There is no replacement for the experience of starting something from nothing, dealing with problems of product market fit and scale, and turning that into a success story.
Don White is the CEO and Co-Founder of Satisfi Labs, an AI conversation engagement platform. As CEO, Don spearheads client development and revenue initiatives. Don is a high-energy strategist with a unique ability to connect complex technology solutions with our client’s most immediate needs. Prior to Satisfi Labs, Mr. White was head of sales for Datahug, a SaaS company that provided sales analytics and predictive forecasting. CallidusClous purchased Datahug in 2016. Mr. White also held several leadership positions at Bloomberg Tradebook, most recently as head of sales for the Americas where he managed the $110M sales and strategy division.
Where did the idea for Satisfi Labs come from?
The goal of our company is to “satisfy” the on-demand information needs of our end users. Add a cool vowel at the end and you have Satisfi Labs.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Any startup-up executive wears many “hats” every day. It begins the minute you wake up and ends whenever you are able to fall asleep. The morning starts with prospects or opportunities overseas and then I do some competitive research reading. By the time I get into the office we have a full slate of meetings and calls scheduled with current or prospective customers. Finally, we usually end the day on next generation technology ideas and projects. The only way to remain productive is to schedule the time for each “need” and internally schedule your “hats” into slots.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Every idea needs a sponsor or owner. Sometimes it can be a client or partner, other times it’s one of us that sees an opportunity for our product. We break down the idea and look for a quick win to get it into our clients or prospects hands as soon as possible. Then we work with them to develop the later phases with us, rather than try to figure it all out ourselves. This method has helped us develop a process to meet customer needs rather than build things we think are cool.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The accelerated technology push for voice products is amazing. I grew up on shows like Knight Rider, where a talking car was an outlandish idea. However, my daughters are now growing up in a world where everything is within reach verbally whether through the phone, car, or home. My kids will not know what it is like to drive a car without a conversation interface (if they even need to learn to drive at all).
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I prioritize every activity in real-time. Customers usually get an almost immediate response as the highest priority, and all other conversations are categorized and scheduled for follow-up. I re-evaluate my schedule every 4 hours and slot in emails, articles to read and people to call. At one point I even started prioritizing text-message responses, but my Mom found out her priority level and now that’s kind of over.
What advice would you give your younger self?
“Get into the startup world sooner.” When you run a large business at a large company, you can be fooled into thinking that you are skilled at launching new ideas from scratch. There is no replacement for the experience of starting something from nothing, dealing with problems of product market fit and scale, and turning that into a success story. Although I am very proud of my career and accomplishments, the real learning of hard business lessons did not occur at a large company or even business school. It was the day I had a laptop and a phone and a powerpoint of a product and was tasked with getting someone to buy into an idea that barely existed.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The mobile device of the future will have no apps on it. Technology is rapidly moving to a “skills” based world where our voice virtual assistant will be able to access both public and private content to bring us the on-demand information we need. Your future wearable will not be loaded with 50 apps, but rather one or two assistants that can speak to all the content providers that are sponsoring those apps today.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask for help. I have a weekly meeting with one of our investors who has been a CEO twice and exited successfully both time. We have a weekly meeting where I share my struggles and ask for advice in areas that I am seeing for the first time. Even after 18 months as CEO, every single week I have new questions or situations and I am very thankful to have someone I can lean on for advice.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Our growth strategy has been to create a platform that can solve multiple customer needs for low incremental fees. Once we earn a new customer, it is likely that they will see additional opportunities for our technology to help them in areas outside of the initial sales reason. Our technology is productized for specific use cases, but once a client starts to customize their own experience they quickly realize the depth and breadth. We solve a specific problem, then work toward solving additional ones.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I was so focused on the revenue and investment side of the business that I gave no attention or thought towards the product back-end. I ignored a lot of warnings and continued to push customer growth, while risking instability and challenges to scale. The system soon started showing signs of weakness and I blamed myself for paying little attention to the tech debt that I was accumulating month over month. I sent out a note to our investors and employees that we needed to reallocate everyone for a 45-day focus to rebuild portions of our infrastructure. The team did an amazing job pulling together and I am extremely proud of the end result and how it elevated our entire company’s knowledge of our product.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I believe there is a lot of opportunity in personal finance management. Every potential purchase should calculate the true cost of the item. If an item is on sale, but you have a high balance with monthly interest, purchasing that item on credit is actually now costing you more money than full price. I think there are many consumers that would pay for this type of transparency to help them make smarter purchase decisions.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Entrepreneurship takes a serious toll on you and the people around you. Last week, my girls were dying to see a movie at the local movie theater. I bought their tickets and put my oldest in charge of the other two. After dropping them off, my wife and I went to the local Italian restaurant around the corner from the theatre and enjoyed a great meal and a bottle of wine. The tickets, popcorn, dinner and bottle of wine came to exactly $100. The return was my girls seeing the movie they wanted and having some sister-time without the parents, and my wife and I having our two hours without the kids to catch up after another crazy week. I can’t think of a better way to spend that money.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Our company runs on Slack. That tool has become the centerpiece of our company communication. We highly leverage the channel features to break out conversations by department, customer and subject. The goal is to categorize conversations so that only those that need to know are aware, yet also keep a record so everyone can stay on the same page.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One of my favorite books is “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. We look at Nike today and see the brand dominance which is something that many people in the workplace have known since birth. His chronological story of how he entered a very competitive industry, with no capital and almost no support, is fascinating. The many points of failure along the way and his candid description of those bad decisions is an encouragement to every entrepreneur and a textbook before starting a business.
What is your favorite quote?
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot
- You can wear multiple hats as long as you treat each one like an employee that requires dedication, time and attention.
- To be a successful entrepreneur, you must invest in your people. Many immediately assume that ends with your employees, but it is even more important that you include those close to you.
- Ask for help. The busier you get the less time you have to think or concentrate on things so it is always beneficial to hear other points of view.
- Failure is part of entrepreneurship and is many times a byproduct of making a hard decision or taking a risk. Fail fast and fix fast.
Don White on Linkedin :
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.