This week’s Misfit Entrepreneur is Dean Guida. Dean has a storied history. Dean launched his first company Infragistics in 1989. Being a startup with just 10 people, he went head to head against Microsoft for a $300k deal with Philadelphia Conrail—and won. From there, he never looked back. The company has grown to 250 employees across 6 countries, without ever accepting outside funding. Today, the company boasts a client roster that includes 100% of the S&P 500, including Intuit, Exxon and Morgan Stanley.
One of the things Dean saw as he built his own business and observed teams at hundreds of others is the struggle they have to bring the right tools together to drive decisions and effectively use data. He started his latest company Slingshot to help solve this challenge.
Dean has a wealth of experience and knowledge, but one of the things I most want to speak with him about is how you can better use data in your business to grow and thrive.
When Dean was 15, he was saving up to buy a car, but bought an IBM PC instead. He fell in love with computers and taught himself how to program. He’d always been an entrepreneur at heart. As he grew up, he brought these two passions together and 35 years ago, started Infragistics bootstrapping it while freelance consulting for IBM on Wall Street. He would work during the day and code at night. They worked out of their apartment building their first product. After a year, they got a small office.
He learned quickly that “Sales solves all problems” and taught himself to sell to drive the company forward.
You’ve been in business 35 years. What do you credit as the biggest reasons for that?
- · You need to create a learning organization where people grow, solve problems, and take initiative.
- · Putting processes in place and a culture where people are excited to collaborate and ask for help, share ideas, etc.
- · Be careful not to higher everyone like you. Get diversity of thinking.
- · Use data to make decisions and collaborate around it. It is more than growth hacking. It is using the scientific method to drive real business outcomes.
- · You need to do experiments based on the data and hypothesis. You will learn and get better and better with each iteration.
At the 12:30 mark, I asked Dean how he went head to head with Microsoft in a true David vs. Goliath scenario and won….
- · It was early in the company.
- · People were just starting to move from mainframes to PCs.
- · It was with a big railroad company.
- · Dean had to compete against Microsoft Visual Basic with their tool that allowed coders to use C++ and make it visual. That was their edge over Microsoft because C++ was better for coding, but harder, so Infragistics made it easy like Microsoft VB.
- · Being small and new, the client also needed to trust that the company would be around, so Dean spent a lot of time showing them how they would be and built the trust with a better product to win.
Talk to us about the entrepreneur mindset – what have you learned about the mental game of entrepreneurship?
- · The entrepreneur journey is similar in a lot of respects across entrepreneurs.
- · First, you must have the courage to get started and start.
- · Second, you must be and stay curious.
- · It’s a commitment to grit. The long-term focus and putting your effort into the things you have control over working toward to goal.
- · Be present and open to opportunity. Be visible as a company and leader.
- · Practice outside-in thinking….
Using data to drive a business. What should entrepreneurs know about making the best use of the data that they have?
· Data by itself leads to more questions.
· You need to start with the fundamentals: Sales data, marketing data, click through rates, targeting/segmenting your target market.
· If you target well early on, you will be so much better off. Industry, title, the group of people with the most pain that your solution solves.
· With data, you need to keep asking why. Data will tell you what is happening, but you need to ask why and dig into to get the answers to improve outcomes.
Best advice on how to get target market right and how do you use the scientific method with data to drive outcomes?
- · Before you start the company or build the product, you have a hypothesis of the problem you want to solve based on intuition and research.
- · A product can appeal to a large audience, but there is a segment of that audience that is the “best buyer.”
- · You can get to the right segment through testing, surveys, talking to customers. You are looking for the segment with the biggest need that your product solves that seems to be unmet.
- · The whole process can use the scientific method. Question, make predictions, assumptions, gather data, analyze data, draw conclusions…
At the 27 min mark, Dean shares more about Slingshot and how it connects data points.
Any trends or data points you are seeing your work with Slingshot that businesses should be focused on to up their game?
- · People expect good digital tools, with great UI and data. The customer is smarter than you think.
- · If a company is not focused on their digital skills and using their data to best level they can, they will find it hard to survive.
- · A company needs to implement processes around data throughout the organization to use it daily.
How does AI and tools like Chat GPT fit into data and technology and business into the future?
- · ChatGPT raised the bar for what you expect a natural language processor to be. We are in a new game now.
- · We are going to be looking at AI services like we see databases today.
- · Businesses will incorporate these tools into their solutions as part of everyday features.
- · These AI’s will become just new services to use and will integrate into most things we do.
- · It will cause the pace of things to move faster than they do even now.
Anything else around data or these topics that people should know?
- · We always overpredict innovation in the short term, but in the long term, we underpredict it.
- · Get alignment of execution with data. Use OKRs – key results for objectives in using data.
- · Know your objective and execute on it. Defining your core objectives is data!
Best Quote: "Sales solves all problems..."
Dean's Misfit 3:
- What creates a happy life and long life is your social connections with people. Figure out the amount you need.
- Stay curious and keep learning.
- In order to perform well, you need to recover. Pros train hard, but then take breaks to recover. You need to set aside time to recover both mentally and physically.
Benchmark Email (Free account):
5 Minute Journal: www.MisfitEntrepreneur.com/Journal