And then I met "The Chief."
The Chief was a serial entrepreneur with an uncanny ability to create value out of thin air. I met the Chief when he hired me to be manage the operational side of his startup. We used to joke that while I could take the bricks lying around and build a house, he could conjure up bricks out of thin air. Now, I had a chance to learn how it was done.
I watched how he pulled in investors.
I studied how he pulled in specialists.
I worked with him as he created partnerships and deals and alliances.
What was the secret? Vision was certainly part of it, but not sufficient unto itself. His people skills? Ditto. Confidence? Communication skills? Ditto, ditto. Then finally, I figured it out; how he pulled rabbits out of a hat.
Underlying all was the power of yes.
How to describe the power of yes? Partially a decision mindset, partially a habit, it worked like this:
- Say yes to a lot of meetings - The Chief met with anybody and everybody that took an interest in, or could potentially advance the vision. He never failed to take something away in terms of knowledge or revised thinking from every meeting. And while many of these meetings never developed into a working relationship, he always left the door open for future contact.
- Say yes to some uneconomic opportunities - Especially in the beginning, the Chief said yes to a few economically marginal projects just to get a working relationship going, to start exercising the company's operations, and to get us down the learning curve. To use an analogy, the Chief understood that to learn to sail, you eventually have to put the book down and get into the boat.
- Say yes to seemingly unrelated opportunities - In defiance of conventional target marketing wisdom, the Chief said yes to many seemingly unrelated projects. The reason? To create a critical mass of experiences that enabled him to take the next step which was to...
- ...create interconnections between opportunities - With a broad enough set of experiences, the Chief was then able to see the interrelationships and patterns between them. Doing this enabled him to strategically determine which ones to pursue and which to abandon going forward.
- Follow up on the ones that gained traction - The other advantage of working a broader scope of opportunities was that while some inevitably fizzled out, others gained momentum, opening the door to new opportunities. The Chief didn't worry about the ones that fizzled out. And he alwas left the door to them reigniting.
- Say yes to incorporating the vision of employees, partners, investors into the grand vision - By being open to the influence of others, the Chief gained their buy-in and their voluntary contribution of creativity, time, skills, and money. The Chief was able to get hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expert technical advice and the use of multimillion dollar facilities for a fraction of the true value, all because he allowed our vision to be their vision.
Several years later, when I decided to start my current business, I applied the power of yes. With just a vision - that I could improve a startup's chance of success by providing expert, affordable back office services on a timeshare basis - I started to meet with prospective clients and partners to talk about the idea. One meeting, led to my finding my business partner.
Further discussions led to our first lead clients, whom we offered highly competitive deals just to get going. As we worked, we found ourselves developing capabilities in areas we had expected, dropping them in others, and creating service offerings in unexpected places. We began to acquire clients with more demanding requirements, further enhancing our capabilities. And as critical mass built, we were able to start connecting client and partner opportunities, improving economies of scale start and operational efficiency.
Today, while the vision remains the same, the implementation of the vision with respect to our service offerings is different than what we had predicted. But that's okay because at the end of day, we now have a stable, core business model on which to base future growth.
Is the power of yes always appropriate? The answer is no. Yes has power is when you are trying to to create your business model or in business development when you are trying to establish a new partnership. It is for the Stone Soup phase of a project. But once the business model is known or the partnership established, it takes a different power to execute and scale it. In fact, in the growth phase, the power of yes can be deadly.
So what is the secret to growth? Stay tuned for my next post...in 2011.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!