Laura Troyani is the Founder and Principal of PlanBeyond, a boutique marketing research and strategy firm. With a background in data-driven marketing and business strategy, Laura built PlanBeyond under the principle that all major business decisions should be based on objective data and observations, and has grown the firm to serve a wide range of domestic and foreign clients including multinational corporations, regional utilities, and up-and-coming startups.
Laura comes with nearly twenty years experience driving marketing programs and building young brands into well-loved products. She started her career as a market researcher and brand marketer at consumer products brands Gorton’s Seafoods and A.T. Cross, and then transitioned into building and leading marketing teams at early-stage startups including Rivet & Sway and TINYpulse, both of which enjoyed later acquisitions.
Laura received her Bachelors from Harvard College and MBA from Harvard Business School. She is an accomplished martial artist, holding a black belt in karate and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. She resides in Seattle with her husband and English bulldog.
Where did the idea for PlanBeyond come from?
I worked for years at different start-ups, usually building and managing marketing teams, and kept finding myself going back to my market research roots. I kept finding ways to make sure that the data the companies had could be used to inform product development or be used to craft interesting stories for marketing and PR purposes.
Over time, it became what I was good at: using data to help drive the right business decisions and execute marketing campaigns that actually worked. I recognized that many organizations, both young and established, often lack some of these data-centric foundations, but could really benefit from them to help increase their chances of success. From that realization, PlanBeyond was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There really is no typical day. We have clients as far away as Luxembourg and as close as just a couple miles from our core headquarters. That means sometimes taking extremely early morning meetings and then pounding coffee the rest of the day to keep on going…or maybe being able to fit in a workout before starting the day.
Regardless of how the day starts, there are usually a couple check-ins, either by email or virtual meetings, with clients to give them project status updates, and also review research and strategy projects to make sure they’re moving forward.
The one thing that’s universal is that any meeting I hold has an agenda. I start off listing the things we want to accomplish or have answered during that meeting, check with anyone else on the call to confirm, and then start working down that list. It makes sure I get my action-items covered so that nothing is blocking a project.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start any client relationship by asking a question: If you could learn only one thing by the time we’re done together, what would it be?
The reality is there is never just one thing we have to learn or accomplish. But, it’s an intentionally open-ended question that starts getting a conversation going. It also does a great job of getting client team members to recognize where they might have different perspectives or needs, and starts the process of getting them to talk and consolidate their needs. It’s with these goals and business needs clarified that we can take a step back and ask, “How do we craft a research and strategy project that gets them the answers they need?”
What’s one trend that excites you?
Dynamic data visualization. In my early market research days we’d have to submit 100+ page reports with static charts and graphs. It was so boring to create, and there is no way anyone actually wanted to read through that long of a document.
I love tools like Google Data Studio that help bring the data we produce into a really dynamic format. It makes it really engaging to share results, and it increases the chances of our end clients actually working through the results and seeing unique patterns.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One of my biggest takeaways from working in-house at start-ups was that you have to be ready to say “no.” There are going to be tons of paths you can pursue, but you need to be ready and able to stay focused and say “no” to paths that just don’t make as much sense or will push you to be too resource constrained.
In our agency, we are frequently asked to take on projects that delve into tactical marketing like advertising or creating marketing campaigns. In spite of having the skills in-house to do this, I make sure we say “no.” It ensures that we prevent burnout from taking on too many projects and stay focused on the kind of work we love and energizes us.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Push others to tell you what is truly a priority versus a nice-to-have. Working in resource constrained environments means there’s always more work to be done than hours in the day. My younger self definitely took on too much, wanting to prove that I could do it all. The reality is that that approach was exhausting, and the assorted efforts didn’t bear out equally.
I would tell my younger self you can’t do it all. Work with your team to isolate the 3-4 key things that must get done and focus on that.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
People really struggle to put themselves in the shoes of others. We have a very big problem as humans getting behind the “why” of someone’s perspectives and attitudes. We know what they think…but we don’t know the reason behind it. This failure to suss out the “why” makes it extremely challenging to tackle difficult conversation, have fruitful negotiations, or even manage tough points in relationships. If we really worked at getting to the “why” we’d have much better interpersonal outcomes.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Exercise. You are going to be stressed out. If you’re not right now, you will be soon. Find some kind of physical outlet to relieve that stress. It can be martial arts, yoga, zumba, badminton, or anything else. Just find something that engages you, helps you work off that anxiety, and effectively takes your mind away from work for just a little bit.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I take the mindset that education is the key to closing deals. In some cases, we’re a new agency for a prospective client and they want peace of mind that we’re the right partner. In other cases, we’re working with a repeat client who is new to a particular type of work and unsure about its outcomes.
Making the time to educate clients about best practices or show them how research directly leads to strategic frameworks and business decisions isn’t necessarily focused on a particular project or contract. However, it helps give clients a lay of the land, lets them see how we conceptualize the space, and gives them a vision for what working with us looks like. That time spent on education produces the confidence they need to choose us for their projects.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Earlier in my start-up career, the transition from independent contributor to manager was tough. I assumed team members would have the drive and aptitude to figure out what to do and how to do it. That was not always the case. It led to really misaligned expectations, not to mention disappointment and frustration that certain things weren’t getting done.
Over time, I realized I needed to be extremely explicit about expectations. I started working with team members to outline quarterly goals that tied business outcomes to specific projects or tactics. It removed any doubt about what we were working towards or how we were going to get there.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A digital events company that can actually make day-long online events fun. Who knows how long COVID will limit travel. Tack on the fact that more and more companies are trying to control budgets and you get fewer and fewer people traveling for conferences and events.
Professionals still want to learn and engage with peers, but digital events so far feel really long and tedious. I’d love to see someone that can really nail the events experience in a virtual setting.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Potting soil, fall vegetable starters, and planters. I know I’m going to have a blast for the next couple of months watching the veggies grow and getting to harvest them.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
The accounting software Freshbooks. Like any accounting software, it’s a central place to create and track invoices, review and code expenses, and keep tabs on our P&L. However, unlike a lot of solutions, it’s incredibly user friendly and intuitive. I probably spent all of 10 minutes navigating the software before diving in and using it. Using the software means I get to minimize the time I spend on accounting and finance, which is a huge win in my book.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes. This book helps you get at the heart of what drives and compels people, and then shows you how to use that information to drive marketing, branding, and market differentiation.
What is your favorite quote?
I do Brazilian jiu jitsu and a saying we frequently use is, “eat the pain.” It reminds us that learning and training is hard, and sometimes you just have to power through to get a win.
- Let objective data guide your marketing and product development decisions.
- Create an agenda prior to any meeting to stay on track and make sure key inputs are gathered to drive your projects forward.
- Embrace saying “no” if it helps prevent burnout and/or keeps you focused on higher-priority tasks.
- Be explicit about goals and expectations. It will ensure everyone is on the same page about what you’re working towards and why.
- Don’t expect that customers will be onboard from the get-go. Spend time teaching and educating them so that they can see the path forward and get excited about working with you.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.