Jim Barnish

Co-Founder of Orchid Black

Simply put, Jim is OBSESSED with helping founders grow their businesses, and realize massive increases in the value of their business when it comes time to exit. Jim has been obsessed with building businesses ever since he was “recruited” to work in his family business at the ripe young age of 15.

From his start in the family business until today, Jim spent the last two decades working as an entrepreneur, operator, venture capitalist and consultant. Throughout these years, he had an incredible amount of hard work and failure – failed revenue enhancement, poor cost optimization, lack of product-market – essentially a lot of wasted capital and time.

No matter the role he had in/on the business, all of the growth stage tech companies Jim worked alongside experienced the same growth/value obstacles, which boiled down to the 5 pillars of growth – Strategy, Talent, Product, Revenue, Operations. All of them seemed to hit an inflection point, and all of them required outside expertise to navigate this inflection point.

Eventually, Jim navigated his way through 50+ transactions as an operator/investor and $1B+ shareholder value. Ultimately, he felt like there needed to be a better way to reach these successes without all failures along the way, and spent his recent years identifying/documenting a path to make SaaS companies worth so much more by identifying levers to unlock growth and value in tech businesses.

Jim often states that he will be helping founder-led tech companies in this capacity for the rest of his life!

Where did the idea for Orchid Black come from?

Our strategic rebrand – to Orchid Black – is perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through as a business owner. And something that has added a ton of value to our business.

If you’re familiar with orchids, you know they are incredibly difficult to take care of… the pruning… the nurturing… the tender, love and care that’s needed for them to survive… in fact, most of them don’t survive due to just how hard they are to grow.

All of a sudden orchids sound a lot like business don’t they… Here’s the good news.

Just like any prized exotic orchid, an exceptional company’s true value emerges from expert pruning and care.

At Orchid Black, we are those growth experts – tending to our clients and founders, cultivating growth – and making their businesses worth a whole lot more on the path to exit.

Black orchids happen to be the most rare and exclusive of all orchids (just like the companies we select for our Growth Program), and we only work with B2B tech companies that are “in the black” (profitable).

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

As any entrepreneur can attest, every day looks different from a work perspective depending on the stage of the company and the team around you. However, my near-term focus has been on building out the brand through thought leadership and driving building relationships with both clients and partners. I have been freed up to do this “fun part of the job” in large part to the partners I have and the team we’ve built.

Outside of work, I prioritize the following each day:
– Dinner with my fiancé
– Working out (even if it’s only 15-minutes)
– Quiet “me time” where I disconnect from everything going on

How do you bring ideas to life?

As Nike immortalized, “Just Do It.” The hardest step is always the first step.

The biggest hurdle in “ideation” for any entrepreneur to overcome is the willingness to fail – and you can’t fail if you don’t start.

On a more tactical level, knowing yourself is a paramount first. Know your strengths, and play to those; know your weaknesses/gaps, and fill those with the team around you.

What’s one trend that excites you?

If one good thing came of COVID, it was the acceleration of the remote workforce. Since Orchid Black’s inception (2018), we’ve built a remote-first culture because we know how much people value flexibility. So while it was “forced”, it’s good to see so many companies embrace the change towards a much more flexible, remote workforce.

Also, Web 3.0 DeFi and the Metaverse – trends correlated to blockchain and community advancement.

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

This is a two-part answer that stays on the same theme of eliminating distractions:
– Timebox your day, ideally into larger chunks of “heads down work” and time allocated towards meetings and day-to-day work
– A novel concept in today’s age, but leave your cellphone in the other room

What advice would you give your younger self?

– Listen more, talk less (pause before responding to someone).
– Work hard, but don’t forget the people behind why you’re working so hard (i.e., people in your life > work).
– Get in the habit of exercising daily and don’t stop 🙂

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

“It’s not a risk unless you can lose the fight.” – Matthew McConnaughey
People today want the world, and they want to “be entrepreneurs”, but they want it without the risk and perseverance needed. It doesn’t work like that. People don’t want to hear it, but 90% of software companies fail. And you MIGHT NOT EVEN DO ANYTHING WRONG. This is the toughest part to accept – that you do things the right way, but it could still end in failure. Sometimes the chips just don’t fall your way, and you have to accept that, and move on.

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

Discipline myself. Starting a new habit or learning a new skill is always tough in the beginning. Think about learning an instrument, studying a particular topic or starting a new exercise routine – it’s tough.

But I promise you this; 6 months down the road you will be happy that you maintained that discipline because of the growth it caused.

“What starts as a discipline, will eventually become desire, and then turn into a delight.”

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

Having a strategic plan has never been more important and it’s something we’ve focused on in both Orchid Black and our clients’ businesses. With flux in the economy, uncertainty in government/regulation, and a faster moving world than ever before, setting a plan with purpose, goals, and timelines is critical. Equally important is how you get it done.

Pairing annual operational planning to support a comprehensive strategic plan is the formula for success. All strategic planning models or approaches have common elements: objectives or goals, actions, and results or measures. Each of these models can be a valuable framework for your strategic planning. No matter what approach is utilized, however, you have to consider resource capacity. Where you can lose your way is when ‘ambitions’ get out of hand and achieving your strategic goals becomes unattainable due to lack of resource capacity.

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

Several years back, I was operating a B2B technology company, but I didn’t understand why my sales team wasn’t hitting industry standards.

Our messaging and positioning was on point and validation, and our inbound marketing engine was on fire, but my sales team was not coming anywhere near their outbound prospecting targets, and inbound was not anywhere near as predictable as I would have liked it to be.

My CRO assured me that our sellers should do their own prospecting and bring in their own leads, but the more I looked to outside expertise, the less that made sense:
– They are compensation for higher value activities
– They are typically terrible at prospecting
– Even if they prospect well, once they generate pipeline, they become too busy to prospect effectively

I worked with my CRO to bring in external expertise, which led to the creation of a BDR (Business Development Rep), sometimes called SDR or Sales Dev Rep, program to drive the most predictable revenue the company had ever seen:
– Year 1 was a building year. We learned a lot and broke even on our resources.
– Year 2 we 3x’d revenue from the same team, achieving a 4:1 CAC to LTV ratio
– Year 3, we 3x’d revenue again now adding in additional resources to allow the program to scale

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

A business idea can be equated with a problem, as problem-solving is fundamentally what businesses do at the end of the day.

One major problem that is pervasive in the US right now is the exorbitant cost of higher education, with diminishing returns for its buyers (i.e., students). If you can minorly disrupt a niche of the ~$14B higher-ed industry, you will have a very successful company.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

*Averages out how many months of Netflix $100 gets* I’m kidding (although Netflix remains a steal for what they could be getting).

This will be somewhat counter-culture to the times we’re in, but a tank of gas for ~$50 is something I’m appreciative of. When I see my car at “Full”, I see freedom. Knowing that $50 could get me 500+ miles across the country while passing through places that are completely different ways of life gives me a sense of freedom.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Miro.com is a whiteboarding visualization tool that would have been a good candidate for the question above (under $10/month) as well.

My team and I use Miro for a variety of purposes, but the most prevalent is to create mind maps – which are integral to our strategic planning process. It allows us to visualize objectives and goals at a high-level and collaborate amongst ourselves and clients we’re working with. Incredibly simple to use and it provides a ton of value!

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

I was tempted to make an extensive list, but if I had to choose just one I’m going to go with one of the classics: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

While an older book, it is by no means dated. The lessons discussed throughout it are as relevant today as when they were originally published in 1936. The reason is because it’s about a business topic that never goes out of style – how to relate to people and make the most of your relationships. While there are other books that leverage principles of this (most 21st century sales books come to mind), at its core it’s simply about listening to, learning from and building relationships with others.

What is your favorite quote?

“When there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18

I’ve built my life and company on this bible verse. To be successful in anything you do, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s what a vision is – an end goal that you’re working towards; something that you can see (mentally) and understand what that future state looks like. A vision will guide the way; without this, you are wandering aimlessly. A metaphor for both life and business.

Key Learnings:

  • Be purposeful in all that you do, both business and personal life – this is a small thing that builds momentum over time to get you to places you never thought you’d be.
  • Listen more, talk less.
  • Failure is a synonym of growth, as long as you learn from it.