The Game Changer with Chicke Fitzgerald

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Business Elevation with Chris Cooper

TSP 210 | Game Changer

 

Episode Summary:

Many entrepreneurs who could be one step closer to the peak of their success hit the plateau for fear of taking risks. These daunting risks are often disguised as remarkable transitions, and Chicke Fitzgerald would totally agree. The author of The Game Changer, Chicke shares where she got the motivation to write her cathartic book and delves into the importance of investing yourself in making a massive difference in your life and career. The founder of Solutionz, a travel company involved in technology, Chicke reveals that building a company is not for the faint of heart. On top of that, she breaks down the board of directors in her life and why having women on boards are more profitable.

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The Game Changer with Chicke Fitzgerald

My guest is Chicke Fitzgerald and she says that she zigs when others zag. I love that. Chicke has spent the first half of her career working for an industry leading travel distribution technology and telecom companies. If you’ve ever made a travel booking online or checked in for a flight, chances are Chicke worked for or consulted to one of the companies that pioneered that technology. The second half of her life has been turning up, trip, tech and travel storytelling on its head. She formed a company in 1996 called Solutionz. It’s the smart trip technology leader behind TripProximity, which is a smart trip widget. She’s advised multibillion-dollar entities on strategies and was a subject matter expert on four global M&A transactions representing tens of billions of dollars. TripProximity is a B2B widget that integrates online trip planning to the next reason, motivating the trip. She’s going to tell us all about that. Chicke has a new book out, which is by the same publisher that mine is and it’s called The Game Changer: A Business Parable About Transformational Business Design. Welcome, Chicke.

That is an absolute mouthful.

It’s a little bit of a tongue twister. The big thing is I always am telling people to let go of perfection. If you let go of trying to be a perfectionist, you’re more authentic. You are more relatable and you are certainly someone I’ve had the pleasure of getting to work with and know. That is all of that, Chicke. Your personality and your warmth come through in everything you touch. Let’s talk about your own story of origin. Growing up as a young girl, did you dream of getting into the travel industry? How did all that happen?

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I wanted to be married. I’ve got a daughter who’s twenty, I’m glad that it’s in her heart’s desire. I did finally get married when I was 33, but I have put a lot of miles under these feet in the meantime. I actually started working when I was sixteen. I went through a phase. I was the youngest of three girls and I was incredibly rebellious. My dad was a pastor that was fitting. It’s expected of a PK. I ended up not dropping out school but skipping out of school every day and going to work at a Christian bookstore, which I found hilarious. I have a very wry sense of humor. It was a friend of my dad’s, which is how I got the job, but it laid the foundation for a lot of things in my life. I’m the mother of an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-year-old. I love to see the work ethic that has been instilled in them. Part of that we know as parents come from seeing your kids enjoy the fruits of their labor, seeing that paycheck and the money in the bank and not having to ask for things.

I went off and tried college on for size. I was a straight A student. I wrote a paper during my first semester of school about the value of experience versus education and you can guess what comes next. I went home at Thanksgiving and told my parents that I believe I can do better out in the world of business than I can finishing college. They have always been incredibly supportive of me. They allowed me to quit. I came home from Oral Roberts University to Miller Brewing Company. My life has all of these odd twists along the way.

TSP 210 | Game Changer

The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea

While I was at Miller, I got great experience in accounting, corporate systems planning and a lot of wonderful things. One summer, I ended up going to Portugal with my parents. They had been missionaries there years ago. I wanted the chance to see the country. I quit before I left figuring I could get a job when I got back, not realizing that the college dropout thing might come out back to bite me but it didn’t. When I went to an employment agency, they came up with two jobs that would be perfect for my background, since I had accounting system background. One was with an attorney and one was with a travel agent.

I love two things. “I’m rebelling against my father and yet I’m going to go work at a Christian bookstore. I’m going to go to Oral Roberts University, which is very faith-based, and then I’m going to go work for Miller Brewery,” which I’m imagining it’s all about happy hour there.

We had a tap in the break room with a beer in the morning and the afternoon. There was beer served in the cafeteria. I ended up moving from that travel agency into working for one of the very first accounting system companies. First of all, they had filled a room at Miller Brewing Company, but they were down to about the size of a very large refrigerator by the time that I got involved with installing accounting systems. They were built by a company called Data General. They had these great flashing lights on them.

I went around and taught people how to use them and how to move their books quite often from a shoe box into an automated accounting system. I learned the travel industry from the back of the house to the front of the house, which I think was foundational for where I ended up, which was with the largest travel technology companies in the world. Sabre, Worldspan, which later became a company called Travelport, and then did a couple of M&A transactions. Most of those happened not to be successful, but not because of my efforts, with the largest travel technology companies in the world, Amadeus and Abacus.

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You’re also the host of your own show, which is called The Game Changer as well.

I rebranded it. I figured out that I wanted to write this book, which actually started almost a decade ago. I read a book that you may know by Bob Burg and John David Mann, and that book is called The Go-Giver. I read it on a short flight from Atlanta to Tampa. By the time that we pulled into the jet bridge, I think I texted both men because it was like, “This book is so amazing.” It was the first business parable I had ever read. I had already started my radio show and it was done under the brand name of my company, which is Solutionz. The radio show was called Solutionz Live. For five or six years, I kept thinking, “I would love to write a business parable,” because I had already come to the conclusion that nobody was going to want to read my life story.

TSP 210 | Game Changer

The Game Changer

Maybe your mom and a couple of close friends, but you might sell a case of books and what good is that? One day I went to the bookstore and I looked at all the business books and I was so overwhelmed. You know many there are, even in the category that you have written into. Every time I would do that, it was like I still want to do it but I was so discouraged. I kept doing my radio show where I was interviewing mostly authors, but sometimes experts on certain topics. One day, I went to the library with my kids. They were young, so they went over to the kids’ section and I went to the business section. This time, something was different. I started looking at the racks and racks of books and on every shelf there were two, three or four authors that I had interviewed.

It also inspired me to a different storyline. I hadn’t even laid out with the book what was going to be about, but that was really a moment and guided how the book actually poured out of me one weekend. Literally, I wrote it from a Saturday morning through Monday morning. It changed quite a bit after that. The funniest story about writing my first book was that when I sent it to someone to read, of course, I read it through myself again and I thought, “This entire book has no dialogue in it. Everything was inside of people’s heads.” I realized, “If anybody’s going to read this, I better learn how to write dialogue,” because in a parable, obviously it’s interaction between people and some thought, but that’s how it all came to be that it is.

It’s very much told in a Forrest Gump-like manner.

It was on purpose, but it was a way that I could interject things that had happened in real life into this fictional account of a small travel technology company in Tampa, Florida.

Building a company is not for the faint of heart. Click To Tweet

Who are the books for? I’m guessing it’s a much broader audience than just people who are entrepreneurs and people in the travel business. There are some life lessons in here.

The most obvious readers of this book are other founders and entrepreneurs who are working with founders on their idea. I think investors are a good audience for this book. Unless you can get into the head of the entrepreneur that you’re investing in and understand the dynamics, it’s hard to be successful even if you’re incredibly wise and are putting in smart money. The other thing is being an employee of a company that you can both lead and fund by devoting your time. I’ve been blessed to have on my current venture 22,000 hours’ worth of sweat equity put in by my team. Those people were also an audience for this book.

That obviously shows commitment. One of the big takeaways in The Game Changer is that building a company is not for the faint of heart. You talk about having this label, personal and professional dragons. Can you give us a story one of those?

TSP 210 | Game Changer

Game Changer: Going after consumers one at a time is enormously expensive.

 

It’s funny because I had been working with you and I’d actually interviewed you about your book, The Successful Pitch and also your most recent book, Better Selling Through Storytelling. All of that is to help me get ready for my fundraising round. The real story there is that a lot of entrepreneurs see raising money as failure instead of success. It’s completely counterintuitive, especially if you have the investor hat on. I remember the whole time I was writing this book, I would have this recurring dream that I was going up a chair lift at a ski resort. I neither liked to be cold, nor do I like heights and I am not a good skier. This dream had all kinds of underlying stuff going on. Every single time I would be on this chairlift, I would look down and I would see all these men.

They were all dressed in business suits and they were skiing down effortlessly on moguls, which if you’ve watched the Olympics is one of the hardest kinds of skiing there is. That dream was a picture of how I felt about fundraising. For other people, it was completely effortless. Here I was, cold, afraid, and I had to get over that. The writing of this book was actually cathartic because it allowed me to get my fears out. It allowed me to get my hopes, my dreams and all of my aspirations out into a story that I wrote in such a way that it wouldn’t be about me, but I was able to weave myself into this fable.

Let’s double click on that concept. Everyone else has it easy. I’m the only one that struggles. That alone is enough to make you want to buy The Game Changer book and listen to your show. Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely job and you need to surround yourself with other people who believe in what you’re doing, support you and not let yourself go into the trough of depression or despair that everyone goes to. Do you have any tips for people on how to be resilient?

A lot of entrepreneurs see raising money as failure instead of success. Click To Tweet

There are a couple of key messages, one is learning the power of innovation. Not only innovation in product and service that you’re doing but innovating how you operate every day. That might be business models, it might be the tools that you use to interact with your team. One of my biggest challenges is I have been working from home for ten years. I am so tired of managing remotely. I know a lot of people aspire to that and would like to work from home. At the end of the day, your goal should be finding joy in every step of that journey as your company moves to the next level. You’re going to look back on it and believe it or not, you’re going to laugh. You’re going to be able to laugh at yourself, to laugh is not to cry sometimes. To come back to that comment on investment being a signal of failure, it is a new leg of the journey that is the beginning of that success journey. When you take a look at people who lose a large amount of weight, they continue to look in the mirror and see themselves as being very fat. I think that entrepreneurs, one of the other things that we have to guard against is we bootstrapped for so long.

We don’t always make the decisions that we would if we were well-funded. No investor wants to see you go out and splurge but there are things that you must actually do for the company when you do get funded. That’s not bringing the team on board, but you need to spend properly on the right systems and infrastructure. The other thing and this one was the most important thing in the book. It’s understanding that everybody who comes to the table, whether it’s your investor or your turnaround team, if they send in a team to try to help the company get to the next level or even your own team, that everybody has a backstory. You are good at mining this out, this show and in everything that you do. When you learn those backstories, you’re going to learn that even on the surface, it looks like everything is effortless. You’re going to hear about struggles and then you can say, “That happened to me, too.”

You talk about asking the question, who’s in your executive village? We all need a board of directors in our life. What a great visual that is. How does someone get a good board of directors for our life, and not just our job?

This happened with my venture. I was looking for a true board member. I happened to want another woman on the board. Companies that have women boards are more profitable than those that don’t have any women. I’ve got two wonderful men who are on my board. One of them has been a part of the board of directors of my life for a long time. He’s been there through thick and thin and helped me out through a lot of things. I actually posted a job on BoardProspects.com and an amazing thing happened. I’ve got 250 responses. That was completely daunting and burned up a lot of time that I didn’t have. What I ended up with is this amazing group of about fifteen people who I know that I can call on no matter what my challenge is.

Add to that, I have a group of women. I run a group called The Executive Girlfriends Group that again, women tend to be a little bit more transparent about their failures and about things that they face in their personal life that impacts their business life. We all know if you have a fight with your spouse and then go to try to pitch to an investor, that’s probably not a good way to end up in that meeting. The board of directors of my life are those people who I can talk about every aspect of my life and not just the business stuff. I think that’s why so many of my close friends are my business colleagues because they understand that you can’t compartmentalize yourself.

The, “I’m one person at work, another person at home and on the weekends,” is gone away. It goes back to what we were saying about authenticity. The other thing you talked about in The Game Changer is investing in yourself. You have some practical tips in that story. Can you share one of the tips there?

Companies that have women on boards are more profitable than those that don't have any women. Click To Tweet

The whole book is laced with individuals that are each facing an individual challenge. Unbeknownst to one another is they each reach out and listen to one of my real radio shows. Each chapter of the book pulls out a story both about the person who’s listening and what the author shared with me on that real radio show. There’s one which is actually the story of Bob Burg and John David Mann and the story from their book, The Go-Giver. The person who’s listening to that realizes that they have been approaching sales all wrong and that they thought they had to be a go-getter.

By investing 30 or 45 minutes in listening to a podcast, this gets back to my faith roots. I believe that God speaks to us through podcasts. I know it sounds crazy to somebody who doesn’t have that dimension of your life, but nothing in my life happens by accident. Even meeting you through Judy Robinett and all of that is a part of the plan. The other thing is investing time in more than just working 80 hours a week, which is what we entrepreneurs do to keep from working 40 hours a week for somebody else.

It’s important to realize that even if you’re working so many hours, you must invest in your own health, your own network and your own energy mindset so you don’t burn out. You don’t burn out the people working for you. That’s a big takeaway of learning what that is. Let’s double click on what’s going on with Solutionz and how you’ve identified a huge part of the travel market that other people are ignoring. That’s always the key to successful founders, finding a problem that no one else has to solve it. Tell us about that, what’s the segment and what problems are you solving? In other words, give us some elevator pitch that had worked with you.

It’s very interesting. Most of us, and I would imagine the audience you have in this show, we all travel. We all have trips crop up where we need to be somewhere specific. We don’t need somebody to inspire us of where to travel to. When we need to travel to someplace specific, you very quickly find out that that’s not how the travel industry tools work. They will serve up a hotel that is near an airport or a city center. If where you need to be isn’t that, then it takes a lot of time. We address that. We call our product TripProximity for that very reason that proximity does matter. We also believe that giving back matters. That’s another tenet of the book, The Game Changer. You need to build giving back into your business, which is what we’ve done in Solutionz. I think the most important thing, about what we have done in our company is we’ve realized that it is foolish to come out with a great new idea that resonates with all travelers and then go try to compete with the 800 or 8,000-pound gorillas. Expedia, Priceline and TripAdvisor, because going after consumers one at a time is enormously expensive. We have found a very clever way to insert ourselves into the systems that people use every day in their lives.

You’re targeting people who have what you call life moments. Tell us what a life moment is?

The travel industry has focused almost entirely on managed corporate travel. You’re a big company and you have to use American Express, Expedia’s Egencia product or some corporate travel tool. You’re on vacation and you need somebody to motivate you as to whether you should go to the Yucatan or go to Vail. All that inspirational stuff is important. Every other trip falls into what we call life travel. That is 72% of the market. We are going after those individuals who they know precisely where they have to be. Usually, they know exactly when they have to be there. There are some trips that are a little bit more flexible than that, but if you’re going to go and visit the college, you have to set up a campus visit. That campus visit goes on the calendar. It is logical simply to have that calendar entry pop up and say, “Would you like to come in the night before to experience the community?” It’s good for the university, it’s good for the parent and at the end of the day, it’s what we’re all about. It is that integration into that life travel moment.

If a company is trying to book a trip, find the best hotel and restaurant to use. They don’t want to go to Expedia and they go to Solutionz’s platform, a percent of what they spend is being donated to charities.

It absolutely is, but I want to make one point that’s very important, is we’re not an alternative to the business to consumer online travel site. We’re a business to business tool that gets integrated into other systems. I don’t know if you’re familiar with AddThis and ShareThis who have social media bookmarking tools that you can configure and plug-in in minutes. We are the AddThis and ShareThis of travel. We’re a tool that gets plugged into CRM platforms, calendaring, contact management, ticketing and registration, other systems that are the systems that people use every day.

You have an example of a client, right?

Campus Management is our enterprise client. By plugging in once to three of their CRM and calendaring systems, we reach 1,200 customers overnight, 1,200 universities. All of the parents that are coming in for those campus visits, alumni coming into sporting events, homecoming, friends and family coming to graduation, all will then have access to our tool so that they don’t have to look up the address of the university. They’ll simply be able to plan their travel to that specific event.

Any last thoughts you want to leave us, either about The Game Changer book, your radio show or what you’re doing at Solutionz?

You asked what people can do to invest in themselves. One of the things that came out of building out the radio show and having all of that content is I wanted to provide a place for people to come. Without all of the clutter, noise and even the angst that we have seen certainly on Facebook and to a lesser degree, LinkedIn. It’s a quiet place that people could come to get support from others. Whether they’re corporate executives or they’re individuals, we built The Game Changer Community, which is a by invitation only, but still a free community where people can nominate others to join the community. We have all different contents that our members are sharing.

Thank you so much for sharing some of your blog material and even pointing over to other articles that you read that are relevant to the folks that we got there. TheGameChanger.network is where you can learn more about the book. You can learn more about the community. Thank you so much for mentioning the company because when you read The Game Changer’s story, it’s being able to see my hopes, dreams, my fears and getting some practical tools to help you identify the challenges in your own business. I talk about reaching your own summit, your own metaphorical mountain top, which in the book, I won’t spoil the end of the story, but a tremendous success that this team has.

Reach your own mountaintop. Chicke, thank you so much for sharing your enthusiasm, your knowledge and most of all how we can invest in ourselves.

Thank you so much, John. It’s been terrific.

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John Livesay, The Pitch Whisperer

 

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Tags: board of directors, online trip planning, Solutionz, The Executive Girlfriends Group, The Game Changer, Trip Proximity