These days, startups are always trying to be like Google or Amazon while having no audience. Big businesses, on the other hand, think that they don’t have to explore or learn new ideas. Startups and big businesses should exchange mindsets. Big businesses should learn how to go into exploration mode. This is where Brant Cooper, author of Disruption Proof and the CEO of Moves the Needle comes in. In this conversation with Michelle Seiler Tucker, Brant explains how to find the exploration mode and connect with your customers. Times have changed and it’s time for your business management to change too. Join in and learn how.
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Learning From Startups: Bringing Back The Exploration Mindset To Big Businesses With Brant Cooper
I’m so excited to introduce a special guest, Brant Cooper. He is a New York Times bestselling author of The Lean Entrepreneur and CEO of Moves the Needle. His book Disruption Proof will empower people, create value and drive change will be released on September 14th, 2021. Brant, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me. It’s good to be here.
Why don’t you tell our audience a little bit more about yourself and how you got started?
The way I tell the story is, I lived through the dot-com boom and bust in the Silicon Valley area. In the grand days of the late ‘90s with all these startups going public, the collapse and 9/11 happened around that same time. The world gets turned upside down. That’s what got me started in a startup world. There were a number of people after who were looking at why we taught startups how to act big businesses. Big businesses notoriously launch products that don’t go anywhere. They launch products that people don’t want and yet, we organize startups quickly to try to look like big businesses. There were a number of people and I was among them that were writing about, “Let’s look at the ways startups are successful and use that to create a framework around how to build startups.” That’s what I ended up writing about and launched my new career.
Eventually, I started going in and teaching those exact same methodologies to large enterprises. That’s what Moves the Needle is about. It’s how do we teach large enterprises to act more entrepreneurially. That leads me directly to the next book Disruption Proof, which is, we live in this Digital Age. We’re not in the Industrial Age anymore. Our management practices and structures are going to change, so we need to jump on top of that and think about how we reimagine businesses for the 21st century.
When you were in Silicon Valley, were you a programmer or a SaaS guy? What exactly were you doing before you started?
The late ‘90s was maybe the emergence of SaaS, so I was an IT guy. I wasn’t a programmer, but I was technical and crossing that business and technical bridge there. I ended up moving into professional services, product management and marketing. I’ve worked at all sorts of different functions in startups, which eventually leads to being a CEO, if that’s what you desire. Having knowledge of the different functions in the company is key to that. I did a little bit of everything until eventually, I was in charge of everything.
You have a lot of valuable lessons from all of your past experiences.
I learned from my failures.
We always say we learn more from our failures.
There is no doubt about it.
Keep rolling our audience into a little bit more about Moves the Needle on and exactly what that does. You said that it helps big business because most people say the opposite. They say startups should act more big business but you’re saying, “No.” They’ve got that wrong. A big business needs to act more like a startup.
The way I think about it is this idea of equilibrium, a balancing execution work.
Don’t get into theories yet.
I know. I’m foreshadowing here. Big businesses are focused on execution. They’re managed in a way that the hierarchy is about how we know what got us here, so we’ve got to keep on doing it and we have to execute. We don’t have any room or space or time for this exploration mode. That’s what makes them slow and not agile, and to be honest, not customer-centric. A startup doesn’t know any of those things. They don’t have a blueprint for their business. A startup has to create that. How do you create it? You go into this learning mode. This exploration mode. You learn what the best practices are for your product in your market. You create this blueprint and you start executing on that blueprint.
The idea is you have to balance those two parts, the large enterprises, the moment the market changes, or even a pandemic hits, and suddenly the world is a different place. All you know how to do is execute. You don’t know how to do that exploration side anymore and your business is in trouble. What Moves the Needle did and does is teaches those organizations how to do the exploration mode, which is hopefully going to invigorate their growth. It’s going to create the new markets that they can go into whether that’s 3 or 5 years down the road or improves the existing market. We have to recognize the uncertainty. We have to recognize what we don’t know, figure it out, and execute what we figured out.
I have the 6 Ps in my book Exit Rich and you have the Five E’s, so we can go ahead and get into your Five E’s now. The exploration one, I think companies should always be learning. You’re either growing or dying. There is no in-between. We’re always learning and that never stops. All companies should always be learning, not learning from your own industry, but stepping outside of the box outside of your industry and learning from huge successes like Disney. There are so many huge companies that we can go learn from. Exploration to me is something that’s always ongoing.
The way we structure companies and the silos that get developed out of the different departments and the layers of management, where people are motivated and their performance is measured by the tasks that they accomplish over some time period. We start to drill out that creativity and that exploration mode, so we have to get back to it. In my mind, there’s mythology inside the innovation industry that talks about, “There’s an execution side of the business and an exploration side of the business.” To your point, it’s missing this concept that everybody needs to be in learning mode. That’s how we do continuous improvement.
When something in the market changes, that’s how we’re able to adapt quickly to it. All of these companies want to be the Amazons and the Googles of the world and it’s because they have that exploration mode ingrained into their daily operations. They’re agile. You can think of Jeff Bezos’ two-pizza teams, whereas, if your team is too big that it needs to consume more than two pizzas, then your team is too big. It’s building in that adaptability and the ability to move quickly into the structure of the business.
You also have to be introspective. I always tell my clients, “You need to ask yourself three basic questions.” Amazon did this back in the ‘90s. They ask themselves, “What business are we in?” Customers and business owners stop asking themselves, “What business are we in?” Amazon said, “We’re in a book fulfillment business.” They ask themselves, “What do we do better than everybody else? What’s our core competency? What’s our USP?” I said, “Your USP is fulfillment. We do fulfillment better than everyone in the world.”
The next obvious question is, “What business should we be in?” Amazon said, “We should be fulfilling products for everybody all around the world versus just a small book fulfillment center.” It’s also getting back to the basics and asking your clients the questions. What do you need? What do you want? How can I make it easier to do business with us? Amazon is winning because they make it so easy. You can practically buy a horse on Amazon and have it delivered in two days. What size company do you all typically work with at Moves the Needle? Is it small businesses or medium businesses?
It’s the large enterprises. It’s some of the biggest brands in the world.
Can you drop some names?
Target, TD Ameritrade, IMG, American Insurance Bank. Typically, what we did is we started in the innovation group, but then we started expanding out into the product teams and marketing groups. The engagements with all of these companies I mentioned are not necessarily big engagements but every once in a while, you run into a company that has decided that they’re going to fundamentally change the way they do business. ING, the bank in Europe, is the best example of that complete transformation. They structure their company differently. The way they organize and run their exploration work is different. I think that is what’s going to happen to all businesses in the 21st century. There’s no reason that we’re continuing to be structured as if we’re an extension of the assembly line, which was the Industrial Age. One of the toughest things that you mentioned is introspection.
Self-awareness has not been an obvious leadership trait. It is now. It’s popular. Writers like Brené Brown and others have been talking about empathy, empowerment and vulnerability. That’s modern leadership, in combination with some of the traditional, “Let’s go conquer that mountain and rallying the troops and inspiration.” All of those old-style leadership skills are still important, but they need to now be balanced by this self-awareness and admitting what we don’t know, and empowering teams to go figure these things out. That’s the only way that we can move fast in the Digital Age. Information and even misinformation are moving at the speed of light, so we can’t sit around and ask for permission and wait for answers to come down from up on high.
Big businesses need to start acting like startups.
Which I’ve never done so that’s why I’m successful.
That’s the entrepreneurial mindset. You’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s why we have to teach this to large enterprises because that is the entrepreneurial mindset. When you see a problem, you solve it. You don’t go ask somebody if you can solve it.
I was Regional Vice President at Xerox and I hated it. There were over 100 salespeople and I couldn’t get anything done. We’re having scheduled meetings and follow-up meetings and we couldn’t get anything accomplished. If we see a problem, we’ll find a solution and implement it right away. Let’s get back to your Five E’s.
We’ve got the exploration mode and we’ve got empathy which is what you’re alluding to. That one as well with the introspection but people get empathy wrong in the sense that, if you’re going to develop empathy for customers, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing what the customers say. It means that you’re understanding why their customers say what they say. It’s the same if you’re developing empathy for your employees. It doesn’t mean that you implement policies that satisfy all of their needs but the more that you understand them, at least you will understand the implication of your policies.
Developing empathy is about understanding and it’s not about necessarily doing what resolves, needs or desires are. If that’s beneficial to your business, you want to do that but that empathy is the understanding part. It’s not about imagining you’re the customer. It’s going out and interacting, observing them, running experiments and trying to figure out what it is that they aspire to. It’s way deeper than focus groups and interviews and surveys. It’s understanding what motivates. Customers have more power than ever now. They can switch from one brand to another overnight. If you don’t understand what’s motivating them, then you might lose them.
That’s one of the reasons that so many businesses are going out of business is because business owners have stopped providing and creating that wow experience for our clients and that’s why I said earlier. You need to ask the clients, “What do you want?” “What do you need?” “How can I make it easier for me?” I’m sure you’ve got deeper questions in that to ask customers but we’ve got to get back to the basics.
It’s almost the dark side of technology. At least I find this with entrepreneurs and startups. Technology has given us this amazing world we live in, but it also means that we can sit behind our keyboards instead of going and talking to customers. I work with young entrepreneurs there and they’re trying to figure out how they can scale learning about their customers. Don’t worry about scale. In order to get 1,000 customers, you have to get one first so go in and you do it the old-fashioned way. Go knock on the door. Do whatever you have to do in order to get that first customer. It’s forming a relationship with that customer, not just making a single transaction.
We’ve got exploration and empathy. What’s next?
It’s evidence, informed decision. I say informed because we don’t want the data to make the decisions for us. You look back on your career, the experience that you have, and the intuition that develops based upon the experience. We want our intuition to be alive and well, in addition. We don’t want the data making the decisions for us but the data and the insights that we glean do help us cut through our biases. It’s a great way to overcome conflict as well. If you’re clashing heads with your colleagues, you can design an experiment, agree to adhere to the data and that’s a way to clear a path forward. Data becomes this important asset when it comes to making decisions, so we know that we’re not relying on what we hope is true, what our biases are, or what our pet projects are. Nobody wants to hear their baby’s ugly but the moment you hear the truth, there’s something that you can do about it.
Now, you’re stealing my line. I do mergers and acquisitions for over 1,000 companies. I do business valuations and that’s what I always tell my client. The worst part of my job is telling them that their baby is not as pretty as they think it is. Nobody wants to hear that their baby is ugly.
They have to admit it before they can do your work and make it an attractive offer.
What’s number four?
Number four is equilibrium. That’s finding the balance between execution and exploration. I love the sales example. That’s considered an execution job. You know what you’re up to and what you’re doing. If something changes in the marketplace or your sales script isn’t working anymore, then you have to go into learning mode. There’s a little bit of exploration, mostly execution and on the other side of the continuum is, “What is banking going to look like in ten years?” That’s all exploration work. As you figure things out, you start to execute, so there’s a balance there that exists all across the company. It’s one of those things that large enterprises struggle with.
The final E is ethics. I fundamentally believe that a vast majority of employees inside of all corporations want to do the right thing. They want to live purposeful lives, have an impact on their business, have a positive impact on the world, so we need to unleash that. The way we do that is that instead of putting the corporate values on the website, we bring that down to what is the expected behavior and we integrate that into missions that we assign teams inside the company. “Your mission is to go and do this amount of sales but here’s also the expected behavior. Here are the guardrails around your behavior in order to maintain the ethics that are established by the corporate values.” We need to integrate that into the daily operations of the business so people can feel that they are making a contribution to the company society at large.
Are you using these Five E’s for your corporate training? If you’re integrating, you’re incorporating, right?
You are right. All of those E’s are incorporated into our sprints and accelerator programs that we run and the workshops that we do for these large corporations.
Let’s talk about innovation and overcoming plateaus because when I wrote my first book, Sell Your Business For More Than It’s Worth, I learned that 90% of all startups will fail. We all know that but then when I wrote Exit Rich and I did the research, I learned that the business landscape has flip-flopped. Only 30% of startups will fail now. There are 27.6 million companies in America, those businesses that have been in business for ten years or longer, 70% of them are going out of business.
You hear about the big public companies like Toy “R” Us, Kmart, Stein Mart, Pier 1, and Disney stores are closing but they’re not talking about the private companies. I always say the reason why 70% of businesses are going out of business is the lack of AIM. AIM is Always Innovate and Market. These businesses have been in business for over ten years and they stop innovating and marketing. They’re married to their original concept. They always say, “You’re either dying or you’re dying.” There’s no in-between. Let’s talk about innovation from your perspective and overcoming these plateaus.
I have a problem with the word innovation because it’s not defined inside the organization. That’s part of the problem. If you go into a large company, and you go talk to the CTO, the CIO, or Information Officer, and talk to them about innovation, they’re going to think technology. If you go talk to the marketing people, then they’re going to talk about, “We know we’re innovative. We’re coming up with new ideas all the time for marketing campaigns.”
The CEO is going to go, “We’re not great at innovation, because nobody’s opening up new markets.” The HR people are going, “We have an open seating plan and we’re recruiting people that are entrepreneurial.” Everybody has a different opinion on what innovation means. The predominant definition for most people, makes most people inside of organizations say, “Innovation is not my job.” Therefore, they’ve got the wrong definition. Innovation is everyone’s job.
I mostly work with private companies and you work with a lot of public companies. I work with businesses, typically $10 million and up. I always say businesses have life cycles. You’re from the incubator to death is the lifecycle of a human. It’s the lifecycle of a business. Toys“R”Us in 2015 $11.5 billion in sales. That was when they’re in their adult. I’m always saying your adult phase is when you’re in your prime, that’s when you should be selling your company. One year later, in 2016, they go into senior citizen, so they filed for bankruptcy. Two years later in 2017, death. They closed 1,500 locations in 3,500 countries. One of the biggest reasons, I believe is lack of innovation, but there are a million other reasons. What would you, in Moves the Needle, have done in the Toys“R”Us situation?
What we would have done is we would have put their teams, they would identify teams, we would want cross-functional teams, interdisciplinary teams, and we would have sent them out into the real world to talk to customers, all their stakeholders, partners or anybody that’s in their ecosystem at all. Again, it’s not asking them what they want, it’s trying to figure out where they are going, what is moving in the world and what is changing. This is months’ worth of work there to do this type of research. It’s not focus groups or surveys. Those are used to reinforce the beliefs that are already inside the business. I want the business to go out there and learn what is going on in the world. We do ideation so people can come up with their own ideas but ideas are literally dime a dozen.
As a matter of fact, they may be pennies each now. No company I’ve ever worked with struggled with ideas. What they struggled with is evidence for those ideas and they struggle with how they choose which ideas. Inevitably, what happens is that the choices are made by the company hierarchy. We call that the HiPPO Effect. The highest paid person in the office is who makes the decision, as opposed to empowering teams to go out and generate evidence. Insights that they’re gleaning from customers and other stakeholders, running experiments.
When we talk about running experiments, we’re running disciplined, scientific, experiments where we’re measuring people’s behavior, because people will often tell you things that aren’t true. We can’t ask customers to predict their future. Customers are horrible at predicting their own future, so you run experiments to get them to behave in a particular way because they’re not lying about their behavior. We start picking up on trends, and we start picking up on truths and we’re cutting through our assumptions and biases and now we’re able to start funding internal projects based upon evidence, which is exactly how the startup world works. It takes 1,000 startups to get one unicorn. If one big business needs a unicorn to succeed, they need to be funding 1,000 ideas and incredible skills.
Toys“R”Us also tried to rebirth and they opened up four boutique stores but those crashed too. Maybe you should give them a call and help them rebirth.
Innovation is everyone’s job.
They started too late in all of that. It gets back to the equilibrium answer because if that’s always siloed. If the idea of trying to reinvent their business is only operated in some innovation silo, then those people are not the ones that are connected to the core business. There’s no way that they’re going to have the scale to come up with the new idea that’s going to save the company. Innovation is everybody’s responsibility.
All of the people are empowered to come up with ideas and to start generating evidence for the ideas, we start investing in those ideas based upon the evidence that they produce. These are startup metrics. Venture capitalists don’t throw money at ideas that don’t have evidence. They continue to do a series of investments based upon hitting milestones. The method is already there. It’s just that we’ve created a silo inside of these large enterprises instead of making that the normal course of doing business.
What do you think the time frame would have been to implement everything you said and turn it around?
Companies that did this successfully came out of the Great Recession. In 2007, 2008, 2009, or whenever we have an economic situation like that, the startup world burgeons. The stats that you gave, coming out of the pandemic, entrepreneurialism is through the roof again. That’s the same time the large enterprises should be doing the same thing. They have to reinvent themselves. Yes, they need to go and continue to execute on what works, but they need to start funding the exploration work so they can invest now in what’s going to produce growth 2 or 3 years down the road. The real “innovation” that’s going to result in new markets 5, 6, 7 years down the road, but you have to start now.
Let’s think about this. A lot of the examples I gave that are going out of business are all brick and mortar and retail. I have a lot more examples than that but what can retail and brick and mortar do to stop the bleed? There’s not a day you turn on the news or read The Wall Street Journal, but you don’t have another retail chain like Disney Store closing down. GNC is closing out 900 locations. Godiva Chocolates is closing down 1,200 locations.
We had a tough year, too, so we need to see how things are going to shake out. There is a powerful social structure. People like to get out. The little downtown here where I live, Encinitas, is popular. There are all sorts of restaurants that are open. Restaurants are still a major attraction for downtowns that have reinvented themselves over the last several years. I don’t think that we can measure the future purely based upon what’s happened during the pandemic. That’s number one.
A lot of these businesses I’m referring to were closing down before the pandemic. Restaurants, that’s whole different animal hospitality. Restaurants are going to come back in a big way.
You have to exercise a different level of creativity. It comes back to experimenting with those ideas. Capital One turned their bank branches into internet cafés. Why did they think of that?
It goes back to innovation.
They didn’t get that out of an MBA book. Somebody had the idea and somebody ran some experiments. They opened up a pilot, iterated on it for several years, and now they’re doing TV advertisements about it. It follows that same process. It’s empowering employees to come up with ideas, but more than the ideas, they have to be able to generate evidence for the ideas.
How do they get the evidence?
The evidence comes from the way they interact with customers and running those experiments that I talked about before. That’s what our sprints teach. You got to google designs sprints where they don’t do any experimentation. They just get people hacking together products. We already know that people can build products. Building products is the easiest thing to do. Everybody thinks about innovation as being technology.
I don’t think of innovation as technology.
Technology is the first place where big corporates go, but there’s no technical risk anymore. Technical risk is not the problem. We know we can build stuff. We’ve been building extraordinary things for 50, 60, 70 years. We know it. The risk is if a market doesn’t exist. We can run experiments to figure out if a market exists and we invest based upon achieving milestones. Even if a business fails or an internal idea fails, we haven’t lost millions of dollars, we’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars. The old-school way inside the large enterprises is to make big bets based upon the highest-paid person in the room. They’re spending millions of dollars launching products that nobody wants.
Kevin Harrington does it the right way. He was the original shark on Shark Tank. He wrote the foreword for my book, Exit Rich. People and startups come to him all the time with ideas and he’s like, “Let’s test it. Let’s get the evidence. Let’s run some ads. Let’s see what happens.”
It’s funny to me because, I don’t know if you know this, but inside of large corporations, they run Shark Tanks and they even use the name. There are tons of companies that run these internal competitions and they’re called Shark Tanks. What kills me about it is there are people with great ideas inside the company and they’re pitching their ideas. The senior people are sitting on the panel and they choose the ideas that they like.
They ask questions, “Did you think of this? Where’s your patent portfolio? Did you think of that?” The Shark Tank people ask for evidence. They don’t invest in businesses that don’t have evidence. They want to know your month-over-month revenue growth rate. That’s evidence. The internal corporate people are not running their Shark Tanks the right way because they’re not asking for evidence. They’re just trying to demonstrate how smart they are by asking ridiculous questions.
Let’s talk about mindset because I know you have a mindset workshop. I buy businesses and sell them, fix them, and grow them. I partner with business owners. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Marcus Lemonis on CNBC, The Profit.
No, I have not.
You need to watch that show. I do what Marcus does, but I build them to sales. We’re talking about private companies, not public. I partner with business owners and I always say, “You will never grow the business beyond what you can grow the owner.” You got to grow the owner, work on their mindset, etc. Marcus Lemonis will tell, “I’ll partner with the business owner and tell them what to do.” They’re like, “Yeah.” They changed the name, logo, and look and feel. He takes off for another business. Joe comes back and the old sign is back up. The old look and feel are back up. I’d do completely the opposite of what he tells them to do. I’ve had issues with my own partners where I’m like, “We’re going to do this and this,” and then I’ve found throughout the last twenty years or so, I’m never going to grow the business beyond what I can grow the owner. Do you agree?
I totally agree. The way I try to talk about it is that the owner, the CEO, is responsible for the exploration mode. The moment they figure something out, they need to be passing that off to the least expensive, least technical person that’s able to execute what has been learned to a T. Not cheap and not a bad performer, but you want the lowest cost that’s able to do what’s been learned to a T. As an owner, my job is to go and explore because that’s where the new growth is going to come from. We’ve got this big unknown bucket. The moment I learned something, I pass that off and maybe I can pass it off to a chief operations officer who knows how to organize people to execute. That’s not my job. I can’t be doing it. If I’m doing it, I can’t scale, grow and learn.
Even before you get to all of that small business, you’ll never grow the business beyond you because the owner is like, “If I don’t do it myself, it’s not going to get done.” They’re working in their business instead of on their business. I always say, “You never grow unless you let go of the control.”
We’re talking about the exact same thing. The mindset is switching from like, “Now I know once I know, it’s not my responsibility anymore. I pass that on to somebody else. I need to be focused.”
I find so many owners have so much hanged up from their baggage from their past that they let it interfere in their business decision-making and the way they run their company. Am I making sense?
Having empathy is not doing what the customers say. It’s understanding why the customers say what they say.
Yes. They don’t understand that customer satisfaction is a threshold, not a continuum. The technical expertise of an owner could be way high, but the customer is satisfied down here. The owner is all like, “No, my people can’t do this gap between what the customer is satisfied with and what I can do as the owner,” but it’s not important for the growth of the company. They can’t let go of the fact that their employees don’t do it as good as they do and that’s the wrong metric. The metric is, “Is my customer satisfied?” If so, then that’s what you need to be measuring your person on. It’s not, “Whether those people can do it the same level I can do it.” Once they’re able to flip the switch of like, “My people don’t have to do it as well as me,” that provides the freedom.
The funny thing is, their people are doing it better than them in most cases. Entrepreneurs have their strengths and their weaknesses. No entrepreneur is good at everything. It’s impossible. They’re good at a few things, but a lot of things they’re not good at. They have to focus on their strengths and hire their weaknesses. That’s what I always say.
That’s a scary level of lack of self-awareness if you can’t get the owner beyond delegating things that they don’t even do well.
It happens. Trust me, Brant.
I believe you.
You have a mindset workshop, right?
Yeah. Among the things that we do, we have the practitioner level of getting them out of the building, talking to customers, and running experiments. For leaders, what we’re doing is we’re teaching them how to mentor, not just manage. We’re teaching them how to establish the right startup metrics. This is a big key here. If you just are managing execution, then you’re looking at your people and making sure that they’re doing the number of tasks they should be doing over some period of time. What I want to know is, are we making progress towards achieving the desired outcomes? Startups do this well. “What is the engagement level of my customers?” “What’s my month-over-month growth of that engagement level?” “How do I measure engagement?”
The startup metrics is a key thing to be able to teach owners. We’re teaching them how to ask the right questions, how to remove obstacles and how to delegate authority to the teams. There’s a lot of trust-building that has to go on there because they don’t trust their teams generally. We have to teach the teams how to share out at a regular cadence the right metrics so that the owner can become more trusting of the team. Suddenly, if this is successful, the leadership finds that they are more proactive.
They’re not just reactive. They’re not fighting fires all the time. They don’t have to sit there and manage individuals and it makes them more strategic. If we can get the leadership to this point where they’re switching over to, “I feel like my teams are accomplishing their missions and now I’m able to take that and bring it to my leaders,” it makes them more strategic. That’s the right flow of information. It’s more bottoms-up than it is top-down at that point. It’s a big mindset change that has to happen for that.
Mindset is everything, especially for what we do and what we walk within private business. Tell us, what was Brant like as a little boy? That’s the hardest question.
It’s funny because I never considered myself entrepreneurial, but I was always a square peg in a round hole.
I can see that.
As a kid, you don’t understand why that is, and then when you get older, it dawns on you. The reason why I went out on my own was that I was a horrible employee. Managers would pass me around like a hot potato. Nobody wanted to be my boss. It’s mostly probably because I told them what to do. Eventually, that’s sending you all the signals like, “Time for you to go out on your own.” My first job out of college was working for a small consulting firm and I was the IT guy. I lasted a year and I dropped out and wrote a novel. Early, there were indications that I was not going to be a normal employee.
I knew that at the age of 8 or 9 because I tell my mom, “I’m not going to work for anybody. I don’t like anybody to tell me what to do.”
That was probably there. My parents were not entrepreneurial, so it wasn’t a lexicon I had. I was not the person with the lemonade stand. I always worked. I cut lawns and did that sort of thing, but it didn’t dawn on me to be “entrepreneurial” until I went into the startup scene.
Why would you quit your job as an IT and then write a book? You’ve never written a book before.
We don’t consider artists entrepreneurial, though we probably should. It’s like, “No, we’re going to go off and become an artist or write the great American novel.” It’s more like the aspiration is different than being an entrepreneur, but they’re related and similar. It’s a similar inspiration and creativity with the entrepreneur and the artist.
Tell us about the process of writing your first book because I remember when I wrote my first book in 2013.
My first book, a novel, was having the discipline to get up every day and write.
Did that get published?
No, it did not.
How long did that take?
A year probably.
Why didn’t that get published?
Back in those days, there was no internet. In order to get published, you had to send out queries and mail chapters. It’s a full-time job just to try to get noticed. I sent out to five agents and one agent was interested. They had somebody read it and they were like, “I don’t know about this.” I gave up on it. I didn’t pursue it as trying to get it published that hard.
You will be more strategic once you become more proactive and less reactive.
What was it about?
It was as if the world was run by tele-evangelical fundamentalist people. This person’s dad was instrumental in that revolution coming about. He was lost and was trying to figure out what his role was in that world. It was timely back then. Art is also different entrepreneurially in the sense that you don’t think about the business side, so you get that out of your system and you feel like it’s out there then. It’s interesting. Whereas an entrepreneur, you have to go build the business side. The next book that I wrote was self-published and it was the first book that talked about lean innovation, lean startup, and product-market fit. It was geared towards a specific Silicon Valley mindset. I had my community and it did well. That’s what launched this new career. That book started to write itself, to be honest.
That’s what I feel about all of my books is they wrote themselves.
That’s nice. That’s a gift.
The biggest reason is because all the content in my head is what I do every day. I’m not making anything up.
My second book, The Lean Entrepreneur, was a difficult slog. It took me over two years to write that and it’s because it wasn’t in my head. What I was doing is I was going around the world and doing workshops and that was creating the book. It took me two years of keynotes and workshops.
That was a New York Times bestseller, right?
That’s right because I pre-sold it for two years.
What do you mean you pre-sold it? Talk to me about that.
If people come to events, then they’re buying a copy of the book.
What’s your method for your other book?
I don’t know if I have one.
What’s the name of it again?
It’s Disruption Proof. It’s how can leaders and business owners create what I call a RAD company, Resilient, Aware and Dynamic, and able to weather the storms of uncertainty and endless disruption. The pandemic was disruptive, but the pandemic was part of a larger revolution, the Digital Age Revolution. What we face now are endless disruptions. A ship getting stuck in a canal disrupting global supply chains, ransomware shutting down hospital systems and energy grids collapsing. This is the new normal. We have to create businesses that can weather these storms.
How does the post-pandemic world affect leaders now? It’s a completely different world than what we used to live in.
You have to delegate. This gets right along with the mindset change that you were talking about. Leaders cannot sit around and make all the decisions. Your people cannot sit around and wait to be told what to do. You have to empower teams to accomplish missions. If you roll up all of your team’s missions, then that should be achieving your strategic priorities. It’s fundamentally rethinking the way you’re organizing your company’s work.
In hope for our New York Times bestseller.
We can hope.
Exit Rich made Wall Street Journal and USA Today. We had numbers for New York Times, but you never know.
You should be proud of Wall Street Journal and the USA Today and have the numbers. That’s no small feat.
I worked on mine for about 2.5 years, too because we came out in 2020 during a pandemic. We’re supposed to launch in April 2020 when we had all these speaking engagements lined up, and then, of course, the speakers all died a quick death, so we keep having to pivot.
We’re doing a virtual book tour that starts pre-launch. We’ll be showing up in cities around the US with virtual sessions talking about the book and supporting independent booksellers in great cities around the country.
That’s a great idea. Is that from your publisher?
No, that’s my idea.
Tell us about that idea again because I’m sure you can help some authors.
The trick is pre-orders. That’s what generates the momentum. Most authors and the publishers themselves wait for the pub date, but the pub date is too late. There are ways you can do it afterwards, but it’s a hard slog. The trick is to start creating the momentum 1 or 2 months before the pub date. We are doing virtual tours around the country hitting bookstores. We’re supporting the independent bookstores which are struggling during the pandemic that hasn’t opened back up. We’ll do a moderated talk and take questions.
I’m hoping I can help business owners and business leaders think about how to reopen here as the world starts opening back up. Let’s think about this mindset as we open back up and make some changes. Remote work is a sexy topic and it’s part of creating agile teams and empowering teams. How do you delegate? How do you build trust? These are all topics that we’ll hit on during the virtual tour. Hopefully, people will go in and buy a copy of the book from their independent bookseller.
That’s such an innovative idea. How are you driving traffic?
We’ll do a marketing campaign around each one of those. We’ll reach out to local businesses, local accelerators, incubators, our networks, and maybe chambers of commerce if they’re interested in participating. If any of your readers are interested in sponsoring, then we’re all open ears for that. Every single one of those will have its mini-marketing campaign.
That’s innovative. I feel like that’s what the publishers are lacking is innovation. That’s a great idea. I wish I had talked to you before my book launch because I didn’t think about it.
You did well.
Thank you. Any thoughts or anything you’d like to share with our readers, a sound advice?
I encourage people to reach out. I respond to all messages. If people want to chat with me or give me feedback, I’m open to it. I’m Brant@BrantCooper.com. My website is BrantCooper.com. You can pre-order there. I’ve got some great book bundles. I’ll come and do a lunch and learn or do a virtual speaking engagement and you can buy some books. You can do that like the virtual book tour, but do it privately for your own business. I’m happy to give you an hour of consulting. There are all sorts of bundles that people can jump in on now at the website.
Is that your book website?
Yup. I’m @BrantCooper on all social media. I hope some of your readers reach out and we can have a conversation.
What do you want your legacy to be, Brant Cooper? What do you want on your tombstone?
I don’t know if I’ve got it down pithy enough to fit on the tombstone. We chose capitalism in the west because it’s the best system to solve problems and we need to get back to solving problems. That is the entrepreneurial spirit. It raises the standard of living around the world. If businesses focus on creating value for other human beings, you can get rich doing it, so there’s an upside.
Tell our readers one more time how they can get the book and where all your bonuses are.
BrantCooper.com is where you can get the bundles.
I’m going to ask everybody to go out and support Brant Cooper and buy his book because I just went through this process. I know how challenging it is. I’m praying for you that you make it and that you make all the list. Everybody, go out and buy Brant Cooper’s book. Any final thoughts?
That’s it. Thank you so much for having me.
You’re welcome. I love to thank all my readers for reading another episode. Make sure you subscribe and make sure you share with your friends. Thank you for another episode. Thank you, Brant. It was a pleasure having you on.
You, too. Thank you.
- The Lean Entrepreneur
- Moves the Needle
- Disruption Proof
- Exit Rich
- Sell Your Business For More Than It’s Worth
- Kevin Harrington – Previous episode
- The Profit
- Virtual Book Tour
- @BrantCooper – Twitter
About Brant Cooper
Brant travels the globe speaking with entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs about how to discover and create new value; about empowering individuals to make the change they want to see in the world.
Brant Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lean Entrepreneur and CEO of Moves the Needle. With over two decades of expertise helping companies bring innovative products to market, he blends agile, design thinking, and lean methodologies to ignite entrepreneurial action within large organizations.
Brant has a unique take on disrupting our current way of thinking in order to be closer to customers, move faster, and act bolder. He has experienced monumental milestones such as IPO, acquisition, rapid growth, and crushing failure.
He serves as a global keynote speaker, mentor to entrepreneurs, and trusted advisor to corporate executives. His mission is to teach leaders how to find personal and economic growth through creating new value for fellow humans.
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