By: sapna malhotra

Summer 2020 Issue

During these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to leverage the expertise of innovative leaders. Here are 10 key business best practices I gleaned from talking to innovative senior executives on my CanInnovate Podcast.

1. Naive Optimism has Value 

The former Planswell CMO shares some great insights on Ep4, Planswell, the Real Money Plant. Planswell was serially rejected from pitch competitions and start-up hubs. They have successfully managed to get funding from many different venture capitalists (VCs) and other areas. You need to stay on top and keep challenging the norm. This is where naive optimism has value. 

There are three stages: 

Uninformed Optimism: We start in a state of uninformed optimism in a new venture. You don’t really know what it takes to make it happen, except that you’re excited about the vision. And you take off and just start plugging away to make magic happen. Then you start to encounter challenges (i.e. raising money is hard, technology is hard). 

Informed Pessimism: Now that you’ve learned a few things, you’re realizing that it’s hard and you start losing some steam. You might get into phase of a ‘Crisis of Meaning’. You start asking yourself questions like ‘Why did I want to do this?’ I can rhyme of 10 reasons why it will fail. Then you ask yourself the question of ‘How much does this mean to me?’ Am I going to drop it or go ahead, and then you enter the next stage. 

Informed Optimism: I understand that it’s going to be hard and I understand the challenges ahead of me. It’s human nature, a way that we deal with challenges The uninformed optimism is so important as it’s the period that we have the ‘FIRE’. If you really believe in the vision. It’s when you hear your voice and trust your instincts and not get clouded on the ‘why it won’t work’. But the why not? Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Fix the problem that people want to fix. Validate the problem and understand the issues. 

Once you have a solution, then you need to figure out the distribution model. How are you going to reach your ideal customer? Partnerships are also key, figure out what you want value you want to create and how you can get involved in the value chain.

2. Optimize your Funnel
Marc LaFleur, CEO of TruLocal - Ep07, Reshaping & Redefining the Online Meat Industry. There is no silver bullet to marketing. Bringing all the channels together (ie. SEO/ Google Ads/Social Media) is crucial. How capable is your website to convert to sales? How much traffic are you getting to your website and what is the conversion rate. How capable is your website for converting?

It’s a 3 step process:

Start with the website - Is the call to action (CTA) being optimized properly? Is the pop-up working well? How many website visitors are opting into the CTA? If they are not opting in, why aren’t they? 

Is the pop-up coming too fast before they can do anything else on the website? Is the CTA not lucrative enough? What is the process looking like from an end user perspective. There is no point in driving ads, if your opt-in email conversion rate is low.

Is your email automation converting? Once you have captured emails, what is the conversion rate? What do you do for your email funnel? What is your email list converting at? If you’re email is converting at only 1%, then spend some time working on your email funnel to convert higher.

If you’re able to capture 10% of your traffic to email and able to convert 2-3% in emails into sales. Then you can focus on driving traffic to your website. You need to look at everything as a whole to make it a seamless process and that you’re always providing value.


3. Build Your Own Leadership Credibility
Eli Fathi, CEO at Mindbridge.AI (Episode 29) and let’s not forget, he’s a serial entrepreneur with 7 startups under his belt and he’s contributed to ½ BILLION dollars to the economy. 

Eli definitely knows what he’s talking about in terms of creating the right leadership team and culture. It's about being a leader and not a manager - to really become the CEO of your own domain. Start operating on the philosophy of asking for forgiveness, instead of permission. This will enable you to really think outside the box and showcase your leadership skills.

As leaders, ‘we should show the team the hill and ask them to capture it’. Tell the team your vision and let them come up with different ideas of how to make magic happen. You’ll end up with lots of different innovative approaches. 

He also suggests that we surround ourselves with people that always love to solve problems. He was saying that Google loves to hire engineers
because they are always in the constant mode of learning how to solve problems.

You need to make decisions, which comes in two basic flavors. ‘agree & commit’ and ‘disagree & commit’. There are lots of people who don’t commit to a direction. The act of doing nothing the commitment of doing nothing. You don’t always need to agree, but you need to provide clear direction of yes or no. This will enable your team to really focus. 

The biggest problem that Eli sees in companies is when they benchmark people and compare themselves with others. Don’t compare yourselves to others. There is always someone smarter than you, prettier than you, richer than you, taller than you. etc.

Chart your own course and go after it. Dare to stand out from the crowd. In fact, in management consulting that is exactly how they decide who exceeds and who meets expectations. They identify the ones that differentiate themselves to become thought leaders. Eli also had this amazing quote that stands out: “Never stop learning, the day you stop learning is the day you stop living”.

4. ABC of Sales
It would have been a missed opportunity to not discuss with Eli sales and marketing tips, as he is a 7 times start-up successful entrepreneur and on the Startup Canada Board.

First, always be Closing! At the end of every meeting, ask what are the next steps. We need to keep the dialogue and progress moving forward. Ask for the order, however, when you get the order, stop talking - talk about everything else except the order. Many sales people let down the guard and end up almost talking the client out of the order. Just stop talking after you get the commitment. Build the relationship and demonstrate quick wins, that helps your client looks like rockstars.

This will help you generate repeat business. 80% of business comes from repeat business. I’ve seen this time and time again with my consulting practice. I have a handful of clients that continue to give me repeat business and refer me to their friends.

5. Never Stop Learning
After recording nearly 50 podcast episodes and learning from different innovators, serial entrepreneurs and thought leaders, one commonality amongst these leaders was they all invest in their minds. They read or listen to books/podcasts, whichever format they can incorporate into their lives.

In fact, some of these c-suite executives will tell you that they consume around two books a month. In fact, Eli Fathi also suggests that we should read what other people are reading. Listen and learn from their advice.  Another thing that I’ve learned from these innovators is that many of them exercise and practice self-care, including finding time to mediate. 

We also spoke to two amazing folks, and Ariel Garten, from Muse (Episode 41) who have studied neurology and explained that the way to speed up your brain is to slow it down. It’s like cleaning your bedroom of your mind - a clean mind/room, creates calmness and allows you to focus. 

6. Idea Temperature Check
Casey Binkley (Episode 38) a sales guru advises people to talk to everyone about your idea. In fact, a few of the different podcast guests suggest this. Talk to everyone and anyone about your idea. For some reason, we believe that if we share an idea that someone will steal the idea.

The chances of this happening is slim to none. Ariel Garten from Muse, highlights that most people don’t execute. They have lots of ideas but people don’t make the time to execute.

Casey offers another point regarding talking to everyone about your idea… it’s the perfect temperature check. What if no one thinks your idea is a good one? You fell in love with the solution and not the problem. What a great way to validate whether or not you understand the problem, the target market and if the solution is interesting. The more you talk to people, the more you will be able to refine your sales pitch, elevator pitch, and your differentiator. This approach is a great way to test your idea early with minimum investment. Ariel also reminded us that most people genuinely want to help. They may offer you leads or connections to get your closer to your vision and drive your idea forward.

7. Consistency & Persistency
Casey from HaulerAds and Olivia Simmons from Conference Cloud shared how they have been leveraging CRM solutions. It really enables them to figure out what sales techniques and approaches are working.

Having the right combinations of a sales CRM and marketing tools will enable you to truly understand your Return on Investment (ROI). Utilizing technology can really enable you to understand what marketing campaigns are successful, calculate ROIs per marketing campaigns and have regular reporting. This really helps you make the right kind of educated decisions that allow you to further understand your target market, communicate consistently, enables you to follow up with persistence.

Take a look at different products like Hubspot, Infusionsoft, and Act-On. For example, email trackers enable you to see if people have opened up that email. If they are engaged, then it’s easier to follow up. If they are not engaged, you'll need to examine your marketing efforts to see if you have the right topics for your target market - or you have the wrong target market itself. Having this level of insight will enable you to understand if you’re spending your budget on the correct priorities. 

The marketing platform needs to integrate with your sales software to effectively calculate the ROI. If you’re spending $150 in marketing efforts to make $100, that’s a negative ROI and you need to adjust. If you’re making $300, and spending $150 in marketing, that’s a nice, positive ROI. You want to earn more than you spend. This valuable insights will help you make better strategic decisions.

We’d all like to earn more by replicating what is working and generating the best return. 

8. Stay Close to Your Customer
Alain Goubau from Farmlead (Episode 19) discussed how at his MIT Entrepreneurship course, instructors gave the best advice about not looking at your belly button - to get out there and talk to your customers.

Test your value proposition - don’t just think of a business concept and write a business plan. Understand if your product makes sense and what to charge for it. Talk to your customers to truly understand their day to day operational challenges.

Bethany Deshpande from SomaDetect (Episode 13), got right into the field and started to milk cows to truly understand the milk production business. You need to get your hands dirty and to really learn and observe. Field studies are a great way to understand the day-to-day operations.

Perhaps, your clients may even let you speak to their customers. You’ll end up building a great relationship with your customer if you can truly speak and understand the pressures of their business and understand their customers challenges. You’ll be speaking the same language very quickly.

In fact, Alain also suggests having a Customer Advisory Board. He instilled a practice in his company to consistently speak to his customers and having them involved in the exploration elements of their business. They provide early feedback, which also means having an early sales pipeline of potential quality leads.

In fact, once a month, Alain’s entire company plays with their service via mobile web and app for one hour, buying and selling, in order to understand their customer’s experience.

They have found lots of bugs and UX/UI design problems this way.

9. Hire Slow and Fire Fast
When you’re starting up a business or expanding, it’s really important to get in the right person, behavior and culture. The Netflix CEO says ‘don’t tolerate jerks’.

When you’re in early days of your business, you get desperate for the skills and get someone to fill that position. However, if you get the wrong person it costs you a lot. The training time, the negativity on the team morale, loss on productivity time, opportunity costs, etc.

Take the time and hire slowly, get the right skills, and right attitude. That way you can really drive the organization and help shape the culture. As soon as you realize that the candidate is the wrong fit, fire fast to reduce the negative costs to the organization. 

10. Measurement of Success
Jack Welch is famous for saying ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’. His words have stood true for many years. How do you define success? What is the benchmark for success?

How do you know if your business is growing? How do you know if you’re achieving a positive return on investment (ROI)? If you were looking for an investor, what would you want to tell them and show them? i.e. For the past three years, we have had a sales growth rate of 50% year over year?

At Amazon, before the product managers pitch their new products/services to get internal investment, they are required to write a press release. 

This press release enables them to vision what success looks like from a market perspective. Talk about defining a very clear vision and quantifying your measurement targets. It is an inspired approach that we can all leverage.

We all get caught up in the weeds in building our businesses, but it is really important that we start to put some numbers on a paper to start to see the trends and what is the story showing.

There are lots of different items that you can measure:

  • Revenue
  • Margin (Revenue - Cost)
  • Margin % year over year
  • Customer Engagement
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Social Media metrics
  • Marketing ROI
  • # of email subscribers
  • Customer lifetime value (CTC)
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

The list goes on, but you need to pick a few elements that enable you to start to understand how to measure your business success. That way, you’ll be able to identify what is working and more importantly, be able to identify areas that are not working.

Once you identify those areas that aren’t working, you can dive deeper into those problematic areas.

Your business is an engine where the sum off all the parts need to work in order to drive your organization efficiently and effectively. 


You can listen to the CanInnovate podcast on iTunesGooglePlayStitcherSoundCloud, IHeartRadio, YouTube and Spotify. A version of the article was first published here

Sapna Malhotra brings more than two decades of domestic and international management consulting experience in sales and business operations in the technology, financial services, and telecommunications industries. She has significant experience in leading large-scale business and IT transformation programs to deliver consistent end-user experience in demanding and fast paced environments. Sapna is known for her constant industry curiosity and new and emerging technologies that will enable different industries to be on the forefront of this digital revolution. In June 2016, she started the Women Digital Network (WDN) in Canada with over 400 members and growing. Its focus is to enable digital literacy and mindset.

She has also started CanInnovate podcast focusing on Canadian innovators that are changing the game. She truly believes that education and awareness is instrumental in overcoming any obstacles and perception challenges both globally and locally. She is a globally recognized Certified Management Consultant (CMC), and Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA). She also holds certificate in Change Management Leadership, Lean Six Sigma accreditation and DevOps & UX Design foundation certifications. You can find Sapna walking / hiking & exploring new areas, trying to win the world’s greatest aunt award, discovering new brunch places, and inventing new recipes. Contact her at: Sapna@digiruptor.ca