Tag: #goals

Masters of Science in Financial Analysis: Alexander Lowry

On Episode 80 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Alexander Lowry, Master of Science in Financial Analysis at Gordon College.


Gordon College’s New Masters Finance Program
A Different Kind of Entrepreneur
Growing Up in the Shadow of New York City
A History Major at Haverford College
“I Guess I’ll Go To Wall Street”
What is a Personal Board of Mangers?
Putting Together a Personal Board
Approaching People to Be On Your Board
Who Should Be On Your Personal Board?
Why Alexander Went Into Finance
Internship at Wharton School
Pursuing Management Consulting
The Bubble Burst: Losing a Job
More Episodes
Show Notes

Master of Science in Financial Analysis: Alexander Lowry


Paul: Well, welcome to the Edge of Innovation. We’re here today with Alexander Lowry. Alexander, say hello.

Alexander: Good afternoon. Good morning. It depends where you are, I suppose.

Paul: That’s true. And when somebody listens to this. It could be in the past, the future… Who knows?

Alexander: Could be good evening.

Paul: Yeah, that’s right. Exactly. So, what are you doing right now? You’re working with a school, a liberal arts school here on the North Shore of Massachusetts. We’re in Beverly, Massachusetts. So, you’re working at Gordon College in Hamilton.

Alexander: I am the Director of the Master of Science in Financial Analysis program at Gordon College. And in a situation like this, I just abbreviate it down to say the Master’s in Finance program. It’s a lot easier for everybody to wrap their mind around.

Gordon College’s New Masters Finance Program

Paul: Okay. Alright. And so this is a new program at Gordon?

Alexander: It is. We just launched out first classes in January.

Paul: Okay, January. So that’s four months ago? Five months ago?

Alexander: We’re now finishing our first semester.

Paul: So we’re in May of 2018. Financial analysis? Master of Financial Analysis.

Alexander: That’s right.

Paul: And this didn’t exist before you were there.

Alexander: That’s right. I was hired to launch and lead the program. I’ll also be teaching in it, but it is a brand new endeavor for Gordon.

A Different Kind of Entrepreneur

Paul: Okay. So you’re an entrepreneur today.

Alexander: That’s funny. You and I were talking about this before we started. I would not have thought of myself as an entrepreneur when I was growing up, but I am.

Paul: Okay. Well, let’s talk a little bit about that. You know, we’re trying to get sort of more of a long-form story than just the soundbite of people and how they’ve gotten to where they are and why they’re there.

Growing Up in the Shadow of New York City

Paul: And so when you grew up, where did you grow up?

Alexander: I grew up in New Jersey, not too far from Newark. It didn’t look like Newark, but Essex County, New Jersey, a stone’s throw for New York City.

Paul: Is that a good place to be from?

Alexander: I grew up in a town that was sort of a little bit of a bubble. It was one of those homogeneous towns you envision as a very safe place, great schools, nice spot to grow up. But you had the access to New York City to the point where you started to think New York City is average. New York City is anything but average. Right? It is a unique place.

Paul: So you grew up in the shadow of New York City?

Alexander: Correct.

Paul: Is that fair?

Alexander: They called us Bridge and Tunnel.

Paul: Bridge and Tunnel. Wow. Interesting. How old are you?

Alexander: Forty…one.

Paul: 40. Okay, 41. So when you were a kid, what were you interested in? What were you going to be when you grew up?

Alexander: There were definitely times where I would be playing for the New York Yankees which was my team growing up. I’m sure that’s a myth about everybody around here.

Paul: Well, yeah, that’s true. But we’re international, so that’s okay.

Alexander: So it was probably about third grade. I was an all-star on a baseball team, but, as you would see me, Paul, I’m 6’8″ now. I’m a pretty big guy, so my strike zone got a bit massive. I’m not a Stanton. I’m not a Judge. I can’t really keep up with the ball, so it was clearly not my sport.

Paul: Okay.

Alexander: And at that point, we grew up, and we got bigger, and I thought I was going to be a doctor like my father. My — just to give you a sense of the medical family — my dad’s a doctor; my mom’s a nurse. My grandfather’s a doctor; my grandmother’s a nurse. My great-grandfather’s a doctor. You kind of get the idea.

Paul: Yeah, okay. Your dog’s a doctor on TV. Do you have any siblings?

Alexander: I have two younger sisters.

Paul: Two younger sisters. Okay, so you’re the oldest. So you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to do all this, and you decided to go to college, I imagine. Where did you go?

A History Major at Haverford College

Alexander: Haverford College outside of Philadelphia.

Paul: Okay. Not too far from home.

Alexander: It was actually the perfect distance. It was close enough I could come home when I wanted to but too far for my parents to come every time.

Paul: Okay. And what was your course of study?

Alexander: So I was a history major. Haverford is one of those small schools, not too dissimilar to Gordon. It’s a little bit smaller, 1200 students, great liberal arts school where you get to learn a bit about everything. You know, we were not great at sports. I played basketball, which, you know, God gave me height, not athletic ability. Right? But it was one of those places where you could do what you wanted to do. I’ve always loved history, read it, studied it as a passion. So for me to be able to spend four years as a deep dive, it was great. It didn’t necessarily lead to the right career choices because I didn’t want to get a PhD, and didn’t plan to be in education at that point.

Paul: Okay, so history. What’s your favorite part of history? What do you love to read?

Alexander: Well, I will put this into context. So I also lived in London for seven years, and I majored in American history here. And the British like to make fun of you. Their terminology is “take the piss out of you.” And so I would tell them I majored in American history, and they’d say, “What did you study the second week?”

Paul: That’s true. Okay. We’ll get to how you got to England, I guess.

Alexander: Sure.

Paul: Okay. So you graduated with a bachelor of arts in history?

Alexander: Yes.

Paul: And what happened then?

Alexander: Well, I had the equivalent of a minor in economics. So at the time, Haverford technically didn’t have minors then. They do now. And the only real business subject we had was economics. We didn’t have finance majors. We didn’t have business majors or accounting. So I did it about as much as I could have, I suppose, to be ready for business, so I thought.

Paul: Was that intentional?

Alexander: Yes.

Paul: So what gave you the insight to think that?

“I Guess I’ll Go To Wall Street”

Alexander: I’d always been fascinated by money and finance sort of as a passion on the side. I went into college thinking I was going to go into medicine, follow in my family footsteps. And after about three semesters realized this was not what I wanted to do. So then I was enjoying history but thinking, you know, I’ll just get a job. I’m a smart person. I’ll get a job in finance afterwards. I guess I’ll go to Wall Street. I grew up around New York City.

Paul: Whoa, hold on though. I mean, it’s one thing to say that, but was that viable for you? You’re how far into college, you’re saying that?

Alexander: Well, it was probably about junior year when I thought I should do this.

Paul: And were your advisors saying that’s viable? Or did you have any mentors that were saying that’s a good way to go? Because your parents are like “Oh, we’ve lost him. He’s not going to be in the medical industry. It’s a hopeless thing,” you know.

Alexander: So, ignorance is bliss is part of it. And I would also say that one of the wonderful parts of working in academia now is I understand behind the scenes more, maybe, what happened to me along the way. So if you get people that are successful in their career and have always been in academia, that’s what they know. So Haverford is a very small school. Not a lot of the resources you’d have at, say, some of the bigger institutions. So I didn’t necessarily have access to some of the business mentors that I would have had today now that everyone is more focused on it. So I was probably making a lot of those choices on my own in absentia.

Paul: Okay, so I’m trying to think because we’ve talked about, and you’re doing this new entrepreneurial thing, which we’ll get into later, and people are sitting out there listening, and there’s some catalyst that’s going to occur that happened in your life. Maybe you just stumbled into it, and that’s possible, but would make them consider maybe investing in a financial analytics or an MBA or whatever these different types of finance degrees might be. How did you stumble into that? So you didn’t have the advisors is, I think, you’re saying. It wasn’t deliberate. You had a minor in economics. Did you try and go get a job? Or what happened?

What is a Personal Board of Mangers?

Alexander: Well, so I think there will be a couple of parts to this. There will be some lessons learned and takeaways for other people at different stages along this story, and it will also be my journey and how it came about. So, we’ll get to both of those in time. But one of the lessons learned will be just what you’re alluding to now, is making sure, the way I describe it, you want to have your own board of managers around you at all points in your career that change and grow as you change and grow — whether that’s your industry focus, your sector knowledge, whatever it might be.

So, if we look at someone in college thinking about “I want to grow and develop,” say, depending on where you’re studying, some schools are really strong at helping their students think about it. I think Endicott, locally, has a very good reputation about preparing students for careers. Other schools maybe not as much. And so your job is, if I don’t have the right people around me automatically, how do I find them and get them?

So just as you were alluding to, I could have used more of those, not just truth tellers but people knowledgeable about in their different space and how do I learn and grow from them.

Paul: Alright. So let me just reiterate what you’re saying. So are you saying to me — I am in college; I’m a sophomore or junior — I should put a personal board together?

Alexander: Absolutely. I think everyone should have that at all points in their life, and I’ve got it in different aspects of it. Right? I sort of divide my life, when I think about my goals, into what I call the five F’s. So you’ve got your friends, your family, your faith, your finances, and your fitness. And if you think those are the five big buckets, I’m never going to do really well in all five at once, but I can do well in three of them at once. I could be mediocre in all five. So think about it almost as your board composition, as you prioritize your life into different buckets, do you have one or two people that you can go to for those different areas to say, for example, like I’m a new father. I would go to one of my board members and say, “I am really struggling to find the time on my fitness side compared to what I used to before. How did you do it when you were a new dad?” That sort of thing.

So you want to have those people around you that I could have gone and said, “Hey, I’m a history major, and I think I want to go into Wall Street. Is that going to be an easy thing? Am I being a little bit silly here?” I didn’t have that, and I know to do that now.

Putting Together a Personal Board

Paul: Okay. Well that’s a great opportunity for everybody listening to think about that. So let’s just take a little tour down that road. Have you put together a personal board?

Alexander: I do. And I think about it as it sort of constantly evolves. And the way I’ll often think about it is, the way many of us do, January is the time of year people make resolutions. And I will take those five buckets, and I will say “What’s the one thing — maybe two — but really, what’s one thing each year that I’m going to prioritize and do around those and that’s achievable?” And so I’ve got my goals, and then I’m going to share them with my board, which also gives me a chance to reassess, are the people…you could think of it as mentor rather than board, if board sounds too formal. Who are the people around me in my life that are going to help me in that this year — not only guidance but also keeping me accountable? Right? Some of them are friends. Some are associates. It could be anybody you want it to be, but do you have people in your life who are going to give you that salt and that light in the sense. Sometimes they need to tell you, “This is great. Go get it. Work hard. I will support you.”

Other people that say, “I’d put the brakes on there. I don’t if that’s realistic. Maybe that’s a five-year goal,” whatever it might be.

Paul: Interesting. So it sounds very deliberate.

Alexander: Intentional.

Paul: So in January, did you like send them an email? Call them? Do you do it together?

Alexander: Great question. I didn’t need to change any of my board members this year, if you want to think about it that way. Sometimes you need to, whether you’re changing jobs or you’re relocating to a different part of the country or maybe you’re shifting from school to work life. You might need a dramatic shakeup. I didn’t this year. So I already have the people I interact with, and, for me, it was partly just being very clear and open with them. And an email is the best way because it’s on record. “Here’s what I’m going to do this year. Here’s how I need you to help me do that.” And, you know, if someone didn’t have the time or the energy, they would tell me that, and they’d opt out, and I’d find a replacement for them.

Paul: So did you do that in January?

Alexander: I did.

Paul: So you sent out an email. Individualized for each board member?

Alexander: The group I have at the moment—

Paul: They know each other?

Alexander: – was from New York. They all knew each other.

Paul: Alright. So you just sent one email and said, “Hey, men and women, this is what I’m doing. Am I insane? Am I sane? Is this good? Give me your wisdom, caution, encouragement.”

Alexander: Right.

Approaching People to Be On Your Board

Paul: Okay. Cool. I’ve heard of this, but I’ve not heard a lot of people get into the details of the nitty gritty of it. So it’s like, “Oh, yeah. I should get a personal board. That’s a great idea.” Alexander said that. Okay. And then a year later, I still don’t have a board. So when you ask these people to be on your board, did you say well here’s the compensation. Is it done when they’re tired so they make a mistake and say yes. How, how did you approach that?

Alexander: I think it’s dependent on the individual and your relationship with them. So, imagine it’s a work environment, and you have a senior person who you would love to mentor you. How you approach that is very different from someone you might know from church or soccer or somewhere else where you have a relationship established. And I don’t necessarily feel like I’m putting myself out on the line because I tend to think of it as a pay-it-forward type model where I know I need to grow. And I sort of think about it, I’ve got three directions in my life — upwards, downwards, and sideways. I need people above me who are mentoring down to me. I need people below me that I am mentoring and bringing up. And I need people who are my peers who are probably helping keep me sane about where should we be in this journey.

So, if you’re thinking about also the board composition, it’s some of those different types of people. Like people, the downwards ones for me, I’m on their board.

Paul: Yeah, exactly.

Alexander: And my peers are going, “Hey, who’s on your board? How did you do your board? What do we do? How do we talk about this?” Because you don’t have to reinvent that wheel from scratch.

Paul: But what did that conversation look like to one of your mentors?

Alexander: For me, it was as simple as Tom Cole who runs NCS Manhattan, one of my dear friends, one of my best mentors, and it was being very clear of I know I am open and ready for coaching and advice. I’ve seen you pour into other people. I would love some of that knowledge dropped on me.

Paul: And then his acknowledgement was “Yeah, we’ll see” or “Maybe” or “Yes”?

Alexander: I think it was probably more of “I’ve been waiting for you to get to this point.”

Paul: Right. But it just happens to be a conversation that you have, or is there something more formal? Or is there a more emotional commitment to it? It’s sort of like “Hey, would you be my mentor? I’ve seen you do all this stuff. You’re a great person,” and all this different stuff.

And they say, “Yeah, yeah, sure.” And then they really didn’t understand what it was. And so there’s that aspect of it. Then there’s the person who does it, and then doesn’t respond to your questions but basically pries open your life and says things. “Hey, you shouldn’t be doing this,” or, “You should be doing this.” How does that work? What’s that balance?

Who Should Be On Your Personal Board?

Alexander: Great question. It will vary. So let’s take the work environment. So, for example Bob Doll is speaking at an event I’m running tomorrow. Let’s pretend I work with Bob in Nuveen. Bob was very senior. If I could get some of his time in my life on a regular basis, I would be immensely valuable on so many fronts. He probably has a lot of people that ask for that. So I would go into that conversation, knowing in my mind what my ask is, very specifically. It’s probably not a lot because I may not know him. I don’t have a strong relationship. I want be able to set expectations. “Hey Bob, if you say yes to this, here’s what I’d be asking of you. Here’s the frequency. Here’s the detail. And are you comfortable with that?”

And obviously, you need an opt out for the person to say no or not now. And that’s totally fine too because you only want board members who are willing to live into your life.

Paul: Right. So now these people that you’ve selected for your board, is it that they pretty much are passive and wait for you to say something, and then they respond? Or are there people that are actually reaching into your life?

Alexander: It goes both ways.

Paul: Really? Well good.

Alexander: And I think I need two types of those people. Right? So if I had everybody who was passive and I was in a spot in my life where I was overwhelmed, probably nothing would ever happen. So you want to be thoughtful about your board composition — we talked about sort of upwards, downwards, and sideways, different sectors, different industries, different types of your life, probably also different approaches to how they do life, different mentalities — so that you’ve got some people who, you know… I’m a planner. I’m a project management type person. It’s very easy for me to write a note in my list on my phone because that’s where I live. It will be like, oh, every week, I’m going to check in with Bob. I’m going to see how Ted is doing. I want to know what—

Paul: Is that the level to which you’re doing it? Are you in contact with these people weekly, monthly?

Alexander: Not necessarily. But, for me, that is the way that I would manage someone. So I’ve got a buddy who is going through some tough stuff right now. I’ve got a note on my phone, and every three days, I want to call him. And if I don’t, I’m going to move it to the next day.

Paul: So he’s more of your mentee.

Alexander: Yeah.

Paul: Okay. Alright.

Alexander: And there are some of the people on my board who, they just wait for me. They’re really busy. They’re happy to give me time when I’m ready, and there are others who are going to go, “I haven’t heard from you in a month. Are you doing okay? What’s going on?” And I need that.

Why Alexander Went Into Finance

Paul: Excellent. Okay. So let’s rewind a little bit here. We were talking about…you’re in college. You don’t have a personal board. Right? You’re a junior. You’re thinking about finance. The school didn’t really have any advice. Now, what in the world made you think about finance? Was it the money?

Alexander: I’ve been curious about finance and investing, which we’ll find out later when we talk about my current role, is a perfect with that. So that had always been something I had been reading about and studying about, growing up in high school, I really enjoyed, which is probably why the minor in economics made sense. I loved that sort of topic, but it wasn’t something I was as passionate about as the history, which I just enjoyed. Right? So for me, picking up a history book, reading on the beach, something like that is fantastic.

Paul: Yeah, okay.

Alexander: So that was fun. That was a fun study. For me, thinking what do I want to do with my life? What’s practical? Where does the intersection between my interest and my skill set work? And it seemed to be finance.

Paul: In what way?

Alexander: So investing and the idea of being involved in what actually makes the money behind the scenes and helping other people manage their money. It just seemed to be something that I loved reading about so much. So it would be a great fit, I thought.

Paul: Okay. Alright. Good. That’s fair.

Alexander: Fairly ignorant of the whole industry at that point.

Paul: A junior in college.

Alexander: Yeah.

Paul: And you didn’t really have any advisors.

Alexander: I didn’t really know enough to get them. But I would say I was probably a little arrogant back then as well with the assumption that when I got my first job a year after that, I was determined to do it all on my own. And I did. Which I would say is actually pretty stupid because the whole point is, why do it the hard way?

Paul: Well, yeah. I guess it’s what do you think was your rationale of doing it on your own.

Alexander: A little bit of hubris.

Paul: Well, certainly. But I mean, why would you try and lift a car by yourself?

Alexander: I wanted to prove I could, and I think I probably also wanted to prove it to my father too. I felt like this would… You know, not going into the medical field where he was very successful, I could be a bigshot in my own world as well. So there was definitely a little chip on my shoulder.

Paul: Okay. Alright. Interesting. That’s because I’ve been an entrepreneur in a lot of different roles, and I’ve never thought of “I’m going to do this on my own,” just because it’s insane. I mean, you can’t lift a car on your own. I’m just like…

Alexander: Just thinking about starting up a business. You could probably, already there’s three different types of people that you need and the skill sets. And you could say, maybe someone would say, “Hey, I’m good at all of those.” Well, you’re probably average at all of those. You’re not good at all of those. Pick the one you’re good in and find the other people you’re going to partner with. You need those skill sets.

Internship at Wharton School

Paul: Right. Okay. So you said a year later you got a job. So where did you go? Where did you end up?

Alexander: So I actually got an internship that summer. So my junior summer, I’m at the Wharton School at their small business development center. And I was really pleased. I’m thinking this is going to look great on my resume. And it did, but it also was a wonderful eye-opening experience for me because most of the people working there that were my peers were from the Wharton School — the MBAs and the undergrads. And what I quickly realized was, hmmm, all of the company that I’m looking to apply to, all of the people right up the road at Wharton undergrad, my peers, are also applying to. And I’m a huge believer in liberal arts. I think that makes for wonderful long-term success. But if you put the person side by side against a Wharton undergrad… Now, I’ll give a caveat.

It is not required to have an undergrad business degree because there is only one Ivy League school that does and that’s Penn. It has Wharton. If it was required, they would all have it. Right? They don’t. That’s my theory. But there is a tremendous learning curve. These are the best of the best people who knew they wanted to be in finance probably from birth. They are hugely up the learning curve. They’re enthusiastic. They’re excited. They’re doing all the right things.

For an employer to come in, it was very easy to see them and say, “Plug and play. Johnny, I will put you on my desk, and you’re going to be phenomenal.” You put a liberal arts student side by side, regardless of what they majored in, regardless of what they know, they’re going to be at least a half step behind.

Now I would argue that when you join a company, they’re going to teach you the model they want. They’re going to teach you their methods. A liberal arts student has to catch up to the Wharton student, but once they do, if they do, they’ve got other skill sets. They can take off — the research, writing, communing, the presenting that the Wharton students don’t focus on as much. But for an initial employer, that’s a big ask.

Paul: Interesting. Okay, so you were at Wharton in an internship. And then what happened?

Pursuing Management Consulting

Alexander: So after that, there was a combination of consulting and finance for that summer, which sort of opened up my mind. Oh, I’ve got these two different paths. Both look really cool. And I actually realized management consulting is kind of a perfect fit from a liberal arts background education, you know. A little bit about everything. You get to deep dive into different industries, different sectors. You’re working with executives that are way above your paygrade. You’re 22 years old sitting with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. That’s a phenomenal experience.

So part of me thought maybe that would be a great way to start. And so I pursued those two types of jobs as I was getting out of school. And I thought, “Finance I’ve always loved. That could be great. Or there’s the consulting route.” And I realized the finance was going to be hard, like we talked about, because the Wharton undergrad students are getting those jobs and rightfully so. They are phenomenal.

So I went down the consulting route, and that’s where I started.

Paul: Okay. And what year was this?

Alexander: This was ’99.

Paul: ’99. Okay. So nothing is…

Alexander: We had had the debt crisis in ’98, which seemed like a tough year to get a job. ’99 was a little better. You were getting the internet bubble, so people were enthusiastic.

Paul: Right. That’s what I was just saying. The bubble was just forming, and then 2000, and then 2001 happened. So were you at this same job during 2001?

Alexander: So the way it started out, I actually joined a financial services consulting company, which was a great fit for me, thinking I’m going to cover both of these off. And so I worked there for a year, and I was watching all of the fun stuff happening with the internet bubble. And all of my friends with stock options, working with these really cool companies, and I thought maybe there’s a better way to do this. So I actually, after a year, moved over to one of the internet consulting companies. There was Viant, Razorfish…

There was one called Mainspring that I was able to join right before they IPOed. I thought this is a great fit. What did we have? A fully stocked kitchen. We had a bouldering wall. We had racquetball — all sorts of stuff inside. And it’s me, just a year out of college, thinking this is like the greatest business in the world. I love this. I don’t care how hard I’m working. This is fun.

And when I look back now and realize it was not a business, technically, at that point. It was a charity. It wasn’t making money.

So we IPOed and that’s great. And that was exciting. I was a part of that.

The Bubble Burst: Losing a Job

Alexander: And then the bubble burst. And then the company was bleeding cash, and they let go of all of the analysts because they couldn’t afford any.

Paul: Sure. And then is in Manhattan or…?

Alexander: This was in Manhattan.

Paul: So low rent, you know. Fascinating. Okay, so you lost a job.

Alexander: Lost a job, which, in retrospect, while very tough at the time, was a phenomenal learning experience.

Paul: Oh, yeah. I know exactly what you mean.

So, we’ve been talking with Alexander Lowry of Gordon College.

Alexander: It was a pleasure, thank you for your time today Paul. I enjoyed it.

Paul: Well thank you for coming in.

More Episodes:

This is Part 1 of our interview with Alexander Lowry. Be sure to listen to Part 2 here! We’re talking with Alexander about creating the new MBA Finance Program at Gordon College.

Show Notes:

A Case Study: The “Why” Behind the “What”

On Episode 5 of The Edge of Innovation, we look at a case study of a client and understand how to find the “why” behind the “what” in web presence. We are also talking about how to set smart goals. Many projects fail because expectations weren’t set well.



The “Why?” behind the “What?” in Business
Our Case: The Need: Client Website Must be Mobile Friendly
Our Case: The Business Side
Small vs. Large Businesses


Paul: This is the Edge of Innovation, Hacking the Future of Business. I’m your host, Paul Parisi.

Jacob: And I’m Jacob Young.

Paul: On the Edge of Innovation, we talk about the intersection of between technology and business, what’s going on in technology and what’s possible for business.

Jacob: Historically, we’ve done episodes looking at specific topics. Today we want to turn to a special episode looking at a case study. Paul, would you talk you through who is the focus of our case study today?

The “Why” Behind the “What” in Business

Paul: Sure. We’ve been working with a client who is a personal services firm. It’s a single owner and worker, one person. She provides services to pregnant women. So, it’s a doula. What that basically is, is a coach, or somebody to be there to help the mom out throughout the pregnancy the really through the delivery. It’s primarily for that delivery time. It is a benefit for the mom who’s doing all of this work.

So, she came to us. She had a website, as lots of people do, a few years old and said, “Gee, I want to improve this.”

So, we looked at it and said, “Why? Why do you want to improve it?” I think that’s an important aspect that a lot of people don’t ask, especially in business, and I’ve sort of made it one of my hallmarks, is why do you want to achieve what you want to achieve? And you get lots of interesting answers. I could imagine anybody saying, “Well, I want more business.”

Well, first of all, do you have the capacity to do business? If you’re successful with the outcomes, basically what is your expectation? And if we meet those expectations, is it going to meet… Are you going to be able to deliver that?

As an aside, before we get into some of the details in this particular case study, the pattern I use in consulting for businesses is you often have businesses come to you with knowledge of the solution they want. They come in a say, “I want you to do this for me.” And many people are very happy to do that.

I always – I don’t know why – but I want to understand why you want this solution, really to get to the underlying “What’s the goal? What’s the need here?” Many times, almost the majority of them – an overwhelming majority I would say – is the case where the solution they have chosen is not the solution that will meet their goals.

So, that’s a huge thing. A lot of technology projects fail. And they fail primarily because the expectations weren’t set. And the goals weren’t set properly. And I think as simple as it sounds, these are the question you need to ask before you start a project. Why do you want to do this? What are you expecting?

Jacob: Well, sometimes it seems like a solution becomes the shiny new thing that somebody wants rather than not only understanding who they are and what they’re about and what they’re trying the accomplish but what exactly is going to help accomplish those specific ends. And not everybody has the same ends and goals in mind. So, what you’re trying to do is figure out what exactly are you trying to accomplish.

Paul: Absolutely. And it’s not even that understanding, but many times I’ve found that business owners or business principals or managers don’t understand what they really want. They don’t even know, because they’re so heads down, doing their daily tasks that they can’t step back and say, “What’s the goal here? Why am I doing this every day?”

That, I think, is one of the differentiators between businesses that are successful rather than businesses that are just plodding along. They’re successful, but they’re going one step in front of the other, just plodding along. And that may be fine, and you may want to optimize that. But let’s understand that before we get started.

Our Case: The Need: Client Website Must be Mobile Friendly

So, this particular client came in and had a website. And one of the things that’s interesting in the web economy – and I use that term fairly loosely – and that is post-traditional advertising. You are basically judged on what’s on your website, unless you have a business that people just happen to know about you.

Jacob: Right. Like Coca-Cola. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to their website.

Paul: Right. You’re the five million pound gorilla, that’s fine. But if you’re trying to get market share or make people aware of you, especially in this context where it is was we have this woman who delivers these services, happens to be in New England, will go to Boston, North Shore, that kind of thing. And usually, if you sell your services, in her case, helping deliver a baby, you’re not going to have another chance to remarket to that mom for another year or so, and that’s optimistic. So, you’ve got to find new clients. It’s really got to be that.

One of the things that’s critical in this, again, sort of web economy, is that you have a nice shiny website. And people, just like they like shiny objects and brand new cars “Oooh! It’s nice and shiny. It’s really cool and everything is sparkly.” That has to be the ethos on your website. And the minute you put it out there, you’ve got to start planning for your new one. It’s just the case.

I like to ask business clients, “How long are you planning to stay in business?” Because if you’re just saying you want a solution that’s going to get you past two years, that’s fine. But the fact of the matter is you’re going to have to reinvent your website every couple years to make it fresh, to make people feel like, if they’re coming back, “Wow. That looks cool. Oh, you painted your room.” They come into your house. They don’t see all of the old things. You’ve improved it. You’ve made it better.

But now, you have new people coming in and they’ve seen better websites. Amazon looks better than it did five years ago. They’re tuned, they’re hyper focused on getting those visual cues and getting that clear information across. So, if you’ve got a website from the ’90s that has a menu across the top that doesn’t look good on a phone, you’ve got to change it. It builds your market persona.

Jacob: Yeah. I immediately, almost invariably, whenever I visit a website and they aren’t updated to being reasonably modern, like you say, since 2007, I just immediately assume either they aren’t in business anymore or they don’t care about my business, and I go someplace else.

Paul: The minute you say these things, they’re obvious. But they’re not obvious beforehand, because you’ve got this woman who has this business, and she is getting enough clients to keep her busy. Why do I need a new website?

Well, we don’t know. If we could fork reality and say one reality where we don’t change the website and one where we do, they’re going to have different outcomes. Now, it may be people look at… Let’s say she had a five year old website and the text on it is so good that they look past that. But studies say that people come and they bounce. Half of the people that come to your website are going to go away. And that’s because in the three to five seconds they’re looking at that website, something didn’t hook into their mind to make them go to the next step.

So, we looked at some of her analytics. She had some rudimentary analytics. I think her site was actually hosted using GoDaddy tools, which, again, simplifies things. But in that simplification, it makes things minimal. And it didn’t provide the depth of insight we needed.

We were able to find out, for example, with her particular thing, is mobile important. Well, it was only like 20% of the people went via mobile. That is right in complete opposite of what we’re seeing across every property. Now, why might that be the case? Well, this is a pretty heavy decision you’re trying to do that. And you wouldn’t equate… People do dating apps on mobile, like Tinder and two second judgement. If you don’t know what Tinder is, it shows you a picture of somebody, and you basically say thumbs up or thumbs down. Swipe right or swipe left. And if you swipe… What is it? I don’t even know.

Jacob: I’ve never used it.

Paul: Swipe right and you say you like that person. It’s very superficial, obviously, because you’re just looking at a picture. But we saw that in this case, a lot of people weren’t sitting down on the bus or in those mobile moments where they were choosing a doula, a person to be there and help them deliver their baby. They were taking time out and spending time on a desktop.

So, that told us, well, we certainly do want to make it mobile friendly. We don’t want somebody to have a bad experience. So, if your website isn’t mobile friendly right now, you have a serious problem. You need to fix that. You’re saying to the people out there, “I don’t really care what you think or what you’re interested in, but we don’t care enough to make it easy for you to get to know us.”

Jacob: We want to be irrelevant in the next five years is what you’re saying.

Paul: Well, right now, honestly, if it’s not mobile friendly. I would say that irrelevant in the next five years is how often you reinvent your site, re-optimize it, and show that your innovation is continuing, and that you’re relevant.

While mobile wasn’t our first thing, we found that the overwhelming majority of her clients said, “I felt like I got to know you by reading the website.” So, that didn’t me that we throw away all of her content, because that content is very effective. So, we needed to optimize that so that it was easy to read, easy to consume in a friendly, conversational way, both image-wise, friendly fonts, friendly colors. Because this is a relationship that they’re starting. So, as we re-architected that, we wanted to make sure we kept that.

Additionally, we want to have new content delivered through multiple channels so that people can discover this person. So, if you’re a mom and you’re thinking about having a doula, you might like to find out from this experience that this doula has, this is a really good thing to think about when you’re going to the hospital, or when you’re going to be there, it might be good to have this with you or this with you. Things that you might say, “Well, that’s obvious,” but it would be really nice to hear that from an experienced professional that says, “Hey, you’re going to do this. Do this, this, and this.”

So, we’re encouraging this client to commit to developing content. Now, the difficulty with developing content is just like when you were in high school and you had to write a report, and you’re staring at a blank piece of paper. That is the most difficult thing to do in writing.

So, we develop content calendars which says, “Let’s look at the year. Let’s look at the holidays that are in the year.”

Jacob: For a doula, Mother’s Day is coming up. What are we going to say about that?

Paul: Exactly. It’s the summer. If you’re pregnant and you’re going to be delivering in the summer, how do you beat the heat? Those kinds of things. So, those are one level. The content calendar is relevant in time, but there might be trends. Doctors are indicating that there are more this or this or this. Or what about medications. All these different things that you bring in. This particular professional can bring a comment to that, to say, “Here’s what I’ve found has been helpful. Here’s this.” Or, “You’ll encounter this.” A lot of these are certainly going to be first-time moms. But they’re also going to be second-time and third-time moms.

But that information is hugely valuable to them. And if you have any trust with your client, your opinion on your expertise is hugely valuable to them.

We had another client who asked about a time card system and emailed and said, “Do you know anything about time card systems? Have you ever done any work with them?”

I wrote him back and said, “Well, no. I haven’t done directly, but I did some research.” I took five minutes and did some research and found one, and I said, “This one, I think, based on these factors, might be a good choice for you.” And they were so appreciative of that. Now that, if it were in my sweet spot, I might want to make a blog post out of and post that.

And then, where do I put these blog posts? A lot things, if I put them on my website, that’s okay. That might be a good place to store them. But I really need to find places in which I can stand on top of the roof and shout. And you do that through Facebook, certainly for this personal services firm.

For a doula, Facebook is perfect, because I can both put it there, I can have my friends like it, and then it gets to be cross-pollinated by friends and referrals. But I can also buy directed advertising on Facebook to people that are pregnant, that are in 30 miles of me. It’s beautiful to do that.

And then I can also use Twitter, and I can use Pinterest in this particular way, for this genre, if you will. But the point is you have to be willing to create content and then socialize it. That is work. There’s no getting around it. You can Tweet little things. That’s one of the things. If you have a pithy thing to say, you can do that with Twitter. You can even find good articles out there and tweet about them. Say, “Hey, I found this good article.” Same thing with Pinterest.

But you need to commit to making your constituents aware of neat things.

Our Case: The Business Side

Jacob: So, Paul, you just mentioned all these dynamics that are in play with the website and web design. How does this affect the business she’s trying to build?

Paul: So, you want a nice new shiny object called a website. What are you going to do? What is your expectation of that? If you had one client last year, do you want two this year? If you had 10, do you want 20? That might sounds doable for a single person. If you had 20, do you want 40? That’s still even doable. Maybe one a week. If you had 40, do you want 80? Wait a second. This is going to be hard.

Jacob: Are you trying to acquire another person to work with you?

Paul: Well, that’s the whole thing now. Are we building a business or is this me as a professional, personal service? And that’s the crux of the matter. Because some people, having 80 moms giving birth over the next year would be overwhelming.

Jacob: Right. And you can’t necessarily push off those clienteles.

Paul: No, you cannot. Sorry. We have space for you.

Jacob: In six months we’ll have…

Paul: Exactly. We have an opening. So, what are you going to do if success strikes? We’re helping work through that, looking back and saying, “How many contacts have you had and then how many of those turn into clients?” And then we look at how many website visits have you had and how many of that turns into clients. So, if we quadruple that, and she quadruples the number of clients, then how do you deal with that? What if it wants to go to the next level? Well, maybe she has to raise her rates. And that’s not a bad problem to have. She can pick and choose. “No, I’m sorry. I’m not good.” Maybe she makes a relationship with another doula and gets commission.

That’s way different than talking about “build me a website.” That’s vastly different. And most people, again, I’m an engineer type, and if you ask an engineer for a solution, if you ask a software developer for a solution, a programmer, their solution will be to program something. If you ask a marketing person how to solve a problem, they’ll say you have to market something. If you ask a carpenter how to solve a problem, they’re going to say you need to use wood and nails to do that. That’s typically what we do.

What I’ve tried to do is think outside of the box and say, “Why do you want to do it?” And then how do we want to achieve what you want to do in the area that I may not know. We’ve got to figure that out though.

Small vs. Large Businesses

Jacob: Are there questions that come to mind in terms of helping understand the why of a company? Of a business?

Paul: I think, again, a lot of these things are obvious when you say them. I think it’s profoundly simple. What is it you want to do? Especially in small businesses, when you get into sole proprietors and things like that, you have to figure out a way to scale your business. But you may not want a scaled business. You may be comfortable with the level of business you’re at.

But let’s say you want a company that has 30 employees, and you want to expand your market. You need to be prepared to be able to fulfill that plan. That doesn’t mean you have to do all the engineering work and all of the decisions, and how are we going to add 600 people, and what place are we going to have picked out for office space and all that. But you have to have those notions that if my growth is incremental or exponential, how will I react in those.

And if I drive you to thinking about that, that’s going to help you sharpen your focus on everything you do, because you’re telling me that’s the goal.

Then we need to look at other things you’re doing and say, “Why are you doing this? You shouldn’t be doing that.” Those can be scary things to deal with, but that’s critical. I do a review every year for an entrepreneurial competition, and I will tell you that everyone, when I ask “Why are you doing this?” — and you can ask that in a lot of different ways… “Well, I really like this” is an answer. That’s good. But why do you think it’s a business? And then they’re like, “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of that.” Those are things that you have to consider.

Jacob: hose are the sort of things that come under fire and that are tested a year or two into the business. And it’s no longer just kind of the fun of getting things up and running. That’s the real engine that’s going to move things forward.

Paul: Right. Well, businesses are usually built to make money. That is the universal filter that says how we can say whether a business is successful or not. Even a non-profit has a money component to it. It has a value proposition there. And so you have to be very clear on how those things work so that you can understand and judge whether your business is doing well or not.

We get so close to it as business owners, and we fought and sweated so much to get this aspect of the business there, you really need to be in the situation to be able to step back and say, “Is this even worth doing?” And that’s a hard reality. But I think, especially in small businesses, you need to reevaluate that constantly.

Paul: To summarize… We had this client come to us. She’s a doula. She works with pregnant moms. She’s there to be their coach and support in the hospital deliver room. In the delivery room. I don’t want to say hospital, because many of them are done with midwives and things like that. They don’t want that tradition, sterile experience of delivery. And so, she’s very good at what she does. She’s adored by her clients. I think she wants to do more. She felt her website was a little old, which is a very important thing. That shows she has some insight there. It’s probably a little bit past old. So, it should have been done two years ago.

And I think that’s an important takeaway for business owners. A year is a long time in internet time. And you can help extend the life of your website to two years, two and a half years, by keeping content fresh, keeping pictures fresh, new pictures, things like that.

So, we’ve built a new website for her that takes into account the fact that we have mobile devices, takes in all the modern design elements that one might expect, has a plan so that it won’t become antiquated. We have new pictures, we have a gallery of new babies and things like that. We have a plan for content so that she’s going to be writing content, sharing it on social media, Facebook targeted advertising to moms that have identified as pregnant, and Twitter tweets, and also Pinterest, and blog posts on her own site. Here’s lessons learned.

Those things, we think – and we’ll be able to measure this and actually report on it over the series of podcasts – will continue to drive traffic to her. They’ll get to know as her as they’ve raved about the fact that “I feel like I know you when I read your website,” and it will reinforce that. And then hopefully they’re refer two friends, and they’ll refer two friends. And then we’re going to have to… Seriously, how does the person who’s doing this deal with the success of their business? That’s a good problem to have.

Jacob: That’s a great problem. And I think one of the dynamics that you’re pulling out, though, is that we aren’t just doing this sort of work of just nuts and bolts. Let’s move things around and update the paint on this website. Your approach is to go into the why question, understand the heart of what’s going on, and then from that relationship, build the technical components to help realize those goals.

Paul: Absolutely. Again, I have another friend who is impatient and wants a website and wants it now. And we really haven’t figured out what he wants. And that can be frustrating for him. But the problem is, once you go out there, people form an opinion and never come back. And you’ve got one opportunity to make a good impression.

Now, moms…there’s more and more of them every day, so it’s a replenished thing. But still, I think you want to have a good message that’s synergizes with the reader and says this is what I want.

What I really want to be able to measure with this particular client, is people that make a bookmark to it. “I’m not pregnant now. But, boy, this looks cool. When I am, or when I know somebody that is, I want to refer them to that.” I think that is the proof of success for us.

Jacob: Yeah. That’s great.

The Edge of Innovation is brought to you in partnership with SaviorLabs. SaviorLabs exists to help businesses mature and strategize for the future. Learn more about SaviorLabs at saviorlabs.com.

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