Ep. 1 Professionalizing Yourself

MARCH 01, 2020

00:19 Welcome to episode 17, Professionalizing Yourself. So I often take on topics in this podcast that have little to do with my core services to clients, to be honest. I simply want to help you guys, and I want to build trust with you all. But this episode, folks, is absolutely not one of those topics. This is not also some slick, creepy leadership podcast you’ve stumbled onto. Nope. This is anything but that. Professionalism is honestly not a topic I have any desire to talk about at all. It doesn’t light my fire. It never will. I will never write a leadership book. Well, maybe not. And I don’t jump out of bed thinking about this topic, but I can’t stay away from it because shit keeps appearing in front of my screen at trade show booths, in the hallways of convention centers that I can’t ignore. So what is professionalism?

01:14 Does it mean that I should swear less? No, that’s not what I’m talking about. Professionalism is not about civility or Sunday school. That’s a separate issue. It’s about something much, much more challenging than that. So I’m going to give you a social science definition of professionalism in this episode, and it has nothing to do, nothing to do with what corporate HR has in their employee manual, trust me. Here we go. Hang on. First of all, professionals in any field approach their work with slow, steady discipline. I’ll say that again. Discipline. That’s the first principle. Professionals don’t spazz out. They don’t overreact. They don’t melt down when the KPI’s go south. They don’t demonize stakeholders or employees who let them down. They encounter shit and they move on, calmly. I could go on and on. The reason discipline is so hard for newbies to CPG is two-fold. One, like newbies in any industry, they have no fucking idea what they are doing.

02:19 And subconsciously, oh they know that. More importantly, they don’t know what they don’t know. I’ll say that again. They don’t know what they don’t know. Which leads me to the second principle of professionalism that I want to focus you guys on. And that’s professionals always know what they don’t know. They’ve assessed their strengths and not in a vacuum but properly. And they’ve got their weaknesses identified also not in a vacuum, but by others. And they solve for the latter, those weaknesses, efficiently and objectively. Now that does not mean that you go buy 45 leadership books on Amazon and solve it internally. That may not be the solution. Often the solution to one’s weakness is to hire somebody who feels them, because you are mature enough to realize that you will never get good at it. X, Y, or Z ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. Professionals can say that about themselves.

03:16 Amateurs think they can learn everything. When you’re entering a new industry, however, assessing your strengths and weaknesses actually takes time. So you can’t just simply be professional in one field, jump to CBG and expect it to go super smoothly. No, it won’t work because you don’t know what you don’t know, yet. Even if you are a professional and a highly competent one in another field, even if you are a professional brand manager at Kraft, you still have no fucking idea what you’re in for in the early stage ramp of CBG. Okay, the third principle is that professionals constantly critique their own work. This is only possible when you execute with discipline and are committed to that and are committed to objective KPIs, and you accept that you, a human, are not fully competent in everything. Which you aren’t, full stop. Period. When entering a new industry like CBG, professionals triple check, everything the first time they do it.

04:22 And then once they feel a little more comfortable, they double check it forever. Okay. You talk to any successful person, any professional, and you’ll learn that they have a habit of double-checking their own work no matter how many years they’ve been in the industry, because that’s what a professional fricking does. A professional knows that if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning, your 20 years of experience might temporarily go on pause and you make a dumb ass decision. So you double check yourself. You don’t fully trust yourself. That’s what professionals do. They assume they’ll make mistakes. Not a lot, but every once in a while, and they’re vigilant. They’re productively skeptical of their own abilities. Ooh, how refreshing. Professionals manage risk. They don’t wing it. They don’t build plans that simply justify past actions. See that all the time with the newbs. They analyze their business periodically against the exact same indicator.

05:16 This allows everyone in the team to see issues objectively without emotion, without getting caught up in who did what and what [inaudible 00:05:24]. Doesn’t frickin matter. Professionals manage risk. They don’t manage themselves from crisis to crisis, right? That’s what an amateur does because they’re being led by the problems. They’re not in control of their emotions. All right, next. Professionals use data. They use data on their business to manage its future. They don’t rely entirely on intuition. They certainly don’t avoid tough discussions and issues raised by the rather cold, hard data staring at them. Like we only made half our revenue goal year. Data clarifies and brings folks together around a common, unambiguous discussion point. Now you can become a slave to it if you’d like. And I meet those folks, I talked about them in my finance founder episode. But the thing about data is funny.

06:13 You can spin it and chart it and whoop it and massage it all fricking month long if you’d like, but it doesn’t offer you any solutions to anything. Data isn’t a solution, it’s simply a tool. But it does ensure that small, highly volatile startup teams, and let’s be clear, they are, because they’re small groups. It ensures that those teams are making decisions as objectively as possible and that those decisions are aligned to longterm goals, not the latest drama with a supplier, retail account distributor or fellow co-founders pitch shit sue who pooped all over your yoga mat in the coworking space. You asshole. Professionals do have emotions. I am expressing emotions on this podcast. Most of them are not positive ones because as you’ve noticed, this podcast is a curiously devious way for me to vent my own frustrations encountered during the business development process. But see, I’ve channeled them onto this podcast, not in your face when you’re trying to get information from me or begin an engagement.

07:15 Okay. I digress. So professionals do have emotions. My Lordy Lu, we’re humans. It’s how you manage the emotions in the moment. So if you do find yourself getting super frustrated, create a podcast. No, that’s not the answer. The point is you have to find a way to channel them and professionals take that very, very seriously. But I’ll tell you, man, you can be a professional in almost any industry. And when you go into an industry as complex like CBG for the very first time, where you have multiple classes of stakeholder, all taking a cut, all introducing risk, as well as helping you manage it. They all have their old bizarro cultures, which are rather crusty and barnacle encrusted. And they’re not super transparent. Founders often get blindsided by all sorts of unexpected what the F in CPG. So the likelihood that you’re going to have emotional triggers thrown at you constantly is very, very high in CPG, much higher than in a software app startup.

08:16 Now to add onto that, you’re in a low net margin industry. Where even minor disruptions in your shipments, you’ll reorder rates can cause disruptions that cause you to go running to very, very, very high interest rates short term debt offerings. None of this is fun. This is all un-fun. These are negative emotional states and they all tempt you to overreact wildly. Because it just doesn’t take much in this industry to send your P and L into the red for at least three to six months. Not very much at all. So managing your emotions probably 10 times more important in this industry than in the vast majority of software driven the startups that you hear way too much about in Wired magazine. So this leads me to what I lovingly call the old fart advantage. The one advantage that older founders have in CPG is that they’ve probably professionalized in another field already, they’ve done it once.

09:11 Well, maybe. They could also be a case of arrested development, but who knows? I see both all the time. Look, generally the midlife founder will professionalize much more easily in the CPG. They will catch themselves losing it very quickly. They’ll accept what they don’t know a lot earlier. They’ll recognize the need to figure out the key KPIs and hug them tight, like a snuggle pillow, and they’ll understand the value of managing risk appropriately. Not to mention the fact that part of that involves knowing what you don’t know, as soon as you bloody can. It’s not that a founder in their twenties can’t succeed. I’m not saying that at all. And then they do. It’s just a much rougher ride for them. They’re going to need to grow up, quote unquote, mucho faster than their peers around them. In fact, hanging out with their peers for the younger folks is going to go really, really tiresome, really fast.

10:03 And I hear people talk about this on Aiden. You know, when they have time to even hang out at all, they’re going to find out that their peers in their twenties are annoyingly immature. If anything, younger founders should be hyper-aware of their professionalization handicap. And it’s a handicap caused by the life stage. It’s not because they suck. And they just need to work a lot harder to overcome that. Luckily, most of them don’t have kids yet. Hence, they have loads of extra time, jerks, to work with coaches, to read obsessively, to interview more experienced entrepreneurs, to network, network, network, network, network. Institutional investors, you should know, are shifting their attention evermore to professional entrepreneurs. In fact, the better the fund, the more likely that they’re going to avoid the newbie CBG entrepreneur entirely at this point in 2020. I’m dead serious. They have too many options. They’re looking for professional entrepreneurs or at least professionalized, highly professional acting people who are entering the industry or running.

11:04 And honestly they’re ever more likely to simply remove the unprofessional founder as part of their lead investor deal conditions, I swear to God. They will decapitate you as a sign of the deal. So you need to know this trend amongst the top funds. If you’re not professional to their standards, to the standards I’m talking about in this podcast, you’re at risk for that happening. So I’m doing this episode because I want you to professionalize now. So you can retain the option of taking institutional funding without losing control of your company. That’s my advice. Besides even if you have no interest in ever taking institutional capital and you don’t need to necessarily. Even if you don’t, professionalizing yourself as essential to riding the ramp as a private entity, well past nine figures. A la Kind Bar. But folks like Daniel Lubetzky, they don’t get enough credit for the role that their own early professionalism played in their successful, counter-intuitively successful, well ahead of the market in largely independent journey to scale. That’s all I got, folks. Be safe out there.