Fail often, but fail quickly and correctly.
Matt Buchanan is Co-Founder and VP of Sales at Service Direct, an online advertising and technology company based in Austin, TX. In his role, he helps the company understand how best to meet its clients’ needs and helps his team understand how to position their sales messaging accordingly. Matt’s wife doesn’t think he’s perfect, so you certainly shouldn’t. His experiences are his, and help shape him and his philosophy and his team. But he hopes you find value in learning about those experiences.
Where did the idea for Service Direct come from?
When we got started, we knew we wanted to be in the online marketing space and we felt like the adoption rate amongst home improvement contractors was lagging other verticals. But beyond that, we weren’t sure how to play in that space.
So we started calling home improvement contractors out of the phone book that had full or half page ads. We figured they were probably looking for ways to repurpose marketing budgets online and we started asking them what they liked and didn’t like from online marketing.
From those calls, we kept hearing the same thing over and over: ‘If you could just make my phone ring with a potential customer that wants to talk to me, I would pay you for that phone call.’ That made sense to us, so that’s what we built. And now, 14 years later, Service Direct is a 30-person company based in Austin, TX that works with over 750 premier home improvement contractors across North America to help their businesses thrive in an ever-changing marketplace.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I work remotely, so it’s a very interesting dynamic where I lead the sales team while working closely with other teams to drive top-line growth, but I’m not there to move from room to room seamlessly. That means I’m in Google Hangouts constantly to get productive facetime with my team and other stakeholders from marketing, product and customer support.
While it’s important to get facetime, I also try and limit my meeting time so that my team can focus on their job and I can accomplish the tasks I need to for that day. To that end, we’ve adopted Asana as our project management software and it’s been invaluable for me as a remote worker to know where projects stand and what I need to do in order to help move them forward.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It starts with talking to customers. The genesis of our company was based on asking questions. Ideas can be counterproductive if they aren’t quickly validated by (potential) customers. So, when we have ideas on how we can better help our clients thrive, we speak to as many people as possible to understand whether or not our idea has merit and is worth exploring a solution. So, it’s very much an iterative process involving key stakeholders within our company. But, in the ideation phase, it’s mostly driven by our client’s voice and their needs.
What’s one trend that excites you?
We see a lot of opportunities to bring more efficiencies to the local SMB space through AI/ML and data-driven insights. Most local businesses spend money on demand generation to get new customers without any clue as to how well they are doing with their marketing efforts or how they could drive better results from their marketing. That excites us because we believe we’re well-positioned to bring products to the market that can help these businesses grow more cost-effectively by bringing better insights and intelligent automations to their marketing efforts.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I make a conscious effort to find the positives in events that, at the moment, seem very bad. There are so many ups and downs as an entrepreneur, and being able to stay focused on the things you can control throughout it all is a learned skill as much as it is a mindset. Part of that habit is recognizing when an event is causing distress, accepting it for what it is and asking two things: 1.) What can I learn from this? And 2.) What can I do about it moving forward?
What advice would you give your younger self?
You can’t judge whether something is good or bad without the passing of time, so don’t get caught up in the moment. To piggyback off of my previous answer, there have been so many instances during our journey where things happened that felt horrible or insurmountable, but when looking back, they turned out to be incredible blessings. And, the opposite has also been true at times. I wish I could have told myself not to focus too much on the highs or lows and remain focused on the things in your control that day/week/month.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Customers aren’t always right. Sometimes they are very wrong. The idea that a customer is infallible or in some way superior is incredibly antiquated. It’s important to approach every customer interaction on equal footing, where both parties (hopefully) have a shared goal and can have an honest discussion around that goal(s).
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Fail, but fail quickly and correctly. I constantly make mistakes and tell my team they better be messing up daily. It’s the best way to learn. If you fail correctly, meaning you have the humility to look at the failure honestly and learn how you could have done it better, and quickly, meaning you put iterative processes in place to measure results, it accelerates your growth.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
As a bootstrapped company, we have to be hyper-focused on our bottomline. That has forced us to be very deliberative in terms of how we utilize our limited resources and has also forced us to make sure our business model is one that drives revenue. Our company didn’t really take off until the recension. When others in our space were laying people off and cutting costs, we were able to accelerate our growth. What must have felt like armageddon for others was simply business as usual for us.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the early days, we were able to land a large client that became the overwhelming majority of our revenue. Then they fired their marketing director, with whom we had our working relationship with, and the new marketing director canceled our service. At the time, it felt nearly catastrophic, but it forced us to focus on diversifying our client base. Making sure we don’t put all our eggs in one basket. It was a pivotal moment for us as a company that could have meant our demise, but we stayed focused on the things we could control and ended up in a much healthier place once the dust settled.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Somebody should make an app that utilizes Facetime so that I can visually walk an expert through a home improvement project or issue, and then I can show up to the hardware store and all of the things I need are waiting for me. I’m tired of taking pictures and drawings to the store and having some kid that has worked there for 6 days try and help me solve my problem, which inevitably results in a return trip (or 5) to the store.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’m an avid fly fisherman. All of my disposable income goes towards chasing fish around the globe in the most ineffective ways possible. While many may think spending money that way is absurd, it is what keeps me sane, and that is valuable in my book.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We spent the last year transitioning from about a dozen disparate tools to unifying everything within Hubspot. It’s been a transformative event for our company, and has really helped us get the data we need to make better decisions as well as the flexibility to automate a lot of the tasks that we were previously doing manually.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Undaunted Courage, a book about the Lewis & Clark expedition. Starting your own business can feel impossible, especially if you’ve never done it before. When I read a book like Undaunted Courage, I always find parallels between their journey and mine and it helps me put my challenges in perspective.
What is your favorite quote?
It’s one my Mother always told me, therefore I hated for the longest time: “It is what it is.” I find myself repeating that phrase often, because it helps me accept events as they are and then make a conscious effort to not dwell on them, whether I think they are good or bad. The question I then have to ask myself is what I’m going to do about it. Then take action.
- It all starts with talking to your customers.
- Find the good from the bad, and take action.
- Focus on the things that you can control.
- Fail often, but fail quickly and correctly.