Facing uncertainty can be challenging – being a business owner facing uncertainty is tougher.
Red Direction helps you [fast track and] grow your business – authentically, pragmatically, and resiliently.
Starting the conversation:
When to have the answer and when to seek the answer is a skill that we forever hone. Asking for help means considering the problem, what we want to have happen, and what it will take to make those goals happen. Knowing the answer comes from spending time assessing where your business was and is right now, and where it is going. Knowing when to get out of your own way and ask for help, and when facing the challenge and getting through … all these are up to you.
Listen in to hear about a three part framework for knowing when you have the answer, or when you are seeking help to discover the answer. The framework includes: 1) clarity and ability to communicate your mission consistently; 2) finding the weaknesses and right opportunities to prioritize; and 3) evaluate where your company was, where it is, and where it is going. Jess Dewell talks with Edwin Williams, Founder of Zen Hammer, about how to achieve your business goals.
Though growth is messy, you can still achieve your business goals. Knowing exactly what to give energy and resources to is constant work – and worth the effort. Edwin Williams, Founder of Zen Hammer, gives us the definition of entrepreneurship from his experiences and how he’s become a better person and business owner.
Host: Jess Dewell
Guests: Edwin Williams
What You Will Hear:
Growth is messy.
The definition of entrepreneurship from an entrepreneur.
The importance of having a plan to cover the roles and responsibilities of key people and processes.
Three reasons having a framework for where you are at will help you navigate uncertainty.
How regular assessment and reflection help you find and prioritize improving weaknesses and finding the right opportunities.
Staying on mission while finding and pursuing new revenue streams.
The flipside – and lessons learned – from plug-and-play business elements.
Additionally, for the Fast Track Your Business Today Uncut conversation:
Learning experiences (and failures) make you better.
When one fear is conquered, there will be a new one.
Understanding what your strengths are and how you show up in your company.
You can plan for the unexpected.
Accepting that you are going to mess up … as it is different than knowing you will mess up.
It is BOLD to keep your focus and provide solutions that the marketplace needs.
Welcome. This is the Bold Business Podcast. Your business has many directions it can travel. The one true direction of your company creates the journey for you to move toward a new, exciting level. We call this the Red Direction. In today's program, we delve into one idea. The idea will support you as you work on ever-present situations, including how to stay competitive in a changing market, how to break through the business plateau, and how to anticipate the changing expectations of your stakeholders. Jess Dewell is your guide. Jess brings you a 20-year track record of business excellence, where strategy and operations overlap. Your Path comes from consistently working from the special place. Your unique True North. Now, here's Jess.
Jess Dewell 00:51
Hello, and welcome to the Bold Business Podcast. This is our live stream edition. And you know, one of the things that I have liked about the evolution of what our podcast is, what it's about who we talk to, is to actually see results over time. And here's the deal, who is with us today? And would Williams is going to be here for the third time. And he and I met in person. And we haven't seen each other in person since and it was a long time ago. Now. The deal, though, is both of us like you are always working on how do you set the right goals? How do you achieve those right business goals? And how do you know that the business goals that you've set and are working toward are actually truly the right ones to be working on right now? That's what we're going to be talking about today. That's what we're going to be exploring today. It's been too long, Edwin, we're so glad you're back and you know, actually an enterprising entrepreneur, you are these days, aren't you? Yes. And I think that we share that natural curiosity, that appetite for information, distilling that information to deciding what to do is really something that defines who you are, and the way that you're showing up to being an entrepreneur today in this timely fashion, and in this timely way, and in this ever-changing world. And he's founded multiple companies, everybody, Edwin excels and building diverse relationships, and is an exceptionally talented at connecting people with ideas to people with resources, and to people with more ideas. Because all of that matters yet the follow through the facilitation, the development, the beneficial relationships are what drives success. So as a CEO, working with senators and other CEOs and programmers and contractors, sometimes all together who also brings this creativeness of board positions of organizing organizations, from chambers of Commerce's to small businesses to homebuilders, associations to national organizations. But you know this right, this is one of those things that well, let's just start here. Growth is clunky sometimes.
Edwin Williams 03:03
I'm in the arts grants program right now accelerator program in St. Louis, and the previous executive director Emily Loesch Bush, when I was doing my interview with her, she was always say startups are messy. That's what a lot of people don't understand. Nothing's clean, nothing's clear. It's a mess. Even when you become successful, apparently, it's a mess.
Jess Dewell 03:26
Well, so you bring a really good point to that now, having started successful companies having the journey that you are having, what is your experience with messy and how does that tend to show up for you?
Edwin Williams 03:37
Actually, I'm gonna jump back to our first podcast I was on. Yeah, cuz I found something I wrote, I think I told you then, and it's a great thing to bring up now. Where it was right after we called it quits with the previous business. And I wrote, The dictionary should say entrepreneurship is the art of frustration. And that an entrepreneur is someone who maintains their optimism through all them. Zen hammer has been up and down process from everything was going great, like 2019, we got into Atlanta Tech Village, we were flying and then 2020, the world came to a stop with COVID on this side now. It's Oh, we've got big demos with big organizations and companies coming up. We need to get these demos done. And there is no stopping the train.
Jess Dewell 04:28
There is no stopping the train. I think that's the quote of the we're gonna call it the century, there's no stopping the train. So you bring up some really good points that I think are always really messy. Because you're right. These are the parts that actually I think no matter what stage of business we're in, we still face the challenges from and when people changes happen, especially unexpected. And in your case for your company. The person that you lost I'm going to just Take a guess and say, This was basically the equivalent of your CTO. Yes. And so when you lose somebody that is pivotal, and that is holding the vision for what your product looks like, how do you pick up those pieces? Did you have a plan in place in case this person was sick, or ill or took a sabbatical? Who
Edwin Williams 05:20
in the beginning, no. So COVID Hit that just knocked his how we were in the middle of our second accelerator program. That's when COVID came in. And then we had the shutdown. And that's when everything went sideways. And we didn't have a plan, like, okay, by developer who had the CTO, basically the CTO role, leaves like, okay, I can program but I'm not a amazing programmer, and I couldn't do what he could. Basically, during that phase, it was like, as long as I survived the company, I survived, I still interact with the construction community, still used what we had to get feedback. And then when the developer was able to come back, we sort of went back into our role, scrambled, put something out, got a bunch of feedback. And then when he had to leave the second time, that one we saw coming. And so what we did, is that we built out, we did a scramble to build out a bunch of breadcrumbs in the in our app. That way, when another developer would come on board, I could walk them through the code and show them okay, here's what we're planning for this product, this phase of the product development, here's the steps that we're taking, we just sort of built a skeleton of the of the bigger app that way, the next developer could come in and fill that out. And then we had already built a product roadmap for the giant platform that we want to build in the next three to five years. And so that's how we did it, we didn't write down a giant piece of paper, we just build a skeleton on our platform, and they can see, okay, this is what you want to do. And then I can fill in the blanks and then come in and build it out.
You were listening to the Bold Business Podcast. We will return to the show soon. But first, I want to take a moment and give you a peek into what additional services and solutions you could access to Fast Track Your Business. This program was created to develop your capacity on demand by sharing insights, tips, as well as lessons learned by business leaders, unedited and uncut. And we don't just stop there. There are three additional benefits to help you reach your growth goals. You will also have unlimited access to one, hearing tips and insights to develop yourself as a leader to get better results more often. Two, experiencing viewpoints from many different business leaders. Three, receiving frameworks to build core competencies and to more effectively focus on business growth and leadership. Altogether, The Fast Track Your Business program will allow you to face uncertainty, anytime, anywhere. You can access what will become your most versatile tool in your toolkit by going to FastTrackYou BusinessToday.com. Now back to Jess.
Jess Dewell 08:13
One of the things that I'm taking away from what your experiences is that this is relatable regardless of the key person, having those bread crumbs, they may not look the same as they do in code, and they would not. However, there are some key takeaways that Edwin that I think are worth sharing here. And you'll have to tell me how this is helping you. And if there are more or if you disagree with me even. The first is the fact that when you have something like breadcrumbs, it creates the framework for with communication of the mission can occur.
Edwin Williams 08:46
So we did that combination with the code breadcrumbs and what we had in Trello.
Jess Dewell 08:51
Yeah, okay, boards. I'm a fan. I'm a fan of anything like Trello. Yeah.
Edwin Williams 08:59
When our current developer came in, it was easy to get him to see where we were going. He could see the feedback that we'd gotten. He could see how the code was written in what we were trying to do before. And actually, he came in and made some changes that he felt were appropriate. And that's worked out pretty well. But the overall idea, it's like, okay, he's not coming in and blind, he can come in and see, okay, here's what the Trello says, here's the breadcrumbs and the code, I see what they were trying to do. And that basically gave us a parameter to use to build out what we're now demoing to get contracts with.
Jess Dewell 09:45
The next piece, I think of this is the fact that when there is some sort of structure, new ideas, new people in your case, can be put into the structure to really test The thought behind it and find opportunities and find weaknesses.
Edwin Williams 10:05
What do you say find that, again, back to startups being messy. We had a lot of cleanup to do on the code, which was a lot more than we anticipated. But cleaning up the back end of the code took a lot longer than we planned.
Jess Dewell 10:23
Well, and it always does. And I think that's true for anybody who has a system who has been doing certain things, and somebody new comes in, and they don't know the system. And I do find this, especially with code, and key people is that the uniqueness with which designs are made and things are executed, aren't always readily understood by somebody else, because the experience because the vision, understanding of the goals is different. And that brings me to the third thing that came up as you were describing all of this, which let's see how you feel about this one, which is, even though we have a plan, we still have to evaluate the now.
Edwin Williams 11:01
Yes. Yeah, that happens every week.
Jess Dewell 11:06
Right? Right. So tell me about that. It happens every week. What does that actually look like?
Edwin Williams 11:12
I'll give you a good example. We have sold since now we're at the point where I'm comfortable that we can deliver our product and start getting paid users. I've been going and talking to not just my target market. But for those who don't know, the hammer is a mobile app for the small trades to help them manage their business and do invoicing and get paid. And so we talked to small GCS and small trades when developing our product. And I'm a part of the Home Builders Association, and was very involved in like that association have been very involved in developing our app. And then we started talking to people further upmarket, all of a sudden, they're like, Hey, you guys are capturing these data points? And we were like, yes. And they're like, those data points, is there a way for us to like, get that information, just portal, it's like, well, we have this little skeleton of a feature over here, that we're going to do next year, which will solve your need, and kind of like, we want that now. So you're gonna pay us for that. And then kind of like, we would pay you for that. And so now we're like shifting to move a product up.
Jess Dewell 12:25
Oh, my gosh, well, so here's the thing, though, about that is not only that as the now and it is part of the messy part. The other thing that happens is, you are talking about this flip side to the low barrier of entry into the marketplace, aren't ya? Meaning I don't have to worry about working with a bank to be able to do credit cards, I can plug and play this piece myself. I don't need a project manager. I've got Trello for the time being right, whatever those are, and then you're describing what actually truly happens. And everybody's surprised about it whenever it happens. And by the way, I get surprised when this stuff happens too. Don't get me wrong, because it's like, well, that's not in the plan. Come on now. yet. I want to put a pin in that. And I'll come back to that. Because here's my question Edwin, and Scott, I might need your help with that is how do we weather those unexpected things that actually could make our businesses better? That's the question. But before we get that question, Scott
Scott Scowcroft 13:23
Just happens to be a comment from one of the viewers. Who would you like me to put it up on stream?
Jess Dewell 13:27
Let's do it.
Scott Scowcroft 13:28
And you can go ahead and read it for those who are listening on the podcast.
Jess Dewell 13:33
All right. So everybody, here's the question from Pam, Hi, Pam Baer away. Here's some interesting details from someone in the customer side of the equation who say, might want to renovate their kitchen. Oh, so here you go. You have the other side. Can, can Pam use this to renovate her? Can she use your app to connect with somebody to renovate her kitchen?
Edwin Williams 13:54
No. So we don't help people find contractors anymore? I kind of ran as far away from that as possible.
Jess Dewell 14:01
But was there a particular reason?
Edwin Williams 14:03
So yeah, I'll actually I'll talk about that really quick. Yeah, let marketplaces and construction have been this unicorn industry has been chasing for some time. After we call it quits. I found about I'd say there been seven or eight attempts at building a marketplace for construction, residential construction. biggest issue were expectations on both sides. You have the homeowners on one side you have the contractors on the other. The timescales that most homeowners wanted stuff done did not manage the timescale in which the contractors can get to the product to do the project. That caused a lot of friction. And it was something I saw in a lot of the other marketplaces who call it quits as well, particularly with a one in Atlanta. He decided to focus only on the homes, and I decided to focus only on the contractors. So it's interesting some people just called it quits, but the marketplace model it's a tough model and, and the industry.
Jess Dewell 15:01
So let's talk about that in relationship to the skills that you bring to the table and what you had built your team to be. It turned out it was not a match. Right? So that's one of the reasons it was a unicorn is. Well, we got to figure that out. But that's not our unicorn to chase. Yes. Which I think is really important to recognize Edwin and I love that you bring it up. And so good luck, Pam, finding somebody that can do that for you. That's what I took away because it's not Zen hammer right now. No. But it does sound like where you are moving into, though. You found within your marketplace, another revenue stream that actually continues to move you closer to your original mission?
Edwin Williams 15:47
Yeah, actually, that's true.
Jess Dewell 15:49
When they said that, and I heard you said, Well, yeah, we reprioritize that. And we see that there's value there. How long did it take you to realize, oh, my gosh, this is an opportunity. And it keeps us on track.
Edwin Williams 16:01
We weren't really the ones who realized it. It was yeah, it was our contractors. And our advisors who realized it. If you remember from our first conversation, we were on the verge is calling it quits and walking away from it. I do. And the contractors were like way, don't do it. Like don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. So they were the ones who realized that we had something that we could focus on and build. And we have actually, the amount of information we have gathered since then, has been a lot. The frustrating part I will say is like when I'm pitching to contractors, at the stage that we are into, like, ooh, we want this, can we sign up now. I'm like, it's the beta, they give me a couple months, and it'd be good to go. Come right back, you are a GC and they've like, I've got 20 guys who need that yesterday. That's been like the frustrating part knowing that people want your product, but you yourself aren't quite comfortable knowing that you can give them a product that they need. Because like when you're doing b2b, you want the product to deliver so that they don't have to waste time and money as well. It's like you, they'll test it for you as long as it doesn't interfere with them making money or losing time. And so it's like, you have to get through those checkmarks. And then you're like, Okay, here we are, the product will lose your time or lose your money that will actually improve both. And we here's what we asked him return, giving you the product for the feedback while we do this beta paid beta on your site.
Jess Dewell 17:32
I love you just gave all of your advisors credit for helping you see something you couldn't see yourself. When did you bring on a business advisors? And what are the top two to three things that they have done for you to help you be successful?
Edwin Williams 17:47
So I don't have a formal advisors yet. Or they're all informal, who have gone to you and say, Hey, can you help me my business, they ranged from friends to people I've identified as experts in their field. And so the top things that I look for, like for one of my advisors, he's a serial entrepreneur, who's been now seven startups has a lot of experience in terms of understanding the startup process, product validation, that type of thing. My other advisor, she's in the construction industry, knows all the codes and knows all the processes. What I look for is like when you have an advisor, you want them to know their specific industries, several people in construction that I go to on a regular basis, several people in entrepreneurship go to on a regular basis. Their expertise allows them to see things that you don't see their experiences, allow them to see things you don't see, I look for people who are willing to help. I was given advice by a startup in Atlanta, paid advisors aren't as good as unpaid advisors, because unpaid advisors really want to help you. And there's no expectation quote unquote, bro. Yeah, he advised me on getting all my advisors being unpaid. Yeah, his company is worth over 300 million.
Jess Dewell 19:03
So I guess he's going well, he's doing well. And I find that fascinating because you know, I'm one of those paid people. Well, that's interesting. And now what I was expecting, I think you make a very good point, as does this person, it is hard to find a consultant or an advisor that truly will help develop what needs to be helped with. And so if there is no deliverable, or it is just somebody who shows up to a meeting, it can be a little difficult to get that information. So what I would say is his experience, I would totally trust that that is that person's experience, and he is successful regardless of that. And the other thing is, it's lonely at the top and not everybody can listen to the way that it is lonely at the top plus, the uncertainty and the fear that goes along with some of those decisions that you make as a senior executive in an organization. It's hard to find somewhere He who was unpaid and has actually been there? Yes, I'll just add to that point, because by the way, I have paid and unpaid advisors to, and I can relate to his experience, which is one of the reasons that I actually started Red Direction was because I was like, somebody's got to do this better. Somebody's actually got to do this.
Edwin Williams 20:18
What am I advisors? Now? I'll ask him a question. And he'll be like, Well, why are you doing this, you should do XYZ. Don't put this in the contract, you need to get this out. And I'm saying,
Jess Dewell 20:28
that's what matters when you know what you're looking for. And you can go to that person that it's fantastic. Yeah, absolutely.
Edwin Williams 20:35
I love the hard things, too, when you're starting off as an entrepreneur, you don't have that experience, to figure out who a good advisor is, and who isn't.
Jess Dewell 20:42
Right, you get better over time. And so that's where that network comes from. And that's from people's personal experiences. And I will tell you, I go through phases where I'm like, I'm ready for a business coach again, and I'm like, No, I actually need to actually need to know what I want, I need to have some sort of a plan. And then whether I pay somebody, or I know somebody with the skill set to be able to help me find that poke holes in this, then I'm ready. I think that's really key for everything. And I actually think unpaid advisors bring an element of honing that skill better than when we think we're paying somebody for something. And we don't necessarily know, but they can't pull it out of us. So that is a deficiency of consultants, of the type of consultant. And so we have to take ownership and be accountable for our actions. And that's one of the things I'm hearing you say, which means when I do ask, I get amazing feedback.
Edwin Williams 21:31
And also, I'll say that your customers are also your best advisors. Yes, they're the ones that you should be listening to. And so they're the ones telling you, hey, you should do this. You should not do that. This sucks. We like that.
Jess Dewell 21:45
Okay, so here's the deal. The question that we're going to answer next is about that flip side of the plug-and-play the low barrier to entry, knowing that you have a good idea, understanding the customer and the market positioning, all of those things. What that flip side is that when those things happen, they feel like rocks in our shoes, yet, they make our companies better. But before we do that, just a quick reminder that the Bold Business Podcast can be followed from your preferred listening platform, just go to Red direction.com Find it search for us or actually click the links over there that would be great and get following so that you can have this new content and conversations like Edwin's delivered directly to you as they are released, which is typically Thursdays. And now here's the other thing too, is that for those of you listening live, you get to hear the whole conversation for those of you who are already in our feed and you are having this delivered to you for free. Guess what? This is the end of our road and you won't get to hear what Edwin's answer is about how his company got better from those cool experiences. But you can visit Fast Track Your Business today.com And check out the program that we offer to help you get the right information at the right time to help you grow as a leader to have the confidence that you need as a leader, and most importantly, grow the business the way you want to and achieve the goals that you have set with the way that you do your work. Fast Track Your Business today.
Thank you for tuning in and listening to the Bold Business Podcast. If you have learned something from this show that will help you in your business right now. Consider what additional impact you can get by subscribing to the Fast Track Your Business program. You owe it to your business to seek out new ways to achieve more while building a resilient and profitable business. Subscribe now. Visit Fast Track Your Business today.com Special thanks to The SCOTT Treatment for technical production.