Vision — Our vision is to invent a new industry — marketing to consumer shareholders. We created TiiCKER to convert the 57 million individual investors in America to consumers and tapping into their 10.2 trillion dollars in stock ownership to market to them with stock perks. While a lofty goal, it keeps us on the same page and singularly focused. In light of COVID-19, the digital transformation accelerated stock market participation and innovation — which ended up being a positive thing for our startup. Yet, without a clear vision, we could have been caught up in managing the crisis instead of managing the business. It’s cliché, but by keeping your eye on the prize, you’ll be able to remind yourself every day of why you’re doing what you’re doing and to keep going to accomplish your vision.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Lambert.
Jeff Lambert is the founder of intelligent software startup, TiiCKER. Leading his own investor relations and public relations agency, Lambert & Co., in 22 years of continual growth, Jeff has a proven track record of taking what was once an idea to a thriving business. Jeff received his bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from Michigan State University. In his free time, he enjoys playing volleyball and spending time on the water with his family.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I began my journey as a business owner more than 20 years ago at the age of 26. My first venture, Lambert & Co., started as an idea in my basement that has since grown into a full-service communications firm with 70+ employees. We are now recognized as a top-10 investor relations firm and a top-50 public relations firm in the U.S.
In many ways, Lambert & Co. helped lay the foundation for TiiCKER, a recent addition to the Lambert family of companies. TiiCKER invented direct shareholder marketing through its web-based and upcoming app software platform, providing consumers and investors a revolutionary way to engage with the brands they love. In my over 25 years in investor relations, I noticed a gap between public companies and their individual investors that prevented them from knowing who their investors were, and, in 2019, I decided to do something about it. I love to innovate, and problem solve, and I’m eager to see where TiiCKER will go as we disrupt an industry that hasn’t experienced much change in the past 50 years.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first started telling people about TiiCKER, my text or email would always autocorrect the name to “tickler”, which led to more than one embarrassing apology. While the misspelling was humorous, and a bit frustrating, it was also eye-opening. It made me realize there would be a good deal of education necessary to establish brand recognition around both the platform and the name.
The good news is we have a story for the two “i’s” in TiiCKER. They stand for “individual investor” and, offer powerful imagery to our logo as an upward-moving stock chart. In addition to phone or email autocorrect, people also regularly misspell it. Because of this, our team has learned we consistently need to reiterate and thoroughly explain the story behind the name, though this also makes it more memorable.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am beyond grateful for the guidance I receive from my executive coach, Jason Jaggard. His coaching literally changed my life. I would never have launched TiiCKER if he hadn’t pushed me to act on my vision — TiiCKER would have remained just another idea in my head. Jason has helped me become a better leader and has put me on the incredible path of being able to oversee multiple companies simultaneously by trusting in my team and meeting the commitments I make to myself. Coaching and mentorship are critically important. The value of a coach is undeniable in business just as it is for professional athletes or kids in t-ball.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When we launched TiiCKER, our vision was to reinvent shareholder marketing and create a new demographic that has never been reached before — consumer shareholders. We wanted to democratize Wall Street by creating a cycle that allowed brands to connect with their millions of shareholders and for consumers to unlock perks for investing in the brands they love. I also see TiiCKER having a higher calling in educating consumers young and old about investing, but also the double win that occurs when you shop for your favorites products and brands and create wealth as a shareholder.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I was a collegiate swimmer, which taught me the value of discipline and teamwork. I have taken those lessons and translated them into how I run my companies and lead my teams. I also believe that drive can be manufactured — it is a decision you make every day with the goal of holding yourself accountable to your commitments. COVID-19 has impacted virtually every business in the world, and ours is no different. We launched TiiCKER amid a global pandemic, but we never wavered from our course or from our original business plan. We had funding pulled; we lost potential clients; and we had to change the way we interacted with public companies, but it never occurred to us to give up. I never saw it as an option. We simply went virtual, changed our tactics and kept working. Tenacity is one of our core values and instead of giving in, I found the motivation to find alternate routes. My executive coach likes to say, “if I put a gun to your head, could you figure out a solution?” While intentionally over-dramatic, if faced with no other choice than to find a way, we can indeed figure it out. My drive is sustained by my years of discipline and the larger vision I have that I want to create a massive impact, not only for myself, but for my employees and the greater community.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
If you had asked me this five years ago, I would have said the most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to lead by example. I now believe the most important thing a leader can do when facing difficulties is to set a vision or goal and inspire your team to achieve their own greatness. During challenging times, I challenge myself and my team to make what we do “legendary”, always keeping the future in mind and striving to be the best we can be so when we look back a month from now or a year from now, we see the stuff of legends! Greatness looks different to each person and if a leader can bring out the passion that drives everyone to perform at their individual best, that is success.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best way to boost morale is to continue finding “wins” in everything that we do. Winning is always a great motivator and can help instill confidence in people. While we’ve been up against some big obstacles in 2020, we’ve found ways to win, big or small. A win could be setting a goal and achieving it or finding a new solution that no one had ever thought of before. These little celebrations give me and my team the boost we need to continue doing great work and grinding towards our vision.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I wholeheartedly believe in being transparent in both my personal and professional life. The best way to communicate difficult news is to be open and honest, forthright and humble, and to take ownership of the issue. I have found this approach helps gain the respect of your team or customers, as it demonstrates willingness to own up to an error or deliver difficult news.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
A leader can only control what’s within their purview. We might not know what the future holds, but we can develop a strategy that keeps us focused on what WE want to accomplish. A sports analogy would be sticking to your game plan or playing your game. Of course, this strategy should be flexible to capitalize on the potential unknowns, but a leader should always be prepared for all possible situations. It is easy to get caught up in what others are doing, but that’s a mistake — good leaders must trust themselves and remain focused.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I believe that leaders should set goals that seem intuitively impossible but become the stuff of legend. In doing so, leaders can assess each decision through the lens of greatness, not limitations. Will you look back on this choice and think “was that brave?” If so — you are likely striving for greatness with every choice. With this idea in mind, leaders will never shift out of third gear in guiding their company, despite everything going on around them.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I have seen leaders overreact in a situation, which can be catastrophic. You can lose the trust of your employees and that of your peers and customers or clients. It’s important to keep a level head, assess the resources at your disposal, converse with peers and rationally carve a path forward that makes sense for you and your business.
Poor communication is often another downfall for businesses. Transparency is key in forming honest and trustworthy relationships, with clients or internal teams. Especially in a situation like COVID-19, it was vital to communicate new rules, strategies and technologies to our employees, but equally as important to communicate effectively with our clients and customers. One thing that can help with this is to develop a crisis manual in the event of something catastrophic happening. This guide could have messaging or appropriate tactics to implement so that you and your team feel prepared to communicate and pivot, no matter what comes your way.
It’s natural to feel like running a business by the numbers is the right thing to do. But in difficult times, you must remember that the numbers, while indicative of performance and important, are a lagging indicator — a rear-view mirror. If leaders holistically look at their business with a growth mindset, they can help keep an eye on the big picture without getting bogged down in the current negative state. It’s also critical to keep perspective and have all parties at the table making decisions. This includes regular group meetings with finance, sales and operations to keep everything on track and find solutions to continue the growth well beyond the difficult time.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
We were certainly unprepared when the pandemic hit, as we were still in the fundraising and software-build state of our startup. Traditionally, we would have in-person meetings with prospects or investment community referral sources — for potential investors or clients — or we would attend conferences or networking events where we could directly reach individual investors. As you can imagine, those points of contact dried up virtually overnight (no pun intended). We had to be nimble in our approach. We strive to be the best sales organization in the world and setting this big vision has allowed us to add resources like public relations and social media to drive sales. The switch to a virtual approach broadened our outreach because it eliminated any geographic constraints. We were able to talk with people from other states and even other countries and see a cost savings in the process, eliminating funds for travel, lodging, meals etc. As a startup, we’re constantly innovating and figuring things out as we go, which I think has been positive for us throughout COVID-19. We’re ready to adapt at a moment’s notice and do a flip-turn if something isn’t working properly.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
I’ve built out the below acronym (COVID) to illustrate what I believe are the five most important takeaways on leading during uncertain times:
- Communication — I subscribe to the belief that communicating effectively is the most important thing a leader can do, regardless of whether they’re in a crisis. It’s vital that leaders cast vision and remain transparent on the state of the business and the reality of what’s happening during a crisis. For TiiCKER, we have a small team, so we were able to communicate regularly and effectively. We made it a priority to connect with our customers as well as all our partners to ensure them that we remained committed to launching the platform during COVID-19. We gave updates every step of the way, kept the trains on the track and ultimately were able to launch on time as planned.
- Operational Excellence — Execution is the most important aspect of business, regardless of the industry. A great plan is hollow without delivering on it. And in a pandemic, it was easy to get derailed and caught up in the minutiae during difficult times. But you can’t lose sight of the primary need — moving the business forward with excellence in every area of your operation. Because of our focus on execution, we were able to go heads down and deliver on what needed to be done to launch TiiCKER and ignore the external realities.
- Vision — Our vision is to invent a new industry — marketing to consumer shareholders. We created TiiCKER to convert the 57 million individual investors in America to consumers and tapping into their 10.2 trillion dollars in stock ownership to market to them with stock perks. While a lofty goal, it keeps us on the same page and singularly focused. In light of COVID-19, the digital transformation accelerated stock market participation and innovation — which ended up being a positive thing for our startup. Yet, without a clear vision, we could have been caught up in managing the crisis instead of managing the business. It’s cliché, but by keeping your eye on the prize, you’ll be able to remind yourself every day of why you’re doing what you’re doing and to keep going to accomplish your vision.
- Inspiration — I used to think leading by example was the best way to motivate team members, but in my growth as a leader I’ve found inspiring individuals to do their best work is the most effective way to accomplish a goal. When everything shifted from working in an office to working from home, it provided a feeling of disjointedness for our team. We’d never worked entirely remote before and especially when launching a startup, we needed the innovation to flow and to keep everyone as connected as possible. Our team didn’t miss a beat. We jumped on video calls and used this situation as a positive driving force to continue to drum up sales and new customers. We dug deep to find motivation, inspiring each other to do our best work despite the circumstances. Leaders are responsible for being an inspirational force for their organization and team.
- Discipline — Every new endeavor takes discipline, especially when you’re the one holding the reins. When you’re in charge, there is no one else pushing you to get things done or to meet your commitments — you must be the source of your own motivation. In conceptualizing and launching TiiCKER, there were many steps we had to take to move the business forward — from pre-product to pre-funding to ongoing fundraising to upgrade on the software platform. It’s truly been a journey of self-discipline, and I’ve created some unique ways of injecting discipline in my own life from doing a monthly “second shift” where I work a full day and then a “second shift” until 3 a.m. in a mini sprint. Likewise, I schedule commitments and activities and think time as though it’s an immovable meeting and put a high priority on meeting cadence and swim lanes for team members to stay efficient. Finally, I employ an executive coach and personal trainer to add an extra dose of discipline to my physical and mental fitness.
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Fair is for children.” — Winston Churchill.
I have always been drawn to this quote as an entrepreneur and starting with nothing and then running a company and competing every day. It’s not about what’s fair, but what you earn and how you compete; it’s about having tenacity, casting a vision, staying focused and being legendary.
How can our readers further follow your work?