M: I was remembering some work with the team as well.
S: When I went to Haus Umgang, we had some team coaching in the beginning to bring together the team, and at the same time I had also personal coaching. I also offered this to all the … people I thought would be my co-entrepreneurs. Interestingly enough, they never really picked-up on this.
M: Really? Interesting.
S: They didn’t like it, or …
M: So, did they try it and not like it or did they not try it out?
S: Well, one guy, he liked it, and he took advantage of this offer. And my manager, she might have had a bad start with the coach, because the coach slightly criticized her for being pushy or aggressive in some way, and she didn’t like it. So I guess she felt … I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t take advantage of this, and she also had this opinion of ‘we don’t need this, and it’s just a waste of money, and we should stop this’. And she never did it. I can see how maybe she didn’t like this particular coach, but there would have been other options. She just refused coaching flat-out, with anybody.
M: Ok. Interesting. … Let’s talk a little more about this new situation you have. I mean, it’s so interesting that just today you had your first session with her. It sounds like you’ve gotten off to a good start. What are your expectations of that relationship, and of her?
S: What are my expectations? Ummm. I think accountability is the major thing. I believe, most of the time you know what you have to do and you’ll find a way how to do it, but you just need someone who kicks your ass so that your really do it, and … I think that’s the differentiating quality between super successful entrepreneurs and just successful entrepreneurs. That the super successful ones really have a very high [level of] discipline behind getting things done, and the average entrepreneur … I mean, he knows what he has to do, but he gets side-tracked on other things that are maybe more pleasant, or … I don’t know, and I think it’s helpful to have somebody, especially if you are a sole-entrepreneur, a sole-proprietor, like I am now. I have people working for me, but I don’t have anybody to talk to on a … what do you say on a eye level? what is it? on the same level. (laughter)
M: On an eye-to-eye level.
S: Eye-to-eye level. I think for this particular case, it’s … very valuable to have someone to talk with who has accountability on you, because you say ‘I want to be at this particular point in six months and I’ve made up this list of things I need to do, and please remind me and check if I’ve really done what I said I would need to do’. … I read a very interesting book … have you heard of Michael E. Gerber?
M: Yes! I’m reading a book of his right now, The E-Myth Revisited.
S: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I have seen this book sitting in book shops on some shelf for like 15 years, and I never got to read it because I always thought this E had something to do with technology, because of the E.
M: Yeah, yeah. I think at this point probably everybody does. I did too, until I read the preface there, and it was like ‘oops’. (laughter)
S: A little misunderstanding. Funnily enough, there’s a book by a German author, which I think is excellent, and he picks up one key concept of Michael’s, that there are these three different roles, the entrepreneur…what is it?
M: The technician, the entrepreneur and the manager.
S: Yeah, yeah. The technician, and the manager. And I think it’s a very very interesting concept because you need to know what the role is your in right now, especially if you your own boss and once you want to grow and have employees. You have to understand that what you’re doing right now is only temporary, and you have to move on and delegate tasks and build a system. In this German book I read, there’s a very interesting concept. He introduces a virtual person, who is the person who is going to inherit or buy or get the company your building at a certain point in time, and he proposes that you have a deal with this person that you talk with this person on a monthly basis and let him know what the goals are and the KPIs you’re aiming at – all these things that make you accountable, and this person has the right to determine your pay at the end of the month.
M: Ooh! Oh, that’s serious business.
S: Yeah, but suddenly you have a certain accountability towards somebody else, and with this idea that you’re building your company for a certain purpose and a certain person, the whole strategy changes. If you want to give the company to your kids, you will follow a different strategy than if you’re building the company to sell it at one point. So this also forms the strategy you’re following through on. And once you’re clear on that, it’s easier for you to work on a strategy and plus the accountability aspect, which is one of the aspects. I really like this idea of having an idea of why you’re working in a certain way, why you’re following certain things.
M: So, to have a vision.
S: Or a plan, a goal.
M: Ok, so a plan or a goal is enough for you. The vision is not important to you.
S: A long-term goal. A purpose. Let’s call it a purpose.
M: A purpose. Ok.
S: And it’s easier to talk about the purpose with somebody who’s not involved, in your company or your business, just someone you can go back to every other week or once a month.
M: Yup. … It sounds like the earlier relationships were really kind of different. They each had a unique focus, and it sounds like the dynamics were kind of different, than in the current one. Is that correct?
S: That’s right. The first three relationships were based on some sort of technical need – to write a business plan, to get the numbers right, or to get feed-back on social dynamics, or to structure a marketing strategy, and … I would say these are things that you can learn while you’re doing it. I mean, I’ve done these things a couple of times now, so I don’t really need that feedback anymore, and now it’s more this accountability thing.
M: … You’ve mentioned accountability several times. Is it important to you, when you think about talking with somebody, [that it’s someone] who has been where you are, who has this experience, which is the other thing you’ve really stressed. Is it important that they know your industry, or can it be any $1 million and 20-employee company?
S: Yeah, I don’t think so. The basic dynamics of starting and running your business are the same, across all industries. There are small differences, but I’m not trying to get feedback on certain KPIs that might change from industry to industry, it’s more defining what’s really the most important thing, and that’s something you can do for every industry. You don’t need to have any prior knowledge of the industry.
M: What’s really important is experience with that certain scale, then. That’s what you’ve noted – $20 million in sales, 20 employees – that that kind of scale is what makes the difference.
S: It makes a difference because I think it’s easy to be successful as a technician up to a certain number of employees or turnover. I think as a technician, you can still work with 3, 4 or 5 or 8 people and still stay in your primary role as a technician, and have 5 other technicians working at your side, but you don’t need to manage or structure your company in a way that is necessary if you go beyond a certain number. I think this number changes from industry to industry, but at a certain point your job description is completely different, because suddenly you don’t have to be able to do the job you’re selling, but to build structures around the people who are doing the jobs you’re selling. So that’s why it’s different if you’ve built a company with 20 people, because then you’ve really had to work at building a company and not just running a business that’s basically been yourself. I think that’s the difference.
M: So, different dynamics, different questions, different challenges.
S: Yeah, and this understanding that you are not the business. … That you’re a creative person who’s building a business, but you are standing outside of the business. Ideally, you should be standing outside of the business, designing it, but you should not be inside. And I think that something you can only do if you’ve reached a certain size, and you have to this step if you want to grow beyond a certain size. So, this million dollars or 20 employees is just an arbitrary number, and it can be different from industry to industry, but in every industry at a certain point you will have this point where you will have to cross the threshold.
M: Yup. If you’re going to grow.
S: Yeah. Well that’s the main thing. People have to ask the question if they really want to grow. Growth is a choice. Sometimes it just happens and people grow along with the growth, but I think your real entrepreneur always opts for growth. I mean, if I want to build a company, I want to grow. And if I’m a technician and just love what I’m doing then growth is not the end goal of what I’m doing. It’s a skill that I’m applying to whatever problem there is.
M: … When you think more specifically about the coaching experiences with any of these people you’ve worked with, have there been certain approaches or philosophies or techniques that they have used that have been particularly helpful for you?
S: Well I can’t really say. I’m pretty familiar with this whole field of market segmentation … I know that she’s been applying traditional tools of marketing – defining the market size and what is your product and who are you selling to and what needs are you meeting and … It’s a good question. I’ve started to read a lot about lean start-ups, you might have …
S: It’s one of many techniques. It’s all going in the same direction. You’re trying to quantify your strategy in terms of growth. You’re trying to define a hypothesis and then test it, and see whether … it’s proving right or not, then you’re deciding on the next step. So, it’s not really a long-term marketing strategy, it’s very short term, but it’s more dynamic. So, I can say that that is not what she did, and …
M: Sorry, this hypothesis, try-next-step kind of process, she did not do that?
S: No. She went with this traditional market segmentation, market size, I want to have 1% of the overall market in Germany … and that’s all not in the tool book of this lean start-up philosophy or process-driven approach. … I know she followed a certain methodology that I don’t agree with anymore ..
M: So, this was the earlier coach, the second person you worked with marketing on.
S: Yeah. The second one.
M: Ok. I thought you were talking about the current one. I just got confused. Right. So, she had a certain traditional approach and perspective. You have shifted. You are reading about lean start-ups, and you’re kind of looking at things from a different perspective and this current coach is in line with this lean start-up kind of approach, or is that not really an element on the table?
S: It’s not really an element on the table. I’m telling her what I want her to do for me, so … Again, accountability is the big thing, and because she’s been an entrepreneur herself she can call me on something, that she doesn’t think is right, but it’s not really her job. It’s my responsibility to define what is really important and what I need to get done and she can question me, but if she does so, she only questions me on the basis of her own experience as an entrepreneur, but not on the basis of a certain technology, methodology or … I think for a coach with a certain methodology it’s a nightmare. She’s not following any traditional school of coaching or …
M: You think that’s a nightmare.
S: A traditionally trained coach would at least say, ‘well, this is not a methodical approach. This is just on-the-fly coaching or on-the-fly support but not a long-term methodical support system’, like you would have with this traditional marketing approach.
M: Ok. Interesting. But for you, this, what you’re describing as ‘on-the-fly’ is exactly what you want and you’re happy with it.
S: Yeah, because I don’t need this long-term thing anymore. I know where I want to go and I know basically what I need to do.
M: So, the … instruction you gave to her was ‘keep me accountable’.
S: Yeah. …
M: What was the weakness or the fear or the concern you were sensing in asking somebody to keep you accountable. What did you think was going to happen if you didn’t have somebody holding your feet to the fire?
S: What do you mean?
M: Well, you told the current coach ‘I need you to keep me accountable’.
M: ‘I know what I need to do, but I need you to keep me accountable.’ So, I was interested in the flip side of it, which is – what would happen if she didn’t do that? What did you think you would do, or not do?
S: Well, I would just waste time. It would take longer. If I would start procrastinating on things that I know I need to do, wouldn’t do things as fast as I could do them ….
M: Ok, so wasting time, procrastination.
S: … Mmm, wasting time.
M: Wasting time. Ok. That’s a big one for you.
M: You get distracted?
S: Yeah, on things that are just not important.
M: So, I’m hearing stuff about priorities.
M: It’s interesting that you talked about the earlier coaches as being kind of technical, working on technical things, and yet when I hear you now say ‘yeah the concern that you were solving in getting this coach was about wasting time, procrastination, and not the correct priorities. That also strikes me as a fairly technical, transactional kind of thing, not about deep perspective-shifting conversation. Would you agree with that?
S: Yeah. What you’re saying is that because they did not have this background, the coaching was less efficient or effective?
M: No, no. I was just reflecting on the way you described the earlier coaches as being about technical things – marketing, writing a business plan – and you seem to be saying that the current coach was different. Now, I see that she’s different in that her background, her entrepreneurial experience is different. But the work you’re doing with her strikes me as also fairly technical because what you say you’re working on, behind the accountability, is to not waste time, not procrastinate and set up the correct priorities.
M: So, these are, I would describe as … I mean they’re really important. You know, I’m not at all saying that these are not important, but that they’re kind of technical, transactional. As opposed to working with a coach on blue-sky thinking, on what’s my vision. You know, much bigger picture, or ‘I‘ve been at this for a long time and I’ve kind of lost sight of what I’m doing this for.
M: You know, that kind of much broader thing, and … I just wanted to bounce that off of you. Do you think that’s an accurate representation of it?
S: … Well, I’m thinking, now that you’ve just said that, the kind of coaching you’re getting and the kind of coaching you need heavily depends on what kind of situation you’re in at a certain moment in time.
S: … It’s very interesting, because now that you’ve just said that, I remembered my first coach, which I’m still loosely in touch with her, because she worked in a bank for her whole life, here in Berlin. So, she knows all the people in the hierarchy of the Berlin-based banks, which is good if you want to apply for a loan. But I remember, when I started with her (it was like 10 years ago), it was a new experience for me, because I’d never had a coach, and I’d never worked with someone on a business plan and I’d never done any of the things that I’ve done over the past eight years on a continuous basis. And at the beginning, it was really good, because what I got from her was a certain validation that what I was doing was ok … And talking to her now is a totally different experience. I wouldn’t say that I don’t take her seriously anymore, but now I see that she’s still in the mindset of a bank employee, so this slightly bureaucratic thing. I don’t see anything entrepreneurial in her and she can write great business plans, … and all that. But once in a while she invites me to seminars on sales training, and just recently I got this invitation for like 3000 Euros and 6-day module and … I see myself thinking ‘she’s never sold anything in her life, and now she’s doing these seminars on sales training?’ and I just don’t buy it. It doesn’t really convince me. She’s very competent, knowledge-wise in this whole finance thing, but I don’t take her seriously when it comes to personnel, sales, building a structure, building a company because she’s never done it. Working with her eight years ago was great for me because, back then, it was the first time that I was chosen to work on business things with somebody, which was great for me, because I always had this feeling ‘I’ve never studied this, I don’t have any experience, so it was a certain validation for what I was doing. And seeing her now is, like, she can’t tell me anything because she’s never been there. I don’t know if this answers your question, but…
M: Yeah, no, it’s really interesting that that memory came up for you there.
M: Yeah, I mean … what a fantastic … shift of perspective for you, that you can now look back over these eight years, and see, wow, you’ve really grown and made changes and it sounds like she’s kind of stood still, and you can see the difference. … That’s always an eye-opener. Well, good for you for doing the growing, and I know the hard stuff, …
S: So what are you trying to get out of these interviews? I assume I’m not the only person you are talking with.
M: It’s really … I’m near the end of my coaching program and because of my work – the language training and the editing, the coaching – is all, for me, it’s all about the client. The client sets everything. And I had noticed that a lot of the people [in the coaching program] … are talking with really experienced coaches. You know, kind of going to the guru. And I realized, for me, that’s not where it’s at. Where it’s at for me is getting deeper into the client perspective, somebody who’s actually used coaches, and can say ‘ok, I hired this person for that and that for that, and this was helpful, and that was a waste, and why.’ So, I immediately thought of you because I remembered our time together and how you had brought somebody into the company to sort out the team, and how to integrate these people, and where the whole new package was going, and I was very curious to hear more about what your experience had been and I didn’t realize that you’d also had all these other experiences. And of course we haven’t talked in all these years, so I didn’t know where things were at.
S: So, you’re trying to sharpen your profile, as part of your training?