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.

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..

  1. 

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.