At the November edition of TechTO, speakers recognized that disruption is the way forward — disruption of industry, of interfaces and of the workforce. Speakers and founders discussed how to manage disruption so it ultimately benefits end users.
Disrupting Big Industry
Jim Estill, long-time tech entrepreneur, CEO of Danby Products and now CEO of start-up ShipperBee, has been on the leading edge of technology for decades. A founding board member of Research In Motion and seed investor for 150+ start-ups, you could say Estill is a serial disruptor. With his new venture ShipperBee, he’s back at it, this time with sights set on disrupting the parcel industry.
Why the parcel industry?
As Estill explained, the industry has a massive environmental footprint.
“Today,” he said, “A package will travel from New York to Memphis to New Jersey, because of the hub-and-spoke model of the shipping industry.” Estill wants to reinvent the way parcels are moved, through ShipperBee.
Using a secure network of “Hives” (or transfer networks) located at gas stations, drivers already in transit can pick up parcels in one location and drop them off at another one en route to their destination. Estill calls this The Power of While, and anticipates value for all. As Hive hosts, gas stations earn money; drivers earn money “while” they are already driving; and shippers save money on delivery.
“There is almost no environmental footprint,” Estill explained. “This takes trucks off the road. A secure network of Hives will disrupt UPS the way AirBnB disrupted hotels. Plus, we can save 73.1 per cent of carbon emissions.” It’s disruption, with the aim of creating a healthier planet.
Karla Congson, CEO and Founder of openGravity spoke next, acknowledging the impact transience (the abrupt onset of change) will have on the future of teams in the workforce.
“One of the biggest problems as founders and leaders is how do we build, manage and motivate teams during a time of extraordinary change,” Congson began.
Congson further acknowledged that we are working in a time when there is a juxtaposition of more and less. There is more connectivity, more cognitive upgrades, more pivot and more changes: however, workforces are dispersed and decentralized, and more and more communications are digitally based where nuance is lost. Additionally, when talking about talent, there is less time, less information, less money, and less community. As a result, 67% of the workforce is not engaged, Congson said.
“The future of work is about teams,” Congson said. “This we can learn from chickens.”
Referencing the Super Chicken test conducted by evolutionary biologist Dr. William Muir, Congson explained productivity can be measured scientifically, and that the results are not always what you might expect. For instance, the Super Chicken test, designed to measure productivity, took one group of average (egg) producing chickens and another of the highest producers (i.e., Super Chickens). Muir wanted to see how many more eggs the Super Chickens would produce over 6 generations. At the end of the test, the results were alarming. The average group actually increased production, while in the Super Chicken group, only 3 hens were left alive. The rest were pecked to death .
This assessment of competition versus cooperation revealed that unchecked self-interest in the workforce was not a good thing. Further citing scientific studies, Congson identified that psychological safety and trust are some of the most valuable factors to drive team productivity. Time to disrupt how teams are formed and managed.
Disrupting The Exit
Mark Jaine, founder of Intelex spoke during the Raise of the Month segment. He didn’t talk about raising however, he talked about selling Intelex. So you might say he started out by disrupting the TechTO agenda.
Jaine, who spent 20 years building Intelex — and one year selling it — is not that tech founder who had his eyes on an exit from the beginning. In fact, he resisted the idea of getting bought for many years. And when the idea began to form — as a way for Intelex to make a step change for their stakeholders, they took their time.
“We had already established a bunch of partnerships. We selected some and began a 6-month process. We flirted with them for a while and waited until we had multiple overtures. We started a campaign in January 2019 and started developing FOMO across our partners.”
Jaine and his team indicated that they weren’t interested in selling, but allowed interested parties to peek under the tent for a little while. They consistently rebuffed offers until they got three companies in a room and gave them a date on which they would accept indications of value. “Should there be a number of interested in, we’ll go forward,” he had told them. The result was Intelex getting acquired by Fortive for $767M.
“There is a whole story between this and this,” Jaine said. “We spent one year working on the sale. For the other twenty years, we built a great company.”
Chris Grouchy, founder of Convictional, admitted to not having the longevity of experience behind him that the evening’s other speakers had. Since his teenage years, however, he has been an assertive information-gatherer, question-asker and salesperson, never shying away from a cold call to get results.
The point of his talk was distribution. By that, he meant the “set of activities that you control that deliver your value proposition to your customer.”
Unless you’re building the next DropBox or Slack, you need customers to build your product, Grouchy explained.
Step One is to build an outbound sales machine. You need to cold call and be relentless. “Outbound sales takes a really long time,” he said. You want be top of mind when your buyer is looking for a solution you can address.”
And if you have no money for inbound? “Build a partner ecosystem instead,” he offered. “Build a channel partner ecosystem at the very early stages of your company. A service business that in exchange for revenue share, will give you introductions to your customers. This will allow you to bridge the trust and credibility gap when you’re a nobody, just starting out.”
Step Two is to take care of the post-sale. “Distribution is not just about sales and outbound — it’s also about putting your product in the hands of customers and ensuring they are getting value from it,” Grouchy said.
“You need to obsess over your customer’s usage metric. It’s an internal culture shift, where you need to measure, monitor and obsess over the one thing your customer cares about.”
Successfully encouraging usage means regular interaction with your customers, asking them if they are using it, and how you can make it better. Grouchy also suggested celebrating usage milestones with them.
A new entrepreneur (a year and a half in), Alwar Pillai, founder of Fable Tech Labs spoke about inclusive technology.
“Inclusion is a technical problem,” she said. “And everyone in this room has the capacity to solve it.”
She gave an example of “Ma” — her grandmother. Apparently, Ma was watching TV at a family get together and the TV was ridiculously loud. When Pillai checked on her, Ma asked her to turn off the TV for her. “I don’t even like this!” she said. The problem was that Ma didn’t know how to use her remote. She didn’t know where the off button was. In looking closely, Pillai noted that the on and off button were one and the same. “One button with two opposite functionalities is actually really complex. But it’s also a technical problem that we can easily solve. We can design better remotes for seniors.”
Pillai cited another example of the iPhone calculator that has a neat feature — or problem — in that if you make a mistake, you can swipe left to remove each number you entered. “I spend every day interacting with technology,” Pillai said, “and I couldn’t figure out this gesture. Think about someone who is older, whose hands tremble. We are making products that are becoming harder and harder for people to use. We need to design better UI so that someone like Ma — or me — can use technology.”
She also gave the example that blind fans aren’t able to use Beyonce’s website to buy tickets. “We are introducing digital barriers that are barring people from taking part in the physical world,” she said. “We can’t easily change HR policies, buildings or product lines, but we can easily change design and code. We have the power and capacity to do that.”
For these entrepreneurs, the world needed some form of disruption. In the case of ShipperBee, disruption can make a positive difference in the health of the planet. But in the case of Ma, disruption is creating barriers that didn’t exist before. Disruption — or the response to disruption — needs to consider the needs of all: Individuals, communities and the environment.
TechTO reconvenes December 9th for the annual TechTO For Good, where you can hear from people who are building wicked software and hardware —and doing things that make a positive difference in the world.
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