How to stand up organizational thought leadership and who should own it. An interview with…
Why thought leadership should be on the radar of all startups.
An interview with Eric Youngstrom about creating thought leadership from the executive level down to the sales team.
When launching a startup, there’s a lot to think about.
Product, investors, marketing. But what about thought leadership?
Should entrepreneurs consider making thought leadership a priority early in their venture?
Thought leadership plays an important role in startups, and our guest on this episode, Eric Youngstrom, is just the person to tell us why. Eric is the Founder and CEO of Onramp Funds Inc, which provides expertise in eCommerce, fiancé, and software development to startups.
Eric has a proven record of success in start-up technology companies, and brings us his insight about why thought leadership should be top-of-mind for startups. Eric explains that startups need to tell a specific story: what problem you solve, why you care about seeing it solved, and why your solution works. This story must reach buyers and potential investors – and even new hires, convincing them of the longevity and value of your startup. And the best way to tell that story is through thought leadership content.
Eric goes on to discuss how thought leadership needs to open up conversations and share their ideas. Sharpening your insights, and listening to the insights of others, will only make your brand stronger. Your content can also be a recruiting pitch, bringing in top talent that shares your passion and wants to be part of a better solution. Any successful startup is going to need a savvy team of salespeople. Eric shares how thought leadership is important for the sales team, helping them understand and share the organization’s goals and values right from the moment of hiring. We learn how the early years of the company are critical to developing the organization’s reputation, reaching one wave of employees and then the next, and ensuring that the culture is instilled in new hires as the company grows.
This episode is full of great advice for creating thought leadership that makes an impact right from the start. Don’t miss it!
Three Key Takeaways:
- Collaboration works best when all parties have a mutual understanding and are able to challenge each other’s thinking.
- When creating content, put yourself in the audience’s mindset and think about what they would want to read or watch.
- When standing up Thought Leadership as a function , make sure everyone understands the message and can communicate it clearly.
If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.
Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.
Bill Sherman Let’s talk about category creation and thought leadership. Most startups, as well as new business units within existing firms, struggle with this challenge. How do you introduce your target audience to a solution that they haven’t purchased yet? Category creation and thought leadership work hand in hand. And they can help organizations, especially startups, punch well above their weight. You can use thought leadership to educate an audience, prepare them to understand the opportunity, and then help close new business. Today, I speak with Eric Young Sturm. He’s currently the founder and CEO of Onramp Funds. Over the course of his career, Eric has been involved with multiple startups as well as working with in large organizations. Today, we’ll be talking about category creation, how startups use thought leadership, and how to engage your audience with new ideas.
Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Eric.
Eric Youngstrom Thank you. Excited to be here today.
Bill Sherman So, you’ve been part of large organizations. You’ve also worked in startups for many years. And where I want to start our conversation today is why is thought leadership something that should be on the radar of a startup? Why is that a good use of time, energy and scarce funds?
Eric Youngstrom Most startups are solving a problem in a way that they believe is unique to the market, which then means they need to be able to explain what their solution is and its unique functionality and how it uniquely addresses the problem they’re trying to solve. And to do that, what you need to do is put a lot of time and thought into why you going to start this business, right? And what problem you’re solving, and why you care about solving that problem. The then to you actually tell that story to your potential buyers. And so, the thought leadership piece there is how do I come up with, you know, how do I explain what we’re doing in a way that helps my prospects understand the problem that they have, maybe in a way they hadn’t thought of it before and how the solution actually solves for that problem. And I guess kind of maybe jumping forward or around. Part of what happens is the best way to acquire customers is through content, right? Because it’s content that explains your story. It’s content that tells one why you’re trying to solve this problem to what’s what about your solution is unique and is a better way to solve that problem and as a reason for that customer to come to you. And so, if you spent the time really thinking through those things and figuring out how to articulate that for your audience, that thought leadership drives your content. That content then, is what drives your unique customers to come to you. And it is not a short-term marketing investment. It is not a PPC campaign that drives customers today. And you need to be doing those things, and that’s where you’ll be paying for some of that. But what really should happen over the long term is your thought, leadership and the content that results from that, that PPC becomes an amplification of it as opposed to PPC being the primary driver of new customers. And so, from my perspective, the thought leadership is how you tell the story of your startup to the world in a way that then resonates and drives, you know, your market to want to come to you and engage with you and creates customers for your product.
Bill Sherman So, let’s stay on telling that story to the world, because I think there are multiple audiences for a startup. One, it can be your target buyer, whoever that would be, too. It could be media, journalists, etc., where you’re trying to get attention. If you’re in software or certain other industries, it could be an analyst that you’re trying to say, No, no, no, we’ve got a better mousetrap. And we want the analysts to agree we’ve made a better mousetrap. And then it could also be investors and being able to tell that story upfront and say, I have an idea for a better mousetrap, but I need your help to build it and take it to market.
Eric Youngstrom Right, no, all of the above. All of these are the audiences that you’re speaking to first and foremost, right. Is your customers and your customers resonate with your content and the thought leadership you’re bringing and the approach you’re bringing. Then you’re going to have a business that’s a going concern. Secondly, I would invite, you know, your investors because in the early stage you need the investors to buy in to that as well. And they’re probably actually your first audience, you know, depending on how you launch that business. And then finally, it is the media, right? Because as you build out your content strategy, a lot of that content can be repackaged in ways that the media responds to and wants. Right. Media is desperate for content to go share with the world. And, you know, most journalists don’t have a lot of new content on their own. So they’re looking for a partner to actually bring a perspective or knowledge or information that they don’t necessarily have. And they can either feel part of a bigger story or be the story itself.
Bill Sherman So, the other group that comes to mind as well is your early hires. Whether it’s someone that you’re recruiting to be a partner in the organization or it’s someone with specific skill set, they have to not only understand the idea but believe in the vision and thought. Leadership can be used to tell that story of how the world could be.
Eric Youngstrom Yeah. From that perspective. Right. That’s your recruiting pitch. That’s the that’s the interview. Right. In the interview is as much well sitting where you are in your company size. Right. The early interviews are you have does that candidate have the capacity, the capability, the experience to come execute for you? But simultaneously and they’re interviewing you and so you’re telling the story and sharing the passion around what you’re doing. And so, again, you know, there are there are startups out there, and I guess it’s a little unfair here. I think of startups as being technology based startups that are going to be VC that right. So you can be a plumber and start your own business. And I don’t know, maybe that doesn’t need a lot of thought leadership. I would imagine that thought leadership which to be valuable there because maybe there’s a new way you want to go solve some of those problems. But from a VC perspective, right, yeah. You’re, you’re selling this vision that you’re going to change the world. You’re going to, you know, in the case of onramp, you’re going to help more small business owners be sustainable and reach escape velocity with your working capital solutions. And how does that happen? Because I promise you, when people hear SMB and working capital and accounting, nobody gets excited. There’s not a lot of passion that shows up there. But when you translate that to hold on, that is the growth engine. That is the fuel that turns over the S&P car. And this is how we’re going to go help a million subs in the United States reach sustainability and then grow their business beyond that. That’s something you get really excited about. So it is that translation of what this is a very the niche problem that you might be solving. Our big problem might be solving it. You got to be able translate that to tell the story and that leadership is storytelling.
Bill Sherman And with that, something that you are speaking clearly to your audience that, you know, they know you’re talking to them and also, more importantly, something they care about. Right. Because as you said, in the case of Onramp, your company, it could be something that could put people to sleep it going. Yeah. We’re talking about details on financing and that sort of thing. Yeah, I’m chasing customers. I’ve got other things that I’m busy about. Don’t bother me with that. Right?
Eric Youngstrom Right. Or go bother me right now with that. I guarantee you every single one of on ramps, customers and the business owners that we support, they have passions that are not working capital accounting.
Bill Sherman Right. Right.
Eric Youngstrom But they run a business. And so that becomes something they have to solve for. So, you know, having content, having, you know, this is where your website comes into play with how you present your content. That’s it’s there when they’re ready for it and we’re there when they’re ready for us, not vice versa.
Bill Sherman Well, and some of that is preparing the ground, whether you’re become visible to them. Like you said, pay per click is one way to get visible in front of people, but you want to be there long before they have that problem, so that when they do and it gets on their radar, they go, Oh, I know who to go to, because if the building’s on fire, it’s harder to help them if they’ve got a severe cash flow problem.
Eric Youngstrom Right. Yeah. And that’s why, you know, I think what’s interesting about thought leadership in this perspective is and we haven’t talked about this category yet, is you’re also talking to partners. Right. And so, you know, there are a lot of challenges. And, you know, let’s use QuickBooks as an example. You know, QuickBooks is great accounting software, but they’re one of the reasons they’re so great is they’ve done such a good job with their accounting partnerships. Right. The accountants have intel of small businesses use QuickBooks.
Bill Sherman Everything integrates with it.
Eric Youngstrom Right. The accountant and says to the small business owner use QuickBooks. Everything integrates there and I can go log into your QuickBooks Online and get your taxes done right away. And if you actually invest, set up part time to set it up right. It works really very well for you. It’s a great example of the thought leadership that goes into that, but that’s very specific to the accountants needs, right? Maybe not the kind of day to day and users need straight stuff to be addressed, but then the thought leadership has to then speak to a partner differently than maybe the media, where it really is all about the SMB versus your sales team, where it’s all about, I’ve got to get the S&P to take this or I’m a partner team guy. I’ve got to get the accountant to then sell through this product.
Bill Sherman So let’s talk about how you’ve used thought leadership over your career, whether with On Ramp, which is your current organization or previous projects that you’ve worked on. Have you had an example that you can point to? And this worked because we use thought leadership. And if so, can you tell that story?
Eric Youngstrom Yeah. I mean, I’ll give one example. We used to be in the identity theft world or Guinea protection world against identity.
Bill Sherman Well, you want to be on the protection rather than theft side.
Eric Youngstrom So we sold we had a white label platform and we powered it a huge percentage of the retail branch of the market. But when we first launched that, that wasn’t a category that existed. So, I don’t know at the time that I would have said what I was doing and the team was doing was thought leadership. Right in that context that was this is more than a decade ago is 50 years ago. But what we were doing was finding a way to go craft that story and then take this. You need to go protect these customer, get your customers identities. How do we then package that into all the different pieces that we do? Starting with this, how do I get your attention right? Like you think credit monitoring is enough? It’s not yet anymore. Right? So how do I get your attention? And then how do I help you understand how there’s a team of there who can help you with this? And then how do I then translate that into you? Then this is why your customers care about this. So, I will tell you, you know, in looking back, it’s all thought leadership that then that then is content creation, rate, content’s king. But if you’re if you’re content’s no good, right, you actually don’t take a position or you don’t know the problem, your solving. That’s not thought leadership. That’s just random thinking at that point. So that worked incredibly well. So I guess to close the loop on the story, then we went out to bank processors, we went out to banks, we went out to the retail brands, and we were able to I think when that company sold something like north of 50% of the identity protection market in the country, ran on that platform. So it became an incredibly powerful tool for an organization that didn’t know how to or didn’t have the resources to go direct to consumer. We found a way to go in by creating the wholesale category.
Bill Sherman Well. And that category creation piece, I think, ties very well to fall leadership and the world of startups. Right. If you’re looking and saying, I’ve got a better mousetrap, but how do I get the world to pay attention and understand it? Sometimes you’ve got to get clever and say, who will pay attention or who aggregates our customers? And I can educate a channel easier than to try and go B-to-C.
Eric Youngstrom Right? And if that channel is already providing what may be the V1 version of the product, you can then come to them with, Hey, this is a just V2 its V6. And here’s all the reasons that’s important, right? And in that protection world, that was, hey, we’re monitoring four criminal arrests, you know, zero identity being used by a criminal and he’s getting arrested under your name. So in the warrant to go out, it doesn’t find him. It finds you on accident. Well, why is that important, right? Why is it important to monitor your home’s title so that it’s not being stolen from underneath you and all these different data feeds? Right. And as the Internet exploded, data exploded. So how do you tell that story? If your partner has the customers to hack it, easier for them to go take a V1. The V1 provides that it is from you to go from nothing to what you would consider your V1, but is far better than the market. And they’ve got to tell that story for people who aren’t ready for it.
Bill Sherman And that ability to work with a partner who has aggregated the audience that you’re trying to reach, the buyer who needs your solution, makes life a whole lot easier.
Eric Youngstrom It does. It does one. And what’s great about that, too, is, you know, our partner network, they were multiple, the majority were competitors. And so as we introduce these new products to the first couple, all of a sudden their competitors saying, oh, we need a product, right? We’re going to lose because now we don’t actually we’re not keeping up with our competitors. And that just became the opportunity for us to be the leader in that space and actually take out a very, very robust platform than one it’s marketed, but not direct to consumer, right? Direct to partner, and then letting the partners be the aggregators to all those and customers.
Bill Sherman So when you think about thought leadership in the startup world is thought leadership something that’s sales led, that is marketing led. What size of the side of the house does it sit on and does it depend?
Eric Youngstrom It is. I think it’s executive led. I think that for a good startup, your executive team needs to be really thinking about the problem solving and trying to identify the themes that then drive the content. I think on the marketing side, it should flow through marketing because that’s where you’re that’s where you should go take those themes, those ideas, and then articulate them in a way that’s really going to resonate. And this is where I think content marketing begins to, you know, begins to diverge from thought leadership. Thought leadership is delivered via content marketing. That content marketing becomes more than thought leadership because it becomes clickbait and really more designed as search optimization as opposed to high quality. Google keeps trying to figure out how do we only, you know, how do we get to how do we get to the quality stuff at the top? But there’s still a quantity game that gets played there. But if you can then create high quality thought leadership content. How do you then take and repurpose it into other pieces of content, maybe smaller snippets and things that still have quality as opposed to just what you see so often? Right, is a paragraph that uses that keyword like six times in four sentences, and you’re just like, I’m exhausted from reading that. You need to say it that way, right?
Bill Sherman Right.
Eric Youngstrom You run a search and.
Bill Sherman Well, and it’s –
Eric Youngstrom It didn’t solve the problem.
Bill Sherman I can search as a user of Google, find six pages that say the same thing because either a content marketing writer scraped the same content in original sources, or worse yet, and I bots scraped those pages and gave another rewrite of the same information. So when you play the content marketing side, you’re trying to play for rankings, you’re trying to stuff keywords, all of those things. But in many cases, when you’re approaching an issue like category creation and solving a problem that people don’t know has been solved. You don’t have the keywords on Google that people aren’t searching. Right.
Eric Youngstrom Right.
Bill Sherman For what you want to solve.
Eric Youngstrom You have to go. You have to create that content and play the long game which you created, the keywords. And then the marketing begins to recognize. Hold on. I’ve been searching for the wrong thing, and here’s what I need to search for. But that’s that is a long term it’s a long term game. And, you know, you have to be prepared. You have to make that investment. I would say from day one and again, if you’re going to be a VC backed startup, you’ve made that investment from day one, is you’re telling early stage investors that story, you’re telling the early employee, you’re following your vision and that story, and then it’s your job and your team’s job to then translate that and to start telling that story in our website, in our blog, and how we go to market so that we have quality content. And we’re going to do the other things that help to, you know, prime the pump, if you will. Great. You know what? We’ll use all the different levers that are out there, but let’s not lose sight of every month with more quality content coming out. I would say that the other part that becomes interesting about it, right, is I’m a believer in that, you know, you don’t open your mouth. You’ll never prove that you’re an idiot. Right. But the flipside of that is, you know, when you’re thinking about this thought leadership, you’re actually going out to the world and saying, now this is the way to do it, and you’re going to have to put up with people and say you’re wrong. And so then, you know, when it comes to like something accounting related, you want to make sure you’re right, because there’s a lot of people who spend a lot of time accountants doing just this sort of thing. So making sure that you actually know what you’re talking about becomes critically important. Because if your thought leadership is just dead wrong, you’re going to lose the opportunity to build that that market category. And so, yeah, you’re, you know, you’re waiting for the world to come back and tell you maybe you are an idiot after all.
Bill Sherman So there’s a couple of different ways to present that content, right? There’s the you come down from the mountain with the tablets and say this is the way the world should be, must be, will be, versus we see this as a possibility, right? One is an invitation to conversation saying we see this trend, here’s possibility versus this is the way you need to do it. And I think based on where you are in the cycle, in maturity, you can ratchet your confidence up or down depending.
Eric Youngstrom Yeah. No, I would completely agree with that. And I do think there’s an opportunity to say this is the way we see it. There’s also people you know, the flipside of that whole, you know, open your mouth community people also like when people are that have passionately held views like, look, I do think this is the right way to do things. And I know that there’s more than one way to do this, but I think those are inferior paths. Not that you can’t be successful with them, but that I just think that you should do it this way. And in that case, then people will respond to people who have who have passionately held views and are willing to go to bat for them. And so, you know, let’s take the other side of it is like, look, this is this is not a view that’s just slipped into because I, you know, I, I read one article on the online, right. Which it’s a firmly held one from experience. Right. And then that I think also resonates in the thought leadership because you’re actually always thinking about these things and refining your thoughts. And then you have this passion. They help you, but you can still invite to a conversation.
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Bill Sherman Well, and I think the most dangerous thing there is silence, right? If people passionately agree with you, great. If they passionately disagree with you when they’re coming from a place of expertise which may or may not be the same as your expertise. Right. So, you’ve used the example of accountants. If someone who’s an accountant raises their hand and says, But have you thought about X, Y and Z? And you go, No. Tell us how that impacts us. Then you have a great debate and a conversation and both sides learn. Right. Right.
Eric Youngstrom And we may find from that accounting. Oh, great. You’re right. Those are those are real valid points of your services business. But we’re actually trying to solve a product problem. Right. Right. Which is a problem. So yeah. And then like, is there something to learn and transport from that into your world as well that can further enhance the product? And this is where, you know, even talk to your customers comes into play, right? Because your customers are gonna teach you things that then inform your thoughts and then can be translated back into that thought leadership. And perhaps then you kind of move back to marketing those customers and be part of your marketing strategy, part of your thought leadership team, because they also bring an important voice to bear and could bring in high quality thoughts that translate to high quality content, then translate to improve positioning in the market and helping more people.
Bill Sherman Well. And even on the customer side, having a customer who is passionate and saying, Man, I wish you did X, Y and Z or I don’t know why you do it this way as a piece of software or technology. Why can’t you someone who’s bringing those insights, push and challenge from a perspective that internally you may not see. And so, again, it comes back to I’d rather debate. A position with smart people who have a different point of view than to have them just go. Not interesting on a walk on. No, let’s argue.
Eric Youngstrom Yeah. Debate is a fantastic thing. Right. And it does help you then grow your opinions and either maybe strengthen them. But now, you know, now that I’ve actually spent the time really being challenged on this and yet I’ve come to the same conclusion, or I’ve spent that time and it’s changed my conclusion, you know, maybe not 100%, but if it’s redirected me by, you know, two or three degrees, that actually may get to a better outcome. And that’s what we should be looking for, right, is how do we continually improve the products, the businesses that we’re building ourselves as individuals. Right. And the debate that comes from smart people is the number one way to do so.
Bill Sherman Yeah. And it’s sharpening your go to market. It’s sharpening your ability to talk to different audiences, whether they’re buyers, influencers, etc.. The more capacity you, your sales team, your marketing team know how to reach an audience and know what objections they might have. That’s all good work.
Eric Youngstrom Right? Right. When they start, bring up the sales team, right. That’s that’s the group that then engages with your customer more than anybody. So, you know, the time and energy put into thought leadership from a marketing perspective then also has to be translated to that sales teams respected. How do we go train them in our example, right on working capital and on the accounting treatment of that and on some of the unexpected impacts of inventory and sales turnover and velocities and whatnot, so that when they’re having a conversation, they’re actually answering really challenging questions that are faced by our customers. And they bring a level of expertise and they may not be accountants, but they’re they still bring a level of expertise to understand the problem. And which then means when a customer approaches it with something they haven’t seen before, they’re smart enough to say, okay, hold on. That’s a new wrinkle. We haven’t seen this. How do we help with that? And that that then becomes that feedback and that feedback loop into our business, right? That then is it’s not just Eric’s engagement with the market and the debate, right? It’s everybody in the organization, engagement with the market, in the conversations, the debates, the pushback, the praise. They then continue to refine what it is you’re building as a product for your market.
Bill Sherman Well, I know you have a background in logistics and delivery. And one of the things that I think about in terms of the sales function is that for thought leadership, the sales team is the last mile between you and the customer. And if your sales team does not understand the idea or the piece of thought leadership, they’re not going to talk about it. And B, if it’s not something that aligns with their sales quotas, targets, etc., they’re not going to talk about it because they’re comp driven, right? They know what they need to hit for numbers. And if it’s a nice to talk about, but it’s going to only touch three years from now. No, no, no. I’m here to talk about today.
Eric Youngstrom Right. Well, you want your sales team to be driven on those numbers, right? Because that’s the business. I mean.
Bill Sherman That’s gravity, that’s oxygen.
Eric Youngstrom But you also need that team to have enough curiosity. Right. And be empowered to actually identify how you’re going to grow the business. I mean, I think in this day and age, right, the thought of an empowered member seems bizarre to me. Right. I mean, Toyota has proven like anybody in that on that on that manufacturing line can stop it because something is wrong. Right. Right. It’s empowering every or every team member. Right. That you know, I just I think that needs to translate. Well, I think in most startups it does buy start ups are by default learning organizations. Learning organizations spend a lot of time thinking and a lot of time making mistakes. And, you know, the what we say here at on ramp, right. It’s just make mistakes fast and let’s learn from it quickly. It’s okay to make mistakes in these we’re going to go figure out how to do things better the next time. The mistake is to repeat it. Right. They hold on. Why are we why are we making the same mistake twice? Right. That means we’re actually not thinking we’re not actually responding to what we’re learning and then applying that so that we don’t let those things roll back through the system.
Bill Sherman So how do you align the sales team with the leadership in a startup? I need them to care.
Eric Youngstrom Yeah, well, one starts at recruiting, right? You’re telling the story like this is what we’re passionate about, what we’re trying to go do and why we’re trying to do it and who we’re helping, you know, in our story. Right. We provide capital to help businesses turnover. That’s not very exciting. You know, the mission is helping small business owners achieve launch velocity, helping them actually grow so far that they actually outgrow what we can do for them, because that means there will be more successful small business owners out there. And the more successful small business owners in the world, the healthier, happier, free or safer the world is. It’s a diffusion of economic power to a broader population of people. So that passion of helping small business is helping your local community and your country is what we’re excited about. And then, you know, the beauty of a startup is your small organization. You know, when we started with our sales team, we had a total of nine people. So it’s not like there’s a CEO in an office with a door closed. Right. I’m a CEO with the same $30 IKEA desk that every other employee has in the same open floor. And, you know, it’s my belief that, you know, one of things I like about the way we’re set up is I get over here these conversations, the sales reps are having, and then I get to go and say, hold on. You know, here’s an important piece you are missing in that conversation. How can I help? Right. And as the organization has gotten bigger, we’re about 25 people now. You know, I still hear those things happening, maybe not as frequently, because the team’s much more trained up. And the beauty is, as a new rep comes on. Right, there’s a sales manager who’s really close, but that person’s are our head of sales now, has been here for almost two years working on this problem and he’s able to overhear these things and go to them. But now he has the expertise that I brought when he came on. Right. And the other apps sitting next to each other are sharing that whole you missed this. You got that wrong. Let’s help you there. Right. So that’s what that’s one of the beauties of the early stage business, right, is that you’re all rowing together and you haven’t gotten so big that everybody doesn’t know each other. Right then. You know what? I think it’s interesting from a thought leadership perspective is as a business reach is that what is is the dining bar number where 150 people is as many people as you can know, whatever or something like that.
Bill Sherman Dunbar. It’s Dunbar.
Eric Youngstrom Yeah. So when a beach when a business reaches that stage. Organizations begin to develop, and then you have the organizational politics occurring. That’s, I think, probably the more critical time for thought leadership, because that’s when you’re going to have people coming on that aren’t directly known by the CEO anymore, that she has not been part of the recruiting for that person. Right. Hasn’t been intimate with it. And that’s where you’re going to start to see the silos show up. Right. And hold on. Are you understand that what the business mission is, right. And then what we’re doing for the customers that we have, then how do you translate that into your specific function in the organization at your end that you know, that’s an interesting inflection point for a business. And I’ll be honest, I typically leave when a business gets that big, but it’s been it’s taken four or five years each time to get there. And it’s kind of a natural evolution for a guy in the startup world to kind of move at that point. So it’ll be that’ll be an interesting thing for Ron, right, as we reach that velocity and size is how do we continue to teach new people who are coming on what it is we’re doing and then make sure that as the sales and marketing team we’re learning from the market and learning things, how do we make sure that’s translated back to the product team, the engineering team, support teams, right, partner networks and things like that. When it’s not when you’re no longer able to sit in a room and kind of overhear conversations and tune in on the interesting ones.
Bill Sherman Right. Right. And you’ve talked about this as a long term play. And each time you’ve gone back to level with hiring, it starts with hiring. Right. With employees, with the VCs and funding. It’s the early conversations when you’re actually trying to raise funds. All of these things work best when you play the long game. And in this case, like you said, getting to a growth point of maybe 150 employees or five years, whatever you’re looking at in terms of time that you’re thinking from the beginning, the initial ask for capital all the way to the exit. And planning that through line because you can’t create a category A with a mindset of, okay, six months, we’re going to exit. Let’s focus on category creation. Right. That’s backwards.
Eric Youngstrom No, I mean, look, the best play land is the best laid plans, right? I mean, we know where they go. But the truth matters, if you don’t have a plan, you’re going to get nowhere. That the point of a plan is more of, hey, here’s our North Star. And we have we have a map or think we’re go this way. But okay, great. You know, it turns out I-5 is out. So we’re going to take the four or five around, you know. There we go. Not a darn thing wrong with it, actually. This smart. So you do want to have that kind of plan and vision around where are we going while being nimble enough to react to what the market’s telling you? And again, having articulated your thought leadership and translate that into, you know, the content that it tells that that that tells the story you want to tell and the problem solving and the how and the why of it all then allows you to look at that and say, hey, great, here’s what you know. Here’s this wrinkle. COVID has changed things. How are you going to respond to that? Right. It’s the reality of the world. So our product has to adapt to that. Great. We’ve taken a detour on our map, but it doesn’t mean we’re not trying to get to that same endpoint. Right. We’re still trying to finish that cannonball run from L.A. to Sydney or New York to L.A.. Right. But you go through Kansas City of you know, you go around the city. Right. Or, you know, what other destinations you want to hit along.
Bill Sherman The way and you’re adapting along the way. Yeah.
Eric Youngstrom You know, a lot of metaphors. We’re sorry.
Bill Sherman Yeah, no, that’s fine. So as we begin to wrap up, I’ve got a question for you. You’ve been CEO ad in leadership teams of a number of startups and you’ve taken a long view in terms of thinking about how call leadership fits in. What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your career? And the reason I ask is there may be other CEOs of tech startups who aren’t thinking about leadership at this point. So what advice would you give your younger self?
Eric Youngstrom Learning to articulate both the problem your solving and. Why your solution is the right one. Is critical and it warrants getting beat up. It warrants actually going out there and letting people challenge that. Right. And so being open to that, I think, is really critical. But the sooner you actually start to spend the time putting pen to paper and really trying to nail down both the problem solving and how the solution works, the sooner you’re actually going to start moving on that thought leadership path. And I will say when I was younger, my career, I didn’t think of this as thought leadership. Right. The way we talk about it today is different than is different.
Bill Sherman Absolutely.
Eric Youngstrom But the lesson is they’re right, which is you’ve got to be able to articulate what you’re trying to do. And from that nugget, right from that core principle of the problem, your solving. And the why of it. All right. The why is going to drive the passion. Right. And the and then the how is the solution? Those two things together. Right. If that’s what you really want to go after to do, then allows you to go build a team that allows you to you build a team of investors with the team, employees, with the partners, ultimately building a team customers. Right. Who are along and share that vision. But so the sooner you start doing it, the better. And the more you’re focused on what is that guiding star and then how to, how, how does everything else we do around that translate, I think becomes critical. And then from there, right. That takes a tremendous amount of thought. How do you then translate that into how are you going to communicate that with the world, the content, if you will?
Bill Sherman One thing that I want to underscore in what you said, because I think it’s very much the entrepreneur’s mindset and it aligns very well with call leadership two is you will get beat up when you put your ideas out there. And rather than having thin skin or being fragile, the ability to take in feedback and adapt how you tell the story in the message and even make it stronger is absolutely necessary right now.
Eric Youngstrom Look, it’s interesting. You need a team around you of advisors, board members, what have you who are willing to go toe to toe with you and have the debate. You also want to know and respect like, look, their types are going to do that with you. They’re really irritating, but it’s an important part of the job. It’s also great when they can say, look, you know, we’ve done devil’s advocate long enough. Let’s sit, let they take your side and see, can I help you refine this because of the challenges that is brought to you? You know, that’s a that’s a great adviser, right? Somebody who can do both and help you move through that and strengthen your ability to take you know, to take the heat so that then the next time you hear that from somebody who’s maybe an investor looking to challenge you to make sure that they’ve got the right investment, that you’re actually ready for that. Right? Like, Oh, I’ve been through this. I’ve been through this before, and here’s the outcome or here’s the answer to help us to resolve this. Right? And not every investor is right for your business. And so they may not agree, but a lot of times they’re not looking for agreement. They’re looking for intelligence. And that’s the fortitude, right, to take the heat and keep pushing forward.
Bill Sherman Eric, this has been a wonderful conversation. I want to thank you for taking time to talk about thought leadership. Thank you. Startups with us.
Eric Youngstrom Having a great time. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate, and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website. OrgTL.com and choose ‘join our newsletter’. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.