Know thy story. Believe thy story

Writing about a first customer win is easy when the term “customer” is easily defined.  But as Liron Shapira, CTO of Quixey, pointed out, can we really define who Google’s first customer was?  I realized Quixey’s story is not typical and let Liron answer the question in the best way he saw fit. We focused on the big picture, the vision, and the attitude that sucked people onto the Quixey bandwagon.

Quixey is the search engine for apps.  The app market is saturated with apps that fit every need but at the moment when you have a specific need to fill, it’s hard to know where to start looking.  Quixey’s search engine helps a user search by the functionality of the application.

The First Player Problem

Liron noted that Quixey’s early challenges involved being a first entrant in a market that didn’t exist.  To their advantage, the barriers to entry were fewer because they did not have to fend off competitors, but it brought up a harder problem to solve –  convincing people there was indeed a need that Quixey could fill.  Liron attributed a lot of their success with the end customer, be it the distribution channels, partners, investors or developers, to a vision that was much more far-reaching and ambitious than solving an immediate problem.  His reason was simple and evoked the most innate human need – everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than . That’s how Quixey positioned itself as a great company everyone wanted to be a part of.

Be remarkable everywhere you go

Liron talked me through how this vision was embedded in everything they did to gain that early success. He also pointed out that even their marketing efforts reached towards a larger vision regardless of their size.  Last year, when Quixey had a chance to attend Techcrunch’s Disrupt, Quixey didn’t go there as just one of the presenters; they were the biggest booth there with the most people milling around.  “The way we [Quixey] think about our marketing is being remarkable everywhere we go.”

Quixey’s story is to make an impact that is far-reaching, even by Start-Up standards. The vision created a passion within the company, rendering the team numb to hard work and sensitive to the brand.  The passion and determination, brought on by a powerful vision, is the force that helped Quixey persevere early on. So take a step back today and remind yourself of the story, the vision that started it all. The passion it brews is contagious.

About Liron

LironShapira is the co-founder and CTO of Quixey, The Search Engine for Apps. Before founding Quixey in 2009, Liron helped create the successful SuperPoke! Pets product as an engineer at Slide. He holds a BA in Computer Science with high honors from UC Berkeley.

Addressing the Real Problem by Dave Gardner

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker and author based in Silicon Valley. He holds a BA from San Jose State University and an MBA from Santa Clara University. He’s the author of “Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy.” He is a Fast Company Expert Blogger and a member of Dell’s Customer Advisory Panel. Dave helps companies with (1) execution excellence and (2) configurable products & services strategy and implementation.

I have known Dave for a number of years now and our conversations always end up going deep on many levels. in his own words, Dave shares his story of winning his first client AND the power of addressing the real problem.

I was Director of Customer Services for a high-tech company in Silicon Valley. The stock price of our company dropped about 10% and the president of the firm arbitrarily and capriciously cut about 10% of the company the Monday of Thanksgiving week.

As I walked to my car that morning, I recall saying to myself, “You had better get going–this is the first day of your new consulting practice.” Until that thought popped into my mind, I don’t recall ever thinking about getting into management consulting.

I pretty quickly learned that being good at doing something wasn’t sufficient to get a prospective client to leap for their checkbook.

My first client was Bruce Crawford at LSI Logic Corporation back in 1993. I had kept in touch with Bruce for several years after we had worked together at a previous company. We had a lot of mutual respect for each other’s work. I am quite confident he had no idea that I had not had a previous client—I certainly didn’t bring it up. He didn’t need references—he trusted me.

It was really important that I land my first project. I set a laser-like focus on winning a project with Bruce—I was not to be denied. This wasn’t a fly-by-night company—it was a billion dollar, publicly-traded company. It would be a real feather in my cap to win this project and this account, particularly as my first client.

Bruce identified a problem symptom but I wasn’t comfortable that he had correctly identified the actual problem well enough for me to define an actual project that I could be involved with. His team members could not articulate the problem. I knew enough about consulting at this point to know it was critical to address the real problem, not merely accept the prospect’s representation of the problem.

Clients ultimately want to improve the business. If you are thrown a red herring and you blindly pursue it but the business doesn’t get any better, what have you really achieved for yourself and your client? Nothing!

Addressing the Real Problem

Bruce wanted to implement some document scanning technology to solve “the problem,” but, as I spoke to his team, I had serious doubts that the problem they were suffering would benefit from this technology. I spent at least 40 hours of my own time with his team members over several weeks to pinpoint the actual problem. My instinct turned out to be correct—the technology that he wanted to implement would have done nothing to move him closer to solving his problem. In retrospect, I don’t think it would have even provided any incremental benefit.

I created a proposal to help Bruce and his team with their actual problem and a few months later, we had a Process and Packaging Capabilities Guide that captured in one place all the expert knowledge for accepting orders for custom semiconductor chips. This guide became the basis for an elaborate configurator system, my second, much larger project with LSI Logic Corporation. I ended up doing 5 different projects over a period of about 18 months.

Key Challenges

There was one ethical challenge that arose during my first project. As I approached the end of the first project, it had become clear who my next client would be. My next client, Alan, had adopted a position on a critical issue that would have undermined my current client. I was asked to attend a meeting with about 20 people on short notice to weigh in on this matter. I did not agree with Alan’s recommendation. It wasn’t possible to discuss this with Alan ahead of this large meeting. I didn’t want to blindside Alan in this meeting.

The challenge that I faced was whether to keep quiet so as to not potentially undermine my future relationship and hope that I could work to reverse the decision later or whether my ethical obligation was to my current client and, given that ethical responsibility, I needed to speak up in that meeting which I did. The group agreed with my reasoning and my argument prevailed. While Alan wasn’t happy with me, he never let it interfere with our future relationship.

Lessons learned…

Today, the effort I expended winning that first project would not be an issue. My approach has evolved. The prospect had asked me to help them implement a specific technology. Today, my focus on helping clients identify the outcomes, measures and value to be realized rather than thinking about any specific methodologies or approaches to be undertaken.

The 40 hours I invested was likely due more to my immaturity as a consultant and the fact that my process was weak. My first client has been a client 3 additional times at different companies. He gave me a testimonial for my website that says, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t trust Gardner & Associates Consulting to do for me.” I’m confident that excludes surgical procedures. The real lessons: do great work and act with complete integrity at all times.

Going With the Flow by David Tollen

David Tollen is the founder and trainer at Tech Contracts Chalkboard

David Tollen is a technology and intellectual property attorney at Adeli & Tollen LLP in San Francisco. He’s also a trainer and the founder of Tech Contracts Chalkboard, which provides training on negotiating and drafting IT contracts. And he’s the author of the American Bar Association’s bestselling manual on IT agreements: THE TECH CONTRACTS HANDBOOK, Software Licenses and Technology Services Agreements for Lawyers and Businesspeople.

David has served as General Counsel of a publicly traded software company, VP of Business Development for a profitable startup, and an attorney in a Silicon Valley practice. He has degrees from Harvard Law School, U.C. Berkeley, and Cambridge University in England.

David and I have had a few conversations over the last few months. One conversation with David is sufficient to to see that David is a true polymath and a person with a great heart. In his own words, he shares his story with a clear message – look for opportunity wherever it may crop up

We were selling training on Drafting and Negotiating IT Contracts

Through Tech Contracts Chalkboard, I train contract managers, salespeople, and other businesspeople, as well as lawyers, on drafting and negotiating IT contracts. The business began with in-person live trainings but is expanding into audio and video downloads and a suite of related products and services.

I began my career at a global law firm, but by 2003, I had moved to a small one. I started providing short trainings to develop business. I liked the trainings, and I was surprised to discover how much I knew about the topic. My sessions served both lawyers and non-lawyers, so I had to make them simple and user-friendly. That made them a hit. But I didn’t realize for some time that they could serve a larger purpose than business development.

In one session, a trainee asked if I knew a good book on IT contracts. I didn’t, and I realized I should write one. I started my own law firm around that time, and I thought a book would help distinguish me from my competitors. So I wrote one and self-published it in 2006. Like the trainings, the book was user-friendly and written to make the topic as simple as possible, for non-lawyers as well as lawyers. Both the book and trainings were popular, and readers and trainees wanted more and more. I came to realize I had something special to offer–a special ability to make a complex topic accessible. I decided to open up a new line of business, providing training.

In 2009, I began planning to launch Tech Contracts Chalkboard. Around the same time, the American Bar Association’s IP section got interested in my book and offered a better and larger platform to distribute it. So the ABA published a new version in 2010. THE TECH CONTRACTS HANDBOOK was an immediate success–the number one seller for the ABA’s IP section–and that helped spread the word.

Around that time, I sold my first training. A large government IT department had retained me as a lawyer, to negotiate a deal with a vendor. I noticed the department’s contracting could us some work, so I offered a training to the attorneys, contract managers, and IT staff. They jumped at it. Tech Contracts Chalkboard was off and running.

The challenges were mainly internal and intellectual. First, I had to realize that training could become a paid service in itself, rather than a business development tool. Second, I had to figure out exactly what I was offering. What sort of trainings could I provide, and to whom, and for how long? Was it an in-person service only, or was there a product to be distributed? What was the product, and who’d want it?

The third challenge is marketing–spreading the word.

I’m not sure I’ve entirely overcome any of the challenges. It’s a permanent process, and a fun one.

For me, the main business lesson is to look for opportunity wherever it may crop up. I began training and writing to distinguish myself from other attorneys providing tech contracts services. I had no idea what a great business it could become.

Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty by Mukund Mohan

Mukund Mohan is the founder of Kinetic Brains. He founded and sold BuzzGain, a leader in Do It Yourself PR, to Meltwater in January 2010. He has founded and successfully sold 3 Silicon Valley startups in the Internet & Enterprise software markets.

Mukund has held executive and management roles in Hewlett Packard (Mercury), Inovis, Ariba and Cisco Systems. He studied at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County pursuing a Master’s degree in Computer Science and holds a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and computer science from the University of Mysore in India.

Mukund writes about startups, entrepreneurship and building high performance growth companies at

Over the years, Mukund and I have had several conversations and I have been fascinated by Mukund’s philosophy on life and business.

In his own words, Mukund shares his story of first customer-win with a heavy emphasis on building relationships and giving without expecting anything in return. The story is fascinating and the insights are compelling as you will see:

I was introduced to this book (Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty | Harvey Mackay) by Mark Tonneson, my first manager at Cisco. Fresh out of college, I was an eager whip-snapper who would soak up any piece of advice on “getting ahead.” I didnt read the book, although Mark bought it for me. It still is in my ‘library”. But the phrase “Dig your well before you are thirsty” has been with me since that day.

Most of us tend to ask for help when needed. Its the “on Demand” way of doing work. I’ll learn something when I need it, until that point of time, learning it is useless. I agree with that principle for knowledge.

For relationships, though, I have always tried to build them way before I’d ever need them. In fact building relationships without the intent of ever using them is a sport of mine. It comes from being interested in people and wanting to know as many people as possible.

As an entrepreneur that principle has helped me more than anything else I have done.

This however is a story of how I acquired my first customer at my first company. It began 3 years before the customer signed up though. So effectively my sales cycle was “3 years”.

Circa 1995, Rational was hosting an event on Object oriented modelling. It was a free event, sufficient enough excuse for me to show up. The event was to start at 830 am and was scheduled for 2 hours. The venue was the Double Tree hotel in San Jose. I showed up at 815, and was negotiating with the automatic gate (which I felt was unreasonably placed in a position which required you to get down from the car to reach for the button that would give you a printed ticket), which would trigger the proximity sensor to open the gate.

I had to get down. Damn, I hate these poorly designed machines, which don’t really help serve the purpose that they were intended for.

It took me a few minutes to park and make my way back to the entrance. In the meanwhile a few other cars were backed up at the gate, facing the same problem. I was not “smartly dressed”, and had on a t-shirt and slacks. I noticed a few more folks struggling with the sensor gate, so I made my way across to that gate, and helped push the button and get the ticket for the first car. The gentleman in the car was in a beige suit and seemed preoccupied with something on his dashboard. He did though, look at me and murmured “thanks”. I was just about to make my way to the entrance when I stopped and realized every one of the cars in the queue would have the same problem.

For the next 3 minutes I pushed the button for 5 or 6 cars and diligently gave them the ticket so the drivers did not have to get down from the car. Noticing it was 825, I decided to make my way to the registration.

The “beige suit” was just behind me at the registration desk. He did a quick double take and asked me if this was the Rational rose event.

I replied in the affirmative and said it was and I was registered for the same event. He introduced himself as Steve from Manugistics and said “I really have to say thanks again, since I did not realize you were helping me even though it was not really your job”. I realized then that he thought I was an attendant whose job it was to “push the button and give the ticket”.

I laughed pretty hard for the next few minutes and we both got talking about my job at Cisco and his work at Manugistics. We agreed to keep in touch after the event and “catch up over lunch sometime”. Over the next few months, I would email Steve off and on, sharing some articles and such, and we’d have some email “debates”, that but never really met him for lunch.

3 years later, I left Cisco to start my first company. Steve emailed me a few months earlier saying he had joined Netscape (Actra).

I sent an email to my contact list 2 months after my beta product release, letting them know our product was available for companies to install and try.

The first email response I got back was from Steve. He asked me to come by and give his team a demo.

A month later we started working with the Actra team as part of BuyerXpert product.

You can call it luck. I also call it luck.

I am actually known to be the luckiest guy on this planet.

The only thing I do to get lucky is dig my well before I am thirsty.

Rules are not for CEOs

“I came to this country a day before 9/11.”  That’s how Raj began his story on starting a company in America.  Challenges were abundant; the country was heading towards economic turmoil and he was trying to establish himself in the 3D technology industry. Against the odds, Raj cleverly got his first client.

The Story

No customer was willing to move forward with any deal, especially with a technology that relied on innovators and early adopters in a time before the likes of YouTube.  Heartwood’s product was challenging the status quo.  As with any new technology in its nascent stage, it had less to do with convincing people to buy a product and more to do with changing people’s mindset about it.  Raj resorted to conducting keyword searches on Craigslist in hopes that he would narrow down potential clients.  He finally hit upon a posting for a company that specialized in forensic 3D animation. It sounded like a good fit for Heartwood but it came with a caveat.  The website required all candidates to fill out a form to be considered.

The part that caught Raj’s eye was a statement that said direct phone calls were highly discouraged and the caller would, in fact, be disqualified from consideration.  That sounded like a threatening enough deterrent for most. For Raj, the rule was made to be broken.  His logic was simple, yet refreshing – if everyone was forced to email their bid, no one was making any phone calls.  His could possibly be the only one and by breaking this rule, he would be breaking through all the noise his competition was creating.

Raj could not recollect his exact words from the initial conversation but he did recall using humor to break the ice.  Humor proved to be a powerful tool.   He knew he had about 10 seconds to get his audiences’ attention before he heard the phone click on the other end. It was a calculated risk and it paid off.  What resulted was a 45-minute conversation with the man who would soon be his first client.  Raj later found out that the client had received 230 email bids, none of which were even looked at after Raj’s call.

Lesson learned

Rules exist but they are not always meant for you.  In Raj’s case, breaking the rule allowed him to break through the noise and clutter of his competition.  Rules should not be seen as a stop sign, rather, as an opportunity to learn more about what others are doing.

About Raj

Raj provides a leading voice for the future of 3D Interactive Learning and Visual technologies. He believes in sandwiching great technologies together and therefore, leans more towards Innovation than pure Invention. In 2002, Raj co-founded Heartwood with Neil Wadhawan. Today, he splits his time between operating the company and on new technology development, his real passion. Raj loves the water. He swims and plays tennis between project deadlines. Raj encourages everyone at his company to live a complete life, sometimes dragging them away from their desks!



Being Relentless by Scott DiGiammarino

Scott DiGiammarino is the CEO and Founder of Reel Potential. For the past 25 years, Scott was a senior executive for Ameriprise Financial (formerly American Express Financial Advisors). In that time, he had record-breaking results on a consistent basis, including bringing his organization from worst to first in his first 12 months. During his tenure, he had best in class production, retention, profitability, leadership development and employee survey scores. Scott has achieved many awards during his career including: Leader of the Decade, the Premier Performer, and the prestigious Diamond Ring. Scott’s passion is helping people maximize their true potential. He’s also dedicated his entire career to the development of leaders throughout the financial services industry.

Finally, Scott is an in demand, key-note speaker. And he uses licensed movie clips to support his messages.

I had a brief conversation with Scott a few days ago and I could see his passion for Reel Potential and in no time he had convinced me of the real potential for Reel Potential 🙂

Reel Potential in a nutshell is a subscription service of selected hollywood clips that highlight a lesson in the field of communication, teamwork, leadership, motivation etc.

Scott’s detailed story of how this all came about is below. Scott has been very generous to share his real story with us as you will see:

I started at American Express in Boston in 1985. I built a very successful financial planning practice, and I was soon promoted into a leadership role. At the time, I was the youngest manager in the history of the company. We had a tremendous amount of success. There were 182 districts throughout the country and for three straight years, we were ranked #1 nationally. 

In 1992, I was promoted to run the Washington DC market.

At the time, DC was ranked #173 out of 178. We had 32 advisors of which I had to terminate 18 in my first couple of week. So, in essence, we were starting from scratch.

We immediately shared a compelling vision, goals, roles, systems and accountability and in one year, we went from #173 to #1.

While getting to the top spot was something we were very proud of, the trick was maintaining that success over the years. While everybody wants to grow….it’s critical to understand that building a sustainable growth model was the biggest challenge that we faced. Good news…over a 17 year career in the east coast, we ended up being #1 ten of those seventeen years and we were in the top five, fifteen of those seventeen years. A record that stands, even to this date.

The birth of ReelPotential

One of the biggest challenges that I had was that we were growing so rapidly. We went from one office to over 200 in a seven year period. I had to develop three levels of leadership underneath me. And those leaders had to be able to execute on the strategy on a consistent basis in order for us to get results.

 Plus, I  loved to be front and center.  I loved to inspire, motivate and engage the troops. It’s what I did best.

But I realized that I couldn’t be in all places at one time. 

I actually started seeing my leading indicators going down. Activity, productivity and retention started going the wrong way. I had to do something creative to keep making a difference, albeit in a different way.

To start, you should know that I’m a firm believer in helping people get what they want for themselves. This is both personally and professionally. If we help people grow, from a personal perspective, then I believe you’ll get best efforts, on day to day basis…even though the boss isn’t around.

 I also believe that if you have a set of values and principles, that is shared from the top down, they could compel people to go above and beyond. If the leaders actions and decisions are in alignment with those compelling principles, then you’ll gain the respect and the loyalty you need to achieve unsurpassed heights.

One of my strategies was to use movie clips to help people learn and grow. I’m a big movie guy. I have over 700 DVDS in my collection at home. Whenever I go to the movies, I frequently react and remember specific scenes. It’s this ability to make things memorable that caught my attention.

Given all of that, we decided to send out a weekly, themed email message to our employees.

Themes could include: courage, teamwork, decision making, hope etc. We came up with over 200 of them, and it’s still growing today.

 Following the theme, we would add a little story.

For example…if the theme was courage, we might tell the story about the Chilean miners from a few summers ago, and how they had to be courageous in nature to survive. Then, we’d say…”it reminds me of the movie…Top Gun.” The movie is about a new fighter pilot who’s going to Miramar for training. And in this scene, Maverick and Goose are showing a tremendous amount of courage, as they battle the enemy. 

What’s next is really important….we’d say…”as you’re watching, I’d like you to think about some courageous moments in your life. Please feel free to share your story with us.

Then, we’d show the clip.

I would get 300-400 personal stories a week. What’s funny is that none of them had anything to do with business. They were mostly personal. I’d pick the most compelling one’s and get permission to share them with the rest of the troops. People were inspired just by reading their peers stories. 

Our results were best in class as we mentioned before.

Corporate would send teams of consultants to come in to see what we were doing and what they could replicate nationwide. One of their conclusions were that the movieclip culture that we’ve built was unique. People were talking about it. They were excited about it!

Next thing you know, I’m on the speaking tour, using clips to support my messages. We had our own internal television show, which I had the opportunity to host. Again, clips were a big part of it, and we saw a nationwide lift in results because of our unique teaching style.

Fast forward…in 2002, I was giving a speech in Las Vegas about legacy planning to our top advisors. It was a very emotional speech, that included 14 clips. At the end, a woman came up to me crying…she asked me if I had ever considered doing this full time. At that point, I knew that we had something special. She gave me the courage to start contacting the Hollywood studios to see if we could form a partnership.

 Long story short…it took me 9.5 years of negotiations to finally get a contract with Hollywood. Talk about perseverance!!

The Real Start

At that time, I left my firm, and started Reel Potential. 

At Reel Potential, we use Hollywood movie clips to help business leaders inspire, engage and communicate to their employees. We do this by sending out a themed email on a weekly basis.

I originally thought that I was going to be the next Tony Robbins….always on camera and the “star” of the show. What we found was that the corporate executives wanted to be the face of Reel Potential to their employees….which is very understandable to us.

 So…what we offer is a subscription based service where the companies and government entities can choose their theme. Figure out who they want presenting that theme. We help them choose the clips to support their messages. And then we send it out on their behalf.

We charge by the employee plus, if we have to do production or post production work, we add that as an additional service.

I’ve brought on a Board of Advisors who have great corporate and government backgrounds. One was the ex-head of HR for Bank of America and Kaiser. Another was a top consultant to the heads of all of the government entities. My board has encouraged us to start out in stealth mode vs. doing a big PR/social networking campaign. We have some wonderful contacts that we’d like to talk to first, before we share with the world.

We also have an affiliate program, where we contract with people who are connected. These folks are talented and believe in what we’re doing. We pay them a 5-10% commission for making sales.

Over 85% of all of our clients and leads have come from this source.

As a matter of fact, our first client was a company that owns the Yellow Pages. That lead came from one of our affiliates. 

The problem this firm was having was that they were changing their culture. They had a new General Sales Manager who’s job it was to bring the firm to another level. Lot’s of change!! He had people all across the country. 

They hired Reel Potential last fall. Their GM comes into our studio on a monthly basis and we help produce and pick clips for him. In 5 months, their productivity is up over 17%!! And we’re the only change that they’ve made. Talk about ROI!!

But the challenge that we faced was that it was a new concept. Nobody has ever done this before. We’re the only company, in the history of Hollywood, to get legal access to the inventory for a Business to Business or Business to Government.

Our vision is to become a worldwide brand. After all, movies are the #1 export out of America.

In the end, we help solve 3 problems:

1. Employee Engagement, which includes helping them make principle based decisions when nobody is watching

2. Top Down Communications – where the senior executives can get their messages across in a short, entertaining and memorable manner.

3. Branding and Advertising – one component of Reel Potential is the ability to allow the employees to forward out a branded message to their friends and family.

Our thought is…”how cool would it be to have your employees advertising on your behalf, simply by forwarding out a great experience?”

Our overall target markets include:

1. Medium to large sized companies (1,000 employee’s +.) Especially those firms who are decentralized.

2. Government Entities

3. Universities – We’ve learned a lot about starting a business from scratch. We’re excited about our possibilities. We have some “Real Potential!!”

Key Challenges?

We had 3 big challenges as I see it..


Hollywood: I could write a book on how we finally got a “Yes” after 9.5 years. What a journey.
  2. Senior Executive to Entrepreneur: Quite a lifestyle change for me. I was used to having a giant staff, who I delegated everything to. Now I do my own spreadsheets, faxing, scanning etc. Talk about a fish out of water!!
  3. Challenging Moments: You have good days and bad. Good moments and bad…but to persevere….takes every ounce of energy and talent that I have. To stay the course…to try to fulfill your dream…is harder than I ever imagined. 

My advice…keep the dream alive somehow. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Cherish any good moment during the day. And work your ass off!!

Lessons Learned?

  • Never Give Up
  • Ask 10 times for the order
  • Use statistics from third parties whenever possible
  • Never underestimate who you really are
  • Others will try to bring you down…don’t let them
  • Have a plan, but be flexible based on what the market demands
  • Realize that you don’t have all the answers
  • Finally…remember who you really are and what you’ve accomplished so far…it will give you that spark of energy and confidence when you need it.

Final Comments?

The world is changing. The same old, same old isn’t working anymore. The 80/20% rule is still there, but to succeed, you have to engage and get best efforts from the mass majority. If you can do that, you’ll own the industry.



Reinvention by Liz Alexander

Liz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, began reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website

Liz and I have known each other for what seems like a long time. Thanks to Ram Dutt of Meylah for connecting us both last year – LIz and I have learned from each other on many different fronts.

In her own words, Liz explains how it required her to reinvent herself to get her first client:

After being in business for close to 25 years, and with a propensity to re-invent myself every four or five of them, I’ve had many “first clients.” Given that we humans are pattern-seekers, to answer the question, “How do I get my first clients?” some time ago I sat down and reviewed them all in relation to each other to try and discern what, if anything, those experiences had in common. The answer does not surprise me; but it may surprise you. What I discovered only enhances my confidence in myself and in life; hopefully it will do the same for you.

First, a little back-story. I’m a professional writer, among other things, but “communication” in all its forms is the glue that holds everything together. My first “clients” have, naturally, been as varied as my portfolio career: A publisher for my first book; a magazine editor for my first article; an international airline for my first paid speaking gig. Right up to the most recent: A real estate sales manager looking to write a book with my professional help, which I provided under my previous brand identity; and the principal of a consulting firm wanting the same when I adopted my current role as “Dr Liz” at the close of 2011.

I have a website that relatively few people visit. I don’t advertise. My marketing efforts have stepped up recently, mostly because they give me the chance to play with creating content that can be presented in different and fun ways – like this Pllop. But I can’t honestly say I’ve garnered any business from such activities. At least, not yet.

I hardly do any talks and have given up organizing events because I’m tired of going to so much trouble when few people bother to show up. Towards the end of last year I began to feel like Neiman Marcus in a profession littered with Wal-Marts. I don’t believe in churning out crap books in a couple of months, just because it’s easy to do so. My ideal client is someone who holds passion and prestige in the same high regard that I do. Which is why I now help serious business professionals craft high quality books, with a view to becoming bestsellers that stand the test of time.

I work with relatively few authors, teach strategic communications at a leading university, write my own books, spend a lot of time in nature with my dog, and pretty much live the life I’ve always dreamed of (the beach view is still to come, lol). Every morning I wake up with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. I feel truly, truly blessed. And the only reason I’m telling you all this is because it has – at least so I believe – a direct bearing on the answer to the question, “How did you get your first client?” Indeed, it’s how I attract all my clients. It’s the easiest thing in the world but it’s also — ironically — the hardest thing to understand rationally and, for many, to do.

It’s enabling serendipity.

How clients come to me is always by word-of-mouth, sometimes through recommendations from people I don’t even know. I have no idea how that happens, but I do have a clue as to why.

For example, let’s take my most recent “first client” experience. There is a group of people whom I’ve known professionally and personally for about eight or nine months now. I was first introduced to them when I was operating under my previous brand identity. The work I did then was no different to what I do now, only I was charging a lot less and not working with the clients I really wanted.

When my mentor told me to ditch the old identity it was a no-brainer; I did so without a second thought. I’d felt unhappy for some time, just didn’t know why. When this suggestion was made to me it was like a light bulb had turned on over my head. Ping! Now I knew what needed to happen.

We changed my website, my business name, my logo, my Twitter handle, my Facebook page (something I’d only done 18 months previously) and suddenly I felt free and invigorated. I just knew it was the right thing and good things would come from it.

Shortly afterwards one of the members of the group I mentioned earlier referred a client to me. They had never done this before. This new client didn’t bother looking at my website, didn’t even want to speak to anyone else. I signed them up at my new, higher rate; they never quibbled. Then a second member of that group referred someone who immediately became a client. Then another.

Had I changed my services? No, they were exactly the same. The only thing that was different in that regard was how much more I was charging.

Had I changed how I felt? Absolutely! I now had a vision for the caliber of clients I wanted and the achievements I desired to make happen for them. I didn’t do anything except respond to a deep desire for change.

And that, my friends is “the big idea” I want to share with you.

What my previous identity had provided was not a long-term business solution at all – it was merely a short-term, contrasting experience that provided a step towards discovering what I am meant to do. And it’s misunderstanding the difference between these two kinds of experiences that makes hard for most people to change as nimbly and as frequently as I’m willing to.

When you’re banging your head against a brick wall (it hurts, doesn’t it?) stop and ask yourself, “Who am I really? What truly inspires me?” Within a short time a door will open and all you have to do is find the courage to walk through it. When you do that your first client will find you. Just as mine always have. As Dr Seuss once said, “Ninety eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed.”

But for that to happen, you have to be prepared to go to places you might otherwise not.

Seeding the Market by Adam Peterson

Adam is the founder and CEO of Vipe Power. Adam is a native to Silicon Valley and comes from a combination of an engineering and finance background. He is sought after as a dynamic, visionary speaker and has spoken about business video and entrepreneurship at universities and associations around the world. Adam was formerly a Corporate Finance investment banker in the Technology Group at Credit Suisse Securities, LLC. He holds a B.S. in Product Design Engineering from Stanford University and while attending college, was a varsity Diver and captain of his team. Adam also serves as the Assistant Alumni Advisor to the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Stanford University, is a member of the Alumni Council at Saint Francis High School, and is an avid sailor.

Adam and I have been friends for a few years now, thanks to our common friend Sally Pera for connecting us both.

In his own words, Adam explains how he went about “seeding the market.”

Our first product was a video management system for hiring

We sold a video management system for hiring. VipePower offers a SaaS way for internal HR and third party staffing and recruiting companies to incorporate video into their business process. In addition to hosting the videos and providing a work flow, we offer for organizations to learn how to make their businesses most effective with video.

I had a vision soon after YouTube was launched that businesses would like to utilize video in certain, well-defined business processes. However, they would require a different set of functionality and services offered by YouTube. So I teamed up with a couple all-stars, tested the vision with potential customers in our first industry – staffing, and began building the product.

3 months before launch on a Friday morning, the stars aligned and one of the more famous rappers in the world put a video on YouTube marketing a new personal assistant position. We instantly recognized the opportunity and went to work to take advantage of it. We *assumed* someone this famous would elicit a high volume of responses and we *knew* that HR would have a field day managing the process. YouTube did not in any way provide management capabilities required for organizations to control a hiring process. So we got to work. Breaking most every rule in the book of company building and product building, we wanted the cache of working with this individual and his company so we spent the next 72 hours building a one-off front end to the platform we had already created. I believe my co-founder Eli and I slept a total of 4 hours in those 72. 6am the next Monday, I cold called HR and told them I had a solution to a problem they were about to have. I walked them through all the pain they would have as the responses to this personal assistant ad came in. A few days later we had a signed contract with our very first paying customer. While I can’t publicly name who this famous music artist is, I have a copy of the check framed in my office for anyone who drops by :).

3 months later when we launched our real product, I acquired our first customers a completely different way. We had a working product and some test customers, but it was time to branch outside of our market and see if the “non-friendlies” would actually pay. So, I literally printed out a Google Map of Palo Alto, marked the location of my target customers, drove to them and walked straight through all the No Soliciting signs with a flyer in hand and a request for a meeting. Our model was one that required “seeding” the market, so I brute forced our way in.

Key Challenges?

We had several challenges launching a product and acquiring our first customers. We launched our product 6 weeks or so before the stock market crashed, explicitly signaling the beginning of what became a recession that lasted a couple years. All things considered, I didn’t give the recession much credit though. I classified it as another prospective customer objective that simply needed to be overcome. The bigger challenge was that in my naivety as a young CEO, I thought I could easily bring B2B enterprise software to a technologically lagging industry in which I personally had little-to-no . Not an easy task and not a strategy I would suggest to another entrepreneur.

Lessons Learned?

The biggest lesson by far was what I just talked about – the importance of understanding your market. What does that mean? It means confidently knowing the pains, problems, major players, number of players, other vendors, historical trends, associations, top rags, top consultants, thought leaders, key customers, regulations, budgeting processes, buying processes, buyer habits, product adoption trends, successes, and failures of your industry. Knowledge is power and understanding your market better than anyone else will help you instill confidence in your vision for yourself and others.

There are only three things you need to start a company. A vision, cash, and developers. Unless you are one of the few who can manage all three on your own, you’d better know your market so you can attract the cash and developers.

The Accidental Client by Jeremy Epstein

Jeremy Epstein is currently the VP of Marketing and Social Evangelist at Sprinklr. He is a recognized expert on building word of mouth marketing engines that scale effectively, are measured relentlessly and operated efficiently. Before this, he was running his own consulting firm called Never Stop Marketing where he has helped several high-profile clients that range from a NYT Bestselling Author to Fortune 50 companies. Jeremy is a highly-ought after speaker with numerous keynote presentations around the US and the world (India, Brazil, Russia, Israel, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile). You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

Jeremy and I have had many conversations over the last year and every single one of them have been insightful and enjoyable.

In his own words, listen to Jeremy’s experience of winning his “accidental client” for his consulting business (Hint: Don’t expect anything “accidental” here 🙂 )

There was a movie, back in the 80s, I think called “The Accidental Tourist.”

The story of how my consulting firm got off the ground might as well be called “The Accidental Client.”

I’m an avid reader and a passionate connector. I love ideas and I love people. Even better….talking about ideas with people.

I picked up a copy of Dan Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” and just LOVED it. Really made me think about how I think, the hallmark of a great book.

Somehow, I deduced (I don’t remember exactly how) that Dan lived in the Washington, DC area, where I live.

I figured, since I was passionate about the ideas in his book and he lived in the same area that he would, of course, be more than happy to sit down and have coffee with me. Why not, right?

I emailed Dan with my passionate plea and his response was, “I’m travelling like crazy now, can you ping me in a month?”

I did.

The answer that came back was “Things are still crazy, try next month.”

I did.

Same answer.

This continued on for 10 full months.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career (actually, I’ve learned many), it’s that often times, it’s just a question of “who wants it more?”

More than talent, more than connection. Raw, rugged determination.

In other words, if someone says “follow up,” you freaking follow up. It shocks me how often people don’t follow up. Really, really shocks me.

Anyway, Dan finally relented and agreed to meet me for coffee.

I didn’t have an agenda, other than to chat or connect. I was gainfully employed at Microsoft and I had zero intention of leaving.

When Dan sat down, I saw a look in his face saying “Why exactly am I meeting with this guy?”

We got to talking. Just sharing our passion for ideas, his book, and marketing (my passion.)

After five minutes, I saw a light go on and Dan said, “you know, I am working on my next book now and one thing I’ve discovered is that traditional book publishers are just not very good at marketing. Would you like to help me with marketing my book as a side project?”

Of course, I would, but I thought it more of a hobby or a petri dish than an actual business. It would be fun to have an environment where I could test out my ideas.

He even offered to pay. Bonus!

Not much, but I didn’t really care.

“Ok,” he said, “great. I have some more things to take care of before we can get started, so follow up with me next month.”

Believe it or not, the cycle repeated itself as I followed up with him every month for ANOTHER 10 months.

At last, he said, “ok, I’m ready to go,” and the project was underway.

Keep in mind, folks, I was STILL gainfully employed at Microsoft. This was just my hobby.

However, I discovered something…something really important. I was having MORE fun and learning more doing my hobby than doing my regular job and it dawned on me that, “hey, maybe I can make a living out of this.”

Having a New York Times best-selling author as your first client seemed like a good starting off point and, in fact, it was. A few weeks later, I met an executive from Johnson & Johnson and we were just chatting as I told him about what I was doing to help Dan market his book “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.”

The exec from JNJ said, “you know, we have a couple million dollar ad budget, do you think you could do something for us like you are doing for Dan?”

Uh…let me see if I can work that into my schedule!

And that’s when I knew…it was time to leave Microsoft and hang out the shingle.

Sure, I was scared out of my mind, but it felt right.

While it wasn’t a million dollar deal with JNJ, Dan’s cache (and ultimate glowing testimonial) led to a Fortune 50 client all within the first week of being on my own.

Luck? A bit. Sometimes you hit a homerun on your first swing, but the knowing when to swing and how to hit are the result of years of practice and preparation.

In this case, it was a relentless curiosity, a desire to learn, and persistence.

The best part, in my opinion, was that Dan’s book “Johnny Bunko” offered up 6 rules for business success.

Number 4 was “Persistence Trumps Talent” and Dan later told me that my display of living by this rule was what ultimately gave him the confidence to invest his book’s marketing success in my hands.

“The 3P Mantra” by Prabakaran Murugaiah

Prabakaran “Praba” Murugaiah is the Founder & CEO of TechFetch, an exclusive job portal that helps IT companies to find the best fitting resumes open for a job, position or a project. He is the inventor of QFETCH, a resume analysis algorithm that matches the relevant jobs with qualified candidates within 30 seconds of posting a resume. Corp-Corp reaches over 2 million job candidates in a year, receives over 40,000 tech jobs every month and has reached over 6,000 US companies

Praba has been a friend for a long time and we have worked together on many interesting projects. Two words come to my mind when I think of Praba and they are speed and tenacity. In other words, Praba moves fast and does not stop 🙂

Praba is also the author of “A Beginner’s Guide to Technical Recruiting.

Here is Praba’s story in his own words about winning and retaining first customers.

I come from a deep data mining background and that led to the core idea that was all about processing unstructured data filtered by multiple criteria. This was in 2004 and that led to the creation of a student portal called F1Study where we helped more than 100,000 students by matching them with the right universities. That project helped us to put our engine to good test in a real-life environment. Obviously, that was only a start and we knew from the beginning that one cannot build a $100M business matching students to universities. So, we were on the hunt for a good problem for our solution. We didn’t have to search for long as the answer was right in the backyard.

While building the F1Study portal, I was also involved in a consulting business both personally as well as helping others find consulting jobs. So I was on both sides of the consulting business – one as a person seeking projects and the other as a person looking for people to fill the requirements. The process was broken on both ends: job seekers were not finding it easy to find the projects and the employers were not finding it easy to find the job candidates.

Our technology then evolved as QFetch – a matching engine for jobs and candidates. That’s what we started selling: Online Job Posting and Resume Database Access Subscriptions. The objective was reducing the recruitment cycle time for recruiters and reduce the job searching time for candidates. The invention was to proactively match the active job seekers with active jobs using QFetch technology.

The key challenges?

The key challenge is the technology. Eliminating the search for candidates and job seekers are not that easy. Lot of parameters are required on both ends in order to do the perfect match making. So capturing the most important data in the least possible way is the key to success. The constant learning process and continuous optimization improved the quality of match and delivery. Obtaining critical mass for any market place is the toughest part. There is no short cut to it.

Lessons learned?

If the customers know that they have pain point then its easy to sell, if they don’t really understand there is an easy way to accomplish their work and feel the pain they have then its double the work. First we have to promote the concept of the pain they are having and make sure they realize it, then educate them to find a solution in the market, we should be the one in front of them for that solution.

We prefer our first customer from the trusted circle, so that you have a room to correct your mistake and learn the process. The second customer should be the one who is looking desperately for our solution. Most of the time, the idea for the innovation comes from the pain we go through, so even before we create a solution we have bunch of customers to try. So I dont see a big challenge in finding the first fee customers. The real challenge will be scaling up at the same time reducing the cost of customer acquisition.

Final comments?

Its a buyers market and no one want hear anything from seller. We have to make our users to buy.

My Mantra for success is “Passion + Persistence + Patience “