[quote style=”boxed”]Look for ways you can provide value to everyone.[/quote]
Mike Deck is the CEO of EchoVantage, a company that delivers a new approach to marketing analytics. Mike has several years of experience in software development and lifecycle management, working as a lead consultant for Fortune 500 companies in both technical and business analysis roles. He most recently worked as the Lead Technical Architect at SearchDex™, managing large-scale Web solutions for e-retailers. Mike was instrumental in the birth of the EchoVantage platform, contributing to both the technical and business development.
Where did the idea for EchoVantage come from?
My co-founder and I used to work for an SEO and digital marketing firm as developers. We found that many of our clients had questions about their customers’ behavior online that they couldn’t answer using their existing analytics packages, requiring a different paradigm when it came to processing and analyzing the data. We had a lot of success doing one-off projects to answer specific questions for our clients, but those projects took a long time and were very costly. We knew we could develop a platform that would make it easier, faster, and cheaper to answer questions that give marketers meaningful insight into what’s driving customer behavior on their sites.
What is your business model?
We sell subscriptions to our hosted analytics platform for a monthly fee, as well as do one-time consulting projects and data quality audits for clients who have other analytics tools already installed.
What does your typical day look like?
The only parts of my day that are typical right now are the fact that my dog wakes me up at 5:30 a.m. and I go work out at noon. Other than that, every day presents a new challenge, whether it’s helping my co-founder solve technical problems, meeting with clients, working on marketing strategies, or dealing with banks, lawyers, or investors.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For me, it starts with finding the right people to work with. Ideas can’t grow in a vacuum, so finding the right team is an absolute prerequisite for me. After that, I think you just have to run full steam ahead until you figure out things aren’t working, tear it all down, and go through the process again. I don’t think going from an idea or concept to something tangible is ever a straight path. You have to pursue a solution with complete conviction and passion, but then be willing to throw it all away and start over. The key isn’t in learning how not to fail, but rather in learning how to fail as fast as possible. You might not end up bringing to life the first idea you had, but where you end up will be 10 times better than where you wanted to go in the first place.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Information continually gets easier to share. This isn’t a new trend; it’s been happening since the dawn of history, but the speed at which innovation is occurring in this space is constantly increasing. I sent my first email about two decades ago. Now, I can video chat with a friend on the other side of the world. It’s exciting to think about what will be possible in another decade or two.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Honestly, I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had pretty good jobs throughout my whole career. I did work as a consultant for a while and had a few less-than-ideal projects. Probably the worst was when I was part of the project management team for a very large development project; we were building a loan processing system that was going to be used by two different companies. By the time I started on the project, they had already spent most of the budget doing requirements analysis and architectural design, most of which was eventually scrapped. The project went way over budget and missed every deadline.
There were a ton of lessons to be learned from that, but I think the biggest was that every project needs a clear vision. We had two clients who wanted something similar, but both had a different vision of what the end solution should be. On top of that, a whole team of business analysts and architects had their own ideas about how things should work that didn’t really square with either of the clients’ models.
As a result of that, I’m now very conscious of making sure we, as a company, have a single shared vision of where we’re headed. We’re not afraid to change that vision as we learn new things — sometimes, it changes often — but we make sure we’re never trying to serve two masters. We pick one thing and recognize that our products and services aren’t going to be right for everyone.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would spend less time in the beginning trying to convince everyone that our idea was good and more time finding people to tell me what was wrong with it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Look for ways you can provide value to everyone. Sometimes, it’s as small as making an introduction to another contact you think could help; other times, it might blossom into an entirely new product or service.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Seek out customers who are willing to partner with you to improve your product. Getting feedback from real customers is invaluable, and when you show them you’re really listening and delivering on what they ask for, doors start opening.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Person-to-person asynchronous secure messaging seems to be an area of opportunity. I’m always shocked by the number of people who ask for — and send — sensitive information over email, which is decidedly unsecure. There are a lot of solutions out there now, but they all rely on a centralized authority with access to the cleartext message. If someone could implement a system that’s as easy to use as email, but is based on very well-established asymmetric cryptography principles and a web of trust paradigm, I’d definitely be willing to pay for it. Obviously, that kind of service relies heavily on network effect and would need a very high adoption rate to be successful, but I think it would be wildly valuable to solve those problems.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d get rid of — or drastically reform — software patents and most of the intellectual property laws on the books. I think you have to attack this problem on two fronts. One, people need to be educated about the historical context of our existing laws and why they were originally put in place, as well as why many of those reasons don’t apply in our modern economy. Two, you have to reduce the influence the people who profit wildly from the existing structure have on politicians. I think there are people doing good work on the first one, but I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to fix the second.
Tell us something about you that very few people know.
I love to cook. If it were possible to run a successful restaurant without working nights and weekends, I’d have probably gone to culinary school.
What are your three favorite online tools, software, or resources and what do you love about them?
Amazon Web Services: As a growing company, offering software as a service AWS is a godsend. It makes it easy to scale up and down quickly, without the large capital outlay we would have needed in order to use a traditional collocated data center.
Stack Exchange: This is the only place on the Internet where I feel confident I can ask a question on just about any topic and get timely, helpful answers every time.
99designs: This was great for getting a logo designed quickly and cheaply.
What is the one book you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt. It’s a book about the Theory of Constraints, presented in novel form. As a novel, it’s absolutely terrible, but it has a lot of great examples of applications of the Theory of Constraints and lean principles. The book focuses on traditional manufacturing, but it’s not hard to start seeing how those principles can be applied to other aspects of business.
List three experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur and why?
Joel Spolsky: My co-founder and I always joke about how we agree with almost nothing Joel says, but he’s great for sparking conversations about how we want to run our software company.
Seth Godin: As someone who doesn’t come from a marketing background, the articles on Seth’s site are a great way to get me into the mindset of a marketer, which is important when running a small business.
Malcolm Gladwell: All of his books and articles are great for gaining new perspective and exposing yourself to new ideas.
What did you have for breakfast?
I just had a protein shake today, but on the weekends, I love making homemade biscuits and gravy.
EchoVantage on Twitter: @EchoVantage
Michael Deck on Twitter: @mikedeck
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