5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO: With Steven Benson, CEO at Badger Maps
“When I was working on the Google Maps team, I got to know how powerful mobile mapping could be, and had experience with the types of solutions and apps that mobile was capable of enabling.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Benson, CEO and founder of Badger Maps, the number one sales route planner in the App Store that helps field salespeople find more success.
Steve’s entire career has been in field sales with companies like IBM, Autonomy, and Google — becoming Google Enterprise’s Top Performing Salesperson in the World in 2009.
Steve’s sales training began at IBM’s Global Sales School, it continues with the thousands of talented reps using Badger daily. By sharing his experience, Steve’s goal is to help today’s outside sales reps reach peak performance.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started Badger Maps because I was frustrated with a problem that no one was solving. I knew a lot of other people that had the same problem, and I believed it could be solved with software. In addition, my career has been spent in field sales, and I understand the challenges faced by field salespeople first hand.
When I was working on the Google Maps team, I got to know how powerful mobile mapping can be, and I had experience with the types of solutions and apps that mobile is capable of enabling.
I knew I could improve my performance at my job as a field sales rep if I could combine my customer data with a mobile mapping system, and I could envision a solution that could schedule and plan my time selling in the field more efficiently.
The problem of combining a map, a routing algorithm, a calendar, and a salesperson’s customer data is a problem that salespeople have had for hundreds of years. The reason it hadn’t been solved before is because you need computer-based mapping, computer-based calendar capabilities, internet connectivity on a mobile device, the ability for a computer to interact with a salesperson’s customer database, and a mobile device that can serve as the platform to do this in real time.
In 2011, all these things were coming together, and I was uniquely positioned to solve this problem of field salespeople, given my background in sales and working on the Google Maps team.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
Before we could afford our own place, we got a sublet in an office where the landlord worked. He would be best described as ‘super creepy’ and ‘vampire-like’, and would hang out and kind of slink around leering at people. We shared a bathroom with him, and late at night if someone was in the bathroom, he’d just stand outside the door, silently listening. You could see the shadows of his shoes under the door. The team was pretty creeped out, and we eventually instituted a policy that no one would work at the office alone. We got out of there as fast as we could — it was great motivation to get revenue up!
Yitzi: So what does your company do?
Badger Maps is a route planner that automates territory management for outside salespeople. Badger visualizes their sales data on a map, optimizes daily routes and schedules, and generates meeting reports. The app focuses specifically on the type of salesperson who is visiting customers face-to-face — field or outside salespeople. It helps them solve their daily problems in minutes, rather than hours, and shows them the best opportunities and leads along the way. This results in our users spending less time driving and doing busy work, and more time with meetings and sales. Reps report that they drive 20% less, and sell between 10% and 50% more with Badger.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve used my success with Badger to help other people in several ways. First, we help outside salespeople do their jobs better. People in sales are very important, because they’re the ones who bring money into an organization. With that money, companies are able to pay salaries, make investments, pay their taxes, and innovate. By helping salespeople perform better and close more deals, we aim to help thousands of companies create more value.
Besides making our customers lives better, I also want to give my employees and interns a great experience at the company and help them develop fulfilling careers. I spend my time split between two roles — sometimes I’m the leader of a software company, and sometimes I’m the principal of a career training school. I teach my employees two things: the strategy and direction of the business, and the set of skills they need to be successful. It’s very important to me that I give them the information and knowledge they need to thrive in their roles, and help them develop through regular training, feedback, and one-on-one meetings.
My goal is to help each individual on the team reach their full career potential. I make sure they’re being adequately challenged in their role, and they’re satisfied with their growth and career development. By investing heavily in our team, it makes us a better software company because it makes people better at their jobs and prepares them for the next job they’ll be doing for us. This mindset is not something that I’ve seen other business leaders take, but this unique way of looking at the company is working very well for us, and has helped us build a great team and company culture.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why.
1. The most important thing I wish I’d known is how long everything takes. It feels like it takes twice as long to get anything done as your best estimate, because there’s no infrastructure in place at a new company and so things pop up that need to be taken care of all the time. Since time translates nicely into cost, this also means that you tend to need more money than you think you’ll need. I remember early on at the company, we were building a prototype of our scheduling feature and it took 2 months longer than we thought to get it working the way we needed it to. People were excited about it and waiting for it to come out, and I kept having to email everyone and tell them it would be a few more weeks.
2. It takes a while to get meaningful revenue in the door. We had a few big deals come around 24 months after we started, but really it took 3 years to really get money coming in on a regular basis. I think this is common among B2B companies. You really need to set aside 3 years of time and money to see something through — and sometimes to even know if the idea you’re pursuing is going to work or not! If I recall about 2 years in, it felt like this business wasn’t going to work, but we stayed the course and kept grinding, and soon we saw monthly revenues growing and were profitable about a year later.
3. Take the concepts of testing, experimenting, and Wizard of Oz-ing to new heights. This is really important to keep a company from burning too much capital and to encourage them to move quickly. I had discussions with companies that we approached because we thought they’d be a good fit for a new feature we were building. We showed them the concept and asked if the solution would be important enough for them to pay for it. When people started saying yes, we knew in what direction we had to take the product next. This is a much better way than building something and then trying to sell it.
4. You can’t communicate with enough prospective customers. We felt like we were talking with way more people than most companies would have, and it still wasn’t enough. You can’t know your prospects, their pains and needs too well.
5. Different investors are interested in different types of companies. Depending on what stage your company is in, and how far along you are will determine if you are a fit for them. I didn’t understand the relationship between different sized VC funds or what their economic drivers were. You can waste a lot of time talking with VC’s and investors who aren’t the right fit for where you’re at when you’re raising money.
Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I’d really like to have breakfast with Richard Branson. He’s founded so many businesses in vastly different areas that it’s hard for me to wrap my head around. His mastery of marketing and how he’s been able to get his messages and value propositions out to the public is wildly impressive. But most of all, I believe that the positive and productive relationship that he has with the team members who work at his businesses is the secret to his success. I believe that he’s made the world a better place through innovation and taking bold steps. Branson also speaks his mind and thinks that a business leader should also be a leader in society and use his or her talents for philanthropic reasons. I’d love to have the opportunity to get his insights into business and life.