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UNCHARTED: Cash Flow Metrics with Andrew Podner

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Starting the conversation:

Knowing the acceptable range of key cash flow metrics for business health and longevity allows you to pick a path and stay on that course into an unknown future.

Host: Jess Dewell

Guest: Andrew Podner


This is Uncharted, a series of candid conversations about facing uncertainty. When we are called upon to be courageous the strength of our leadership is tested. Red Direction has developed a library of resources to help you stay aligned and in particular to develop your True North. Now, here’s Jess.

Jess Dewell 0:29
I am glad to be back with you in this Uncharted series today. Andrew Potter, who is joining me focuses on providing customers with technology, support and solutions using a business-first approach with a decade of executive experience in supply chain technology and distribution. He’s bringing solutions that drive business performance to companies like yours. Now I have to tell you, I have known Andy now for is it been like almost two years now, Andy?

Andrew Podner 0:57
Thank you. It’s actually been a little bit more Yeah.

Jess Dewell 1:00
We have just passed that mark, I have to admit, we have just passed that mark. And when I met you, you were not on the path you are on now.

Andrew Podner 1:09
Definitely not.

Jess Dewell 1:10
No, you were not you were like, I think I want to do this thing and build this business. And talk to me.

Andrew Podner 1:19
Well, you know, I was an idea, right? I was, I was at a convention center around the space that we’re in, and I got into a conversation with, with some folks and I just, I had always felt there was a need for, I don’t know, sort of a high service, nontraditional approach to technology consulting. I’ve been through several consulting engagements over the last several years and, and it’s always like, Here’s 25 pages and a bill for 30 grand, like, well, but I can’t really do anything with that. So we kind of had this idea that we would endeavor to just do things and you know, not talk about doing something, say, Hey, this is our idea. This is how we think we can make your business better. And we have the horsepower to actually bring it to life. And so that’s kind of been our that’s what we call our business first approach, right? It’s it’s saying, hey, let’s focus on the business. Now let’s go build some technology that fills that void.

Jess Dewell 2:22
Yep. Because in some sense, everybody’s business issues are the same. Right? They all have certain things that are in common throughout the business yet the way that the business has approached those things is incredibly different.

Andrew Podner 2:36
Yeah, absolutely. We’re, we’re predominantly work around distribution, industrial distributors. So manufacturing, and distribution businesses all functionally are basically the same. You buy stuff you warehouse stuff, you sell stuff you ship stuff out. That’s the cycle. But every person that we work with every leader They all look at their businesses very differently from each other, what gives them a competitive advantage, what makes them better than, than their competitor or whatever. And so it’s it’s trying to extract that vision from them and put something in front of them that that aligns with that. So they can actually, you know, feel like their technology is aligned with their vision of their business.

Jess Dewell 3:23
Yeah. And most of your clients have international partners or vendors or suppliers.

Andrew Podner 3:30
So, yeah, a lot of them do. And in fact, we’ve, that’s been a huge topic as of late as I’m sure you could imagine with everything going on on this little blue planet of ours.

Jess Dewell 3:42
Yeah, I know. It does seem pretty small right now. This definitely doesn’t. It’s the smallest I have ever felt our planet to be. All right, I have a bucket list. So long, and then I’m like, I’m like in the shape of my office. Just fine. Right now just fine. Yeah, well, so when you know, when we’ve got those things in our business where we are working with, either directly with or are in some capacity, these international business points. And we’re in a place where everybody is doing something different. How do we respond to this global crisis? It’s creating, not even fear in my mind, it’s panic at this point. Are you experiencing that as well?

Andrew Podner 4:31
Personally or just…

Jess Dewell 4:33
In general with this within this space that you’re in and your clients.

Andrew Podner 4:37
Well, I was gonna answer yes to both. I mean…

Jess Dewell 4:40
I was going to make it easy first before we get to…

Andrew Podner 4:42
No, no, no, I mean, that’s fine. I look. So there are so many variables in the equation right now. Nothing is taking place in a vacuum right. So so I’ll give you a great example. Today we’re working with a client They have an extremely elongated supply chain, it’s five months whatever decision you make today, you don’t see the results of that five months from now, which means everything that’s going to happen in their supply chain that course was set and baked in months ago before any of this ever started. So now what now? Right and, and everybody feels like there’s going to be a downturn or recessionary effect. And I think what makes it really weird is it’s not a general downturn. Okay. We work with people in medical there. You can imagine what that’s like right now they have the opposite problem. But we work with people in industrial and they’re having an issue where they’re where we’ve seen businesses in a matter of two weeks, their business drop off 34 to 50%. And that’s, you know, we’re not even working with like restaurants or service or anything like that. I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like right now because that’s just going from 100 to zero. And so I think A big part of the challenge is trying to say yes, we have intuition. We have emotions about our business and, and all of those kinds of things. But we’ve got to find some data that we can marry up with these anecdotes and intuitive feelings and things like that and say, Okay, look, we don’t really know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to have to have a plan and pick a path. And so that’s a lot of what we’re trying to spend time doing. And so the exercise we went through today was we, we had enough data to be able to model exactly what happened during the 2009-2010 recession. We felt like this is going to be about half the length. And we hope only about half the depth. So what does that look like? But it’s going to have a much faster drop. Yeah, and then it’s not really gonna to be a historical you, it’s gonna have this kind of weird shape to it.

Jess Dewell 7:04
And so we all jumped off a cliff.

Andrew Podner 7:05
Yeah, yeah. And then again, you have to try to climb up at an angle, right? So. So you know, we build these different models, and we put them all in line graphs and set them in front of the client and say, Okay, look, we now let’s take a marker and draw a line through where we think it’s going to be, because we have to go back and reevaluate all your forecasts and get this plugged in so that we’re not overstocking inventory, and we’re protecting cash flow and all this good stuff. So these are things that you just, you know, you almost making them up as you go, right? There’s not really a roadmap for a lot of this stuff. So in some sense, in some instances, it’s panic is some instance it’s very somber. I’ve had personally the entire range of emotions, right? I mean…

Jess Dewell 7:51
Yeah, you have.

Andrew Podner 7:52
Denial, anger, fear all of it. And at some point, you just decide you’re not gonna be a victim anymore and you just want to move forward. That’s what we’ve just tried to focus on is what the task is in front of.

Jess Dewell 8:04
Now your anything that you do is not five months long, you can put it in place and see it pretty quickly in your business today.

Andrew Podner 8:13
We can you know, the challenge for us we can now the challenge for a lot of our customers with long supply changes, then it’s not just them right now we have to get into their suppliers head and say, Okay, look, all this stuff that we said, hey, go do this for the next five months. We got to rewire all of it and some suppliers are really good about that and some, some are not great. And that’s just there’s a lot of reasons for that, you know, there it’s not there’s a supply chain behind the supply chain. Right. So yeah, yeah, they’re gonna manufacture this part in China. But they got to procure the steel to make that part out of in advance and once they are locked in, they’ve spent the cash on that. They gotta make the partnership it they really can’t afford to just sit on it. So, you know, again, nothing happens in a vacuum. And so you’ve got to really be able to play it all the way forward. And in a lot of cases, we’re not trying to affect what’s going to happen in the next two or three months. We’re just trying to say, Well, we know we’re going to have a bubble of stuff. Let’s not make it any worse. You know.

Jess Dewell 9:20
We were reviewing your bio at the beginning. And you know what I forgot to tell everybody when I actually read it out loud, that you’re the CEO and founder of Atlas Precision Consulting.

Andrew Podner 9:32
Well, it’s a small detail.

Jess Dewell 9:34
It’s a small detail, but I’m going to put it right here, right. Put it right here. And you’re watching, you know, watching your clients go through this and understanding that. I mean, I can’t imagine I thought I thought I had a long process. I can’t imagine five months of knowing that they are making a plan and sticking to it not having any idea what’s going to have happen almost half a year from now. Now, and so being able to have data that you’re bringing Being able to have information that you’re able to show them gives them potentially more information to work with. Am I correct in that so that they have a little bit better idea of where they might be pointed?

Andrew Podner 10:14
Yeah, I mean, and that’s, that’s a lot of what, what we’re trying to do right now I don’t, I am not an economist and I am not an expert by any means. I gather as much information as I can, from economists that I trust, and I yeah, buy into the things that I think are middle of the road and sensible. As I tell people, we’re not going to be right, we will either be wrong or lucky, because there’s no way to predict this really, but what we can do is say, Okay, let’s, let’s work within a reasonable range. Let’s, let’s, let’s figure out what we think the best thing that’s going to happen is, let’s figure out what Doomsday looks like. And then let’s plug in three or four more scenarios and see what that looks like. And, you know, like, like when there’s a hurricane Right, I get a lot of those in Colorado, but…

Jess Dewell 11:03
We hear about those things.

Andrew Podner 11:04
Yeah. So the rest of us actually have to deal with that. When you see a hurricane come in, and they put up the spaghetti model, you know, where there’s like, they’ve got 25 computer models, and then they put a cone around and say, okay, we think this is, that’s kind of what we’re doing, is we’re kind of throwing a spaghetti model together of saying, okay, we have all these different assumptions. Now, where’s the cone? Where do we think the AI is gonna hit? And, and we just kind of taken that approach, and I don’t, I won’t be able to tell you for a year, whether it was good, bad or otherwise, but it makes sense. And, and it’s a yardstick that we can plan by and really what we’re looking for is directionally Are we all in agreement on where this is going? And, and it really started with doing it for ourselves.

Jess Dewell 11:53
And that was gonna be my next question, right? I know, we’ve been talking about your clients and the things that they’re facing, even in your organization. You have been doing some of those same models?

Andrew Podner 12:03
For sure. That’s actually where we first started it. And, and it was like, Okay, well, this is pretty simple. We can put this together relatively quickly because we can argue whether it’s 32% or 37. But that doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, it’s somewhere in here, right? And, and we can do we know there’s going to be a plus-minus on it, so don’t get too hung up on the detail. But, you know, we looked at it, we were doing our cash flow planning. We were trying to figure out what I have two goals, okay. Don’t call it a business. Don’t lay people off. That’s, that’s where

Andrew Podner 12:42
That’s it. Don’t go out of business. Don’t lay anybody off. That’s if I get through all of this and we’ve accomplished those two things. That’s a win. That’s a total win for me because we’re a young company. Um, you know, we are a discretionary spend item and a lot of people cases. And so we have to work hard not to get chopped out of the budget. And, and so that’s, that’s where we’re looking to bring that type of value where people look to us as a partner and say, Hey, you know what, you know, this makes sense. We need to continue to use this at some level. So yeah, if I could. So that’s how it all started, right of what’s the worst that could happen? What if these projects go out? What if these come in? And we looked at all of that? And I said, Okay, well, I’m going to draw a line right through the spaghetti model and say, This is my plan. And this is what I’m going to plan off of, and we’ll check, you know, against the plan and make sure we’re doing right. We redid our budget, every GL account, everything, everything got redone. We needed to understand what our new break-even points were after we made changes to get ready for this and all of that. And, and that’s, that’s what we’re looking at right now. It’s our it’s our post coronavirus budget. That’s what it is.

Jess Dewell 13:58
That’s exactly what it is. When did you decide that you really needed to start thinking about this that this was going to impact your business? When did you know?

Andrew Podner 14:10
When I saw I guess it was probably a month ago, maybe a little, maybe five weeks. It was the point at which Twitter had pulled out of South by Southwest.

Jess Dewell 14:22
And remember that, day. That was a good day.

Andrew Podner 14:26
And I’m like, That’s weird. And I start looking and I’m seeing all kinds of private companies getting ahead of the curve. to rein people in. I’m we’re not talking about just the tech space. I mean, GM, Ford, Chrysler, JP Morgan, a lot of these companies were here restricting travel, and we started looking at it. The first few calls I made to convert in-person meetings to virtual meetings. There was that was weeks before they were talking about travel restrictions and stuff like that, apart from the ones in China or whatever. And so it was, it was like, it almost felt like we were a little bit early. But, you know, when that travels three to four weeks out, you know, you know, you’re going to be ahead of the curve or you’re not or you’re going to be way behind. So we decided to be a little bit proactive about it. And I started looking at it and I was like, Okay, look, what is this gonna cost me a half a day, to sit down and think this through and just scratch it down on a piece of paper and set it to the side? And if it starts to come to fruition, like a week later,

Jess Dewell 15:34
I know, yeah.

Andrew Podner 15:37
Then we’ll, we’ll take it more seriously when we find it some more and, and so that’s what we did I look, I just, I don’t want to be in a position to make decisions from panic. Right? So I’ll tend to think about some of that stuff a little bit ahead of time. And again, just a framework and outline. This is how I will make this decision. So that when panic day comes I’ve got a road map that says, okay, when you were thinking clearly, this is what you said you were going to do. Now, those assumptions may not hold up, but at least you’ve got an outline and a draft of, Okay, this is what my thought process would be on this.

Jess Dewell 16:16
When you’re making those thought processes within your framework, do you know all of the assumptions? Or you all, are you in there going? I’ve got some assumptions. And you find out later, you had more than you thought, or you got lucky, you know? Did some come back? It’s like, oh, man, I can’t believe I didn’t catch that one.

Andrew Podner 16:37
I’m typically on the other side, but I typically think things are gonna be worse than they end up being. Maybe that’s just my nature.

Jess Dewell 16:45
You know, I’m gonna totally agree with that right now.

Jess Dewell 16:49
I mean, he serves you well, don’t get me wrong. It serves you well.

Andrew Podner 16:54
Some people have told me I’m a little too conservative about decision making. Yeah, no, who is that person? We might no idea.

Andrew Podner 17:04
I, you know, there certainly have are times where it’s like, wow, we miss that. And then there’s time. I think it all evens outright?

Jess Dewell 17:17
No, actually, Yes it does. And I’m totally on board with that and completely agree because it doesn’t matter. I mean, you’re either too late to the party, or you were too early to the party. Either way you got to the party, which is pretty impressive in and of itself most of the time. I mean, in this world we live in, and you take time to and I take time and I know there are other people out there that actually take the time to sit with and understand what might be going on, even if they’re not ready to make a decision yet. I mean, you’re sitting with stuff and letting it percolate. I’m sitting with stuff and letting it percolate. So we’re other people and we’re not making decisions right away which is also in our favor.

Andrew Podner 18:00
Yeah, a lot of it. I mean, this is a lot of, a lot of thought process that really came out of when I worked around private equity. And, you know, I think I always just approached it from the standpoint of I never want to have to stand in front of the board and say, Yeah, I didn’t really plan for that. And, you know, that’s just not a good answer in that in that arena. You know, it’s not an acceptable answer at all and winging it is not an acceptable answer. I always found that if you said, Look, this is what I did. And this was the information I had at the time I made the decision. We can discuss whether or not it was good or bad. But you know, it wasn’t made on a whim. Right. Fast forward to today. Yeah. I don’t have a private equity board to answer to but I have a team of employees that I have to answer to, because they’re looking to me to say hey, you know, we’re going To be okay, are we also gonna have jobs six months from now? Or where’s this company going or whatever it may be crisis or not, I think you know, you still have that responsibility. It just comes from a different direction.

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Jess Dewell 19:30
your team is remote. Right? So we have that in common. Our teams are remote. And I’m I have to say from our conversations, I am impressed with the way you can keep your team focused. I have not been as successful at that now and only because we have people not in the US that are in really bad situations. More so than I had ever thought possible. And so my question to you as a leader of a remote team, what do you think you’re missing? really bringing to the table that you’ve done that helps your team stay focused?

Andrew Podner 20:07
Well, I think the number one thing is to be authentic and transparent about what’s happening. Don’t if you try to sugarcoat it, or make it into something, it’s not I mean, people can tell, you know, yeah, they’re gonna sniff that out. People are gonna sniff that out in a hurry, whether it’s employees or customers or whatever. And, and I think one thing that, and maybe I’m crazy, but actually, that’s probably true, but I think it’s okay to say you don’t know. I think it’s totally 100% fine. If you’re being honest and authentic about it to say, look, we don’t really know where this thing’s gonna go. But here’s what we’re doing. And here’s some good stuff. That’s happened. Here’s some And not so great stuff that’s happened. You know, I feel pretty good about it. We, you know, our runway looks good right now, you know, we can take a pretty big punch in the face before, you know, we get to a doomsday scenario. You know, we’re looking at every available option, no stone unturned. You know, this goes, I spent more time on HR and banking in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. But these are important things, you know, it’s, it’s what happens to one of my team members get sick. I mean, the first place they’re going to look is hey, you know, what do I do about taking off work? Well, it’s someone’s responsibility. I don’t have an HR department, but it’s someone’s responsibility to say, Okay, this is how we need to approach that situation. And I think that just having that type of approach to it gives people reassurance that okay, someone’s looking at this, someone is thinking about these things and then we’re not just flying by the seat of our payments. And then I think the other thing is to communicate. I try to call everybody at least once a week, some weeks. I’m better at that than others. But we were really big on we use Microsoft Teams, and we use it. We have group channels, and there’s a lot of communication there. One of the things that I try to do is if we get good customer feedback, we got one today, a customer asked me for something, we gave it to him and he said, Hey, I just want to let you know, we’re having a budget meeting on Monday. And I’m fighting to keep our consulting budget. And because you know, we really value what you guys do that type of thing, throwing that back out to the team and saying this is the feedback we’re getting from some of our customers I think that helps rally everybody to and, and so far, so good. We haven’t been sitting around, nothing to do, which is great. But you know, the, I think it’s the unknown, right? If you let that creep in. It’s bad and I think for us You know, while on my little yellow notepad is, if it starts to slow down too much, I got a list of internal projects and just start delving them out here. Let’s work on this, let’s work on this. Just keep yourself busy, this will pass, you know.

Jess Dewell 23:13
So there’s a lot, I mean, even now, even in the midst of all of this when there is more unknown than we ever thought possible as the started to come on board, and we collectively, everybody, we, you’re still taking time. And you’re planning regularly and you’re checking in regularly to make sure the assumptions or the conservativeness is in check and, and still in the wet in the place where your cone is good. You know, you’re in the cone of your spaghetti map, if for lack of a better description. Well, that’s pretty much it. Yeah. I want to know because you know, we’re talking about right now, and this is great. We need to know right now we need to have these examples. Stuff like this, though, happens to each of us in our journey. It’s never happened. All as many people at once ever, I think in the scope of humankind that we have had to deal with something on this global of a scale with this kind of globally connected marketplace. yet. We’ve all on our journeys faced this kind of uncertainty before. And I want to know about a time that you did face some uncertainty that you look back and you, you know, recognizing where we’re at now you’re like, man that was similar to this or Holy cow. It was not similar at all, but boy, did I face something unknown?

Yeah, um, so I gave you this story about this five months supply chain thing that we’re working with somebody on right now. I actually lived it. And yeah, 2012 I think it was 12. Yeah, it was 2012. And we had man, it was just a weird time in that market. Everything was going along fine. All of a sudden, a bunch of commitments that customers made just fizzled, and I’m talking $20 million worth.

Jess Dewell 25:10
Right overnight, like almost overnight.

Andrew Podner 25:12
Well, when you’re talking about a five-month supply chain two months is overnight, right?

Jess Dewell 25:17
overnight. Yes. Right. So $20 million is big money.

Andrew Podner 25:21
Yeah, it was. And so, you know, one of the things like people for, for instance, people look to us to help with inventory planning, which is fine, and I love doing that we enjoy it. It’s, it’s right a good fit for us. But we try to take it a step further and make sure that the people that are doing that planning and in writing those POS understand the implications, so the larger company for making a really bad mistake, and maybe that just comes from me having lived through it, you know, but the anyway, that the story is basically that we got to the end of the year. We had an inventory target. And we blew it by 20 million bucks because we already had this stuff come in. I mean, it wasn’t like we could tell the manufacturer to not ship it, it was on a boat on its way, because a lot of this stuff was coming from countries where the sailing times 55 days, right? So it’s common, can’t do anything about it and you’re looking at it, you’re looking at what’s coming, and you’re looking at the sales not hitting and you’re going, am I about to run this company at cash because that’s even though it’s like I got, you know, wasn’t sitting around twisting my mustache trying to figure out a way to put them out, you know, put them out of cash but you still feel responsible because it was your plan. Right? And, and there was, you know, a major freakout and you know, and all of us freaked out and it did up. You know, there was a very exhaustive review of how we approached it from outside parties and, and fortunately, you know, the, the reality of it kind of hit everybody eventually and, and we all understood look, you know, we can’t just make these assumptions that these things are gonna happen. We got to have something to back it up and you know it was better days after that but it was an I mean look, we had moved 900 miles away from home. I had been there for a year I thought this is it. I’m out of work and a place I don’t even want to live. So yeah, it was, it was pretty intense. But

Jess Dewell 27:35
we know you had the review. What was your biggest takeaway from that?

Andrew Podner 27:43
My biggest takeaway from the review process, so they send in a turnaround consultant. Okay, this is like the guy. Oh,

Jess Dewell 27:51
yeah, that now Okay, so that’s serious.

Andrew Podner 27:54
Okay. And it wasn’t Look, it wasn’t that he wasn’t coming in to be the interim CFO or nothing. Like that, but that was their specialty, right? They did those types of things, but they had a relationship with our private equity sponsor. So they said, Look, just go down and see what’s going on with this inventory problem, right? And, and this guy, and I got to be close, and I learned a lot from them. So my biggest takeaway from all of that was, you’ve got to create a no-surprises environment. You know, I stopped, I stopped obsessing about not letting bad things happen, because sometimes they’re just gonna happen. You don’t want them to, but they, it’s gonna happen. Eventually, something bad’s gonna happen. Right? We’re in the middle of a double Black Swan event right now, people may not realize that that’s what it is. But that one black swan-like those, those don’t happen that often. You have to have them back to back. That’s huge. Yeah, but so you can’t control that it’s gonna happen. So So I started focusing on visibility and line of sight. If my line of sight today is 30 days, what can I do to turn it into 45-60-75-90? What can I do to build models and projections that say if x then y, so that I could directionally tell people look, if we don’t make a course correction? I can’t we’re gonna have a $6 million problem. I can’t do anything about that. But if we don’t make a course correction, it’s gonna be a $30 million problem. So how do we close that gap as much as humanly possible and and and be real about it Don’t be an alarmist Don’t be you know, that was another thing I learned was really trying to take a lot of the emotion out of it, which is really hard to do. It’s a lot easier in my gig now. Because I don’t work for any of them. I just I’m there to help them but it’s like I’m not involved in the middle of the firefight every single day so I can kind of come in Objective Lee and you know, I don’t have everybody kind of given me their viewpoint on it? I’m just extracting their information and bringing my own, you know, kind of unadulterated opinion into it. So it’s, that’s a lot easier now than it used to be. But yeah, that was it, it was just realizing that if you could get a little bit longer line of sight, and you could make a projection or make some assumptions and say, Look, we’re going to be in a range, you know, we’re going to be somewhere between here and here. And if that’s not acceptable, we got to find a way to move that delta a little bit, you know, one way or the other. So

Jess Dewell 30:33
well, and with that story, going back to all the things you shared with us about what’s going on Atlas right now, with what you’re doing with your clients, it sounds like you’ve put it all into practice this time around which you were already thinking about things and understanding certain benchmarks that you and then, and then there were cues, I’m guessing there were some sort of cues for you at some point that said, Okay, I have to put more attention on them now.

Andrew Podner 31:00
Um, yeah. And you know, I think it was. I think I have to thank the governor of California. Yeah, pretty sure. Pretty sure that was the trigger point was because he issued the first statewide least the first one. I remember. They were the first ones on the statewide lockdown.

Jess Dewell 31:24
Yes. Now, we’re going to stop these things. Yep.

Andrew Podner 31:27
And so I watched it reported on the news. And it was mind-blowing to me the way that it was reported versus what it really was because we have a couple of key customers in California and I’m like, oh, man, they’ve just been put out of business by the state of California. How are they going to do that? And so I went and found the actual executive order on the state of California’s website and started reading it. And the part that the biggest paragraph The one in the middle is the one the news left out where they started calling out all these essential industries right and so you go look at the list and you’re like there’s 16 of them and it covers a really wide range construction and primary metals and medical and all of these essential industries you’re like, Okay, it’s not a complete shut down by stuff like this. People hear it, it causes a panic, people are going to start to react because we’re very much in a in a everything is in blurbs right details are really hard to come by. and social media for all of you know, you can discuss whether that’s good or bad but social media promotes talking and blurbs and headlines. And, and sometimes that’s great, and sometimes it’s not so great because the devil really is in the details. And especially on stuff like this. And so that was kind of my trigger point of going okay, this is getting serious, they’re shutting down 20% of that economy. We have really got to amp it up. We need a plan because I’m laying at Two o’clock in the morning going. I just hired three people that’s gonna put me out of business. Right? I gonna have to send them home. And then that kind of goes from that fear to a little bit of panic. by about three in the morning it was anger and then yeah, by five I had my coffee and I’m like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m not gonna be a victim. We need a plan. And that’s it. Well,

Jess Dewell 33:21
I got a credit you. You’re the reason we’re having this conversation on uncharted. You were the one we’re like, I’m staying. I’m staying up at night. I need to talk. Let’s talk who else is staying up at night? Oh,

Andrew Podner 33:33
I can’t be the only one.

Jess Dewell 33:34
You are not the only one. I am also up at night, a little bit more than I used to be at this moment in time. And I think that that’s huge. And so I want to say thank you for that. Because these kinds of conversations are ones that, you know, we talk about all kinds of things that we can go get information about all kinds of things, but nobody’s talking about the importance of what it actually means now so everybody’s after the fact How What do we do now? How do we show up now? Instead of going, what did we do? And can we rely on to move forward with some sort of knowing, even though we might not be it’s, it makes me think of? I don’t remember which Indiana Jones movie it is. It’s the one where he has to do all the challenges in the mountain. And he has to decide he has to get across the thing,

Andrew Podner 34:25
Last Crusade?

Jess Dewell 34:26
Yes, thank you. And he has and he’s looking at this thing, and he has to figure out how to get across. And he’s like, I have to have complete and utter faith here. And of course, then it dawns on him, he oughta just kind of send some dirt out and just see what happens. And he’s like, aha, and that isn’t that kind of what we’re doing right now. We’re like sending that little dirt out. Yeah, I mean bridge here.

Andrew Podner 34:49
I yeah, it’s, it’s really weird and I’d never I mean, there are already a couple I’m just talking about a recession coming in 2022-2023 somewhere around there, so you’re like, Okay, gotta get a year or two to get this figured out and get a plan together. And then like, two weeks later, it’s like, oh, no, we’re gonna have it now. And, and I don’t I’m not as ready as I really like to be, but I don’t maybe you never are. But yeah, I mean, it’s funny, you know, I did a webinar yesterday. Mm-hmm. And, and it’s, it’s, it’s one that’s attended by all different people from within these businesses. So you had people there that were just, you know, they, their buyers, they cut their purchasing managers and you had CFOs. And so this really wide range and so you get from that everybody’s always going to ask you questions from their line of sight, right. So I would get you would get questions like, hey, how do we adapt our min maxes to deal with what you said? Hear and yeah, you know, that’s a very granular technical tactical question, right. And then I had a question of, hey, how do you see the presidential election impacting where we go from here? Right. So, it’s just this huge range. There’s a guy that he was a colonel.

Andrew Podner 36:26
I don’t want to mess this up because this is going on on the internet. I was in 100, and first airborne. And he was a brigade commander, I think. But anyway, his name is Jimmy Blackman. He does speaking engagements and stuff now wrote a really great book about his time in Afghanistan and he does a really good job in his speaking engagements of relating business to being in the military. That really resonates with me because I was in the military, right. So And then about a year before I heard him speak, I had heard a keynote from David Petraeus. And another convention I went to. And so it was funny, because here’s Petraeus this four-star general talking about his search strategy, start-up search strategy in Afghanistan, and the number one thing was to get the big ideas, right. Okay. And then he’s got other things in there, too. Then you fast forward a year or so later. And you hear somebody that worked for him during that time, saying the most important thing you can do in this choice is getting the big ideas, right, like, okay, that’s a good chain of command, because the general got it and the colonel got it. And that’s good. And I love that though it is it really is about getting the big ideas, right. And so when we look, look, I could have gotten hung up on anything I wanted to in our business, right? Are we going to have enough projects? Are we going to get enough ticket issues coming in? Are we going to lose customers, how many customers we’re in acquire all this stuff, but big ideas? The big ideas is cash keeps you in the game. So everything needs to be about not going cashflow negative, or not going negative for so long that you run out of cash. Right? So. So that became our big act, our ability to generate cash flow. Well, one thing you can do is put yourself in a position where you understand your customers might get pinched, and they might not pay as quickly as they used to. That doesn’t make them a bad customer. It makes them in the same situation that you’re in. How do you make it easier to pay? How do you give them more options? How do you extend your runway so that you can help them extend there’s How do you come up with different ideas to say, look, we want to do this project, but she’s not in our budget. Well, okay, how about if we started in the third or fourth week of the month and we’ll cut the billing and do it on two sides or, you know, whatever we need to do. Because we know you need the project. We want to help you with a project. We don’t want you to go away. So we got to figure out a way to work together to make this work. And so that’s that was our big idea of above all things. If we have enough cash to stay in this game, we’re going to be all right. And that’s where the two ideas of don’t get a business don’t lay people off came from was, though to accomplish those two things, we’ve got to get cashflow. Right. And,

Jess Dewell 39:19
and you have to know your customer, you have to know your market. And you have to know the business to be able to ensure that’s possible. And so I hear you talking about a lot of different skills that are necessary right now that if we have them, and I’m using we collectively, everybody, we may need to brush up on them, or we may need to face them differently or we may need to show up and get better at them so that we can do what we need to do right now.

Andrew Podner 39:51
Yeah, I think so. But you know, I think it’s I think there’s a little bit more and the more is You gotta find people you can talk to, that you can trust and who is going to give you unbiased? You know, just objective. This is what I think the conversation we’re having right now. Right? So, I mean, I, you know, as well as anyone I don’t make these decisions in a vacuum, you know, I don’t just say, Okay, this is what we’re doing and we go do it. I do put thought into it. And then you know, I’ve got my quote-unquote, board of advisors that I’m interacting with and saying, Okay, guys, this is what I think what are you guys seeing directionally says where we want to go? Sometimes that’s the path we go down. We adjust course a little bit sometimes to scrap it and do something else. But I’m a big believer that all of us are smarter than any of us. So I think, yeah, it’s great if there’s somebody in the organization that’s got vision and can think, you know, six, seven chess moves ahead, but you but that’s got to be bounced. around because there’s always going to be unintended consequences, there’s always going to be everything. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in a position where I can just make that final decision and go. But the hardest part about being in that position is unless you self impose it or go find some, there’s no accountability. So you’ve got it, you know, for me, I thought it was always really important. I’ve got to have someone holding me accountable too. Because I do have those responsibilities to team members into my own family and all of those things. So make sure we have something that’s viable, and it’s just bigger than one person, you know. So

Jess Dewell 41:37
grounding that because a lot of people who listen, they want to do it in a vacuum, so to hear you talking about what your situation is and how you’re approaching it and saying, I’m not doing this in a vacuum, and I don’t have to, and I choose not to, is powerful.

Andrew Podner 41:53
Yeah, I mean, look, I didn’t wake up knowing that one. I had to learn that one the hard way, a few times.

Jess Dewell 42:00
Don’t we all? Do we all maybe somebody can learn from?

Andrew Podner 42:04
Yeah, I mean, but you know, there’s a tipping point. And I’ve had a very interesting bride through my business career. And, you know, I started out, really I started out where it was, I was responsible for my sales territory. That’s it, I could do the whole job myself. I didn’t need anybody. And, you know, moved into another position, pretty much could do it all myself didn’t really have to rely on anybody. Next position. Well, I had somebody and I needed to rely on them, but I could also brute force my way through it. And if they completely fell on their face, I could clean up the mess and deal with it so I can still work in a vacuum alone. You get in a position where you’ve got 12 or 15 direct reports. That jobs to bid that job has become too big for one person to do you have to start learning how to rely on a team And I didn’t do so good at it the first time at least I mean, there are things I look back and go, Oh, man, I mean…

Jess Dewell 43:09
I can relate.

Andrew Podner 43:10
poured gasoline on the bridge before I lit it, you know, it was just it was like it was not worth it and so you go into the next gig thinking, these are the mistakes I will not make next time. And then the next one, you do the same thing and hopefully, you get a little bit better. But I think, you know, when I really started taking my situation with the business of having my own very seriously, that was where I was like, Okay, I have to put a team of people that I can trust around me that are going to tell me, dude, you’re crazy. That is not where you want to go, or would be willing to say would complement my weaknesses. You know, I know marketing’s important. I’m just not that good at it, you know? But if someone could give me some guidance and say look go this direction. Then we can execute And and that’s how we’ve tried to build this company is by, you know, getting the right people into place, let them do their job, getting input from as many places as you can, but not letting it become analysis paralysis and say, okay, the time you know, I’ve gotten everybody’s input, I’m clear, you know, it shaped my thoughts this way. But at some point, you have to make a call and say, This is what we’re going to do, right, wrong or indifferent. That’s where we’re going.

Jess Dewell 44:27
Do you ever feel like you suffer from analysis paralysis?

Andrew Podner 44:33
Not anymore.

Jess Dewell 44:36
Since we’ve known each other I do not feel like you have analysis paralysis.

Andrew Podner 44:39
No, I don’t. I mean, it’s, I feel inklings of it. Yeah, I’m like, okay, I’ve put these five scenarios in. Do I want to add six more for these other assumptions or I’m on V six of the budget, it’s time to put it down. Because at the end of the day 1% other directions I can make any difference. So I think it’s just kind of that little OCD piece that sneaks in sometimes, but, you know, not really anymore. I think, for me, I want to know that we have a plan and that we’re executing on the plan. And if we need to adjust down the road, let’s adjust. But that’s not a week from now, right? You don’t know enough a week from now to say, Oh, we got to make another course correction.

Jess Dewell 45:30
It’s you got to write it out, you guys. And this is actually something where your experience is, I mean, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to wait five months for anything. I’ll be completely honest. I could change direction tomorrow and bring everybody else with me my entire career, whether I’ve had nobody under me, or 30 people under me. And so I get that there’s and there’s a lot of people out there like me that don’t have that experience and we think a week is too long to wait And I know now being working on myself as much as I have surrounded myself with those great people that just are like, come on, Jess, come on Jess, or look at it this way, or this is where you’re really strong stay there is that waiting it out has value. And waiting, in general, has value. I mean, we can’t wait forever to the analysis paralysis, but we also don’t have to decide because we have a decision to make.

Andrew Podner 46:30
Yeah, and I’m actually gonna challenge you back. You’ve seen me have that problem, my first hire that probably took six months longer than it should have. And I seem to remember that you were very candid with me about having that issue.

Jess Dewell 46:43
Well, but and here are the here were the other things, though. I mean, you’re absolutely right, can I so pushing back. That’s true. And I was candid. Yet at the same point in time. You were focused on your strengths and so we focused on your strengths until you were ready because sometimes You can’t go faster than you can go.

Andrew Podner 47:03
Well, yeah, absolutely.

Jess Dewell 47:04
I mean, and, and that, and I actually think that some other things were going on that we’re okay. That that did not, you know, in terms of other vendors and things that you used.

Andrew Podner 47:17
I mean, oh, yeah. I mean, I ended up working out.

Jess Dewell 47:19
Yeah, it worked out. But in the end, it was kind of like you were feeling out a couple of different things all at once. And so I do come. So yes, I did. And I was candid. And it was a point in time. And I also recognized that you were working, what does this look like? How do I want this to be and until you do it for a while, you don’t really know? And you never know you’re, you’re not wanting to bite off more than you can chew in that in a way that will put you at a detriment. You’re one that bites you I try not to move forward.

Andrew Podner 47:52
Yeah, I know for sure. But you know that the whole five-month lag thing and the patience and writing it out that It’s hard to explain what that’s like. I mean, it’s, it’s the best way I can explain it is It’s like watching a tsunami come in at five miles an hour. it for days, you know and months before it happens and you’re just like, Man, this is gonna be good. This is not gonna be good at all. Yeah, but you know I think for me it’s hard because everything moves so fast now and that’s not a bad thing. I’m not fear that but it’s like, we can’t change the business plan every week, are we what we believe is our core strength that hasn’t changed. And the pillars that we built our company on and our core values that haven’t changed. So if, if it got us here, you know, No, I, of course, the business has got to evolve over time and all of those things, I respect that concept. And, you know, we’re, we’re, we do what we can to evolve, and we have different things. But at your core if those things are still correct and right and, and that still points your compass toward true north, then, then abandoning it in a time of peril is the worst thing that you would want to do, right? That’s, you know, it’s, you just can’t abandon that part of the ship, you’ve got to stay true to that. Because that I think, is what gets you through, if your core values are actually really, truly meaningful to you. And it’s not something your marketing company said they should be your core values, right? I mean, you gotta, you gotta live it, and it’s got to be the right thing. And it’s got to be something that everyone exudes, and everybody understands. This is the direction our compass points and All things we do have to be in alignment with this. That’s hard. I mean, because you get challenges. Now authenticity is one of ours, and that’s a, it’s real. There’s a lot of temptation always to not be authentic, because you don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings or, oh, that’s really not our problem to get involved in. But you know, what, if you saw it, and you let them get blindsided over it, that’s your fault. And you can’t be that way. And then I don’t know that. I don’t know. I think there’s enough of that in the world right now. I think. Maybe we spare each other’s feelings a little too much sometimes.

Jess Dewell 50:37
I really want that to be the end of the show. But there’s something else that has to be said, and I don’t know what it is. What is it, Andy?

Andrew Podner 50:45
I mean, I guess, you know, the high points are for me. I just don’t want to fly blind. I need to know I think I’ve said that a couple of times already. Whether the plan is right or wrong. You’re not gonna know that till the end, if you need to correct it along the way, because your assumptions were just off fine. But you got to go into it with a plan. And you’ve got to at least give yourself the peace of mind of saying, as long as we’re doing this, that’s acceptable for me. And it may not be optimal. But we’re not, we’re not going to go out of business. We’re not closing up shop. We just got to get through this. And that’s really easy for me to say, as a professional services organization, if I owned a restaurant might not be so easy for me to say that that’s a whole different ball of string, you know, and I really, my heart goes out to those people because I, that’s just awful. You know that to basically be forced out of business in an instant. But from that, I’ve seen some amazing innovation of companies adapting to that and finding better ways to change their interaction with their customer and Another topic of conversation that we’re having a lot right now with people is how is your interaction with your customer going to change over the next six months a year because it’s probably gonna change forever. And people in our business it’s a big change because a lot of our businesses face to face. Yeah, it’s that’s gone right now. But what if it stays largely gone forever? How do we change the way we deliver services and interact with customers in a meaningful way to you know, still give them the value that they need, but do it in a socially acceptable distance.

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