By definition, you’re in uncharted territory all the time as a startup and you therefore by definition don’t really know what you’re doing. So it’s important to get as many perspectives as possible from smart people in order to build a mosaic in your own mind of what the best path forward looks like.
Aaron co-founded Badger Maps in 2012 in order to help mobile workers take advantage of location technology to make their lives easier. Aaron saw the need for this from working as in investor with portfolio companies who struggled with field sales efficiency. Prior to Badger, Aaron was a venture capital and private equity investor at Summit Partners and American Securities where he invested in technology, manufacturing, and financial services companies. Aaron was instrumental in a roll-up within Cisco’s channel to create Presidio, Inc, the largest channel partner for Cisco. Aaron also participated in investments in Unison Site Management, Robertson Aviation, and Sun Trading. Prior to investing, Aaron was a tank officer in the United States Army, serving tours in Iraq, Bosnia, and Korea, and participated in the initial invasion into Iraq in 2003. Aaron holds a Bachelor of Science from West Point and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Aaron enjoys international travel, hiking, and skiing.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on Badger Maps, which provides software to businesses that helps them make their field service and sales teams more efficient with their travel. The product allows users to map their customers, plan routes, find nearby leads, and coordinate with each other when they’re on the go – either from a desktop computer or mobile device. We released the first version of our product six months ago and we now have 25 companies as customers, including Google, First American Title Insurance, and American Tire Distributors.
Where did the idea for Badger come from?
My co-founder, Steve Benson, was working in enterprise sales at Google, selling Google Maps to businesses. Many of his customers asked for the product that we’re now building. Google is a big company and had a lot on their plate, so Steve figured if Google wasn’t going to build it, he would start a company to build it. He told me about the idea, and I recognized it as a true pain point, having worked with some portfolio companies that had outside sales forces that were looking for exactly this. So I moved from New York to San Francisco, and we formed the business last year.
How do you make money?
We charge a per-user monthly subscription to individuals and companies.
What does your typical day look like?
I split my time between product management, talking to existing and prospective customers, answering questions that Badger team members need answered to get their job done, and running the process side of the business like legal contracts and finances. In general, customers and the product take priority, but you also have to keep the lights on. It’s a matter of weighting priorities appropriately and accepting that you don’t have enough time to get everything done. You just have to make sure the balls you drop are the ones made out of rubber and not the ones made out of glass.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas can come from anyone in the company. Each person is the true expert in their area, whether it’s marketing, product, or sales, and my co-founder and I try to provide high level guidance but recognize that we don’ t know nearly as much about each area as the person responsible for it. So we try to encourage a free flow of ideas from people and also give people a lot of autonomy to execute as they see fit. Marketing is a good example. Neither my co-founder or I have a marketing background, so we’re just not going to add a ton of value if we try to get too much into the details. We’d rather give the high level intent of lowering cost of customer acquisition and driving unpaid traffic and let our marketing director figure out exactly how best to do that.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The adoption of mobile devices is the fastest growing technology trend in history, even more than social media. This has created a huge opportunity to provide products that had no market before. Now that mobile workers have access to the internet outside the office, there are different types of information they need in different formats. Time is of the essence for the on-the-go user, so design and usability become even more important. Our product capitalizes on this opportunity. It’s exciting because we’re developing something that has only existed for large companies who were willing to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars building custom solutions. Now the rest of the world has access to this technology.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve had since college. One of the most uncomfortable experiences was maybe as a plebe (freshman) at West Point. For almost a full year, you have to be at attention any time you’re outside your own dorm room, 6am wakeup calls to be quizzed on plebe knowledge by upperclassmen, intense physical training sessions, etc. I always say that you could do all of that standing on your head for two weeks, but it starts to become a real drag right around the six month mark. But you learn a lot of discipline and it puts other hardship in perspective, and I’d say that for the entire military experience in general. No matter how bad things get, I’m still sleeping in a warm bed and I’m not in a war zone.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have worked harder to build relationships with mentors. I’ve had mentors at times and I haven’t at other times and there is definitely a difference. I could have saved myself a lot of stress and effort if I always had someone that was an expert in my particular field and had been through everything ahead of me. With the sort of knowledge we now have access to through social media, blogs etc. if you look hard enough, you can usually eventually find the information you need but it’s a very imperfect substitute for having a coach that knows your strengths and weaknesses and can help guide you.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would recommend meeting with as many people in your field as possible, all the time. Since forming Badger, I’ve probably had a coffee/lunch meeting with someone I didn’t previously know every two or three weeks and I’ve never walked away feeling like it was a waste of my time. I always come away with a new way to think about something or an intro to someone or a suggestion of a good book to read. One of the biggest advantages of being in Silicon Valley is that you rub elbows with some very smart people every day. By definition, you’re in uncharted territory all the time as a startup and you therefore by definition don’t really know what you’re doing. So it’s important to get as many perspectives as possible from smart people in order to build a mosaic in your own mind of what the best path forward looks like.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We tried to raise money too early. Maybe the hardest thing with a startup is keeping the thing duck-taped together long enough to build enough traction so you can properly capitalize the business. We tried to raise money before the product was really at an “minimum viable product” level and before we had much of a view on how we were going to go to market. Those are risks that investors just don’t really want to underwrite unless it’s blindingly obvious that there is a huge market if you just do X, Y, and Z. A consumer facing business with strong network effects can sometimes raise money on an idea but more traditional B2B SaaS companies need to generate enough traction to take the market risk off the table for investors.
How did we overcome it? We wrote more checks.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Find ways to displace Excel. It’s one of the most widely used pieces of software in the world and people use it for a bunch of things that it was never really designed to do. The result is clunky, time consuming work flow. Find a vertical or function where the work flow is so bad that people are in a lot of pain and see if you can make it significantly better, to the point that people will take a flyer on something new (no easy feat; users hate changing their behavior). Also, remember that Excel is not mobile or collaborative. Look for use cases, where mobility and/or collaboration are important.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Hmm, I don’t spend many cycles thinking about things that I have no practical control over. But if I have to say something, then I’d say we should lower income taxes and raise estate taxes. I think everyone should have to make their own way in life. Keep it while you’re alive but give it back when you die. This would make for an even more meritocratic culture and drive some incremental social productivity. (I know this view is pretty controversial, but you asked… ;)
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Since I have a SaaS company and don’t have a ton of experience in SaaS, I find certain SaaS blogs invaluable. SaaStr, For Entrepreneurs, and Both Sides of the Table are some good ones is more general than just SaaS. KissMetrics and HubSpot both have good blogs around marketing and customer acquisition.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
If I could only read one book, it would be The Lean Startup. But that’s not a huge revelation for many people. If I could read one other, it would probably be Inbound Marketing, which gives a great overview of how to acquire customers as a modern online company.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
I am still a newbie on Twitter as I mostly use LinkedIn or blogs to get access to the brilliant minds out there. But I would recommend:
Eric Ries (the writer of The Lean Startup): Every entrepreneur should read The Lean Startup and follow Eric Ries.
Dharmesh Shah, editor of OnStartups.com blog and co-founder of Hubspot: If you don’t get enough insights from the famous OnStartup blog yet, follow Dharmesh Shah!
Guy Kawasaki: My marketing director insisted that if you can only follow one person on Twitter, follow Guy.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Earlier today when one of our developers from Kazakhstan sent out an email in broken Borat-like English (which he does purposefully as a joke)
Who is your hero, and why?
I honestly don’t have one person that immediately comes to mind as a hero. I admire different people for different things. A few that come to mind as I think about it: Josh Chamberlain who led the charge at Little Round Top, Dan Bolger who was one of my bosses in the Army and taught me a lot about great leadership (according to Wikipedia, he’s now a 3-star general and one of the top guys in Afghanistan), Jeff Lebowski (The Dude, not the Millionaire) because nothing can really ruin his day.
What are some best practices for allocating your time?
I think this is one of the principles from the 4 Hour Work Week, but embrace ignorance. Decide what you need to know and don’t worry about the rest. I don’t spend much time worrying about politics, world hunger, or sports. And I don’t read great literature or other fiction. None of this moves the needle on what I’m doing and there are plenty of other things that do. Unless you’re going to embrace it as a hobby, there is no need to be smart on things that don’t affect you. You can wait until after you’ve made your millions and are semi-retired to spend time on these luxuries.
What is one misperception about being an entrepreneur?
The idea that the “highs and lows” that people talk about are equally weighted. When you first start out, there aren’t many highs, and when you’re six months from IPO, I would guess that there aren’t a ton of lows. People that have never done this romanticize it and talk about how much fun it is. It’s not fun at the beginning, but that mix between highs and lows gradually changes over time as you take pieces of business risk off the table (i.e. does anyone want our product, can we find more than one or two people that want our product, can we profitably acquire multiple customers, and will this thing start flying off the shelf like hot cakes)
Badger Maps on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BadgerMaps
Badger Maps on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/2719153?trk=NUS_CMPY_TWIT
Badger Maps on Twitter: @BadgerMaps