Lessons in Successful Leadership with Dan Mallin and Scott Litman , Co-Founders of Equals 3
Don’t do it to get rich. While successful entrepreneurs can receive lucrative financial benefits, there are lots of ways to make money if that is the overriding goal. To take on the risk, to face the unbelievable odds and to be all in on the exhaustive hours required for successful entrepreneurship, it’s important that the overriding goal is that you love what you do.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Mallin and Scott Litman, who are the co-founders of Equals 3, a martech company leveraging the power of AI. The team has created an award-winning AI platform named Lucy, who taps the cognitive computing power of IBM Watson to help Fortune 1,000 marketers face common challenges across research, segmentation, and media planning. The platform has gained a lot of traction, attracting a strong client roster of Fortune 1,000 brands and the agencies who serve them.
· Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
Scott Litman — I grew up in Minnesota, went to the U of M and have been an entrepreneur in marketing services and ad tech for my entire adult life. I’ve built four ventures prior to the current venture, all were high growth, all had successful exit events including building a digital agency (Imaginet) that we sold to WPP, an ad tech company (Spot Buy Spot) that we sold to Comcast and a Salesforce Consultancy (Magnet 360) that we sold to Mindtree out of India.
Hallmark of those ventures has always been on emerging tech, what’s the next thing that will change the way that marketers do their job.
Dan Mallin — I have been an entrepreneur since grade school. Sold my first business in High School. Worked for Apple, Microsoft and 3M/Imation. With my partner Scott, we created 4 companies and sold 3:
o Imaginet to WPP
o Spot Buy Spot to Comcast
o Magnet 360 to Mindtree
o We still have Equals 3
· Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
SL — As I’ve progressed through my journey as an entrepreneur, sports has always been on the side as a second passion and something that keeps me (somewhat) balanced. For many years, it was playing 2 man beach volleyball but as I’ve gotten older, it’s been about coaching youth sports. I love it as with kids, it’s all about them. I’m not a reasonably well known entrepreneur, I’m just “Coach Scott.” To that end, I try to find ways to make sure I am always available and present as an entrepreneur but also to be there for the kids. I mostly find ways to make this work, although back in March of 2016, I was presenting an early version of Lucy in New York to a group of industry executives and back in Minneapolis, my then 10 year old son and his team were playing in a basketball championship. I was regrettably resigned to missing the championship, which was personally painful as I never miss a game and hardly ever a practice. But somehow, the stars and moons aligned as I wrapped up my presentation 5 minutes early, somehow got across and out of Manhattan (during the St. Patricks Day Parade no less), made record time to LaGuardia, scooted through security and jumped an earlier flight as the last passenger to board. The flight which I should not have been able to get on had an arrival time in MSP that should have allowed me to get to the game by half time, but everything ran early and I somehow made it in time for the opening tip. It felt like I somehow broke the laws of space & time that day and it ended up being an amazing game with my son’s team winning in the final seconds.
· What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
SL — Lucy. Lucy is our AI assistant to the marketing professional, but she’s also for the moment relatively unique in the world of marketing.
We have invested over 40,000 hours of development into the creation of Lucy and while you can’t turn around without hearing AI and Machine Learning in the marketing space, we still appear to be unique in the world of marketing with an AI capability that aids with research, audience analysis and media optimization.
DM — Equals 3 has the unique position of being the creators of Lucy — the premier AI solution for marketers. Lucy provides ubiquitous access to all of the data a company collects, owns, rents, or licenses. Through one query and she can bring back answer sets from both structured and unstructured data. Lucy is an answer engine not a search engine, so she finds the answers to questions not documents.
· What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
SL — Read Traction and adopt EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System).
We are big fans of EOS, which is an agile framework for entrepreneurs to build and run their ventures. We have used it in the past with great success and it helps entrepreneurial businesses go from long term goal setting to the tracking and accountability for the actions of each individual to achieve our goals.
DM — Company culture is a critical component to overall success. At Equals 3, we want our employees to be empowered, responsible individuals working in an environment where anyone can challenge the operating concepts (not personal), all while having fun delivering on intellectually challenging projects. All of our employees know this going in, and it’s how we operate each and every day.
· 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?
SL — Two people, Ken Gudorf and Skip Gage.
Ken for connecting me with my business partner to Skip initially and providing steady and smart advice over a long span of time to all of us.
Skip for being an investor, supporter, mentor and active Chairman of the Board for two of our ventures (Imaginet and Magnet 360).
DM — There have been many notable people along the way. Neil Clemmons at Apple, Ed Fischer & Chuck Harstad at 3M. While all of these people took the time to mentor my raw talent, Skip Gage, really stands out as the person who aided me most on the entrepreneurial journey. He invested in our companies, and he twice chaired our board. Most importantly, he made himself available whenever we had questions or other needs. I am proud to call all of these people my friends.
· How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
SL — Dan and I co-founded the Minnesota Cup (www.mncup.org). The Minnesota Cup is the largest statewide business plan competition in the country that had supported over 14,000 participants and where finalists have raised nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in capital over the last 14 years.
DM — Scott and I founded the Minnesota Cup, which has created a thriving entrepreneurial culture in the state of Minnesota over the past 15 years. We are proud to say the Minneapolis was just named Business.org’s 3rd best city for entrepreneurs behind San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX.
My wife, Deb, and I founded another startup, The Literacy Matters Foundation, which is delivering basic literacy education to first, second, and third-graders. We have the vaccine for Illiteracy. We just completed our pilot in Minneapolis and will be expanding from here. “Literacy and Justice for all” is our motto. Our website is: LiteracyMatters.org
· What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO/Founder” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
SL — I’ve been a CEO / Founder for my adult life, so it’s been a long time since there was a “before”! A few key things I’ve learned along the way include the following:
1) Entrepreneurism is a team game. Having a business partner that is “all in” with you in an invaluable asset. My business partner Dan Mallin & I have been together for 20 years and having a kindred spirit, but one that also has strengths and weaknesses that are complimentary to my own has made us a far more powerful duo then anything that either of us could do alone.
2) Good entrepreneurs have as a strength and weakness, an unfailing belief in one self. It doesn’t mean we don’t fail at times, but it does mean that we have a belief that sometimes defies expectations that one way or another, we will figure out how to succeed.
3) Surround yourself with people that are smarter then yourself. Only a fool thinks they are the best at everything, so find the people that have talents greater then yourself in the specialized areas that you need to build your business.
4) You will face gut wrenching rejection, so get over it. Along the entrepreneurial journey, there will be those who should invest, but won’t, you will get fired by customers, you will get turned down by potential employees or have people important to you that leave. There are days where you will get hit right in the gut by the people that are most important to you. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to take that hit and just keep moving ahead.
5) Don’t do it to get rich. While successful entrepreneurs can receive lucrative financial benefits, there are lots of ways to make money if that is the overriding goal. To take on the risk, to face the unbelievable odds and to be all in on the exhaustive hours required for successful entrepreneurship, it’s important that the overriding goal is that you love what you do.
DM — 1. Hire people smarter than you. Bringing in talent that demonstrates your commitment to excellence, pushes your other team members and impresses your clients sets the tone in the company. Doing this has opened doors for our company, brought in people that I would have thought would not consider the organization and raised the overall delivery of our organization
2. Networking — Leverage the people you know, the contacts of your team members, or anything else that will allow you to have that conversation. Sometimes you need advice, sometimes you need a scout and sometimes you just need revenue. You need to be comfortable leveraging your network to get there.
3. Change can become a core competency. Change is something that is often resisted. People default to the status quo. If you can create an organization where the ability to adapt and change is a core competency you have a unique capability that allows you to compete against both David and Goliath.
4. Make time for yourself and your family. (Everyone else will take it from you.). Downtime, relaxation, and quiet all open your mind and provide you the time you need to rejuvenate.
5. The power of no. No provides you with the focus to concentrate on the yes’s. No is harder to deliver. A soft no shares your reasoning and can often deliver value. Some of the best client opportunities that have come our way started with no and an explanation. Next thing you know, the client is selling you on why yes is a better answer. If they are willing to fight for yes, I can reconsider.
· Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
SL — “The journey is the reward.” — Steve Jobs
DM — “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” — Steve Jobs
· Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
SL — Elon Musk. He is a generational founder and creator, capable of making his vision a reality and doing so against impossible competition and market forces. He’s in the rare company of the greats like Disney, Jobs and Franklin.
DM — How about playing bridge with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates or at least meeting them for a hamburger after the game? These two have successfully amassed wealth and turned that into a platform to change the world. They have been able to take on challenges that the largest governments have set aside. To me, this is less about what they have done and more about learning what they plan on doing from here.
Originally published at medium.com