Angels in the (Out) Field

I’ve never really believed that there are angels out there. I also had this media-created view of angels as these soft fluffy things with wings.

1974, Fort Worth, Texas

I was a child, maybe 8 or 9. My mom was really starting to get sick and we had gone shopping in Fort Worth where we lived. In those days, you went to big “department stores”, which were often multiple floors and frankly a bit difficult to navigate. We had been visiting the old Monnig’s store.

Something happened in the store, and my Mom got really, really tired. This is before cell phones and easy access to quick communication. I remember sitting down with her in the elevator bank and she said, “I think we need to call your dad”. Literally, at that exact moment, her mom walked up who was also shopping in the store. She got home and to the doctor she needed.

In that moment, my Grandmother was the angel.

Was that just luck? Was it divine? I have no idea. What I do know is that time after time, people come into our lives at precisely the moments we need them. And we come into THEIR lives too.

How are you “feeling”?

Oh, just fine. I’m “great”, just awesome. Thank you so much for asking.

The question is genuine, but the answer isn’t. I’m not “great”, I’m something else which I can’t describe.

It’s been almost a year since I completed radiation treatment and the facts are, I am feeling anything but “great”.

I feel exhausted. It still takes alot of energy to do basic things. I still run out of gas in areas of my life that I used to be able to do alot more.

I feel guilty. Over the last few years, I’ve seen too many friends and colleagues suffer with this fucking disease. Why them? Why not me?

I feel pressure. I now know that every day is such an incredible gift that has so much value it’s impossible to even describe. I feel an overwhelming need to do something spectacular with this, but I have no idea what or how to even start.

I feel blessed. Sometimes the act of giving involves accepting the help of others. I am overwhelmingly blessed with resources, love and help.

I feel hope. I somehow know everthing will be OK. It’s not my job to have all the answers.

I think the answers may be simpler and easier than they seem. Maybe it’s just love. Giving, accepting and being OK with just “being”.

It’s 2:48 AM. I woke up with this on my heart. Going back to sleep now. Carry on.

What I learned in one sentence from a grumpy, wise old man.

When Mentors Die

We had just unveiled our new corporate brand.   We had hired a professional marketing firm, done customer studies, acquired a domain, designed a logo and registered a trademark.   We thought it was the most important decision we had made.

We unveiled the name to our board.    “Tada”.

Silence.

One of our independent board members looked at me and simply said:

“Well, as long as it doesn’t mean f**king a goat in Portuguese, then I’m OK”.

Sam K in a board meeting

The facts are, the name we chose at that point in our company, was pretty much irrelevant.   What mattered was execution, something we were struggling with. He in a very powerful way slapped us back into reality.

Earlier in the venture, he had observed me running around our offices, often carrying a little notebook, taking notes, being busy, busy busy.    I was busy “helping” our team. I was busy “creating our plan”, our “vision”, keeping investors in-check, validating that what we were building was right.  Come on, I was IMPORTANT and being IMPORTANT means being BUSY.

He looked at me and simply said:

“Charlie, you will be more effective the less you do”.   

Sam K Smith speaking to Charlie Alsmiller in 2002

I was speechless.   I was an ex-consultant in a big firm.  My whole value was measured by how hard I worked, how much “value” I created TODAY.    This is counter-intuitive to me. “Do less”? What? How does that work? I didn’t get it.  

“Work on your business, not In your business”

A quote from just about every business book out there

We hear the words, “Work ON your business, not IN your business” all the time.  But, I’m here to tell you, truer words have never been spoken. See, we all have super-powers.  Mine was clearly articulated to me recently by a dear friend. He said, “You have the ability to create something from nothing, and energy shows up around it.   I’m in awe.”. And this from a guy who is a VERY senior and well known tech executive in Silicon Valley. I’ve always been in awe of HIM. But, what he admitted to me is he CAN’T create something from scratch.  I can, it’s my superpower. The facts are, I should ONLY spend time on MY superpower, not his or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ll be more effective the LESS I do. Boom.

Sam K was a fine man.   In Dallas, he was a legend. He ran Texas Instruments for many years.   For some reason he liked me. He was retired, but respect followed him everywhere he went.  He counseled countless young entrepreneurs like me, reminding us through his wisdom and that what we are doing is often way less important than we thought.  And his occasional “F-bomb” in the boardroom NEVER went unnoticed.

Sam died a few years ago.   I was unable to attend his funeral, but it hit me hard.  Not only because I missed him, but because I realized how linear our lives can be.    Looking around, I see the senior figures in my life retiring. Dying. I know it’s the natural order, and I realized that for every person like me that was helped by someone like Sam there’s someone I can help.  

This last year, I faced down cancer and won.  I was the lucky one.  

Many aren’t so lucky.  I have been given years now to give back.  Suddenly the fancy car, the ski-chalet the boat don’t seem so important.    What’s important is helping the next generation.   

And yes, I’m still looking, waiting patiently to repeat Sam’s words about that goat in a board meeting.   

Hickory Creek Renovation – Part 1

In July 2019 we bought a really amazing property in Hickory Creek, Texas. Now Hickory Creek is part of the Dallas Metro area and consists of the northwestern shores of Lake Lewisville, one of the larger lakes in the region. In fact, it’s known a bit as a “party lake”, but frankly, it’s HUGE. At almost 30,000 acres.

Because of the “Party” reputation, we had always opted for a quieter lake nearby, Lake Grapevine, which was closer to house and had good trails for hiking, biking and we stored out boat there for a number of years.

We’d been looking for a “Lake Home” for almost 15 years, with the same agent, who was really patient with us, but we could never really get past giving up the convenience of our home and location so it never went anywhere.

Until this spring.

So, really with no prompting, our agent, Rene Graver, who specializes in “Lake Properties”, said she had felt a good potential fit for one particular property that had “quite a history”. Being a bit busy, I forwarded the note to Mary who promptly sent me this picture with “check out these views”…

OK this place looks pretty cool, but it was way beyond anything I had considered feasible price wise. But, “just for fun”, we went to take a look.

Wow, this place is amazing….it has water on 3 sides, like a private peninsula. It’s been on the market many times and for a long time and I can see why. It’s got three buildings, two of which are sort of apartments, there’s an interesting collection of other buildings, including a well house, a pool house and a “tiki hut” which houses a hot tub. The deck itself is probably 3000 square feet just off the back of the house.

While the property was amazing, the buildings themselves were built in the 60s and have been renovated at least 2-3 times over the years. The most recent one was clearly expensive. A trex deck, beautiful tree lights, a pavestone walkway, etc. But I think it was 20+ years ago…like 1998, or 1999.

So we took a guess at the value of the property after renovation, less some of the cost to bring it “current” and made an offer, which was quickly accepted.

Turns out I am somewhat “related” to the previous owner, it’s a small world. He knew my aunt, uncle and cousins all from up the road. And turns out Hickory Creek is true “small town”, right in the middle of the city. This dude knows EVERYONE. I feel like we are in a time warp or something. Flower Mound, literally 5 miles up the road feels like an urban city in California these days and here’s a city so close by that literally operates like a small town in Texas from the 1970s. We’re now actually friends with the previous owners and now have connected with the owners prior to that….the world is VERY small.

So we buy the place, hire a contractor (a GREAT ONE), and set about getting ready to “renovate” again and bring the place current. We think the renovations are going to make the home truly livable and increase the value appropriately, but there’s ALOT of work to do.

THE GROUNDS

So there’s ALOT of stuff on these grounds, almost two acres. The statues of alligators, singing frogs, chimineas, a tree house, a broken dock, a paddle boat, grills, a pool table, a deck box, more statues, little wire animals, etc. It’s fascinating!

I decide this is a great time to buy a Machete and start to clear the area…great fun that was! But, I have to remind myself that during the middle of all this, I was diagnosed with a rare (but curable) cancer…READ ABOUT THAT HERE so I decide to take it easier than normal.

What’s clear to us is this place has been the dream for multiple families and we feel the need to honor the history in whatever we choose to do. So, while it may be profitable to pull the whole place down and build condominiums, we just can’t do it. The place has too much history, and love.

So, for now the renovation has started. It’s taken much longer than we expected just to get going and it seems everywhere we turn, there’s more money to spend, more problems to sort etc. But we’re LOVING THIS, as long as the process doesn’t murder us or our bank account first.

More later.

For now, we’ll drink more wine.

Curacao? Caracas? Close, right? Ummmmmm. No.

Howdy from Curacao. I’m on a week long cruise on Royal Caribbean’s adventure of the seas which is fantastic. We love cruising as a couple and family. A giant floating hotel taking us different places in style for affordable prices. It’s awesome. The cruise lines really do an amazing job.

What NOT so fantastic are the stupid passengers on board. Mostly fellow Americans.

Hey honey I’m calling you from Caracas Venezuela. Oh wait, no that’s Curacao. Close enough.

Yes that’s a real conversation overhead from a fellow passenger. And to make it worse the poor little family that owned the storefront where we were in tried to correct him politely said “no we are not in Venezuela and not with Chavez”. The passenger shrugged and said “close enough”.

Guys. Really. Please stop.

We are the richest nation in earth and simultaneously the fattest, most ignorant and obnoxious people on the planet. There’s a reason why a lot of people don’t like us. It’s simple. We deserve i

This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact years ago, my wife and I took a budget tour of Europe in 1993 after I finished grad school. We were on a bus for two weeks with some pig farmers from Arkansas that were probably some of the nicest people around, but the probably some of the most ignorant we’ve ever seen.

In England: “Do they drive on the wrong side of the road everywhere in this country or just here?”

In Amsterdam’s red light district: “I guess those girls feel safe behind those windows”

In Switzerland: “cheese, I like cheese”

And the list could go on and on ….

If we as Americans think we can police the world with our values then we need to up our game! I’m pretty sure a lot of people on the planet don’t want to be like us, at least some of us on cruise ships.

Bonaire Jibe

I enjoy the beach and traveling. This is by far one of the coolest beaches we’ve been to. Sorobon in Bonaire. Yep I could spend some serious time here.

This is off the beaten cruise ship path and is a huge lagoon about 3 feet deep with regular trade winds. Awesome spot to learn to wind surf.

If you can run your business on 3G this spot goes down as a top ten choice.

Oh and jibe city is awesome.

Customer Service in the age of AI – interacting with American Airlines bots and real people

I fly American Airlines way more than I would care to admit. Over the span of 30 years living in Dallas the reality is that AA is the only real airline we can use. The good news is we live about 15 minutes from one of the largest international airports in the world. We can be anywhere in the USA within a few hours or Europe by the next morning. Asia is merely 13 hours away and if you are up to a 16 hour flight you can be in Qatar, Hong Kong, or Sydney. Needless to say we love living here. Dallas is a great city for business and a wonderful hub for an international lifestyle.

I have tons of patience and respect for the airlines, especially AA. Over the years they’ve done an amazingly good job of shuttling us and our teams around the world with few incidents. And when those happen they are usually resolved quickly and efficiently.

What I have started to notice though is a slow shift over the last ten years from discretion based decisions by capable employees to more process and rules driven. This is understandable. When you are operating thousands of flights a day with hundreds of thousands of passengers in the air, processes are really the only way to manage them.

So it went yesterday. I woke up like a normal day and wanted to check in for our flights tomorrow to San Juan that I had purchased back in May for a southern Caribbean cruise. Or so I thought.

Turns out I had no tickets. I had simply held the original reservation and not purchased them. Ugh.

To make things worse it was my kids tickets. Doh! No problem will just buy some and get hosed on outrageous pricing. Nope. All sold out. Oversold. I’m screwed. Huge winter blast is in the northeast and the normally friendly agents on the executive platinum desk were an hour and a half wait. Crap.

I’ll save you the gory details of this story. What I will say is the first two interactions I had with AA executive platinum customer support were definitely rules driven. No you can’t do this you can’t do that. No help really. What we ended up doing was making the mess bigger and more expensive.

Fast forward to yesterday evening. Apparently problems from the storms had calmed down and I got a very helpful, knowledgeable and capable person who spent the next hour with me sorting things out. Wow what a difference. She actually took a moment to stop and think about me and not the rules and as a result found a decent solution for my self inflicted dilemma.

So all is well we are good to go and my tweet to AA thanking them was promptly responded to – by a bot I am fairly sure. But hey sometimes even a bot says the right thing.

What this highlights to me is the importance of keeping the human factor alive as we make the bold move to process driven, decision making Ai robots. True the efficiencies can be enormous. But people when given tools and good education can outperform Ai robots every time. At least for now.

As AI impacts our interactions with companies more and more I think we will see this issue more and more. As much as I love technology and business efficiencies that go with it we can’t forget that there’s a real human still involved. You.

By the way, thanks Julia!

The Over/Under: A Story of One Entrepreneur’s Journey with Two Tech Startups – Radio Interview with Charlie Alsmiller

This is a radio interview I did last year.   It’s fun and includes some new and unique ideas about starting a business.  Your Plan is Wrong!   In this, I talk about the challenges of starting a business that was over-funded and one that was under-funded.


Episode Description

What is the Over / Under? It’s a metaphor for two companies, one that was over-funded and the other under-funded. The results aren’t what you would think. In 1999, Charlie Alsmiller armed with a co-founder and a powerpoint raised a 4.2 M series venture round from top-tier venture firms. 3 years later, the company failed spectacularly, despite having a product, a top tier list of customers and a reasonable revenue base. In 2005, Charlie took a different approach. Armed with a laptop and an office in the back of his attorney’s office, he had no business plan, no customers, no products and no capital. He set out to listen to the market and the market told him how to build his business. Today, 11 years later, his company is one of the top Business-to-Business integration firms, supporting some of the largest companies in the world in their mission critical processes. This business was built on the idea that revenues MUST lead expenses. Learn why it’s not a mere desire; it’s an imperative.


What is the Over / Under? It’s a metaphor for two companies, one that was over-funded and the other under-funded.

marcia

Source: The Over/Under: A Story of One Entrepreneur’s Journey with Two Tech Startups

TRANSCRIPT

The following program is being brought to you on The Voice America business channel for more information about our network and to check our additional shows and topics of interest. Please visit voice Americabusiness.com. The Voice America top radio network is the worldwide leader in live Internet talk radio. Visit voiceamerica.com. The views and ideas expressed on the following program are strictly those of the host or guest and do not necessarily reflect the views and ideas held by the Voice America talk Radio Network, its staff and management.

It’s time to stop focusing on business problems and start focusing on the growth and leadership of your business. Welcome to the business edge with your host Marsha’s idol. Learn from Sabby street smart entrepreneurs how to make the leap from running a stressful business that always putting out fires to leading a successful company that is innovative, productive, profitable. Now here’s Marcia Seidel

Marcia Seidel

Welcome to the business edge. Marcia Seidel, the smart moves coach and speaker helping entrepreneurs and business owners create a thriving culture and leadership to build great companies that matter. Those that do well and do well. My motto is, if you do what you always did, you will get what you always got. Therefore move outside your comfort zone. That’s where the magic happens. So let’s start right now to bring some magic to your business with Marcia’s music’s.

It’s time for Marcia’s music a tasty morsel of wisdom and with to take the growing pains out of breath.

Marcia Seidel

What does success look like? Even though we often know better, we tend to look at success as a straight line going from a low point B to a much higher point B. We like the straight line because it’s orderly and simple to achieve. But that’s not reality. Rather entrepreneurial success is more of a squiggly line or wandering path that has bumps, curves, wrong turns, detours and a host of other barriers all the entrepreneurs who have been guests on the business edge have experienced difficulty in getting the business off the ground or growing it profitably. There are times when the road they chose looks so inviting and the path was clear as day only to find out that once they started their journey the trail they thought they were blazing turned out to be full of false hopes and dangerous obstacles. Also for some, it took years for their path to lead them to triumph, while they watch others arrive much earlier and enjoy the payoff that success brings. Among their lessons learned was first, you can create light at the end of the tunnel. The path will often not be well lit. You have to push your way through and figure out ways to make things work. And second, no matter how long and winding the path may seem keep putting one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Listeners, however you define success, expect a messy path. Want an extra boost walking down that path? A simple assessment, “the entrepreneur edge” can help you find out how by contacting me at Marcia@smartmovescoach.com or call 9723809181.

You are listening to Marcia Seidel. The smart moves coach, making sure you’re on the right track and not getting side tracked in your drive for high performance and profitability.

Marcia Seidel

Today’s program, the over and under a story of once entrepreneurs journey with two tech startups. What is the over and under? It’s a metaphor for two companies one that was overfunded and the other underfunded. The results aren’t what you think. In 1999 my guest Charlie Miller armed with a co-founder and a power point raised 4.2 million from top tier venture firms. Three years later the company failed spectacularly despite having a product, a top tier list of customers and a reasonable revenue base. Now fast forward to 2005. Charlie took a different approach. He had no business plan, no customers no products, no capital. Rather he set out to listen to the market and the market told him how to build his business. Today 11 years later his company is one of the top business to business integration firms supporting some of the largest companies in the mission critical processes. This business was built on the idea that revenues must lead expenses. Learn why it’s not a mere desire it’s an imperative. So Charlie welcome to the business edge. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show.

Charlie

Thank you Marcia. Happy to be here.

Marcia Seidel

Well you know I always start out with an entrepreneur, for them to tell the listeners about their business. Why did you start it and what makes it unique?

Charlie

Well Marcia thanks for the background information. The company did as you mentioned just had our 11th birthday. And what I can say is 11 years later the company does not look anything at all like it did 11 years ago. We started out really as a consulting firm and the idea was we wanted to engage and talk to as many customers as possible and understand their needs and what we’ve learned very quickly was what they were willing to write checks for. And in my case, we also discovered very quickly that it was relatively easy to grow a business like that, we grew very quickly to about 50 people and then upwards to about 80 people. And I had a very large payroll, a lot of cash flow issues with that business but we also had no external capital. About three years into that we decided we wanted to get into the managed services side of IP and specifically our customers kept telling us that they wanted to have someone manage this potpourri of complex integrations they have to manage with their customers and with their suppliers. It’s a very difficult problem for them to deal with, it’s an expensive problem and we ended up building a service and a set of products that addressed that need directly. So our real key was listening to those customers early on, we evolved the business to be much tailored to what those customers were telling us. And in the process we got more and more business and we gained more and more credibility in the market that we serve. And with that credibility came more opportunities. We ended up acquiring some other companies in our space with our cash flow and it’s really been an interesting ride because the first time we started a business, we thought we had it all figured out when we had a business plan with all of the answers built in, this time we had no business plan and we went out in the market and just listened quite frankly.

Marcia Seidel

And I think that’s a really key point. We sometimes get so involved with our own thoughts on what we think the customer wants that we forget it to them we need to focus on. So I’m glad you brought that up because that’s a key point that I like to get across to our listeners. So now they have given us some history. Let’s you know talk about personally what does it mean to be an entrepreneur? What do you find most satisfying? And then you know not so satisfying.

Charlie

Well you know I get I get calls literally all the time from people who are in corporate jobs or they want to they call me up say let’s have coffee have an idea and I go oh great. And they present this idea in fact one of my very good friends, he presented to me this absolutely beautiful business plan it was bound, it was probably 75 or 100 pages. And I looked at it and he really couldn’t describe the business to me in about 30 seconds which is what you have to be able to do. And you know I flipped through it and I you know folded it back up and handed it to him and I said you know I only know one thing about this business plan and he said what that is? I said it’s wrong. And he kind of looked really offended at me and I said No I said let me let me explain to you. I lived through 9/11 owning a business. I lived through the downfall of 2008 2009 owning a business and operating a business through that environment. I’ve seen cloud technologies come. I’ve seen you know all kinds of different things come at us in the marketplace that you can’t predict quite frankly. So yeah I mean I get a lot of people coming to me saying they want to be an entrepreneur and they really have no idea what that means. They have no idea that it’s an all-in kind of thing for you, for your family, for your spouse, for your loved ones, for your friends. Everyone has to be all in. You can’t just dabble with it. And I don’t think I really even understood that when I started this company, when I started my first company I had investors to kind of back me up which they ended up really not doing. But this time it was all on me. You know I’d mortgage the house. I’m the one who signed the line of credit with the bank and I have to tell people that they got to be prepared for that. And I think most people aren’t. So for me that’s one piece of it. Another piece of it is comes with the freedom of defining the direction of the business. And for me, it’s the power to say yes and the power to say no to what your business is going to do. Since we brought this business you know through a completely different funding model, it’s more of a bootstrap funding model. We have complete say over the direction of the business. And in fact, we have occasionally, in fact twice over 11 years fired a customer and that was something the first time I did that it really went against all of my instincts which was the customer’s always right, these customers were abusive. They were sucking the life out of our business. They weren’t really paying on time. They were just a lot of problems with those customers and when I finally got the gumption up to just you know tell them “hey thanks but no thanks”. There was a collective sigh of relief in the business so the power to say no is something that I particularly enjoy in this. But I think a lot of people starting companies they don’t really realize that you’ve got that power to say yes and to say no.

Marcia Seidel

And again another key point that I heard you say, that I’ve heard from others as well as personally which is fire a client or fire a customer if they are too demanding, if they’re not paying on time you know whatever. Whatever it is it gives you, it empowers you and empowers your business. So you talked a bit about you know what is satisfying about being an entrepreneur. But let’s go to some of the challenges. What are the top three challenges in getting your business off the ground and now growing it? And you know we’ve talked a little bit about this before. And so you know just what was the top one and then a couple of others.

Charlie

Well I think first off I mentioned the need to be able to respond to the market and to be able to make a business, what the market needs at a particular point in time, for me bringing talent into the business at the early stages of that business was a particularly difficult thing because here you are you know in my case I had myself in a chair at the back of my lawyer’s office and a laptop and here I was trying to convince you know people smarter than me to come into the business which is absolutely essentially so I found the sales skills that are necessary to bring people into that kind of environment and sort of jump on that train with you in the early phases. It could be very difficult and sometimes you got the best resources, sometimes you had to kind of make due and realize that the needs of the business aren’t going to change and you’re going to be able to bring new resources on over time and you know whenever you did make a mistake you had to own up to that mistake. And on that point that really brings me to the second key thing is you know you have to own your mistakes in this business. I joke around that. You know why it is everybody else can make a mistake in this business but whenever I make a mistake it cost $100000. It’s very you know I think understanding and owning your mistakes and being you know the leader that owns that is really key. So that’s huge. And the last one and I think everybody sort of talks about funding strategy but having built this business on a bootstrap model doesn’t mean we didn’t have funding. I mean we had relationships with banks, we had some friends and family money come in and at a minimum if someone is contributing their time to the business you need to account for that as an investment because that’s valuable to the business. For me the nominal Boy Scout right it’s always you know what that thing is prepared right. So I always have a plan A which is what we go and execute against. If that doesn’t work out you know I’ve got a plan B in my back pocket and in most situations especially when it comes around funding or business strategy you know I’ll have a plan A B C and D in my back pocket on really every major part of the business. And I think you know balancing, being committed to one path and having you know those alternative paths in mind is a challenge as a leader but it’s something that has absolutely saved us more than once. I will say that in 2009 we tried to buy a business or we did buy a business that was somewhat distressed and we couldn’t get funding for it. In 2009 no one was funding companies so I had a plan A B C D and we actually got down to a plain E and was able to execute that in by that business and evolve it and integrate it into

Marcia Seidel

Well you know I like your three key points. I like the idea of not being writing a business plan or maybe not even have a business plan. I’m not sure everyone would agree with you. The second thing you said was surround yourself with people smarter than you, bring in the talent. Don’t be afraid and you may have to work on getting them on board. And the third thing is having a plan A B C D and even E. So this is just really good information. And now it is time for a quick break. I’m Marcia Seidel the smart moves coach and my guest is Charlie Miller talking about the over under a story of one entrepreneur’s journey to tech startups, in the next segment Charlie will now bring much to the present and in the future as to where does he see his business going in another three to five years and then we’ll get into taking a deeper dive into some key points that I like to cover which is leadership, culture, hiring the right talent so stay tuned.

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You’re tuned into the business edge with Marcia Seidel, to reach Marcia or her guests on today’s show. Please call 1 8664725790. You can also send us an e-mail to Marcia@smartmovescoach.com now back to the business edge.

Marcia Seidel

Welcome back to the business. I’m Marcia Seidel, the smart move coach helping entrepreneurs and business owners create a thriving culture and leadership to build great companies that matter. Those that do well and do well. My guest is Charlie Miller talking about the over under a story of one entrepreneur’s journey with two tech startups. At the end of the last segment Charlie brought us from the time he started to where he is today and some of the challenges that he was facing as well as what does it mean to be an entrepreneur. What’s the reality? And now we are going to go from the present to the future. So Charlie what are your future plans. Where do you want your business to be in three to five years from now?

Charlie

Well that’s a great question first. First off I’m not going to be retired. Everybody asked me that. But that’s certainly not in the cards any time soon. I just love what I’m doing too much. As far as first Aptera goes we are aggressively growing this business. We’ve built a growth plan that I’ll talk about here in a minute and we’re executing that fairly diligently right now. But on a personal level I have learned and developed a set of perspectives or methods that help test ideas in the market very quickly and very efficiently. So this process of going out into the market and landing on where we are today is really the result of some less efficient testing that we did over the years with a lot of different ideas that didn’t work and I really plan to continue that process of testing different ideas and focusing in on the ones that have the most potential. So in three to five years I certainly expect Aptera to continue to grow. The ironic thing is if I’m effective as a leader it shouldn’t need me on a day to day basis. So we’ll see how that goes. That’s actually my objective right now is to build repeatable processes and procedures and people and leaders in the company that so much that it that it doesn’t need me. And that’s hard for a lot of entrepreneurs to understand. But that’s really where I’m trying to take the business.

Marcia Seidel

Yes and I agree with you that many entrepreneurs it’s one of the hardest challenges they have is to start letting go. And that means letting go of day to day operations, letting go of maybe some decision making. But I don’t think you have that problem. So, now we’re going to be talking about you know growing a business. What does it actually entail? So tell me about your plans. You touched on it a bit right before but maybe do a little deeper dive on how you plan to grow or expand.

Charlie

Sure. So for last year I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Goldman Sachs growth business program called 10000 small businesses and it’s a miniature MBA that I sat in on and what we built was not a business plan. It was a growth plan and I never really sat down and done that level of analysis and structure and it’s a formal document and it’s a growth plan, it’s 15 20 pages and I shared it with the management team and the rest of the company and said guys this is how we’re going to grow the business and the process consists of looking at you know what opportunities do you have to grow the business in an objective assessment of the value proposition that your company can present in that opportunity a detailed financial analysis including you know all the cash you’re going to need to address that opportunity. But for us we really boiled it down to three things one and it was all about sales and marketing. We have a very strong execution capability. We have very scalable processes from an operation perspective, we already support thousands of companies in our product, in our support processes and our infrastructure all that’s been built. So for us it’s really about getting the word out and we wanted to get that word out in three key ways. The first was through digital engagement. So marketing and sales today is really quite different than it was five years ago, used to be you could hire you know some knuckle dragging, bag carrying sales guys and to let them go out and just sell on the relationship. And that doesn’t that doesn’t work anymore today you have to engage with customers digitally and that requires quite a bit of investment. And so we invested in a very solid web presence that has a lot of features that allow the customers to go in and educate themselves. And there’s a calculator and what’s happening behind the scenes is we’re actually measuring you know all of the activity of each of those visitors if you will and we’re scoring them. And so we’re really pushing as much of that upfront engagement and the qualifying and the convincing the customer that we know what we’re doing out to a digital, kind of a digital experience and that’s we’re in the early phases of having that rolled out we rolled out the first phase last month and we’re excited about the initial results. The second part really is to expand our channel sales capabilities, so we’ve started selling our software through other software companies and so they we have a very specialized need. There are many software companies that have lots of customers that also need this. And so we’ve been forming alliances with those software companies to resell our product, sometimes we’ll brand our product as their products. They can offer it to their customers. And protect their brand. And then you know the last piece is really building a scalable very efficient people machine in the back end to really operate this digital factory if you will of sales and marketing.

Marcia Seidel

Well you know I think that’s really where you’re at. Which is you have as you said you have the execution down, you have the processes down, the services, and you have lots of customers. How do you get the word out? And certainly being on the business edge is one of the ways to get that word out. Exactly. Now I want to take a deeper dive. And my whole focus, what I love talking to entrepreneurs about and working with them is leadership and I am sure all entrepreneurs face a variety of leadership issues especially when they move from a startup venture to a more established business. So, can you give some examples of that whether you want to talk about your own personal leadership, developing a culture? What are some of the things that you are struggling with or have struggled with in terms of that big area of leadership?

Charlie

Absolutely and I want to start with some advice that I got in my first failed startup from a very wise man who is our chairman Sam Smith and he was watching me in the early phases of that business and I was trying to do everything like most early entrepreneurs do. And he sat down he looked at me and he said you know what, you’ll be more effective the less that you do. And I was sort of taken back and I didn’t really understand it at that time. And over the years I’ve really started to internalize that and realize that he’s not telling me to be lazy. He’s not telling me not to work on the business what he’s telling me is not to work in the business. And you hear that a lot in entrepreneurial circles work on the business not in the business. That’s what he was saying and that’s a little thing that I keep telling myself all the time as you know Charlie you’ll be more effective the less that you do. But as far as how you know your relationship as an entrepreneur and your leadership changes, it really changes with the life cycle of the business in a fairly dramatic way. And the best analogy I’ve come up with so far is really that of parenting right. I have two daughters and one of them is at school and the other is just graduating started her first job so. So we’ve seen that lifecycle and our relationship and our jobs as parents have changed over the years. But you know in the in the infancy stage of a business you have to do everything. I mean you have to feed it you’ve got to change its diaper. You’ve got to take out the trash. I mean you’ve got to do everything right. And I think some people do kind of get stuck in that. And in my opinion that’s just that’s just glorified self-employment. And that doesn’t really help you build a business and then you know you move into early childhood and teenage years and you’re still teaching the business the basics and but you’re still got to make sure that the business is doing what it needs to do. You know you’re getting the business to school on time for lack of a better analogy. And then as it grows it starts to develop an opinion. And that’s good. It means you’ve hired good people and it kind of becomes this rebellious teenager young adult and you know your job is to back off and coach at some point you’re you know you’re doing more coaching than you are dictating how things are done. But you always reserve that parent card where you can come in and say you know what I can make this decision for you. But I would prefer you to make this decision for yourself. And I think over time you know in the last 2 years, I’ve seen my role with this business change fairly dramatically in that. And I certainly haven’t gotten it all right but I’ve had some really smart people around me to kind of call me out when hey you know Charlie you don’t need to be on that demo, you know go off into the beach and hang out. And what I will tell you, when the company tells you to go to the beach that’s a pretty good thing. The last two years I actually took a 10 day vacation in the mountains where I didn’t have my phone and you know I thought my head was going to explode the first few days. And know I got back into the camp and that 300 e-mails and quite frankly only one of them really required my attention. And it wasn’t even urgent. So that was really kind of an epiphany moment for me that we could you know the business could operate without me. But the two things that have made this normal process, this is hard enough when you’re all in the same room the two things that are made, this really difficult for us as a software company is we are, we really embrace a virtual workforce. We have you know people all over the world. We have people in Asia. We have our chief architect lives in Florida. He lives on the beach and works on the beach. I live in Dallas. My CEO lives here in Dallas. He travels our head of support lives in Houston. We’ve got two really key guys that live in Canada. So it’s trying to build a virtual slash global culture that is aligned is even more difficult when you’re already dealing with this lifecycle issue, in the way we’ve addressed it is you know rightly or wrongly we really embrace technology in the various present technologies you know messaging and videoconferencing and all that stuff where it’s really pretty neat in any given point in time. You know I can log in and you know see everybody online and we can you know pop a message and you know have a quick conversation, that’s really been. But it still makes for a challenge to keep everybody in aligned. Being physically separated the way we are,

Marcia Seidel

You know you brought up a really good point here and I want to talk a little bit more about it which is more and more companies are dealing with virtual teams. In fact I’ll be doing a webinar for one of the companies on managing a virtual team effectively. So you have the technology and you can have instant communication. But you said the last point you know you said it was keeping everyone aligned. How do you do that? For example do you bring in people periodically to a central place where they can do face to face? Do you have some traditions or rituals in the company that promotes the culture? What role do you play? Now I know this is made the way you and I haven’t talked about it but something to think about so do you have any ideas about that as how do you get people aligned and focus on the culture when they are geographically dispersed?

Charlie

So those are the key and we’re really too large now to have sort of one team sprit to core if you will. But the key is to really leverage the idea of teams that self-governed each other. So what we do is we say this is our objective, you support team this is your objective, you development team this is your objective, you sales team this is your objective and really have those teams self-govern as much as possible towards those goals. And you know we’ve learned on this you know many times is the best method to do a morning you know stand up quick status call, is it best to do a quick e-mail what is you know and frankly I let those teams define what works best for them in that situation. So at the end of the day you know I can’t manage 10 teams like that. I can only do it with one or two. And what I really want is for the team itself to own the process that they used to create those results.

Marcia Seidel

And we just have a minute or two left that says to me that when you give that autonomy to the team you better have good people on the team. How do you make that happen? How do you make sure you have good people on the team? And you have about two minutes.

Charlie

Well again this has all been a learning process for us. And again, the team selects the team members. And so, what’s happening now is there’s quite a rigid selection process that the team members go through and they really have to be accepted by each other. And so what also happens in that situation is if a team member comes in and isn’t performing for whatever reason, the team is bought into their success. So they brought him in. They support him and so they’re going to support that person as much as they can. And if there’s if there’s really a situation where that that employee or that team member can’t or won’t perform, the team really does the self-selecting. And many times they will resign themselves or whatever. So, the goal is to have a self-governing team environment like that that selects the best team members but also eliminates you know votes the votes the members off the island if you will for the right for the right job. Does that make sense?

Marcia Seidel

Well I think you’ve made it within 30 seconds, so listeners it’s time for a short break. I’m Marcia Seidel, the smart moves culture. My guest is Charlie Miller talking about the over under a story of one’s entrepreneur’s journey to tech startups. In the next segment, Charlie will give his wisdom in terms of some do’s and don’ts and what was his biggest “aha” moment. So you’re listening to the business edge on voice America business channel. Stay tuned.

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You’re tuned into the business edge with Marcia Seidel, to reach Marcia or her guests on today’s show. Please call 18664725790. You can also send us an e-mail to Marcia@smartmovescoach.com now back to the business edge.

Marcia Seidel

Welcome back to the business edge. I’m Marcia Seidel the smart move coach, helping entrepreneurs and business owners create a thriving culture and leadership to build great companies that matter, those that do good and do well. My guest is Charlie Miller talking about the over under a story of one entrepreneur’s journey with two tech startups. And in the last segment Charlie really got into did a deep dive to watch some of the challenges and issues are especially in terms of leadership and how that role has to change and he even used the analogy of parenting which I certainly can relate to. But now we’re going to get into some of the quick you know some ideas that, key ideas that Charlie wants to pass on to budding entrepreneurs are those who are growing their business. So, first Charlie in your entrepreneurial journey what has been your biggest “aha”

Charlie

I think I already hit on the biggest one but I’m going to say it again, it’s realizing that you know I don’t have to be everything and I don’t have to do everything for the business. And in fact the irony of business ownership is if you do everything you actually diminish the value of your business. So if you have a business that produces and produces predictably buy itself without you constantly pushing it along, it is it is more valuable than one in which you have to do that. And that’s such a big mentality shift from how most people who are working in corporate America work. I used to work in one of the big consulting firms and it was a very difficult environment. It was a very competitive environment. And one of my colleagues she’s still a good friend today that she had on our screen saver every day. How have you added value today. And it was a constant sort of process to make sure you were personally adding value into the business and you were perceived as valuable. That is not the case when you own your own business. It’s about how does the business add value. And you have to it takes a person has to have some confidence to sort of step out of themselves and be okay with that and not be the center of the business and allow others to get the spotlight. So to me that is absolutely huge. And I see a lot of entrepreneurs that you know perhaps don’t have that confidence and the ability to step out of themselves and celebrate the success of their business and not so much the success of themselves. So that’s really the biggest piece

Marcia Seidel

And yes when you’re no longer focused on yourself but focus on your business and I’ll take it even one step further, focused on your customers focused on your employees focused on your community so that it spreads out and that’s where success is. So let’s move on then, what advice or words of wisdom would you give to entrepreneurs starting a growing a business? What are some do’s and don’ts that you have learned and would like to pass on?

Charlie

So I’ll start with the Do column and I do think I have a much longer don’t column based on my own experience but. But let’s start with the do’s. The first is absolutely get your family on board. This is not something you’re doing by yourself your entire family is going to be impacted. You’re not going to be sleeping at 2:00 in the morning and you’re going to keep your wife awake or your husband awake or your kids awake or are you’re not going to be able to go to an event because you have to fly somewhere and it’s just get them on board. And when I say get them on board, over communicate with them. One of the things all entrepreneurs struggle with at least I think is entrepreneurial fear while they may appear confident on the outside they’re probably secretly you know screaming inside of fear. And one of the things that your spouse doesn’t have in your family doesn’t have is all of the small cues you get all day long that you’re not crazy. You get cues the customer says oh that’s cool. Or you know some marketplace stories you know validates your idea and it drives you forward. Your spouse doesn’t have that. Depending on your spouse’s personality that fear can become overwhelming for them. So my biggest do is to bring them along with the journey and realize that you know you’re going to impact them. And I’m blessed to have had you know the same family for this whole time and 30 years with the same spouse Larry. And you know a lot of entrepreneurs don’t survive that. And I think that’s really critical to understand how the fear impacts your family. The second is….

Marcia Seidel

Let me just interject something because I know you want to get into something else but I want to talk to that point and reinforce it. A number of years ago I did outplacement and one of the big tech companies here in Dallas had major layoffs their technical staff and I was working in the career center and I was you know working with one of their engineers. And he decided that he was going to go into business and he was going to flip houses. He was going to go buy you know distress houses refurbish them and sell them. And one of the one time he came to me during a coaching session he says you know my wife saw my back, I mean she’s really not supporting me blah, blah, blah. And my question to him was; what have you told your wife? Does she know what you’re trying to do? Does she see the light at the end of the tunnel and he looked at me and he said no. I said then go do it. And the next time he came back and they actually went away and they had a time together where, she understood, he understood her fears and she understood what he was trying to do. So really key point. Well now moving on I did interrupt you so what were you going to give another do or are you going to get into the don’ts.

Charlie

No I’m going to I’m going to give a give one more due in a couple of dates. And the first the first one is everybody talks about KPI but you really need to don’t overdo it with your KPI. I mean for me we have two to three KPI that I watch managing the business and I know if these two numbers are pointing the right direction the business is doing some of the right things and you’ve got to define those early on and watch them and you know trust your gauges if you will. You know people talk about pilots you know flying by you know by instruments if you will. But you know trust is in early stages you’re flying a bit by instinct and you’re operating based on hey you know I just had a good meeting. That’s great. Was that meeting progress towards a sale or was it a good meeting. Right. You have to start to really trust your gauges. OK well we had 10 meetings last week and then we had two follow on meetings and we had one proposal. So those are your numbers right. Don’t confuse the meeting you know with progress right. That’s one example of that. So that’s really key. And already talked about the having at least three or four plans for major businesses, those are key. So on the on the don’ts, certainly in the biggest; don’t ignore the market. And there’s going to be unexpected events. You know what was 9 11 what hit me was 2008. What hit me was a competitor coming out with a product that looks very similar to my own. You know expect that those things are going to happen. I think a lot of entrepreneurs get very myopic about their plans and they’re they’ve gotten used to not listening to anybody and just because we’re a stubborn breed.

Right. We’re everybody is telling us we’re stupid anyway in the early days of this business. You get it get in the habit of not listening. We’ll be very careful of not listening. And you know if somebody takes the time to tell you something or the market gives you a cue, don’t ignore it. So those are the key big ones that I could probably go on and on but I don’t think we have time for that.

Marcia Seidel

Well those are really good do’s and don’ts and now a follow up question which I like to ask all entrepreneurs on this show is from your experience as well as knowing others what are the top three traits successful entrepreneur have?.

Charlie

So, number one when it when I first started this business I was not in the best of shape and I’m calling the stamina. Right. And this isn’t just physical stamina. This is mental stamina. This is this is staying you know up until you know 2:00 in the morning to get a proposal out that needs to be done. This is this is mental stamina. This is a long game. If you’ve ever run a long marathon or a long hike or any number of different things, I think you know what I’m talking about, you’re going and you’re going and you’re going. It’s emotional and physical stamina. You’ve got to have that. And if you’re not prepared physically for it you need to get prepared physically for it to go you know hire a trainer or get to the gym whatever it is you need to do start the day off. You know with making yourself strong and making sure that you’re taking care of your body and your mind, that’s really key because you want it. I’ve been amazed at how my mind isn’t clear my body is clear I’m not able to make the decisions that I need to make. But if I’m nourished and I’m exercised I’m making much better decisions. So that’s number one. And I can’t emphasize that enough. That’s probably the biggest one. The second is you really have to have a strong network because I can’t begin to count the number of people that have helped make this business what it is. And you know while I get the kind of sit at the top of it and say hey you know I built this, it’s a we built this and it’s not just the people in the business, it’s your friends your colleagues your networks the people that you called early on and said hey when you take a meeting with me and they took a meeting with you and told you were crazy and or didn’t you know and it made maybe made an introduction or whatever. Those things are absolutely essential. You got to have a strong network in your industry in as say a network of people that know you and trust you and believe in you. Without that we wouldn’t have gotten very far quite frankly, so that was that was really huge. And then the last one is no how in your industry. So you know I’m a software guy and specifically I’m a software services guy. I don’t invest in restaurants. I’m not going to start which franchise. I’m not going to I’m not going to do lawn services or retail or consumer products or pet you know Service walking services, I’m not going to do any of that. Those are all great businesses I’m sure for somebody who knows what they’re doing. But I don’t know anything about those businesses. I don’t know about real estate. What I do know is I know software and I know it really well and I know how to build businesses around that. So I think when somebody comes to me and says hey you know what. You know I’m an accountant at this accounting firm over here and I want to start a videogame company. You know I tell them you know look you know I think you need to then maybe take a reality check here because you know there’s so many little tricks in every business. And in just so many little nuances and why would you try to go learn that on your own? So that to me is the top three.

Marcia Seidel

I’m going to stop you right there because you did three of the really good three top three but now I want to move on to how can you know, I want to thank you so much it has been absolutely fascinating for me. I loved interviewing you and but I’m sure listeners may want to contact you want to find out more about you and your company so how can they contact you and maybe give you a website and things like that.

SPEAKER: M10

Sure. Well to back up you know Altera’s mission is to help companies connect with their customers and suppliers and create these seamless business processes between them. And it’s a really exciting area. Most software at least that I’ve been experienced with over the years has focused on helping companies automate their internal processes. So maybe if are in process or accounting process or production process we really focus on helping companies automate their external processes and it’s really been a theme through my entire career is to help companies create seamless processes across multiple organizations. So we actually write quite a bit on our blog certainly you’re welcome to go to Aptera.com. We get all kinds of resources out there including the online business case generator that I talked about you can subscribe to our blog, we talk about a lot of emerging technologies like block chain, how some of those things are going to come up and impact this world of collaboration. I also have a private blog which is linked to B2Bcollaboration.me and you can certainly email me Charlie@aptera.com also. I’m also on Twitter at Calls Miller. So I would love to hear from anybody on this. We actually do have some guest bloggers occasionally, so if you have something interesting to say we’d love to hear from you.

Marcia Seidel

Well again thank you so much Charlie. And I hope to have you back. I want to see the progress of your Aptera and how you’re doing. So let’s get to next week’s program to bring more magic to your leadership in business. And it’s breaking the gap between baby boomers and millennia’s. My guest is Jason Cradle, angel investor and CEO of the smart app company. He has published over 20 books and consults with entrepreneurs to help them expand sales inspire employees and improve the overall culture. Tune in for another entrepreneurs journey as well as a conversation between a millennial Jason and a baby boomer Marcia. It’s July 15th at noon Pacific 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Thank you for listening to the business edge with Marcia’s side of a smart move coach and speaker helping entrepreneurial ventures in small to medium sized companies build the leadership and talent to move from innovative startup to productive scale up, to profitable enterprise. Remember to be successful you must get outside your comfort zone. That’s where the magic happens. Thank you.

You’ve been listening to the business edge with Marcia Seidel the smart moves coach. Join us again next Friday noon Pacific Time 3:00 p.m. Eastern time on the voice America business channel.  Make the leap from a stressful to a successful business.

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