Greetings Exit Eventers,
Scot Wingo is co-founder and CEO of ChannelAdvisor, a public company in Morrisville, N.C. that helps e-commerce retailers optimize sales across channels. Wingo and team took the company public in May 2013.
This is a regular series, and you can read Wingo's other posts here. Ask him a question by commenting or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apologies for the lack of activity lately, Q4 is our busy season @ChannelAdvisor, so I haven’t had time to answer questions. The good news is we are through the peak season and I’m back to answer your entrepreneurial questions.
I recently joined the startup world after spending my initial 2.5 years post-grad at a large technology company. The move has been refreshing. I am now working within an industry and company that excite me. I view this as not only my first real opportunity in business, but as the stage for learning as much as I can before I come up with my own 'big idea', and go on to found/co-found my own business.
My question for you: what are the top 3 areas that I should make an effort to expose myself to in the company, that will 1) allow me to provider well-rounded value to this business, and 2) best prepare me to launch a successful venture down the road (e.g., sales/marketing, product, fundraising, implementation). I have found that I have some latitude to work in each of these different areas, and more.
To provide a bit of context, I do not have a technical background and have held Finance/Account management-type roles in the past.
Thanks for the question! I don’t know if you’ve ever taken one of the personality tests out there or not (Myers-Briggs, etc.). I’ve taken them over the years, but I didn’t need to take them to know the results—I’m an introvert. As an engineer, my happy place is in front of a computer by myself for days on end.
Unfortunately, starting a company is a 100% extravert activity and like you, I used one of my first jobs to push against my comfort zone and do as much extravert-ish activities as possible.
So that’s my first piece of advice. Which of these activities scares you the most:
• Sales—Going on a sales call either by yourself or with a rep where you are outnumbered by the people that attend from your prospect. You are hit with rapid fire questions and have to handle all that and close the deal.
• Financing—You go to a VC ‘cold’ (first meeting) and have to pitch them on the business and convince them to invest.
• Account management/customer service—You are the front line for customers that are not happy with your service. You have to inbound their complaints, solve their problems and turn them into happy customers.
• Public speaking—You need to get up in front of a big group of customers or folks in your industry and present your company or a big theme/industry trend.
• Marketing/writing—You have to write a competitive analysis, put together a launch plan or write an externally-facing blog post like this.
• Recruiting—You are the last interview for a candidate. The other interviewers have given the candidate a ‘strong hire’ or thumbs up. You have to come in and interview them and sell them on the company.
If none of that feels outside of your comfort zone, or you do those things for the first 6-12 months and want to add more, then here’s another angle.
The founder’s time pie charts by company stage
As founder, your role and responsibilities change dynamically with the lifecycle of your fledgling enterprise (also known as wearing a lot of hats.) Here are three examples: Note that I’m doing this as is it was a software company, but there are many similarities with any type of business.
In this phase of the company, you are getting it off the ground—creating product, recruiting the starting team, pitching customers and maybe even pitching investors. This phase is 1-50 people in the company.
• Recruiting/people issues—5%
Here you are juggling between five roles and have to be able to move in and out pretty seamlessly. This is obviously a simplification because when you are on sales calls, you are listening for those cues that can help you with product, etc.
In this phase of the company, you have customers that you need to keep and you need to add many more customers. On top of that, you have 50-200 people, so you are recruiting, training and motivating them. The product has to keep evolving and your marketing message now needs to be much more refined. You may also need to keep existing investors happy, and while recruiting new investors.
• Product – 45%
• Sales – 25%
• Marketing/writing – 10%
• Recruiting/people issues – 8%
• Financing/Investor relations – 6%
• Account management – 4%
• Public speaking – 2%
Now you can see that you are starting to juggle more balls and get spread into a variety of different parts of the company.
In late stage, you have 200+ employees, multiple locations and geographies. This is subjective, but I’m a big believer in staying connected with your product and customers as well as the company's messaging. That's why product/sales/marketing occupy the bulk of the time (60%).
• Product – 20%
• Sales – 20%
• Marketing/writing – 20%
• Recruiting/people issues – 18%
• Account management – 8%
• Financing/Investor relations -5%
• Public speaking – 5%
• Misc – 4%
Final word on product
When I list ‘product’ above, what I’m talking about is what I tend to call Product Management or PM. In a software company you have this challenge that you have a literally flood of ideas and feedback from customers and prospects. You have an engineering team that you want to keep as focused and head’s down as possible.
While you could have them do this, and in the super early days (2-3 people) you have no choice. But let’s say you have a team of 2-4 coders and you want to keep them focused on releasing new features. Someone has to collect, filter, prioritize and synthesize all of the feature requests and feedback coming in. That’s the PM function.
As you grow, you can bring in PMs to help with this challenge, but in my experience, you’ll want to continue to be involved heavily on the product side.
Hopefully this helps you think about areas of your existing company to explore so you gain experience for your plunge into the startup world.