10 Mar March 10, 2020 – GO Concepts John Gambill and Ignite Your Career Steve Kahan
John Gambill – CEO of GO Concepts and Disabilities IT Advocate
John Gambill, Jr is CEO of GO Concepts, a Premier Information Technology Solutions Provider. The business has specialized in County Boards, Agencies, and Independent Providers for those with Developmental Disabilities. Go Concepts has been assisting both professional businesses and governmental entities with the IT needs for the entire developmental disabilities organization and business community. John has become a leader in the IT for disabilities space.
Steve Kahan – CMO at Thycotic and Author of Be a Startup Superstar: Ignite Your Career Working at a Tech Startup – Read interview highlights here
When senior leaders at startups tend to get turned off is when
there are no questions from an applicant. The questions help you understand and assess the startup.
Steve Kahan is a serial entrepreneur that has had success moving from the corporate world early in his career to the startup world. He has lessons for how young professionals or those that feel stuck in the corporate world can earn a great living doing in a technology startup, while doing what they love. His six startup involved companies resulted in more than $3 billion in shareholder value. He is currently CMO at Thycotic, which will become the seventh. He has just written a book published by Wiley and Audible and available on Amazon.com called “Be a Startup Superstar.”
Highlights from Steve’s Interview
I am someone who actually didn’t start in the startup world. If you take a step back, I started my career listening to my parents; and my father in particular. He used to tell me so many times when I was growing up, “Steve, of course, your mother and I would much prefer that you become a doctor or a lawyer. But short of that, getting a job at a large corporation will do.” So that was the path I took. I remember I was processing claims for a large company, I was down to $50 in my bank. I was staring at my bank statement and the pile of claims I was supposed to process on a particular day, wondering how on earth I’d ever get ahead. I’d work long days but the student loans would grab ahold of my paycheck before they’d ever hit my bank account. So, I asked myself a very important question, and that was, “How could I earn a great living and love the work I do?” That took me into the startup world. I made that leap and now I’m with my seventh startup, the six previous have had great exits. I’ve learned a lot along the way. Startups are sort of an overlooked place to find some amazingly great jobs. So that’s where I built my expertise and what I wrote my book about.
The first thing that people are oftentimes unaware of is that 43% of college graduates with a bachelor degree within their first year are underemployed. If you ask a friend of mine by name of Josiah Sternfeld at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, when he asked his students where they plan to work once they graduate, the overwhelming majority said a large corporation, in spite of the fact that 65% of all new jobs since 1995 have been created by SMEs and startups. If you google the phrase “People who feel stuck in their corporate jobs”, you’ll get nearly 300 million results, and that’s a lot of content. So, there must be a lot of people who feel this way. I think that people can enter the startup world early in their career, it’s often overlooked, or even at any point during their career, so long as they learn how to choose the best startup and how to be successful once they’ve made that leap.
For me, when I first started out of college, I was the first person hired into marketing at an organization. It was awesome because it gave me the chance to have great versatility in the role, and I got a chance to do everything. If you contrast that versus large corporations where you’re oftentimes hired into a pigeonholed role, it just gave me a great opportunity to build my expertise at an exponential rate. Very early on, I had also started up one startup as a founder that grew. For rest of the organizations I came in what I would consider to be phase two, which is when the business has proven viability and is looking to scale, and bringing that expertise and knowledge in order to take a business that has potential, and scaling it big time.
What you want to be able to do is separate a startup with a good story versus one that has a good story and a good chance to sit at success. If I would have done this once in my career, maybe I would have been lucky, but it’s now number seven. Here’s what I look for. Number one: quality people who share the same values as you do. Startups tend to be smaller companies and people reflect the company’s culture, so you got to be able to respect, trust, and admire the people that are involved. What you’re looking for in particular is a solid management team who’ll rock your world.
Secondly, the startup’s concept needs to fill a big market need. Particularly in the B2B space, buyers don’t spend money on nice-to-solve problems; they spend money on-must solve problems. There’s a tremendous amount of research you could find by googling, by industry influencers and analysts, to see if the market is large enough. Don’t be dissuaded if you see there’s some big boy competition, be dissuaded if you see there’s no competition, which might be indicative of just a market that just is not large enough that would allow the business to grow. It really depends but at least where I’ve chosen to move into, I look for markets where you start to see it approaching billions or a growth rate that could approach billions or hundreds of millions. Particularly because most markets are brutally competitive, rarely does anyone operate in a competition-free zone, so that’s kind of a number that I tend to look at. And of course, look for the year-over-year growth rate as well.
Thirdly, look for a great product that you can believe in. Would you purchase, use, or recommend it? The key there is you want to go to work for a startup in which you have passion for the product that the company creates, and in particular, your role in creating it. So, if you can’t get behind it with enthusiasm, move on.
The fourth thing that I look for is a role that I could fill today, that truly matches my interests and my area of expertise. You’ve got to be able to also look towards the growth, but I try to look for a company that I can grow in or where at least I may have the opportunity to wear other hats, if you will. With startups, oftentimes you just want to see that they’re growing, they’re small, and agile. I definitely also look for opportunities where I can add value in various ways and contribute to the company success.
Finally, look for the startup that is well-funded. So, the fifth item is that you want to make sure that you’re choosing a startup that has a long enough runway to get off the ground, to make sure that it’s properly capitalized, so you have the best chance to grow and stability.
The next question is, what questions should you ask to actually be able to determine the answers to those questions? So, the two questions you could ask are, how much has the company raised and what’s its runway? Secondly, who are your investors and why did you choose them? What you’re really looking for here is some semblance of being able to scale the business to be able to cover the basics; like making payroll. You’re trying to get a sense for is what’s the company’s burn rate, how long could it operate given the current burn rate; which is basically spending more than you’re bringing in, and assessing based on your own additional questions and the capability of the business to move forward that it’s going to be able to hang on long enough to then go achieve at the next level. I typically ask a few other questions too. So, for example, why is now the time for your company to exist? What milestones has your company achieved? What do you love about your team and why are you the ones to solve the problem?
People think that asking questions will maybe piss off the CEO or the person who is interviewing you, but I find it quite the opposite. To me, what you’ll see in senior leadership at startups is, where they tend to get turned off is when there’s next to no or no questions. So I think these are questions that not only help you to understand and assess the viability of the startup, but it also differentiates you, because I can assure you that most of the people who might be interviewing for the same job just aren’t asking as smart questions. Even questions like, if you weren’t building your startup, what would you be doing? To me, that’s an example of a question that gets at the person that you’re meeting with values, and helps you to understand how do they map with your own? To me, these are all fair questions, and I can tell you, these are questions I asked and I would encourage others to ask them as well.
To ask the right questions for the right amount of time, I think you have to feel the situation and understand the timing. Sometimes they’ll be follow-up questions. Oftentimes, you’re meeting with multiple people in the interview process and some of these questions might be more appropriate for one person that’s interviewing you versus the other. Basically, it’s about assessing who you’re meeting with, the amount of time that you have, but trying to get all these questions answered to a sufficient level so that you’re able to make the very best career decision for yourself.
I think that there are a number of must-haves that people would not maybe think would be conventional to help them to succeed at startups. Let me cover what I believe some of them are. First of all, at startups, I would encourage people to regularly challenge the status quo. For example, we’ve all heard things like the old sayings, “If It ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, or “That’s the way we do things around here.” The status quo is strong. It represents a bias that could permeate the culture for keeping in place the current state of affairs, it’s comfortable, it’s predictable, it’s often perceived as less risky, but growth requires change. So, every person and organization that wants to become great at some point had to challenge the status quo, particularly when we’re in a pace of change that’s incredible. It’s not being challenging everything to be that contrarian all the time, but it’s recognizing that growth does require change often, that it is something that you need to do, to summon the courage to make tough decisions.
What you’ll find in startups in particular is that you’re on the front lines, there’s just not a lot of people so you are in the trenches. Rarely are a lot of the decisions that you need to make clearly black-and-white, it just doesn’t exist that way; you’re dealing in shades of grey. So, it’s all about, do you have the guts to make decisions or an unpopular decision? Are you able to quickly assess the situation and decide when others stand idle? Sometimes, your ability to move quicker than some of the bigger bureaucratic organizations is part of your advantage. So, I think that having the courage to know that you might be wrong when the outcome is unclear, but deciding anyways, is an attribute of someone who’s successful with startups.
Another one is to acknowledge sometimes when you’re meeting with others [Unclear] that startup is the elephant in the room. This is really important. Because there are business meetings where things seem to be growing great, you’re getting stuff accomplished, yet there is one big issue that is hanging over everyone like a cloud. Sometimes you’ll find the issue, particularly in a small company, that people are thinking about but no one wants to discuss, and they might tiptoe around a little bit, and that’s what’s known as the elephant in the room. Sometimes, they’re topics that are uncomfortable, they’re usually things people want to avoid because it’s easier and less stressful. But unlike fine wine, these elephants don’t tend to get better over time, they rarely vanish, and they must be addressed head-on. So, these were the three items that people might not think about, but they really help you to best stand out from others and differentiate yourself, and succeed at the highest level at a startup.
I originally wrote the book for my kids, as well as those that I mentor. So, for me, this is something that I really believe will help a number of people. The feedback has been really tremendous so far and I’m very hopeful that it offers value to everyone. You could get the book wherever books are sold online, like Amazon. You can also learn more about the book at the book’s website, which is “beastartupsuperstar.com”.