Everyone dreams big, no matter how simple it is. When building a startup business, you already have success in mind. The question is do you know how to bring that success from your head into reality? Jon Warner, the CEO of Silver Moonshots and author of more than 40 books, talks about how to increase the chances of launching a successful startup business. He shares in detail the steps in how to build a strong foundation in the early stages of your business as mentioned in his book SLAM. He conveys the importance of narrowing your niche and understanding the needs of your target audience as one of the first steps you should be doing.
Listen To The Episode Here:
The SLAM – Startup Launch Assistance Map With Jon Warner
Our guest is a five-time company CEO, Jon Warner. He’s a widely respected entrepreneur, expert, and mentor. He’s founded and led three startups, one was a failure, one that did not trouble the score, and one successful exit. He’s got the gamut of experiences. Jon’s career started in the corporate world with air products, working in the US and across Europe before joining ExxonMobil. At Exxon, Jon worked in the UK, Australia, Nigeria, and he ended his career there as a deputy CEO.
Following his several years in the corporate world, Jon founded and grew a management consulting business called the Worldwide Center for Organizational Development, which has had over twenty people carrying out a wide range of strategy assignments for all kinds of companies. He was also a founder and CEO of two other startups, a digital publishing company and a bill pay and payments software platform that operated globally. Since his exit from the latter, he’s been working California-based to mentor and invest in disruptive startup companies, especially in the area of technology, deployment, healthcare and aging tech in particular.
He’s now the CEO of Silver Moonshots, a research organization and virtual incubator for startups focused on a 50-plus population which is growing. Jon is a noted speaker around the world. He lectures on entrepreneurship. He’s a prolific author. He has a book called SLAM. There are also a lot of things about GRAND SLAM in there with all kinds of fun, clever things. He’s a graduate of the UK’s top Warwick University. Jon, welcome to the show.
Thank you, John. It’s good to be here.
Let’s start at your own personal story of origin. You can go back as far as you want to university or even as a kid. Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I did. I quickly got into doing anything I could to get out of the house and then earn an extra buck. Early on, that was delivering the newspapers in the days when that was possible to wash other people’s cars and various other things. I liked earning money that I’d generated through my effort. It got a little light switched on pretty early for me.Do you have a side hustle? Who should be on your team? What is the unmet need you solve? Click To Tweet
We have this image of going to school. You have a PhD in Psychology of Neuroscience. Were any of the people walking around in the capes as we see on Harry Potter?
Not quite. That might get a bit of fictionalizing going on there.
You’ve written this great book called SLAM. Who do you think is going to benefit from reading this?
There are a number of people. The broad category is entrepreneurship. It’s anyone who’s interested in becoming an entrepreneur, is an entrepreneur. That’s the broad category. The reason I wrote it however is there’s a subcategory within it I particularly liked. That is people who’ve got side hustles, people who aren’t necessarily working full-time on entrepreneurship or their idea but would like to go and get that bigger, faster, stronger if they could, and maybe they didn’t have the roadmap for that to happen. That was who was in my mind when I was putting that book together.
Everyone’s clear that the word SLAM is a fun acronym. Do you want to tell everybody what that stands for?
The whole process which the book revolves around is the Startup Launch Assistance Map and that spells the word SLAM. What it is there to do is to support that whole process of exploration as you try and validate your startup idea. It encompasses a second acronym in terms of the way the process works, and you have to do them sequentially. Once you’ve gone through the validation phases, there are eight steps in there, you flip it over and you start thinking about execution. It’s an acronym called GRAND. On that basis, you are going to another eight steps to make sure that you get to where you need to go, which is growth and traction fundamentally.
The interesting thing about the concept of a GRAND SLAM is you say start with SLAM and then go to GRAND. I thought that was a clever positioning there. Let’s apply some of these steps from SLAM since we start with SLAM into a side hustle of so many people want to be a speaker. I know a lot of people that have their own consulting agency or they’re running a digital marketing company, or they’ve had experiences as entrepreneurs and founders of themselves, or they’re maybe professors. There are lots of different people who have expertise. They have a main job, but they also want to be a speaker and maybe become a full-time speaker. In order to do that, you have to have speaking as a side hustle.
I know when I was working full-time at Condé Nast, I’ve started my speaking career several years ago where I would speak to some of the advertisers that I was responsible for getting as an added value perk. I would speak to their sales teams, whether it was a car company or a fashion or jewelry company that was advertising with my brand. I would say, “I’m going to train your salespeople on how to be better salespeople. There was run the ad to get the traffic and the dealership and then let me come speak to your salespeople about how to close more sales.” That’s how I started it as a side hustle. I love to use that lens. The first thing you talk about in SLAM and this is important for anybody who wants to be a speaker as well is, “What’s the unmet need? What’s my unique message that somebody would even want to have me come speak about?” Can you address that, Jon, on your experience of how important that is?
It’s crucial and it’s probably the most important step to get right and take your time doing so. Step one, any entrepreneurship venture would be to go and uncover that unmet need with the target audience that you’re aiming at. What I see a lot of entrepreneurs do is thinking, “I’m going to be selling ultimately to the whole world, so who cares? I’m going to be like Facebook. This is going to be huge. Everyone’s going to be the path to my door.” That’s not how it happens.
Even Facebook started in one university with first years in that university. You need to establish a beachhead of customers who have a need that you can solve for. In the speaking realm, that’s about thinking about what people want to hear about, what do they hear from me about, my topic, and how much it’s going to resonate with that beachhead market is something you want to dig into. The best way to go and do that is going and talk to a few people and find out who is likely to be that audience who’s got their hair on fire about an issue and expertise on.
I always like to remind everybody that Amazon just sold books first before selling everything under the planet and got a good concept there. If you personally had experienced the problem, whether you’re a speaker or not and you have this is the problem I know, I always like to say, “The better you understand the problem, the better you have the solution both for your customers and investors.” As a speaker, if you’ve been in the shoes of your audience, not only does that establish credibility and rapport, but it goes to this first point of SLAM which is the unmet need. One of the things that might be helpful for the readers is an example of that. I’ll give people mine and then I’d love for you to contribute one that you might have thought of that’s not necessarily in the speaker world but something you’ve dealt with your broad base of experience. The way I position what I talk about is that the old way doesn’t work anymore of selling and the new way is this. That framework can work for almost anything and it pulls people in.
I say, “The old way of selling of just pushing out a bunch of information or throwing up a bunch of stuff against the wall and hoping something sticks isn’t going to be successful anymore. The new way is instead of pushing, you become a storyteller who pulls people in and makes you become magnetic.” People instantly go, “This is something I might want to know about and have a speaker come to talk about, because it’s so clear of what the problem is.” I love your feedback on when you paint that picture if the old way doesn’t work anymore, as you said hair on fire, so what are you going to do?Anyone who’s interested in becoming an entrepreneur is an entrepreneur. Click To Tweet
What I’d like to do, John, is unpack that because you, as The Pitch Whisperer, are doing something even cleverer than the way you’ve described it. Let me tell you how clever you were. What you did is you recognize that the entire market of getting out there and speaking was enormous. You immediately narrowed it down and said, “People need to pitch the things. They need to pitch for something. It might be pitching for a promotion. It might be pitching for a pay rise.” In your case, you went fairly all-in on pitching for investments and saying, “In that room, there are people who need to get money and it’s a special relationship.” You need to tell the story to investors as a beachhead market so that they will listen and the product that you are supplying is going to be exciting to the people listening to that pitch.
What you’re doing is daring them to make that presentation in a story-oriented way. What you did was gone cleverly in my opinion into the unmet need by slicing the marketplace into a specific audience. A customer persona people could imagine and say, “I’m going to go out and talk in that area, write books in that area, talk about it on my podcast.” In so doing, you allowed yourself to dominate that segment. That’s the key. What you’ve then described is the way you now delivered on the product side of that, which is step three, because you are now adding unique value in terms of giving people a way of making that happen so you’ve become top of line as a guy who can help you while I’m pitching for investment.
What’s interesting referencing the Amazon example again is once I had that beachhead of investors and founders that I’ve helped get funding, I’ve now broadened it to companies like Honeywell or Coca-Cola. Even Redfin, which is a tech company disrupting real estate bringing me in as the sales keynote speaker to show them a new way of selling, because of my experience selling media for Condé Nast. I’ve been in their shoes. I know what it’s like to have a quota. I know what it’s like to be seen as a commodity. I know what it’s like to feel burnt out. Here’s the solution that works for me and it can work for you if you become a storyteller, X, Y and Z.
Those double-click of unmet needs for one market and then expanding it beyond others. What’s interesting for people to hear because whether you’re reading this and you’re a startup pitching an investor to get your startup funded or are equally important if not more so. As you know, Jon, startups love to see customers paying for something you’ve created to make sure there’s some proof of concept that you talk about, is one of the key value propositions in SLAM. You need to be able not just to sell your product to investors but sell it to a customer who’s going to pay for it.
When I was being interviewed and this will happen to everybody, it’s typically between you and in my case, two other speakers or if you’re the founder pitching an investor, it’s between you and all the other investors or the other founders pitching that one investor. They said, “I was up to speak to an executive search firm.” They said, “Have you spoken to other people in our industry before?” That’s a lot of people, especially if you’re trying to grow your business, so that objection comes up a lot. There’s some real value here of how to handle that that you talked about in SLAM.
The way I handled it was I said, “I haven’t spoken exactly to the executive search firm industry which has to pitch themselves to get new clients to find their next CEO.” I have spoken to another industry that has a similar business model to what you have which in my case was Gensler, an architecture firm and they have people who specialize in practice areas like you do. They have to go up against two other firms for an hour and pitch. They weren’t telling stories. They were presenting the designs and you are going in there. When you double-click, I said, “What’s the biggest challenge you have when you have that one-hour pitch?” This is so important to take away from what you said on this unmet need. Sometimes, people don’t even know what it is, but if you can identify it for them and then show your solution, Jon, that’s when your magic kicks in.
One of the other things to add John to that is that the secret here is and it’s counterintuitive by having at least initially a narrow beachhead so you go out and maybe you help people to go and pitch to seed investors for example. That’s an incredibly narrow niche. You credential yourself as being able to deliver your value proposition so your ability to go and tell a story, to go and get people to cross the river as you often like to say, get to the other side. When you do that, people recognize you can jump to other segments because you’ve already proven you can dominate that one segment. They then buy it. You can add segment after segment and before you know it, you are the person who does pitching well in whatever circumstance. That’s what’s happened to you for several years.
We had an example of talking to the CEO of DHR International, this executive search firm. He said, “When it’s between two other firms and us, we always ask if we can be the last.” Research has shown that whoever goes last typically is more memorable. However, here’s the unmet need that you talked about, Jon. You can’t control that. It’s up to them what order you go in. When I identified that as an unmet need, we might ask to go last. We can’t control it. We hope we do so it increases our chances of being memorable. The real problem is you need to be memorable and you can’t depend on what order you go in. What you can control is telling a story that makes you memorable and when you do that, no matter what you’re pitching, you could be first and you set the bar. That’s why they ended up hiring me when he understood how I was solving that for his audience. The book SLAM says, “That’s your core foundation to getting a yes, whether it’s funding clients or pulling in people on your team,” which is the second part of SLAM.
Let’s talk about the importance of team and if you don’t mind, I’d also like to add in the importance of culture that goes with it which I know is a little bit of what you talked about in the second part of the GRAND elements. I want your opinion here, Jon, on how important is it for you to create a team even at the very early stages that understand the culture you’re creating so that they know if it’s a fit for them or not.
The keyword here for me is the right team. Once you’ve uncovered the unmet need and the beachhead market that’s got their hair on fire about that need, your job is to think who it that consoled for those problems is. Clearly, the founder is the main person if you’re a speaker. If it’s a one-person band, it’s you, but you’ve got to think about what else that sector needs for me by way of expertise, by way of production values, by way of the way communications occur, distribution of information before and afterward. Even a speaker will have a fractional team around them, an army of people that might do bits of the work. They make you stand out and shine. In a company, you’re going to be recruiting people progressively and what you want to do early on is shape that team so that its culture is completely consistent with what you’re trying to deliver by way of value.
The team is the old adage that a lot of people on the investment side invest in the jockey and not the horse. The jockey is always the team and the quality of that team and it’s not a single founder or the person who had the idea. It’s the people they surround themselves with, both advisory and direct, fractional, full-time, part-time, and all the rest of it. That’s why it’s step two on the SLAM map. It is almost as important as covering that unmet need.
Even as a speaker, I’ve had to find people that I feel are the best team to be my speaking agents or to create the website and the design of what my brand is, even down to the color choices. If I don’t have a clear sense of who I am, what I stand for, what I want my brand to stand for, how can I possibly explain it to the people on my team? That’s what its visionary skills, painting that picture keeps going back to SLAM number one. Here’s who I helped, here’s the problem myself, and because of this, here’s the feeling I want when people go to my website or when you’re looking for an agent.Entrepreneurship is a venture where you uncover the unmet needs of your target audience. Click To Tweet
What’s your beachhead as you say, Jon? I get very specific with them. I’m like, “Here are my five specialties, technology, healthcare, real estate, automotive, and design.” Anything as a sales team in those areas that’s who you pitch me to. Think how much easier I made it for the speaking agent to know exactly what to put me up against, and who to recommend. Otherwise, it’s like you’re a sales keynote speaker. Do you know how many there are? What’s your hook? What’s your niche? All those things are blurry until you can define it that short and crisp. That’s what SLAM helps people do.
What you’re wrapping around that is having a clear vision in terms of what you’re doing, in terms of meeting that unmet need with the product you want to supply. I like Peter Thiel’s statement in his book Zero to One because you also want to get people who can take a step to change the difference in terms of that beachhead market issue. They do get a result. If you’re pitching for investment, what’s a great result? I got investment or at least I shortened the time it took me to get the investment I needed. If you’re delivering that, people beat a path to your door so your cost of acquisition of new clients goes down as a result of that.
For example, to have those stories ready to go at a moment’s notice, whether it’s your elevator pitch or you’re in the call and it’s between you and two other speakers or you and some other investors, or you and two other clients that you’re pitching. I will say, “That’s the value of storytelling. Would you like to hear the story of how I helped this architecture firm win a billion-dollar airport renovation?” That’s the value proposition. You already know the outcome. Here’s the story that you can then use to win your next big pitch for the business. We’ve got the unmet needs, the team, and now the value prop then we want to test this out and the social proof is great for that.
What you’ve got in steps one, two, and three which is on the diagram of the SLAM map and the book elucidates is the rock on which you’re going to go and build your speaker career or your startup or whatever it might be, a side hustle. Your value proposition is unique and different, but you do want to corroborate all of that. Step four is the corroboration step and it’s a pivot point. It’s almost a fulcrum around which the rest of the map operates. You’re constantly testing with your audience whoever they may be that the assumptions and the beliefs that you have about what can be successful are true in their words and their eyes, not you guessing. It’s corroborated by the target customer you’re aiming at, that they are doing the corroboration. The more you do that, the more you do risk your startup and the more attractive you become to new customers and indeed investors you want to come and invest in you.
Here’s an example of that. The irony of me having to sell myself to get hired, to be the speaker, to DHR International, the executive search firm, was that after I was giving my keynote, I also did a workshop for them. They would say, “There are competitors, other search firms that have placed more executives in our particular niche.” How do we handle that objection? I tell them the exact same story of how I connected the dots from an architecture firm using the same business model to their business model and what other companies have you worked with that you could do that front to answer that objection. They went, “Oh.” The test was that’s how I’m in front of you. I know this works and you can use this too so that’s where it becomes great.
The next part of what you talked about in SLAM is the market size. I’m always talking to people about putting their own roadmap together in terms of invisible to irresistible and all the steps along that ladder. You can’t keep working with your core clients because things happen. People leave. Businesses get disruptive like Disney buying Fox. Suddenly, Fox is not hiring a lot of people and if you’re in charge of finding executives for Fox and you haven’t been growing your market in other areas, you’re in trouble. Speak a little bit about what somebody should be looking at in terms of market size. What can I do to see how big this could get or how do I scale something?
It’s all about scale trajectory and velocity in this section. What you’re doing is saying, “How big is the pond I’m fishing in and is it going to be big enough to give me the velocity, the growth, or the traction that I need?” Your beachhead market might take you quite a long way, but it might not stay the same. Things change in the world of log so what’s going to be your approach and how big is that market? In some cases, the pond is not going to be big enough and it’s not going to grow fast enough.
You might have to look beyond this, and your job is to measure this. Your ambition might be different. You might want to say, “I’m in a lifestyle business. I’m a lifestyle speaker. I’m more than happy doing twenty gigs around the country may be and that’s enough for me.” If you want to go and be Anthony Robbins and you want to go and do a multimillion-dollar business out of all of this in books and promos and everything else, you’re going to have to think about the market in a different way. The key is to have metrics around that that are rigorous so you know where you’re heading, and you can do risk at that side of it as well in terms of that whole analogy of fishing in the pond.
You talk about in SLAM the next thing is how to reach these people. Are you going to use Instagram or Facebook or something else completely different? One of the things is this concept of lateral thinking and not doing what everybody else is doing to reach your target.
You can perhaps get the clue that even in the price that you’ve taken, you should have started forming a view of where beachhead mark you’re aiming at, at least initially, hang out. What do they pay attention to? Are they reading blogs? Are they reading emails? Can you reach them by email? Is it social media or which platform within it? Do they hang out at trade shows? There are a number of channels. You can’t be in all of them. You don’t have the bandwidth in time and you don’t have the money usually on the tip to do all of them. You’ve got to be careful about the channels and make sure they’re consistent with where people pay attention and then you want to go and put your budget together so that you can test those channels on an agile basis. Go to market is a practical way of saying, “How am I going to get the message to the particular audience that I found in the unmet need section right back at step one?”
One of the things I’ve done that I want to give as an example for people to start putting their thinking caps on is using a podcast as a marketing tool. One of the things I’ve done is there are quite a few speaking bureaus out there. Some you have to be exclusive with but a lot of them you do not. In other words, as a speaker you can be represented by multiple bureaus and they each have the different clients that they pitch different speakers to. However, you can imagine how many speakers are pitching them to represent them all the time.
I was fortunate enough to get a gentleman named Bernie Swain who wrote a book on entrepreneurship and started the Washington Speakers Bureau which represents almost all the former presidents including going back as far as Reagan. He reached out to me because I had created a podcast that had value and he wanted to be on it. He didn’t even know I was interested in the speaking business. I did him a favor by having him promote his book on the show which then gave me that first leverage so I could go to other speaking bureaus, many of whom based their business model on his and say, “Would you like to be on my podcast to tell your story of how you started your entrepreneurial bureau? By the way, one of the leaders in your field, Bernie Swain, has been on my show.”Always think of how to add value to your customer because their pain is costing them. Click To Tweet
That was relatively easy. Suddenly I have something of value to offer them. During that interview, they get to like and know me and then many of them, almost all of them I believe have said, “We want to represent you now.” If I call them cold and said, “Let me tell you about me,” without giving anything, it’s not the easiest thing to do like an actor getting represented by an agent. I wanted to throw that out there as an example of lateral thinking of what is that I can do that I don’t see other speakers doing well. Many speakers that have a podcast, some do like Tim Ferriss, but are they using it to get bureau agents to represent them? He doesn’t need to but somebody at my level, like looking at the landscapers you talk about in SLAM and figuring out what is it I could do with the resources I have and the way that no one else is doing and then that comes to life.
It’s an excellent example. In fact, it’s an example of a content strategy but not traditionally most people would think about blogging or going out on social media platforms but a podcast is a wonderful way of leaving legacy content that people can access throughout time and you can put these things up on other platforms as well at the same time so that people can listen to, other than credential you as someone that can help them. It’s a very good example.
One bureau was celebrating its 20th anniversary so they use being on my show as part of the promotion for that. It all worked out and then the final element of SLAM is the actual business model. How am I going to make money?
This is crucial and it’s the step before the last because you do want to enter the ecosystem in step eight on the SLAM map, but it’s probably the one that matters the most from an investor perspective because if you can’t make money in terms of what you’re doing, you’re going to be in trouble. There are many ways to do this and it’s not about pricing. It’s not about slapping a price and saying, “I’m going to charge something similar,” or any startup that thinks that way. The key here is thinking about how do I add value to that beachhead customer and their needs because their pain is costing them something emotionally or actual money or resources or sheer frustration and friction.
What you’re doing is come along and say, “I’ll take that pain away. What’s that worth to you?” If you can do that, you are demonstrating value-added and sometimes it’s like 2x, 3x, 5x. If you’re doing that, you have a monetization model that’s working and again, you become investable because people can see that the face for those of you that are high so it needs a lot of care and attention to craft the business model well whatever it may be.
What you’ve created here, Jon, I believe is almost like a Sherpa helping someone climb Mt. Everest. Without a map, without someone like you with all your expertise and guidance saying, “Do this then do this. Don’t do this out of order.” It’s like you’re trying to help somebody bake the cake who’s never baked a cake before. They forget to preheat the oven or they don’t put all the ingredients in them or whatever it is and then they wonder why it doesn’t rise. You have given a proven step-by-step process that’s so valuable. I’m sure there are many people who wish they’ve had this earlier in their career, but the good news is it’s available now. You’re sharing your wisdom, your expertise. The book is called SLAM. Tell us how else people can work with you?
I spend my time mentoring startup organizations of all types. My passion space is healthcare and within that, I particularly like the 50-plus population and companies that are solving for all the unmet needs for people who are 50 and more. They tend to get marginalized by society. There are many needs and not in healthcare. It’s in many other realms at the same time. Anybody who’s got a side hustle ideating around this or a small company that’s thinking about the older adult community I’m particularly interested in working with. I run a virtual incubator every quarter. Eight companies come into that virtual environment. We make a six-week sprint to go and go through the SLAM process.
That’s something they can look upon the SilverMoonshots.org website. It’s listed right there. I’m happy to engage. I’m happy to explain the SLAM process. Some of the resources, the actual map itself, both front and back, are on the website at SlamProcess.com. Those are free resources for people to download all of the questions and all of the eight steps on the SLAM slide are there. You can turn it over when you’ve got product-market fit and validation and go to the execution side, the GRAND side, and hopefully get a GRAND SLAM over time.
It does become your Bible what you’ve created for people because it’s done with so much thought and visual. It is so well done and so well executed. Congratulations on that. There’s a whole video that goes with it, a map. You’re like the GPS for businesses.
I hope it’s a good tool to help people explore. I hope people don’t think of it as a cage. It’s an enabling tool I hope to explore your idea.
Thanks for being with us, Jon.
I appreciate it.
- Jon Warner
- Silver Moonshots
- Zero to One
- Bernie Swain – past episode
- https://www.Amazon.com/SLAM-startup-business-Startup-Assistance-ebook/dp/B07VYBVLT5/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=slam+john+warner&qid=1564700374&s=digital-text&sr=8-1-fkmr0 – SLAM
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