kids to compete on a bigger stage, sooner than they normally would have, with less hand holding in the process.  We also like how much more diverse the schools are, more representative of the real world.
  • Chicago winters were so depressing--six months of grey, cold and snow.  I love the warmer climate here.  Winters rarely have high temperatures below 50 degrees and the sun is always out.  Which means I can workout outside year round.
  • The Raleigh-Durham area is surrounded by a lot of great roadtrip opportunities with the kids--two hours from the ocean, three hours from the mountains, four hours from Charleston or Washington DC, etc.  So, we are loving the close proximity to a lot more great weekend trips.  Chicago was largely an island of itself, with not much to do within a few hours of the city.

  • Both cities have so much to offer.  Chicago a world-class city, and the Triangle a world-class lifestyle.  I love both for very different reasons.  And, startups can succeed in both regions, with a supporting ecosystem.  I am very excited to see how Raleigh-Durham evolves in the coming decade as all the new people and companies move into the region.
  • Both cities are ripe with terrificly skilled people to work with, across all needs of the community (e.g., entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants, bankers, investors, accelerators, community leaders).  So, you can't go wrong professionally or personally.  I am glad we have a presence in both markets.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

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