Idea In Brief: Finding the zone of Energized Working facilitates profound flourishing and significant accomplishments. This initial post is a proverbial toe dip in the waters of conceptual exploration.
Over the last three decades, I've been fascinated by how personal energy impacts work. And as I glance at my bookshelf, I'm not alone: The Living Company, Flow, The Advantage, Flourish, Jamming, The Art of Happiness, Linchpin, Built to Last, Blink, Drive, Unstuck and more are titles that directly or indirectly look at how energy influences our work.
McKinsey also conducted research in the early 2000s around organizational energy in times of transformation. Not surprisingly, 57% of executives involved in successful transformative efforts felt that their companies had maintained positive energy.
Based on my often limited personal energy (e.g. I tend to function best with ~9 hours of sleep per night), motivated by a variety of challenging autoimmune diseases in my family, and influenced by books like those above, I've become even more curious about personal energy, especially as applied to how we spend the majority of our time -- our work.
I also had a moment of illumination recently, brought about by a gift from my good friend Bo Durickovic. As we were literally "going to the mountain" (hiking Mt Humphreys in Flagstaff, AZ) and talking about life, nature, business, entrepreneurship and more, he stopped me on the trail and said something like, "Dude, you're the energy guy. Why don't you do something with it?"
Simple words, but like most profound challenges they left me stumped. What should I do? Is there a product here? A new take on research? A gift I can bring to the world? A book? A talk? What is it and does anyone care?
Further, what do we really mean when we use loose terms like "good energy" or phrases like "I'm feeling energized?"
As I started digging in more, I felt even more convinced that I needed to better understand how we build positive personal energy that can both fuel great individual work and ripple through those we serve. And I felt compelled to start a journey of research, meditation, reflection and writing to provide perspectives that might help others.
This blog post is my first attempt to inch towards Bo's challenge. I think there's a bunch more here and I'd love to hear from you. Is energy something that you think about? How do you build and maintain your personal energy? Is too much energy a bad thing? How might darker forms of energy (e.g. like anger and anxiety) actually serve us in certain times?
There are so many questions that I'm playing with and I'd love to glean any of your thoughts via a Comment below or an email (steve at alder dot vc).
To begin, I'll initiate the conversation with a set of incomplete perspectives on Energized Working. I view these as an initial attempt to put some initial thoughts on paper. Please bear with me.
What is Energized Working?
While I love the state of Flow, I often find that by its very definition it's not maintainable over extended clock nor calendar time periods. Energized Working, at its best, keeps us going over extended periods.
In a nutshell, I'd offer that Energized Working is the intersection of Focus and Optimism.
Specifically, when we're focused on something clear and meaningful, and we're optimistic about the outcome, we have the potential for Energized Working. But in my experience, there's more that's required.
Energized Working requires a highly tuned vessel for delivery. The body generally needs to be in good working condition to enable Energized Working. Factors that influence my physical state (and these are generally somewhat different for everyone) include sleep, moderate caffeine, aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise, moderate alcohol, nutrition and more. As I start to gain more data on how others experience Energized Working I'll look to share more about physical priorities -- and techniques around long term, reasonable enablement.
While our physical requirements can be high, our psychological needs are arguably higher. In my experience, I need to feel grounded, appreciated, innovative, sharp, articulate, creative, included, visionary, productive, committed and more. I'm hoping through both secondary and primary research to better understand the collection of feelings, emotions and nudges that equip us to engage in energized work.
While our bodies and psyches have requirements, the work itself generally also has a set of conditions that give us the best opportunity to find and maintain energy. For me, purpose is paramount. There needs to be meaning in the cause itself. Second, impact must be big -- either dramatically changing a few people or moderately helping huge audiences. Third, I find that the new trumps the routine; innovation and creativity build energy. Finally, results matter. The work needs to win and grow in measurable ways (typically through revenue as a market indicates their value in the work by paying for it).
Per above, this post is meant to start to scratch the surface. By intent, it's incomplete, scattered and high-level. Accordingly, I genuinely appreciate you for bearing with me as I start to publicly play with concepts, learn on the fly, and work to bring you something of deeper value. If you're still with me, and if Energized Working is of interest to you, please do let me know!
Idea in Brief: marketing and integration software partnerships are often hard to quantify. Tracking and measuring revenue influenced is a viable solution.
As software firms grow, partnerships become more and more important (see posts Categorized as Inorganic Growth for other perspectives). But as CEOs and boards invest in alliances, partnership marketing, leveraged sales and more, the question is often: how do we measure success?
In my experience, both as a former alliances/business development functional leader, as well as across a myriad of advisory and investor positions, influenced revenue can be the magic metric.
So what is influenced revenue? Simply put, it's revenue that was initiated and/or accelerated by partnership efforts. Examples include:
* A friendly account executive calls with a tip on a prospect.
* A services lead endorses a partner solution within an account.
* A product manager highlights an integration in a roadmap session.
* A solutions consultant coaches a partner sales person on how to navigate a tricky account.
In all cases, one can see how decisive, thoughtful action, accompanied by a sharing of the activity adds value. Generally, business development managers should be tasked with provoking, soliciting, tracking and positively rewarding influence behaviors.
And for enterprise software, pursuing ~25% of deals via partner influence has been about the right level. Note that influence requires significant communication, positive experience, product education and trust on both sides of the equation. But the steps to build to it are well worth it, especially in large deals with complex selling environments.
Idea in Brief: For B2B software companies, an intelligently crafted partnership strategy can often be the best pathway to a premium acquisition.
The old adage of "companies aren't sold, they're bought" has played out numerous times in my personal experience, both as an operator as well as an advisor and investor. For example, when we sold Pluck to Demand Media we were in hyper-growth mode and weren't looking to be acquired. Yet the team, capitalization, deal structure and growth opportunity with Demand Media made an early company sale an easy decision.
Behind the scenes, what happened with Demand Media and Pluck was that we first began a business development conversation. Pluck owned a product (BlogBurst) and Demand Media became interested in our technology and content partnerships. As we engaged in reseller/OEM conversations, it became clear that an outright acquisition made sense for both companies.
While acquisitions often have an element of serendipity (and the Pluck deal certainly felt blessed by luck at times), an intentional business development strategy can often be the best pathway to a downstream corporate development opportunity.
So, how do you approach things? Below are a variety of tips and best practices.
C + BD = W. Strategic partnerships absolutely need to be sponsored, directed and led by the CEO (C). But the possible selling company should have a business development (BD) leader (early on, this can be the VP, Sales) who is clearly focused on escalating partnerships through stages that can lead to an acquisition win (W).
Bet Big. While your company should work opportunistically with a myriad of organizations in your ecosystem, a single, big/bold bet can enable disproportionately positive returns. For example, BuildForge, a build process management software firm, realized early on that IBM was the right company to buy them. Accordingly, they developed a tight and unique partnership with IBM that fostered information exchange and trust.
Start Small. A mistake that early stage software companies often make is that they skip steps in the partnership evolution process, forgetting to start small and grow. While things aren't always 100% consistent and linear, the steps that often occur are:
- Integration: a startup invests resources to read and/or write to an API provided by big company.
- Marketing: the startup then spends money touting the integration (advertising, social media, white papers, collateral, webinars, customer events, lunch and learns, etc.).
- Sales: with a proven integration and awareness growing (along with at least a handful of joint customers), a savvy startup will move to developing sales relationships with the big company's account executives. While the AEs won't initially earn commissions via direct sales by the startup, the smart ones will want to be educated and knowledgeable. They'll both want to offer perspectives to their customers and be aware of deals happening within their accounts.
- Channel: with integration, marketing and sales humming, the business development team at the startup, with CEO and product team involvement, can begin to pursue a reseller (non-branded) or OEM (white label) channel relationship. In my experience (e.g. with Motive and eventual acquirer Alcatel), these partnerships require multiple layers of effort (product, technology, sales, BD, C-suite, etc.) and a high degree of commitment and sophistication to drive forward.
Build Trust and Show Value. With a channel partnership in place, the startup has a strong reason to invest in the enablement and success of the big company. Daily emails/activities, weekly update calls, quarterly onsite business reviews and more enable teams to get to know one another. Often, the startup will even want to tee-up and/or push over, deals. Overall, it will be important to set mutual targets and then work maniacally to overachieve, demonstrating the trustability, like-ability and revenue potential of your company.
Dance the Dance. At some point, ideally with the big company seeing significant revenue (and growth) from the startup, a conversation about a strategic financing event can organically occur. In many cases, I've seen these happen over nice dinners between CEOs. The startup may be ready to pursue Series C financing and asks the big company executive if they might recommend a new lead institutional investor. From there, the logical question is often, "what if we invested?" And from there, the strategic partnership model often can find its way to an outright acquisition conversation.
The model above is a fairly simplistic overview on what can often be a multi-year, complex, circuitous path. But if finding a major home for your startup, and a solid return for your investors and employees is a goal of yours, starting the business development to corporate development journey is well worth it.
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Steve Semelsberger is the Founder of Alder Growth Partners.