All posts by Dan King

Dan King is CEO of ReadyTalk and actively involved in the company’s strategic direction and day-to-day operations. He has more than 25 years of experience in the telecommunications industry and related fields. Prior to ReadyTalk, Dan held senior positions in business development and financial management for ICG Communications. Dan and his brother, Scott, were recognized as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008 in the Software Services category for the Rocky Mountain Region. Dan earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Master in Business Administration, Finance, from the University of Colorado, where he was a 3-sport letterman in indoor track, outdoor track and cross country. In July 2011, Dan won an age group gold medal in 8K Cross Country at the WMA World Masters Track and Field Championships. In 2012 Dan earned the title of World’s Fittest CEO® by winning the CEO Endurance World Championship. When Dan isn't running, skiing, golfing or cycling, he can be found spending time with his wife and children.

Don’t Disrupt, Evolve

The “Uber of this.” The “Netflix of that.” In today’s business circles, the companies that successfully pull off a disruptive innovation of their industry become almost instantly legendary. We study them in business school, hold them up as shining examples of forward progress, and brainstorm ways that our own organizations can think differently in order to operate differently.

As a result, disruptive innovation has become decidedly trendy. And as with all trends, it now faces a backlash. The pundits are declaring disruption dead. New studies claim to strike down the original evidence behind the theory. There is, according to the Atlantic, a “growing disjuncture between all this talk of disruption and its actual practice.”

In my opinion, this is manufactured debate created to sell magazines and incite clicks. Disruption isn’t dead. A new Netflix or Uber will come along this year or next and take its place in the annals of MBA case studies. But that’s not what I’m interested in. For every one of those unicorns, there are 100 companies evolving less dramatically, but more impactfully, than their revolutionary counterparts.

Evolution is the new disruptive innovation.

Work from homeIt doesn’t sound as sexy, I know. Evolution by definition is slow, incremental, the opposite of the “big bang” implied in disruptive innovation. But it’s also more diverse. Evolutionary innovation can happen via technology, culture, and infinite combinations thereof. It occurs through natural selection, as consumers and markets drive the success or failure of products and services, or from more defined inciting events – a “punctuated equilibrium” effect brought about by new leadership, product advancements, or technology breakthroughs.

Companies that innovate via evolution are just as successful, if not more so, than their disruptive counterparts. Twitter emerged from a podcast syndication service into a micro-blogging platform. Starbucks started out selling espresso makers. Nintendo began as a playing cards manufacturer in 18th century Japan. And Apple, of course, pivoted from niche PCs to a string of failed devices before refocusing on elegant, user-friendly consumer electronics. The iMac and iPod were not born in a vacuum.

This is the future of innovation. With the amount of available data and almost instant feedback loop between businesses and our customers, we have no excuse for not evolving. We should focus not on the One Big Idea, but on the million small things that make our offerings unique, different, and better than our competitors. Innovation happens via APIs and If This Then That (IFTTT). It grows through company culture that trusts and supports its employees. It thrives changing corporate environments that not only allow for the possibility of failure, but actively encourage it.

Disruption isn’t dead. The process has simply shifted from revolution to evolution. The businesses that succeed will not appear out of nowhere. They will reinvent themselves for survival.

A version of this article first appeared as a CEO Insight in Enterprise Networking Magazine.

Growth Through Marketing and Innovation: How Peter Drucker Shaped ReadyTalk

Peter Drucker Marketing InnovationThose who know me well know that I read a lot of business books. Besides Jim Collins, the books and articles by the late Peter Drucker have probably had the most profound impact on how I think about management and leadership.

Of late I have been thinking a lot about Peter Drucker’s aphorism that “the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” More fully, Drucker said, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

When Drucker references marketing, he is talking about the fundamental need to deeply and completely understand the customer. “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Drucker maintained that effective marketing should render selling unnecessary.

Peter Drucker Keep a CustomerThese quotes from Drucker have had me thinking about two things.  First, I see how easy and natural it is in a growing company to lose focus on the paramount activities of marketing and innovation. We hire many supporting – and important – roles in a business beyond just those outwardly directed at marketing and innovation. And as people, it’s in our nature to try and expand our roles, whatever they are, and do them to the best of our ability and to continue to see them grow.  Without overarching leadership focus, our supporting roles, which are costs, can take on outsized importance and this typically comes at the expense of marketing and innovation. As CEO, I even find myself contributing to this when I sponsor new company initiatives via our HR and OD functions or through finance or administration projects. While investing in the growth of our people is extremely important, as is understanding our business metrics, so too is finding the right balance between investment that helps people grow while not directing undue time and energy away from the crucial activities related to innovation and marketing.

The second thought has to do with the role of marketing as it relates to our need to deeply understand customers. As Drucker points out, business only happens on the outside of the four walls of a company. Marketing defined as gaining deep customer understanding isn’t the sole purview of the marketing organization. In highly successful companies, this will be happening in ALL departments; processes and tools to develop and share this understanding will be ever evolving and expanding.  And yet, it strikes me as a common organizational tendency to focus more and more inward over time as a company continues to grow revenue and hire more people.

So as we build ReadyTalk, it’s worth applying Drucker’s insights about marketing and innovation on a regular basis.  We should be vigilant and regularly ask ourselves “is this activity in line with our long-term objective to create and keep a customer?” If we can’t affirm that without hesitation, it’s probably worth reconsidering altogether.

How focused is your organization on the notion that the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer? What does your leadership do to keep this top of mind? I’d enjoy your thoughts.

Customers and Prospects Help Us Understand Our “Why”

Customers and Prospects Help Us Understand Our “Why”

Why ReadyTalk reads Start With WhyReadyTalk’s Marketing team recently initiated a project to refine our branding and messaging targeted at our two primary use cases: webinars and collaboration.  The initiation of this project, which has my complete support, was influenced by some candid feedback by a marketing friend who spent some time looking over our website and suggesting that our messaging should be clearer. It was also influenced by my recent read of Simon Sinek’s bestselling book Start With Why

In both his book and Ted Talk, Sinek makes a great case for one very fundamental idea: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Yet most companies direct the majority of their marketing efforts toward messaging around the ‘whats’ (e.g, features and benefits) of their products and services. Sinek’s book heightened the importance of understanding our company’s ‘why’ and building our messaging and collateral in a way that authentically expresses our sense of purpose. 

The stark reality is that no company can effectively sell to everyone, particularly not a bootstrapped startup fourteen years into the making like ReadyTalk.  So, the value of identifying those customers who believe what we believe is the basis for our building enduring relationships that will pave the way for mutual and sustainable success.

In addition to our own people, prospects and customers can both provide us with great insights as to our ‘why.’ The following RFI form was recently submitted to our inside sales team.  Below are some of the specific requirements from the head of IT for this mid-sized technology company.  Some specific feature needs have been omitted and the company name is an alias (yes, I watched a lot of Road Runner and Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid), otherwise the email is verbatim:

The ACME Corporation is looking to urgently transition our web and audio conferencing traffic to a new provider.  We have had several awful experiences that wasted our customers’ time and infuriated our team.  We are making an immediate change to ensure this never happens again.

Here are our requirements:

  1. Moderator-attended meetings
    For critical meetings, we want the option of a professional, technical, and dedicated moderator.  We would expect this person to help prepare for the meeting, test the meeting in advance, monitor the quality of the meeting, and respond aggressively to resolve any issues.
  2. Training
    We need training for our key employees who organize and conduct presentations.  This training would be end to end:  from administering the service to conducting the meetings. 
  3. High-touch support
    We want to work with people, not a bureaucracy.  Ideally, we will have a single point of contact that is interested and engaged in our projects.  We do not want to go through a nameless helpdesk robot that has no empathy for our organization.
  4. Polish
    We want this experience to be elegant and simple for customers.  It should prove that we are a professional, experienced organization. 

Please provide a detailed response to these requirements at your earliest opportunity.  In addition, please include specifics about pricing and delivery time. We have a critical meeting in May that we need to be perfect; we are anxious to work with a vendor that can respond expertly and fast.

Thank you!

Using the “people don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it” lens, it would be hard to find a better suited prospect for ReadyTalk, particularly for the webinar use case. We’ve built our business around a purpose to help people be productive, both within and outside our company.  And, we operate with the motto ‘Create Wow through Service and Technology,” which captures our desire to create emotionally satisfied customers through our product and services.  

When, as with ReadyTalk, a team bootstraps a company from a starting point of no revenue, no customers, and no institutional financial backers, it’s hard to have any other model – any customer loss feels like it could be the beginning of the end. So creating a satisfied customer by helping people be productive and feeling like they have a true business partner is at the heart of our business model and core to our ‘why.’  My absolute favorite point among the requirements is # 9 and the prospect’s desire to identify a company with real people that are committed to the customers’ success. In fact, there is no other quality that allows ReadyTalk to shine in a crowded market quite like this one.  And while it’s hard to market and message differentiation around service, ReadyTalk’s customers know it when they experience it.  

This prospect did sign up with ReadyTalk this past week, and we expect our companies to mutually benefit from the relationship.  And maybe the answers to our branding and positioning project are already being effectively expressed by the customers that find us.