Disruption in an 88-year old company (Part I)

Let's set the stage: I started a medical device company that was acquired by a Fortune 100 company a few years back. Post acquisition, I had attempted to disrupt this giant corporation. I was one of 4500 employees in one of nine decentralized divisions.

I felt like I had accomplished two solid objectives in my professional career early on. First, invent sticky products solutions that solve real problems for humans at a very large scale all the while growing and selling my own company to a successful incumbent Second, move my own cheese and make myself so uncomfortable that I was vulnerable to the world and become a beginner again.  During the first phase of my career, after the acquisition my experience didn't go as well as I had hoped in my opinion.  What I thought was green grass was really yellow grass with a patch of green grass every now and then.  I lasted two years at the acquiring company. I resigned for a myriad of reasons but mostly because my family of six wanted to get back to Utah.  As an aside, the exit was terrific that's not why I felt like it failed. It was bigger than a liquidity event. What I hoped to do was more about what I thought my company and my personal influence could do to the products inside the acquiring organization. I was also hoping to learn from the insanely talented people there. 

Three short years after I left this Fortune 100 company, I went through another technology acquisition.  This time, I was more mature and understood post-acquisition dynamics so I had a very pleasant experience. We sold for the right reasons and to the right company. 

Now I'm on the third chapter of my career: wanting  to disrupt a large enterprise organization successfully.  The first time I tried to do this I failed so I took all the learnings from the two previous experiences and wanted to give it another shot.  People still wonder why I am spending my valuable entrepreneurial years working for a giant organization.  Little do they know, the problems inside these companies are as fun to solve as growing a startup. 

The First Day: It started on August 12th 2013. I was asked to join O.C. Tanner and disrupt product and process, and find new and emerging markets for them.  Here is a small snippet of my charter. A lot has changed since then but I really do need to give credit to David Hilton, Dave Petersen and Joel Dehlin for leaving this so open ended:


Candidly, joining O.C. Tanner was an awesome task: 1500 employees, a phenomenal employee culture, and a huge pedigree of first's to market. For all intents and purposes, O.C. Tanner is the successful incumbent.

In my first few weeks, I jumped right in and began to interview a lot of people. Below is a sample of a single interview. I completed nearly 40 of these types of interviews. I also wrote in my journal regularly.  I will provide those entries in future blog posts. 

The Disruptor: In my opinion, disruption gets a bad name.  Disruption is not intended to continue on forever. True disruptive change needs to come full circle. You start off inside the corporation as a "disruptor" until trust is built and humans aren't job fearing due to the change you may present . Once the droves of people see that you are simply another cog in the wheel and that the solution you provide is a necessary part of the organization, all resumes back to normal.  It's the time between when the disruptor enters the building to when the building sees you as just another cog is what I want to define and talk about. Because this is where all the challenges lie.  In fact, during my research this was the defining time period that organization killed most of the disruptive concepts happening inside the company.

The Executive Team: One of the single points of success or failure is at the top of the company. I have sat with many CEOs the last ten years and within an hour of a conversation I can usually define if the leadership team is ready for change.  At O.C. Tanner they were ready.  Truth be told after a year of working there I would stand in front of a truck for our CEO, Dave Petersen. It's not the big decisions that make disruption so painful, it's actually the small trade-off decisions along the way that turn into big process changes that are really painful.  Let me digress, depending on what we define as "disruption" really then defines how widespread the discomfort is going to be.  If you are asked to disrupt process, product, and find new and emerging markets, then it's going to touch all the disciplines of the organization. Juxtapose that to a process change inside of a department.  It is only disruptive to that department but is not felt by the rest of the organization at large. I'm not talking about this change. I am talking about big change that touches all departments and customer experience. 

Small Things: Small decisions lead to big changes. After sitting inside O.C. Tanner for a period of time I found that we had a big opportunity to chase corporate wellness.  Our offering was to be a software application product specifically targeted at wellness coordinators and employees. O.C. Tanner is known by its awesome manufacturing capabilities. It's also a large organization so naturally we use large enterprise systems like SAP to complete order fulfillment and billing.  After conducting dozens of voice of customer interviews, we, as a development team, decided to have an incentive-based approach and needed to collect credit cards inside the product experience. O.C. Tanner wanted to use SAP to bill our customers net 30. Credit card processing was not ideal. But we wanted to move fast to see if the idea fails or succeeds. We needed to build a prototype and test these ideas to see if we can make something work quickly.  SAP is not quick. So a little battle ensued.  I wanted to use a credit card processing product called Stripe™ but the finance team was aligned net 30 terms.  This escalated pretty quickly because of the concerns around who will manage customer data, transactions, and account for the spend and revenue.  Surely not my team of five at the time.  So, I sat in our CEO's office with our CFO and COO and had a friendly conversation with both groups stating the advantages and risks of either solution. There was a lot to consider.  If our offering grew, it would be a lot of work for the finance team to manually enter Stripe transactions (we were on an ancient instance of SAP that did not allow us to pass data quickly via API or Webhook). On the other hand, if we spent the money to build out credit card authorization using SAP inside the app for a potential prototype, it would be a big waste of resources and time.  I know this seems little, but it was our first little decision that could have big process effects across the corporation.  

I could install Stripe in a couple of hours and keep running or be slowed down with SAP and build out credit card processing hoo-ha!  In the end, we were able to use Stripe. It wasn't a celebration of "I won that battle" but a celebration of collective and collaborative discussions that had expectations around both responsible parties that saw gains and losses along the way.  The lesson is we all came to the same conclusion together. This was important. Because when we left the CEO's office the story back to our teams was positive and collaborative.  It laid the first solid relationship bound in trust with the business partners inside the corporation.

My Team: When I first started this task it was just me taking up residence in the Wizzy Room (that's what the designers called their office).  It was an area that I felt most comfortable because it was the grand central station of the creative and development culture.  We used a lot of agile methodologies so most of the stand-ups were happening here.  I was able to listen to everyone involved in the building process.  One thing that stood out is the lack of a defined development process and customer connection.  Many of the discussions and disputes that I personally overheard could have been solved with some structure and customer discovery.   

Once the development commenced on the Wellness product I could add more structure to the process side.  This is a good time to talk about everything I'm seeing. There are a lot of experiments and expectations happening at the same time so let me explain. One, we have the redefining of the product process that I am about to explain. Two, we have a higher profile activity happening which is the senior executive team watching the moves of the product process and new inventive nature inside the organization. Three, we have silent observers and not-so-silent observers watching our every move. They talk about what they would and wouldn't have done but the jury was still out so they held judgement.  Fourth, you have my team's perception of my strategy which is for the most part going well.  

Let me push pause and explain the state of the reporting structure at O.C. Tanner. We are all in matrix, which means we are organized by discipline. This is typical of large corporations but is not for smaller teams or startups. Startups are very cross-discipline focused. I'm a fan of matrix but maybe not so much for this exercise.  I fought this pretty hard when I came into the building once I saw the monetary and product alignment culture. Design and Product reported to the EVP of product.  Engineering reported to a VP of Engineering. None of the goals were aligned to our mission and I did not have any direct reports. Like most large corporations there are corporate bonus programs (we call it MCP, management compensation plan). This is how most employees get a bonus and goals are on the company-level, which can be very broad.  I didn't care for this a ton so I fought to align my team's specific goals to their compensation.  It was very tough at the beginning.  That's all I'm willing to say.  Now fast forward 15 months and goals are aligned on the team-level in product, design and engineering for the first time. I would like to think our team had a lot to do with this culture shift. Existing in matrix this way was tough but we had a great culture within our small group.  Most of them had worked at start-ups and understood what we were trying to accomplish. 

The Product Process: As I have previously stated I was using my team as the example of how to build a product quickly. To get to the point, we built a fairly robust solution in 52 days. Enough to show the company and customers a baked solution that we could begin to monetize or have discussions around. The product development process I created is called Directed Discovery (DD). I have written and lectured about this method in the past.  Essentially the way this works is all critical stake holders come together: product, engineering, design, product marketing and project management. Sales is involved but not to the extent that the above disciplines are. We have three overarching goals. First, everyone works together period! Second, qualitative research, which in my book, is a methodology that I use to sharpen my really good guess. Third, quantitative research which is used to test my qualitative test. We do this with a whole series of tools which I am showing below.  

This is the first time that I am showing all the phases of Directed Discovery. I am asked to consult or talk to this often. Here is a cheat sheet, which includes the overview of Directed Discovery. You can always email for more detail and discussion.

The first step of Directed Discovery is defining who the customer is, "Personas". In this case "Becky" is our Wellness Coordinator, our first person. There are four "bars" or sections for each persona as illustrated below:

User Stories and Story Mapping

What questions do we ask Becky? The cool factor here is to leave the questions really broad. The amount of data is just awesome.  Keep your calls time boxed to one hour and move through stale answers quickly. 

What did "Becky" tell us about her world based on the above questions? This below is taken straight out of my notes as she is talking so excuse all the badness that may be in there.  We conducted dozens of these types of interviews. My rule of thumb is at least ten one-on-one interviews. The questions all need to be the same so you can begin to see the repeatable data. 

What questions do we ask Becky? The cool factor here is to leave the questions really broad. The amount of data is just awesome.  Keep your calls time boxed to one hour and move through stale answers quickly. 

What did "Becky" tell us about her world based on the above questions? This below is taken straight out of my notes as she is talking so excuse all the badness that may be in there.  We conducted dozens of these types of interviews. My rule of thumb is at least ten one-on-one interviews. The questions all need to be the same so you can begin to see the repeatable data. 

We build a mind map of all the aggregated repeatable data. A user needs to repeat a problem solvable feature request at least four times to make the mind map feature list.  It could look like this:

Or my more first crappy version is below:

Chris Mayfield, our designer is amazing.  He designed the following high fidelity prototype to take back to our "Becky's". The interviews went very well.

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 8.04.00 AM.png


If you are looking at my Directed Discovery cheat sheet we did go through all the phases of iteration for CPT, Customer Preference Testing. We also conducted a very solid financial modeling plan to make sure our monetization strategy worked. And it did. Only because our interviewees gave us really solid feedback about monetization.  

We were able to test four different types of monetization all at the same time. First, the subscription fee. Second, a gift card revenue engine. Third, a wearable device margin. And lastly, a gift card margin on redeemed digital gift cards. Becky, our wellness coordinator as I stated before wanted all these charges to be on her purchasing card.  It was quite outstanding. Now we just waited and watched to see how our strategy worked.

Below are some ways that we wanted to test how the first month's monetization and engagement was going.  We also use tools like Woopra, Crazy Egg ,Olark and Zendesk to help with qualitative and quantitative tests/results.  

This is an example of Crazy Egg.  

This is an example of Crazy Egg.  

The reason I wanted to show a little deeper view on the product strategy is to prove to the corporation that our process is based on solid research methodologies and not just trying to be lucky. 

The Board: We are in an unchartered territory.  Show me someone that has pulled off the Innovator's Dilemma successfully. Remember, we are in an 88-year old company.  We are the prime example of Clayton Christensen's Innovators Dilemma.  So, we created a board of directors for this new group. The structure today is this.  Participants: 6.  Meeting Duration: 2 hours. Purpose: Get inside and outside minds looking at the problem you're trying to solve. Also the most important part for me was not having it come up through one reporting avenue. Everything we are doing touches everyone. We need everyone that is an expert in their area weighing in. There are rules though. We check our titles at the door. This was a rule made by our CEO and has been impressive.  We all wear a hat that is outside the company. We don't define a corporate strategy for what we invent, disrupt, or change. We treat it like a delicate plant and let it grow in isolation for a period of time as determined by the board.  I placed a $1 million in revenue bogey for the products or companies that are created. Why a million?  Again, in my experience it takes the same amount of inertia and effort to make your first million as it is to get to $25 million.

To be continued. Thanks for reading Part 1 of Disruption in n 88-Year Old Company. I hope I have been clear with what it takes to disrupt a successful company from within. It's important to start from the top, get the trust from small decisions that lead to big changes, establish a process based on research, and then establish a board who can support that disruption. This may seem simple from hindsight but it's blood, sweat and tears throughout. And you know what? It's all worth it.




Wearing Wellness


It’s no secret that wearable technology has become a hot trend in the recent years. Devices that track health and fitness range from simple pedometers to wristbands and necklace pendants that monitor the amount of calories burned and record movement and even sleep patterns. These gadgets make it easier for individuals to get a picture of their overall health and fitness so they can stick with plans to live more healthy lifestyles.

Not surprisingly, this automated hands-free approach to wellbeing is also taking off in the corporate world. A growing number of organizations are implementing well-being programs that leverage wearables by providing employees devices that capture data on overall health.

Managers are learning more about how their employees’ behaviors and health choices are impacting their wellbeing, and consequently, their work performance. Wellness programs involving the use of wearable technology have led to happier, healthier workplaces where employees are motivated to be more productive and engaged. They have also caused a shift in workplace culture and focused conversation onto health and wellness.

Numbers Don’t Lie

There have been many studies conducted on the impact of wearable devices on well-being program participation rates and results. The Vitality Group, a large incentive- based wellness program, conducted a three-year analysis of the prevalence of wearable devices in the workplace and their overall impact on employee health. The research revealed pedometer use greatly increased and was popular with an older demographic. Participants of the study who were not previously active reduced their health risk factors by 13 percent, and previously active participants reduced their factors by 22 percent. Employees earned points for being active, sticking to their programs, and meeting goals. They were then able to redeem these points for rewards in an online mall.

Results from other voluntary corporate fitness programs involving wearable technology were revealed at the two-day Digital Health Summit earlier this year. Experts shared that participation rates topped 80 percent, there was a 600 percent increase in weight loss, and 12 percent fewer heart attacks. One study also found that fitness levels increase by 43 percent if a participant is just wearing an activity monitor, no matter what the program requires.

According to Tom Rath’s best-selling book, Eat Move Sleep, the workforce has become too sedentary. On average, Americans now spend more time sitting down (9.3 hours) than sleeping in a given day. And, research consulting firm Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost the United States between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.

There are many factors that can lead an employee to feel disengaged at the workplace: lack of sleep, a skipped meal, or simply feeling disconnected from their management and co-workers. A healthier lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a stable diet can lead to less sick days, increased focus, and better job performance. The Human Cloud at Work (HCAW) conducted a series of research experiments to study employees’ levels of productivity after weeks of using wearable technology. They found that the use of wearables caused productivity to increase by 8.5 percent and employees’ job satisfaction to also increase by 3.5 percent.

Many organizations are recognizing the research findings and implementing different kinds of wellness programs. The programs that are built upon the use of wearable technology provide more concrete data and metrics for employers to use for everything from negotiating insurance premiums to choosing lunchroom menus.

There are a variety of wearable devices available on the market and functionalities vary. Some can detect location, temperature, and even mood data in addition to tracking heart rate and the number of steps taken. All of this data can provide employers with a clear picture of their employees’ health and give them ideas on how to modify behavior and lifestyle choices outside of the office to improve performance.

Privacy and Security are Tantamount

The thought of sharing health data with employers makes most people shudder, but the fact is many people simply don’t have the motivation to make healthy lifestyle decisions on their own. Wearables are a great way to motivate people to set healthy lifestyle goals and track their progress with very little effort. For all the good things wearables do, it’s essential that the employee wellness platform interfacing with devices encrypts all data and the employee remains completely anonymous to the administrator. Both criteria are necessary to remain Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant.

Participation in health and fitness programs is optional, but many employees see their coworkers striving to lead a healthier lifestyle and maybe even working harder at the office, and soon enough they want to give it a try. Many companies are “gamifying” participation by developing competitions within the programs that engage and reward employees for making changes in their lifestyle. Wearable devices provide concrete data for these competitions and can push participants further when they know there is a prize on the line. Contests range from simple step taking competitions, to more complex ones where employees track and share their nutritional intake, heart rates, mood shifts, and sleep patterns. The competition aspect encourages employees to share goals and accomplishments with one another.

When enough people within an organization are using wearable technology, a shift in company culture can occur. Striving toward peak health and fitness levels will become a commonality among co-workers, providing them with a new topic of conversation in the office and create a sense of community. Employers will also be able to transform the workplace into an environment that promotes and celebrates employee health and wellness.

A program that works well for one company won’t always work well for the next. Some employees are motivated by incentives, while others don’t find it worth it to make lifestyle changes. When businesses consider implementing a wellness program involving wearable devices, they should do some research into what kind of program would work best for their organization rather than choosing the most popular new program. Employees who already own wearables or regularly use other applications to track their fitness and nutrition may be hesitant to change up their routine to fit into a program at work.

Every day, more employers exhibit interest in finding new ways to encourage their employees to lead healthy lifestyles. Programs focusing on health and well-being are beginning to thrive in many corporations as a result of the wearable technology craze. These tracking devices make monitoring health and fitness metrics simple and worry free, which appeals to busy workers who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The data that they provide is also appealing to employers who want to change up their wellness programs and incentive employees to participate. The results from companies who have integrated wearables into their organization are hard to ignore. The increases in employee productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction are all proof that working toward personal well-being is a win-win for individuals and corporations alike.

Nate Walkingshaw is vice president of Tanner Labs and creator of WelbeTM, the first digital corporate health and well-being program that aggregates Real-time Wellness IntelligenceTM and enables companies to measure, influence, and reward employee behavior on a day-to-day basis.

Success Stories

Autodesk, a multinational software company, began issuing Fitbit devices as optional extras to their employees in 2011. Over half of the company’s U.S. workforce began using them to track the total amount of steps they took each day, which prompted an overall change in behavior at Autodesk. Once they had a device to count their steps, employees made small lifestyle changes that would push them to be more active and meet fitness goals.

Buffer, a San Francisco-based social media startup, provides employees with Jawbone Up devices so they can track their activity, sleep, and amount of calories burned each day. In an effort to create an open environment, Buffer employees are encouraged to share their data, goals, and accomplishments with fellow team members. To ease employees’ hesitation and fears about privacy, company leaders ensure that the collected data is only used to support their culture of self-improvement. After a year with the Jawbone devices, the Buffer team has made strides in regards to fitness, well-being, and openness.

Real Results

Results from voluntary corporate fitness programs involving wearable technology were revealed at the two-day Digital Health Summit earlier this year. Experts shared that participation rates topped 80 percent, there was a 600 percent increase in weight loss, and 12 percent fewer heart attacks.

One study also found that fitness levels increase by 43 percent if a participant is just wearing an activity monitor, no matter what the program requires.

Written by Nate Walkingshaw 

Published by HRO Today- http://www.hrotoday.com/news/engaged-workforce/learning/wearing-wellness/

Bring Them

For the last 15 years I have always been scrutinized for bringing the engineering teams that built the product to tradeshows.   Most of this criticism stemmed around the fear that due to the introverted nature of the engineering culture, that engineers are terrible in front of the customer.  I can attest that the exact opposite is true.  Customers love and appreciate the authenticity of an engineer speaking about the product they love building.  Customers can feel their passion but more importantly tradeshows are drowned by the "pitch". Customers see right through the fake, canned, feelings behind a pitch that has been rehearsed.

However, this has never been my core motivation for bringing engineers to a tradeshow.  At the core, I want engineers to get away from their desks and look into their customers' eyes, show them the product they built and watch how it works.  There is nothing more motivating to an engineer than to see their product work well or break in front of an actual customer.  When you need your team to dig extra deep they become more driven because they know who they're building for.  We always talk about the customer when we're building products but now they get to meet, pitch and discover how customers think in real life.  So the next time you get the opportunity bring the engineers, take them with you on as many customer visits as possible.  They are the best people to help you solve problems.


The Empathetic Phase of Developing Product

Yesterday I had a designer come in and say "Nate I don't feel like this is my best work. We have made so many decisions to punt on great designs"

This got me to thinking about the empathic side of design and development.  Don't get this confused with the empathetic design process. This approach is being emotionally aware to your design and development team while they are in a sprint. 

I have created a harsh form in Balsamiq of the development cycle from my perspective. The first column is directed discovery.  The second column is the building process. The third column is something called "on-boarding or soft presenting". The fourth is full ship and release to customers. 

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Another example I really like is to envision a home being built.  The first stage is architectural drawings (directed discovery), the second is stick framing, sheet rock, paint etc... (the build), third is an agent walking around the home describing important areas to me and my family (on-boarding). 

What I want to focus on is the second column.  There are many trade-off decisions that happen during the building process.  This is where most of  "are we making the right decisions" conversations start to manifest themselves.  Having an open mind and heart to these types of emotions is critical.   Our designer is correct to have these thoughts. In fact it inspired the team to have a design review early to gut check many of the decisions we have made.   It questions the development team, the product team and pushes the designers to gain perspective over the entire project. 

What it did for me was remind me that I need to increase the communication and understanding about where the project is today, tomorrow, and why we as a team have made these decisions.  Its actually nice when moments like this arise.  I get to reflect on the personalities I have on the team and the way others like to be communicated to. Some may need a little more focus time to help understand what this process is all about.  


Finally, I mentioned daily stand up.  Stand up is gathering of sorts around a Kanban board every morning. The entire team is expected to be there to report and the previous days progress.   If you have not given this a shot you should.  It creates a fun lively environment.  What seems to be the biggest benefit of this gathering is not only the Kanban board but it connects the remote or working from home employee's to the development process.  If there is a daily scheduled overlap of the team it has strengthened our ability to more effect during work hours.    



My First Company

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A young emergency medical technician saw a problem in the field in which he worked. He carried enormously large patients up and down stairs. If you consistently do this time and time again, shift after shift, this results in a fatiguing injury to one’s back. The next thing you know…SNAP. Herniated Disk—most likely a career ending injury.

So as this young medical technician watched his partners go to light duty or end their fire-fighting and emergency medical careers, he came up with a solution. This solution consisted of a track device that mounted to the bottom of an ambulance cot. This, in effect, assisted medics so that they would no longer need to carry patients down flights of stairs.

He did all of the prototyping in an out-of-company atmosphere. Once he had a working prototype that he felt was worthy to show to his co-workers, he felt confident enough to ask for help getting this back-saving tool to market.

He had a business plan that was very well executed (This was 1998. Business Model Generation did not exist. He was young, but old school) and was ready for discussions.

His intellectual property (IP) attorney gave him five names of potential angel investors. Three of these names he could not use the IP attorneys name with, two he could. First call, he got shut down completely, second call there was no answer, third call he was verbally vomiting at 100 mph. This third angel investor asked a couple of roundabout questions, and then got straight to the point. “Do you have IP?”

“Yes” the young EMT answered.

“Who is your IP attorney?”

“John Talley.”

Angel investor says, “I know who gave you my name.”


Then the angel stated, “If he believes in you, so do I. Let’s schedule a meeting.”

Little did this EMT know what was coming. The angel investor wasn’t really interested in the investment so much as getting to know the young inventor. After an hour’s discussion, the angel said: “Here is my offer. I am proposing a percentage portion of your company in exchange; I will give you a mentoring board of directors. It will consist of four people. An operational excellence leader, financial leader, executive officer leader, and someone that is well versed in raising capital if we should need it.”

“We, huh?!”

“Yes, we.” stated the angel investor. “I would like to be your partner”

“What about the cash investment?” said the young medic.

The angels first line of advice: “I think that you are far enough down the path that you can get a purchase order if what you say is true.”

At the end of the day he was correct. PO in hand two months later, 50% of this order was pre-paid in cash. This was the start this company needed.

There are five years of moments much like this. A very young leader learned from a very experienced team. This team took this medic through:

Five fundraising events that involved close to 30 investors.

Type of fundraising that took place: convertible debentures, common stock, series B, and series A preferred rounds.

Full-scale prototyping and production management. Down to the nitty gritty. Supply chain management, cost reductions, pricing strategy, negotiating with suppliers on terms etc…

Superior financial knowledge. This is a keen understanding of how to leverage an income statement, balance sheet and cash-flow statement.

Monthly financial metrics and goals, quarterly board meetings, and annual shareholders meetings.

Product marketing and marketing communications mentoring

An acquisition to a Fortune 100 company (SYK)

Post-merger activities. (Every acquisition is different, but these bottom two were close to starting the company over again from the ground up.)

The point to showing this high-level bulleted list is to share with you that a young entrepreneur needs a team IF your plan is to raise capital and set it up for an exit strategy. Having amazing mentors pulls your mind out of the daily grind. What really hits home is the majority of these endeavors are happening outside of the day-to-day activities.

The pressures on a young startup entrepreneur both inside and outside of the company are enormous, especially if you include the company’s performance evolution. If the company is under-performing and you have a supportive board, this can make all the difference. Carrying this on your own and preserving the company culture is hard to do with a supportive board—doing it alone would be very difficult if not impossible in my opinion.

If the company is over-performing, this can cause the same challenges. Growing a team, preserving culture, watching costs, and staying in the high margin zone are essential. Having a mentoring group that applies accountability pressure during these times is also vital.

I’m sure you may have guessed this by now, but this was a little snippet of my personal story. People can talk about master’s degrees all they want, but nothing replaces real world learning. Without this mentoring team, the company could not be a success.

Without the internal team at our place of business, we could have not been a success. It takes an entrepreneur to balance this equation well and make sure that both teams are working together.

This takes time to learn. It is an acquired taste. Sometimes it’s bitter and you want to spit it out. The other times it is soooo sweet!

The biggest challenge sometimes is not the success of your product but getting your team to take steps at the same time and be on the same page. I felt my team was unbelievable (both internally and externally) at understanding how this goes together.

Good luck to you, and I hope that you can create the perfect balance!


The Want to Write

Product development is a deep rooted passion in my life. I am passionate about the creation of anything. Not just physical products, but this is a compulsion around innovative thinking.  When I sit back and watch what humans have created it is sweet, but the details of how that happened is what I really get out of it.  

I think that’s it for me.  It’s the hunt. The adventure of creating new.  Because along this adventure of creating new, you create more new, or you solve old. Solving old is so good. Sometimes solving old problems is the core reason why we attempt something new.   

This brings me to the overarching point of wanting to write.  I feel like I have solved some big problems with some pretty awesome people.  I am proud of the products that have come to market and the difference it has made and lives they have saved. Just as important, well probably more important to me, is what went on behind he scenes.  

There is this revolution of “Lean Thinking”, “Business Model Generation”, “Four Steps to Product Development”  in our culture today. It is fantastic.  It has created a huge behavioral change in young and old.  The young are really thankful they aren’t writing 50 page static business plans.  The old are thankful as well, but more importantly it has been a hall pass on the way you approach new problems in a big organization.  


Product development is relatively simple in a small start-up. In comparison there are more complicated issues in a larger corporation.  Ironically most of those stem from political power struggles within the organization in my experience. 

When I developed my first product in a small start-up.  These concepts and books did not exist.  I wrote a static 50 page business plan (I will post this for you all to enjoy) The product was trying to solve a fundamental problem in my field of expertise.  So I choose to solve it in my own way, through my own lens. In its simplest for it worked.  I built a product that solved the problem.  The story is crazy and meant for another post. 

What I’m trying to really get at is the product was cool but the conversations I had with users while developing was so engaging and exciting to me.  Its that anxious feeling your get. Adrenaline running through me. It was addicting to watch people use or talk about this product that we had developed.  It was awesome to make changes and show the product after the modifications.  People’s eyes and facial expressions.  People became elated! But more importantly they became ambassadors of my mission.  This is where and interstate started to connect.  You develop a product that could be half baked and then you make customer driven product changes and they then market for you.  Could this be it. The secret sauce to success.  Maybe...just maybe we have cracked the code to customer development.