Startups Are About Giving Customers Capabilities
As a veteran of many startup ventures, many of which sold and became essential growth engines for Fortune 500 companies, I have no lack of memorable moments as my teams and I went out to conquer the world with new, innovative products and services. Disruption was not yet part of the vernacular. Yes, there are plenty of stories about pulling all-nighters, having physical altercations with customer service, hugging customers, sleeping on the lab floor, getting constantly searched because of errant computer parts mistaken for bombs in my luggage, etc. Even with all this, one experience in my career has special meaning and stands above the rest, but first, let me provide some background.
I joined my first startup company in my mid-twenties, long before it was cool and when it meant a severe pay cut. Through my early work experience and college studies, I acquired a rare skill set that included a deep understanding of how IBM mainframes communicated, how Unix operating systems worked, and how to connect many computers with TCP/IP. I was recruited as employee number five at a company in Cambridge, MA, called Brixton Systems, founded by three outstanding entrepreneurs: Herb Rush, Jim Morris, and Jim Lotti.
Brixton was founded on “disrupting” legacy IBM computing environments by integrating them with TCP/IP-connected Unix systems and creating an open, highly-distributed computing platform. The goal was to allow our customers to do things they couldn’t do before by giving them computing power and access to custom tools that went way beyond the restricted IBM environments with which they were accustomed. And we succeeded. One of our early major customer wins was with Federal Express (now FedEx). We worked with FedEx to build one of the first automated package tracking systems, which we now take for granted but at the time was terribly complex and entirely novel.
I was exposed to diagnostic tools in my first startup and decided to develop more advanced, broader, and more effective tools called Competitive Analytics to make my products and companies fiercely competitive. Business Catalytics teaches companies how to use Competitive Analytics to fix problems or open up new opportunities.
The Decision to Diagnose a Successful Venture
In just over a year from my joining, Brixton nearly tripled in size and now had people in marketing, sales, and finance. We programmers did double-duty as field engineers, customer service representatives, and (ahem) tech writers. One afternoon, Herb, our CEO, called us together to meet a couple of consultants who “wanted to take a look at the company.” We had two company advisors, Ted Dintersmith and Bard Salmon, who helped direct them our way. The consultants were Gordon Bell and Cheryl Suchors. Gordon Bell had recently published the book High Tech Ventures and was working with Cheryl, then a partner with Coopers & Lybrand, on an implementation of the Bell-Mason Diagnostic. This tool measured parts of a startup venture as it passed through its formative stages. It provided a succinct gap analysis for startups. This encounter with Gordon and Cheryl radically shaped my career for two reasons.
First, for an Italian-American computer science graduate, I held Gordon Bell right up with Saint Anthony, the patron saint of my grandparents’ village outside of Naples. Gordon received near-canonization from me (and nearly everyone in computing) because of his work at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Massachusetts’ iconic tech company and one of the first venture-backed successes of all time. Gordon was the engineer and manager responsible for DEC’s groundbreaking computers, including the PDP and the VAX. As an undergraduate, I earned my computing chops when I ported a version of the Unix operating system over to a VAX. DEC later blew its competitive edge and sold out to another company, Compaq, that proved equally incapable of competing with IBM.
Second, the results that Gordon and Cheryl shared which analyzed several facets of Brixton, were intriguing. Never had I seen a company distilled into its atomic parts and evaluated. To me, a young software developer, understanding the other elements of the company helped me become a better engineer. Why? Because I immediately grasped the potential for better business performance when all these organizational parts were not only measured but also integrated. Sadly, Gordon and Cheryl moved on after their brief work with us, and I never saw them again, though I did have the chance to speak with each of them later and explained their influence on me. Brixton, fortunately, had a happy ending and was sold several years later.
But Diagnostic Tools Were Either Not Available or Not Enough
Because the tools used at Brixton were not available again, I began to evaluate other frameworks and models. PWC’s Paths to Value was similar, but was later abandoned by PWC and me. As product and revenue delivery goals grew, and my competitors became more powerful, I needed better tools and diagnostics to analyze more factors that impacted my ability to compete, both internal and external. I had no choice but to create my own solution, but none of the companies I worked for had any.
The idea of measuring a company and looking at how its parts influence one another never left my mind, but they were not prescriptive enough for me and they couldn’t measure how competitive a company was. I needed tools that covered the entire competitive journey from diagnosis to implementation. So I began building my own diagnostics tools and models. The advent of data science and cloud computing helped. My objectives were to identify competitive performance issues (often errantly appearing as sales problems) and to provide some predictability into the steps I need to control or significantly influence outcome.
Competitive Analytics Diagnoses Better and Delivers a Solutions
The tools and models became the foundation for running my teams in product management, manufacturing, engineering, corporate development, sales, marketing, and customer success. I branded them Competitive Analytics. It wasn’t just about the big picture that these new and evolving models delivered; it was about the focus it forced because (1) resource constraints are a constant and (2) markets are unforgiving and ever-changing. These operational models proved prescient, delivering record results and predictable outcomes for my numerous startup ventures and my Fortune 500 employers. They made my companies competitive.
With Business Catalytics, I’ve taken these successful and adaptive models, moved them to the cloud, and integrated them with data science and predictive analytics. I know they work because I’ve refined them and adapted them for 25 years. And doing Business Catalytics as a training company rather than a tech venture? Let’s just say it’s more competitive for my company and my clients. Alternatives to Competitive Analytics? Using legacy approaches and intuition for running your business is like planning your retirement on buying lottery tickets. It’s not just stupid; it’s dangerous. I welcome the opportunity to work together.