“Marketing? What the hell is marketing? Software? What the hell is software?”
Catchy title? Not really. Actually, these were quite literally the thoughts that went through my mind when I got my first real job, in 1981. And I really never expected that this new job of such extreme unknowns would end up as the beginning of a lengthy, rewarding career.
As I mentioned in the post starting this series, I was recently tasked with delivering the welcome presentation at my company’s annual kickoff meeting. After a long day of listening and interacting with colleagues during a QBR (often with frustration), I decided to go off-script. I discarded my prepared presentation and opted instead to speak from my heart about why I am here, and where I see us going, doing so via a look back at my own personal career journey. It was hard to be so introspective. It was hard to craft a story that was relevant, but I think it worked, and the feedback was good.
I’ve decided to document my journey now, because I think there are interesting tidbits there, many of which I wanted to touch on but simply forgot to mention in my unscripted talk. More importantly, I think there are takeaways within the narrative that can help people in their day-to-day, at work and even at home.
When my colleagues and others in the industry talk about what I “bring to the table”, most often I hear about two things: my experience & my passion. I hope to weave those into the conversation, as I did when I gave my talk to our team.
That said, when they say “experience”, I hear “old”. When they say “passion”, I hear “obnoxious”. I am sure you’ll recognize both as the series continues (if you know me at all, you likely already do). The whole story is framed within the idea of what I’ve learned (my experience), and how I became good at what I do (my passion).
I’ve been very lucky (or very blessed) to be part of some amazing companies and I have been exposed to some amazing people. Those experiences and those people have led me to my today. Until I stepped back from my planned kickoff presentation, even I didn’t realize how I got here, or who influenced me along the way, beyond the obvious. Hopefully you can take something from my story.
So, as I mentioned, it all started at a 5,000 watt radio station in Fresno, California. Wait, sorry. Wrong story.
This process actually began with a seemingly innocuous day. A Quarterly Business Review. I wasn’t responsible for the content, and it was to be the “easy” day of my kickoff week. Or so I thought. That seemingly simple day led me to change up my approach, and that ultimately led to this blog series.
So, what happened? Nothing bad. At all. In fact, it was very, very good. I heard presentation after presentation, and actively participated in discussion after discussion, about all the really positive things happening in our business. These used SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) methodology, and while there are always weaknesses and threats, they were completely overshadowed by the myriad strengths and opportunities.
My angst came from there being so much discussion of good, and not enough discussion of how we can be great. Too much about how we were positioning ourselves to help our customers & prospects solve known problems that have existed for years, not enough about challenging them with our capabilities to solve the problems of their future. Remember (from my previous post), I want to go “where the puck is going, not where the puck already is”.
I am probably more sensitive to this than anyone else at Clicktale. Clicktale largely has played in a space I helped create at Tealeaf, which was acquired by IBM in 2012. I joined Tealeaf in 2001, and stayed all the way through (and beyond) the acquisition. We do very similar things. And the difference is in the nuance, not the obvious. Nuances I understand. Nuances I want our team to understand. Nuances I want our customers, and prospects, and the market to understand. The difference is in the use cases and the problems we solve, less about the technology we use to solve them. The outcomes. Don’t get me wrong, you need the technology & expertise – and we have both, our secret sauce – to solve the problems, but you need to start with the end in mind. It’s not about the technical building blocks, it’s about how you apply them.
I heard over and over about real opportunities we have to “replace” Tealeaf. That’s because Tealeaf was first in market 17 years ago, and because all the key people who drove its vision long ago left IBM, and frankly because IBM customers have told us (in conversations and in lots of RFIs and RFPs) that they are planning on moving on from Tealeaf, for various reasons. Of course, where there is a chance to replace something, there is a budget to grab – and nothing warms the hearts (stokes the engines?) of salespeople more than a simple reason to engage, and available budget to latch onto. By the way, in case you wonder, I long ago came to grips with the emotional realization that my baby is now ugly, and maybe even dying.
So, what’s the problem? Simply, I want the conversation to change. I want to demonstrate what we are doing to solve the needs of companies doing business online now and in the future, not just respond to the checklist of needs they’ve relied on in the past. What I needed to get across to my team was the idea that those “checklist” use cases didn’t exist until Tealeaf told these companies that they did. That’s how you create a market out of nothing and create a value proposition from the ether. It was us convincing people of the problems they needed to solve. And honestly, we didn’t really know, either. We proved them out alongside our customers.
We learned, and we iterated & we refined & we adjusted. It’s not as if we started go-to-market in 2001 with some genius master plan. In fact, Tealeaf began as a debugging tool for web developers, because there wasn’t anything else to do that with back then. We tried what seemed like a million different things, a fraction of which worked. We blew through $24M of Venture Capital funding with nearly zero sales. We had less than half a million dollars in the bank when I joined, barely enough to meet payroll for a month, which both says a lot about my poor decision-making at times, and also about the pressure to build something useful and saleable. I bristle at the idea that we just rolled something out to the market so perfectly designed and thought out that it would still resonate today. It was much harder than that. And frankly, we weren’t that smart. Since I was there from the beginnings of our success, I know how hard it was, and how much the entire team was often “on the tips of our skis” back then.
Many of my current colleagues also came from Tealeaf, but most joined much later in that journey – after much of the experimentation was over. They only remember when it was pretty much baked. On the other hand, I remember when we were still trying to create the recipe. My perspective on this is quite different than theirs – as it should be, since my jobs (then and now) are more vision-focused than theirs need be. This is where my experience comes into play, and I’d hope can be learned from. 2001 was literally a lifetime ago. In digital terms, it is nearly prehistoric.
We weren’t alone in thrashing around to figure it out. Every company evolves. I think sometimes we hold products or values against too simple of a prism. Or at least a very idealized memory. We only remember the really big successes or really big failures of technology companies. We forget the myriad iterations and adjusments along the way. We idolize some companies and we put their leadership on pedestals for their brilliance. Do you remember that Apple, Motorola and AT&T had a iPod phone well before Apple created the iPhone? Or that the original iPhone was pretty useless – not enough network capacity (even at 3G speed), but also no wifi, and no 3rd party apps? Do you remember that Apple once had a PDA called Newton that failed miserably? (more on that in a later installment), Or that they produced their own digital camera? I still own one, pictured below. These all from the brilliant mind of Steve Jobs.
Do you remember that the original offerings of Salesforce.com included a local version that was installed on a computer? Delivered on a disk? Mark Benioff.
When the battle for “computing supremacy” wasn’t Cloud v. On-premises, but rather which operating system would win? When Microsoft was nearly left behind, on the outside of that debate? That after winning that battle, Microsoft then nearly killed themselves with an operating system strangely named Bob? Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer.
I remember all of it. Because, experience. Or maybe just old.
I didn’t come here to do the same thing over again. That doesn’t really interest me. When I left IBM, I literally told people that I’d rather blow my brains out than spend another minute talking about session replays and digital heatmaps – the core of what Tealeaf did, and of what Clicktale has been. Yet here I am. Because of the nuances. I joined Clicktale because we have the chance to change the conversation, and the world. To educate and lead companies to solve the problems they face in 2018 and beyond, which are clearly more advanced – because the world has changed and advanced – especially OUR world, over 17 years. For goodness sake, in 2001 Amazon’s total annual revenue was $1.12B. In 2017, their revenue was $43.7B. Just for the third quarter. An evolved industry. A different scale. With different challenges & problems.
This is why I felt the need to retrace my own history – and my experiences. To help my colleagues understand the genesis of my distaste for solving the problems of the past – even ones I evangelized myself – and my desire to drive the conversation towards the future. To give a glimpse into specific examples from my own career that were seminal moments for me. And, finally, to demonstrate that if you are inquisitive and thoughtful and can ingest ideas and personalize them, then you can tell your own version of a story, with passion.
You can’t really tell a story using packaged slides. You can’t really problem solve or talk about a vision within the construct of a deck. But if you are expert in what you do, and how it helps people, you can successfully change the conversation.
Wayne Gretzky would likely tell you that before you can even think about skating to where the puck is going, you have to be such a good skater that you don’t even think about the process of skating in the first place.
In the next installment, I’ll start at my beginning. But always with the end in mind.
As always, your comments, shares and subscribes are appreciated.
1 thought on “My Unlikely Career. A Retrospective, in 4 decades. Part 2.”
Appreciate your viewpoint and life in another world I ‘m so unfamiliar with. Easy read.