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.

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!



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.

The Power of the Follow Up by Bernard Lauper

Bernard Lauper is the president of MacCorkle Insurance Services, a leading Insurance Service Provider in the Silicon Valley. Bernard is one of the nicest business people I have met. Whenever I visit his office, there is one thing that pops up immediately – his employees are happy and the effects of that show up positively everywhere. Bernard is also an angel investor with a heart – supporting entrepreneurs all the way. More about Bernard here.

Here is Bernard’s story of winning his first customer. Irrespective of what you are selling, there is a lesson to be learned from his story.

The product I was selling was Insurance Coverage – HMO

At the time employer’s were familiar with Kaiser but not companies like ours that were brand new and were offering an HMO like Kaiser but through private doctors and hospitals. My job was to reach out to employers and convince them that they could offer my company in conjuction with Kaiser or their existing insurance plan or put all employees on the HMO I represented.

My first customer started with a cold call. My first call did not go well but I told the prospect I would send company materials describing who we were in mail and would follow up. I followed up one week later and was told they were too busy to speak with me. I asked when a good time to speak to her would be and she told me for not at least 3 weeks. I called back 3 weeks later and reminded her that she had asked me to call her 3 weeks later. She sighed, but gave me enough time to start asking questions.

Based on the answers I recieved I was able to send her several aricles and reports that I thought might be of interest to her. I then followed up with another phone call but was still not able to get a face to face meeting. I once again followed up with written materials where I summarised the advantages of my HMO to her company, to her employees and to her persoanlly.

I was then able to arrange a face to face meeting where I was very lucky in that she litterally gave me all the information I needed to do a complete analysis for her. It took me 3 more face to face meetings but I won her trust and made the companies first sale and mine.

The challenge? Brand new salesperson with a brand new service and company. I was able to overcome them by asking the right questions, listening to what she and her company needed and then providing her with the solution to her issue

Lesson(s) learned? It does not matter how smart or good you are if you are not orgainised and do not follow up. In my buisness the sale is never made on the first call and most salespeople do not follow up. Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it and you will succed.

There is a tremendous amount written on how individuals and companies need to diffenentiate. while I agree with this differentiating before you do the basic block and tackling is like putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

If I have to sum it up, all I can say is that you have to: Crawl, Walk and then Run!


Have a great day!