Andrew Hsu - Co-Founder of Spotlight

If at all possible, hire the most talented people as soon as you can. Hiring ahead means solving problems before they occur, which means having fewer things to fix. Constantly apologizing to the market while you build your team is a terrible way to build a reputation.

Andrew Hsu is the co-founder and managing partner of Spotlight.

Spotlight, an analyst relations firm, connects digital agencies and technology vendors with influential industry analysts to create meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships. Much like an agent helping a talented actor get his big break, Spotlight provides an exclusive service that helps its clients communicate their worth to respected analysts who report on and recommend the top organizations in their given niche.

Andrew leans on his experience as a strategist and marketer to help Spotlight’s clients craft and communicate their unique stories to influential analysts.

Previously, Andrew served as vice president of strategy for Acquity Group. He received a Bachelor of Science in accounting and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Kansas.

Where did the idea for Spotlight come from?

The idea for Spotlight emerged when my business partner and I were working together at a large digital agency. We realized that in a world where digital services firms and technology products are evolving rapidly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to make smart, informed buying decisions. If we as digital experts can barely keep track of all the changes, it must be almost impossible for business leaders in other industries to do so.

We quickly realized that decision makers and executive leaders regularly lean on industry analyst firms, such as Forrester Research and Gartner, to help them spot trends, solve problems, and cut through the clutter of the marketplace. We also realized that there’s huge value for services firms and software vendors to keep the analyst community informed about their capabilities and case studies, but such efforts rarely happen in the most appropriate and productive manner. Thus, the idea for Spotlight was born.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I spend most of my day moving from meeting to meeting, but I prefer to think of them as a series of one-on-one working sessions. We’ve worked hard to assemble an amazingly competent team at Spotlight, so these sessions tend to be perfect bite-size morsels of situational detail, problem identification, and decision-making. The team protects me from tactical execution, so I can focus on steering client strategy.

The time between those sessions is filled with reading research, responding to critical correspondence, and crafting strategic recommendations for our clients. Like most business owners, I handle the mechanics of running operations on weekends and in the evenings.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a strong believer in informed whiteboard sessions. While there are times I end up talking to myself while scribbling like a mad artist, I’ve never had an idea that couldn’t be improved by sharing it with another smart person. Armed with the right data, a small, heterogeneous group of experts can quickly bring amazing ideas to life. Also, there’s Keynote. Until we can all agree on a different medium, let’s not underestimate the magic of ideas manifested on animated slides.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m fascinated by the speed at which digital technology is changing the behaviors and expectations of human beings. We now expect the perfect thing delivered at the perfect time via the perfect mechanism. We’re annoyed when things that should exist haven’t been invented and completely flummoxed when companies we pay money to fail at the small things. These new expectations provide enormous opportunities for companies that can get it right.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think it’s easy for an entrepreneur to mistake activity as productivity. We work hard, we check off tasks, and we move the ball forward, but rarely do we stop and audit our activities against our strategies. A habit that serves both me and Spotlight well is to periodically force a deep breath, check the things we do against the promises we make, and kill the things that don’t pay off the promise. I’ve found that removing noise — not doing more work — maximizes organizational effectiveness.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I’m rarely frustrated by work tasks, but I’ve often been frustrated by poor organizational design. I worked at companies where I had to deliver on unrealistic expectations set by sales, and I wasn’t allowed the necessary authority over the delivery organization to meet those expectations. Essentially, I showed up to work every day knowing that there was absolutely no way to win no matter how hard I worked.

What I learned was that competent, hard-working people don’t fear work; they fear working in situations that can’t be won. Good leaders must design jobs that can be won.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I became an entrepreneur because desire happened upon opportunity in a perfect storm. I’m not an entrepreneur because of brilliance or planning. If I could start over, I would be more intentional from the outset. I would prioritize entrepreneurial-related coursework and ongoing learning, engage more in the startup community, and be more diligent in networking.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

If at all possible, hire the most talented people as soon as you can. Hiring ahead means solving problems before they occur, which means having fewer things to fix. Constantly apologizing to the market while you build your team is a terrible way to build a reputation.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We attribute much of our success to a relentless focus on our target audience — the industry analyst community. Every decision we make, every service we launch, and every communication we send is vetted through the analyst lens. If it doesn’t add value to analysts, we don’t do it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early in my career, I built a document management company with a couple of guys. We managed to eke out consistent growth, but we were constantly under pressure from bigger competitors, solutions from adjacent firms, and the macro-level trend toward digital content. We were able to survive, but it took remarkable effort and investment just to protect meager, diminishing margins.

The experience taught me that you can always make a living through sheer effort, but without a well-designed business model, you’ll always be swimming upstream.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

This certainly isn’t an original idea, but the demand in the market for data analysis significantly outpaces supply. Tools for data analysis are becoming mature (and the amount of quality structured and unstructured data is enormous), but smart folks who can manipulate and interrogate that data for insights are scarce. Work with your local schools, grab some smart math kids, combine them with battle-tested industry veterans (healthcare and financial services are great places to start), and capture the market opportunity.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

My business partner, Rick Nash, and I have built a respected analyst relations firm in just two years without hiring anyone with a PR or AR background. We set out to create a different kind of analyst relations firm, and we started by building a team consisting of different types of people.

Rather than hiring experts in communications, we instead hired seasoned digital agency and software veterans who have deep subject-matter expertise, as well as publication editors who are intimately familiar with the challenges analysts face when trying to create great content.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Our business runs entirely in the cloud on tools such as Asana, Google, Dropbox, FreshBooks, Evernote, Expensify, Bill.com, and TripIt. We choose tools that are cloud- and subscription-based, have pre-built integrations with one another, and are compatible with our clients and service providers. This approach makes us completely free from supporting enterprise systems, eliminates paper from our lives, and maximizes collaboration within the Spotlight ecosystem.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

A good read is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman provides some insightful observations about intuition — how it can be useful and how it can trick us into terrible decisions. He also provides practical advice on how to spot the latter situations and avoid potential errors in judgment.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Early in my career, Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” provided me great insight on how markets adopt technologies and how technology firms can approach the daunting task of moving from engaging early adopters to the early majority. Even though Moore first published the book in 1991, I believe many of his concepts remain relevant today.

I also follow a number of authors that publish to McKinsey Quarterly, as well as David Aaker and Scott Davis, who write for Prophet.

Connect:

http://www.spotlightar.com/
Spotlight on Twitter: @SpotlightAR
Andrew Hsu on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/andrew-hsu/1/714/665