The Entrepreneur and the Future of IoT Really Come Down to Character.
Entrepreneur is an interesting word isn’t it? What really makes an entrepreneur? I mean many people who start a business or a company want to consider themselves an entrepreneur but are they really living up to the term or are they just a small business owner? I feel like an entrepreneur is somebody who builds more than a small business. It’s someone who takes a vision or a problem and tries to solve it with real-world solutions and will impact something much bigger than them. I love my coffee as much as the next person but I don’t know if I would consider the local coffee shop owner as an entrepreneur. And then there’s even the serial entrepreneur. The person who has had a couple small businesses and considers themselves a serial entrepreneur; even when often the story to those small businesses is that they failed.
Since March of 2014 I’ve taken a vision and turned it into a software application that we hope will impact global food production. Yet I don’t know if I still consider myself an entrepreneur. My company is 9 years old but I feel like we’re just getting started because we have so much more we want to offer the world. It’s really entertaining if you think about it, when I started this company it was all about should I wear a suit? Should my business cards look very professional? Should I be all about the selling? Only to find out later in my journey it really comes down to character and company culture.
I was honored to be a panelist the other night at a Tech Forum here in my hometown of Alpharetta Georgia. The topic was IoT and how it’s impacting the world today from both small to big companies and the strategies that are being put in place to focus on IoT…or the lack of strategies. As someone with over 20 years in the wireless industry, which is often looked at as the connecting platform of all things IoT, I feel the evening carried some great discussion. But I find myself still not so much answering everyone’s questions as much as I just share my story. Maybe that sometimes is what makes the difference between a small business owner and entrepreneur; the story. That’s not to say that small business owners don’t have a story that comes along with how they begin their business but it seems that all the compelling stories we hear about are a product or service that has become so much bigger than the person who started it. Apple is wonderful but as we can see it continues even without Steve Jobs.
One of the questions that came up the other night at the Tech Forum was about how small companies can work with the big players, meaning how do they ever get their attention for them to expose their product or service. I will agree it’s practically impossible to try and capture the attention of the decision makers in a big company when you’re such a small fish in the ocean of industry. One of the things I’ve always taken to heart is what Steve Jobs was known for saying and that is people don’t really know what they want until they see it on the shelf. So early in 2014 I took that path to build something based on my vision that it would capture the attention of the big players.
I quit my job of 15 years. I cashed in my 401k. I practically emptied my savings account and I took a huge risk. But in the end it absolutely paid off. We had put something out there that is getting the attention of every major seed company in agriculture, every machinery company, and so many of the middle and small players in the agricultural industry. I look back now to that part of the story but I think what captures people’s attention is that willingness to risk it all. I think you have to have that today. I know it’s something we are seeing in farmers every season that they begin planting. Mother Nature cannot be determined and so they literally risk it all every single year. In the Silicon Valley scene and this world of venture capital nobody wants to risk anything. They leverage equity ownership to the hilt in a gamble that a company might work and if it doesn’t everybody loses. Entrepreneurs today want capital so bad that they’ll give up the majority of their company just to get it because they’re trying to expose what they have to the rest of the world. They think it’s going to take all this money for marketing, advertising and sales people. Sometimes it does, but sometimes I think we lose focus on the vision.
Once we do though, it really becomes about adaptability doesn’t it? And I think this is an area where the farmers of the world can really learn from the technology, entrepreneurs and small startups out there. I remember in 2015 my company went through 4 different CRM tools. Bouncing from one to the next to find out which one worked the best well. That’s not an easy thing to do when you use that kind of software as your main platform for tracking sales leads and deals. The notes that go in there on our clients and customers and deals is not something you can afford it just loose and start over with, so everything had to be carried over to a new platform. I spent a good portion of my time migrating from one application to another until ultimately we found what worked and fit our group. There’s no doubt about it, entrepreneurs have to wear many hats but it’s those tools out there that help us wear those hats a little easier. From my experience, while wearing many different hats, there is not time to be trying all different kinds of technology. I firmly believe that it’s more than just a product or service that can help our potential clients.Being there alongside them and consulting to be just as important as having the right product or solution. What farmers are going to soon find out is they need to start to adopt newer and better technology.
Security, for instance, is changing entire industries all around the world because of technology being leveraged from sales to engineering to accounting to marketing. But when we do that, we [the company]offer ourselves as another piece to the puzzle; such as Consulting. Are we losing focus on the core of what we are good at? Do we then lose ground on what started it all to begin with so that we can consult on the business side? I don’t really know the answer to this question but I’d like to think that we don’t. I’d like to think that we keep our eye on the ball. Adaptability is going to be huge now when it comes to succession. Especially in the world of farming as they want the next generation to take over the family farm yet that generation grew up with the internet and mobile devices and even wearable devices. They are used to the automation and inter-connecting “Internet of Things”. Therefore, they’re going to look for it in their day-to-day work and if it’s not there now it’s going to be difficult to try to incorporate when they’re wearing so many hats.
I’ve talked a lot thus far about the agriculture industry but I really do think this pertains to just about any market out there. Could we really be in the beginning of the next Industrial Revolution or Technology Revolution? And if it was called the Technology Revolution, I wonder if at this point it would ever stop…? I’m 39 years old and I think about how far we’ve come since I was a kid. I remember televisions without a remote and the simple standard plain old telephone service. There were no answering machines or pagers or cell phones or smartphones or now wearable technology. It’s incredibly fascinating to see how far we have come and I can’t wait to see where it’s going to go. However, I saw a chart the other night at this Tech forum that I thought was really important.
The point of it is to show where companies really are, where they want to be, or the rest of the world is as it pertains to 80. My personal opinion is that innovation is at the top of this curve. Where people want to be is somewhere near the middle. But realistically they as a company, or as their infrastructure, they are really near the bottom.
So what will it take to get to the top of that curve? Do companies really have the vision to see where their business could be 5, 10, even 20 years from now? How will selling a simple cup of coffee even become revolutionized in the world of technology? The Internet of Things points to a day when using geolocation technology allows you to get really close to your favorite coffee shop and it will simply order your drink, pay for it and you havenothing more to do than simply walk in and pick it up. That kind of scares me when it comes to the separation of Hi-Tech and Hi-Touch. I thoroughly believe that part of our user interface and user experience, (UI / UX), we talk about so much in the world of innovative development is not all based on technology. Part of our user interface is another human being to talk to; imagine that! User experience can sometimes be just as much about sharing the story with another person then with a machine. Because trust me…the responses will be different regardless of how much artificial intelligence we put into machines.
I also tend to think that what is missing from today’s sales strategies is good character and a good story. There’s so many programs out there like Six Sigma and Agile and Salesforce training on how to capture people’s attention to buy into your product or service or solution. It’s something we’ve never adopted at my company and we never will. Our experience has always been about telling the story and having the character to follow through with it. But that takes risks doesn’t it? Because we feel that all the sales training out there in the world makes it a sure thing don’t we? But I’ve listened to people who have tried those different methods and it seems they don’t really get any further than we do. It seems that we spend more time running around in circles when it comes to servicing clients based on which part of the sales method they are in. Sure, we’ve repeated steps unnecessarily in our sales process but we’ve quickly identified where they hurt us and changed.
We can all remember those motivational movies from back in the day that we still quote in this generation as a model of success. Gordon Gekko thought lunch was for wimps, Glengarry Glen Ross thought coffee is for closers, and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman believed that guts was enough. It’s been in my experience that those still ring true today and everybody who thinks of them self as a successful salesperson or entrepreneur still wants to quote those lines but yet you won’t find them in any of those wanna-be predetermined sales strategies. In the end it always comes back to character anyway. doesn’t it? Do you have what it takes? Do you have what’s necessary inside to risk it all, incorporate High-Touch with High-Tech, really have the passion and desire to help people in the industry you serve with your product or service…and more importantly have everything that it takes to see it through? Because no software platform, no sales strategy or method, nor cold calling techniques to get the decision maker is ever going to give you that. You gotta have that yourself. And if you don’t, there’s no shame in finding the right person who does and putting your skill set to work with their vision. When you do, you inherently become part of The Story.
Walt Whitman once said, “And the powerful play goes on that each of us may contribute a verse.”
…so in this world of IoT…what will your verse be?