Integrity: At the end of the day, many ideas and ideals may be amazing, but it comes down to getting it done. The journey counts so much and I am a big believer of enjoying and learning every step of the way. That said though, from the client’s vantage point, you need to deliver, no excuses. We all know sometimes things do not work out, but it will not be for lack of pure effort on our part. Deliver if not over deliver (especially in the infancy stages on your business life cycle).
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tej Brahmbhatt, managing partner of Watchtower Capital, a boutique investment banking firm headquartered in midtown Manhattan. Their teams help large, privately held companies not only manage the complex world of capital markets but serve as the lead advisor and intermediary to the client from funding through exit strategy. Tej and his team have been integral in raising and funding nearly 200 million dollars to well deserving, locally owned companies as well as sourcing target acquisitions.
Tej personally spends a great deal of time mentoring and coaching professionals in the art of relationship management (sales negotiation & presentation). As he states, he spent twenty years arduously refining his craft, through many unsuccessful and successful negotiations and pitches. Later he realized success for any professional, starts with effective communication. This is his passions and enjoys teaching others in the art of negotiation and presentation effectiveness.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
Appreciate the opportunity! I have been the “corporate bro” for most of my career. That said, I am forever grateful for all I learned at the big banks. I absorbed some great processes and efficiencies but eventually, my mindset (and potential client base) outgrew the rigid corporate barriers and bureaucracy. Once I realized that my following of professionals, executives and clients was ready to follow me (not the moniker on the building), I knew I had to go elsewhere to serve my clients better. The only way to do so was either join a smaller, more nimble institution or create one. So, we created one and here we are a few years later building while enjoying.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
How long you got? Leaving the umbrella of a big team and virtually unlimited support was deathly frightening. It took me three maybe four years of discussions and preparation before I took the plunge. The first three-six months were the quintessential “sleepless” nights of self-doubt. I just knew that there was a need in the market for what I was offering and if I did not make it, it would not be for lack of genuine effort and grit. So, I stayed the course diligently and won our first big client within I think the 7th month. It has not been easy but certainly a slow, upward trajectory since that point. I have learned and improved more in the past few years than collectively in my career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
We thought saying no to clients early on would be bad for business. I felt that being new, how can we turn away business. So, we took on this extremely high maintenance client. Worst, they did not want to pay the usual retainer. We planned on putting in the first month of work (pro bono) and make it up on the back end. Moral of the story — never again. We realized that yes, while our company was technically new, my team and I bring decades of proven experience (literally 120 cumulative years). We just needed to believe in ourselves more and stand our ground which has served us very well since. That honest and affable but steadfast approach has helped to fortify our reputation (as well as my personal brand).
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We bring an extremely unique personal approach to an otherwise cold industry of financials, metrics, and extreme type A personalities. We were pitching a potential marketing technology company and I shuttered when they mentioned the other candidate for consideration. It was a well-known (mid-sized) firm not too far from us. Long story short, we won their bid because yes, we put in an overabundance of work on the front end. But more so, the client loved the fact that we benefited their cause all along the courting process, they joked that I should buy in some equity. Whereas the big competitor would only give up so much time and effort without the signed contract and retainer, mostly because of their known branding and tenure in the IB world. To be brutally honest, we have lost numerous deals to competitors and while we felt it at that time, there is always a hidden positive message to extract. A value add, empathetic approach attracted us to other, likeminded companies and executives who valued our ethos. We are not everything for everyone. On the contrary, we aim for high quality with similar mindset clients over all else.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Client selection! It is not easy to decline potentially big deals and revenue. At first you want to chase down each rabbit hole you get and while you land more deal, are they profitable and is the ROI worth it? Not to mention reputational risk for trying to work every and any deal. As we all learn, the focused, discerning approach usually serves us well. The same advice we preach to our clients we strive to incorporate ourselves. That advice: it is not just about the money only but also the strings (expectations and outcomes) that may be attached to that check. That is our job as an advisor to guide them and teach them through the good, bad, and ugly of the deal cycle. Engaging clients that value our time and collective experience is much more sustainable than debating other clients on the rates, fees, and prices just for the sake of winning every deal.
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 will say my network really did step up to support our firm and me personally. Truthfully, I would say my wife was most critical as a bouncing board of ideas but also as someone to push me off the ledge when I needed it most. She too is an investment banker, so she really understands our industry’s trials and tribulations. She believed in me well before I did and that is priceless.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let us shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let us start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A good company: offers services commensurate with the fees or otherwise. They do what they say for the most part, as promised. When you buy or hire a company for a given service and it goes as planned, you may come back to them. You may not if something better comes up next time or if the experience was not memorable enough.
A great company: brings additional value to their clients, enticing them to come back even if not solicited. Hiring a company for a service and feeling they went above and beyond leaves a lasting impression. Furthermore, that company should continue to “wow” the client after the check has been cashed or service rendered. One of the easiest but most impactful plays in our book — Stay on their radar to show them why they choose you in the first place. Continue to bring them value into perpetuity if possible. This reaffirms why they choose you. Bonus: you win additional referrals from that client. This is the difference between good and great.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Venn Model! What is your competency (the product/service/idea)? Is there a need in the market for said competency? Can you monetize that competency by converting it into a solution in the market?
- Passion. If you do not have a passion for what you are doing, you will run out of energy to continue through the good and especially the bad, eventually. When things go bad or dark (and they will for most start ups), only your passion and internal drive will keep you going.
- Marketing leverage: Tap into all potential resources whenever/wherever possible. This can be previous clients, external partners and vendors, people you worked with and worked for previously, organizations you’ve belong to and so on. Nothing like marketing from people you already know that can vouch for your business but also for YOU personally. Maximize each and every person within your personal network, this mandate goes for all employees. Imagine if we all leverage every person we know to help us, that is exponential power and output with only minimal input.
- Flexibility: If we have learned anything in 2020, it is that only those who can adapt and change will survive true downturns. Lean into your strengths with everything you have but constantly remain humble to build your areas of improvement. Bring an experienced mind but with a beginner’s mindset. That serves me well every single day.
- Integrity: At the end of the day, many ideas and ideals may be amazing, but it comes down to getting it done. The journey counts so much and I am a big believer of enjoying and learning every step of the way. That said though, from the client’s vantage point, you need to deliver, no excuses. We all know sometimes things do not work out, but it will not be for lack of pure effort on our part. Deliver if not over deliver (especially in the infancy stages on your business life cycle).
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
An impact or purpose driven ethos usually indicates that the company does not exist simply to make money. The best companies of course make money, but they solve a problem for their client base. Now if you can solve more than one problem or better yet, help a worthy cause while building your company, that is amazing. For example, with a purpose driven model, the monetary aspect of the business is then just a piece of our value. We have been (slowly) shifting more of our focus on helping minority owned and women only businesses for example. We are a minority owned and run firm ourselves and hope to make our mark through helping others like us. Access to capital markets, especially for women owned businesses, is extremely limited and we would love to help be a part of that change.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Most times their engines are running just fine, but it is the wrong fuel. If we have learned anything in 2020, is that not being able to adapt to change will be our demise. I would suggest that any company stuck in one gear or even heading into stagnation, they need to look at their product or service and convert it to a newer, more adaptable version of where they currently are. In other words, numbers do not lie. If you did not change your product or service but the growth chart is flat or worse, then you need to listen to that and expose what is not working and fix it. For example, COVID disruptions hurt our business in Q1/Q2 earlier this year. We had to adapt to be able to be front and center to catch deal flow, now that most f2f meetings were not happened, we quickly formed Zoom networking webinars and meetings. That kept us relevant and busy. This adaptation is something that will forever for a part of our business development efforts.
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?
You cannot stop. If you are bringing value in whatever it is you do, keep pushing forward. This is where doing something you enjoy with a passion comes into play as I referenced earlier. When things get ugly, most of us do not wish to continue for any other reason that we all must pay bills. That is not a fun existence. Do not let profit margins or cash flows change proven behaviors, especially if due to temporary conditions. Like most companies learned in 2020, keeping a healthy surplus of cash is no longer just an option, it is a dire requirement.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The ability to give up control as you grow. The best entrepreneur is great at what they do and the ability to soften the iron grip is a very slowly learned behavior. I deal with this daily. Allowing things to be delegated to others when I know they will not give the same attention I will. It comes down to prioritizing where I make the biggest impact in relation to time spent, then working downward from there to delegate outward to the team/partners.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
High quality due diligence up front and proactive follow through. If the client is not converting it is likely that they do not need your service (poor client selection) or they do not feel you are the best for it. Either case, it is your fault. Up front due diligence should weed out those that are not a fit for you. Conversely, if the client does not want to pay for your value, then you likely failed to create the bridge for them to realize that value. Maybe it was not time or maybe you need to adapt your approach better for a future time.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
This ties into client selection. Do not take on clients if you are not confident you can help them. Sounds simple but think about it. Would you rather pick a firm that has an extremely high close/success rate but with low quantity of deals OR a firm with a big number of deals but low success rate? Quality of client selection leads to quality of closed deals which leads to quality reputation of your firm.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
By now you probably gathered that everything we do is based on the optimal client experience. From the initial consultation call to delving into financials to the closing table, the client centric focus is always first and foremost! Sounds simple but it means getting into the trenches and staying there with the client (empathy) throughout the engagement and beyond.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Such large companies need to be extremely diligent in how their employees behave online. It is a job unto itself for those big companies to manage a successful social media presence. However, for our client base which is “middle market” (Private companies generating less than 1 billion dollars annual revenue) , it is an additional boost of marketing and credibility if managed properly. The survey you reference includes 1/3 public companies and 1/3 nonprofits, not just private companies. For our target base, any private company not leveraging social media in some form is not maximizing their returns and leaving money on the table.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Knowing whether to raise external capital or self-fund. This is the big question. Spend to build it and then they will come? Or go get the business and build as you go. I believe in the latter. We are self-funded. This is much safer but slower to grow. Now I can make the case for raising serious capital to build out an all-encompassing team and infrastructure as well. For me, the slow but enduring and stable road of self-funding was preferred. My initial nights were sleepiness enough and I did not want the pressure of external investors to sway my long-term decisions.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If money were no object, I would love and focus full time on a nonprofit to help young people find their way through life. Meaning find their passion (say by high school), focus on it, fuel it, then monetize it into their own business. This would solve so many problems in so many ways. For now, I enjoy my mentoring and coaching as my opportunity to help and give back. More to come on that now that you got me really thinking on expansion of the brand.
How can our readers further follow you online? In order of importance –
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!