Team: While the concept is trite, it honestly took me a long time to truly understand the importance of team. All of the leadership books speak to people development, strong mentoring, emotional intelligence, etc. As a hyper-focused and new entrepreneur, I believed in team but focused more on revenue.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Yosh Eisbart, CEO and Co-Founder of Fulfilld.
Serial entrepreneur Yosh Eisbart understands intimately what it takes to successfully (and unsuccessfully) build a startup from two to over 300 employees. Currently on his fourth venture after most recently successfully boot-strapping and exiting his Enterprise Software company NIMBL to a global publicly traded competitor, Yosh is a published author (2x) and currently writing his third book “Startup Sutras” — his reflections on building gritty Startups through Mindfulness tradition. Yosh provides a real-world, humorous, and tactical perspective on a wide perspective of startup golden nuggets ranging from leadership, culture, sales & marketing, to building brand while attempting to look through a conscious lens of empathy, vulnerability, and accountability.
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?
Absolutely. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. I’m basically too impatient to wait for others and too difficult to manage as an employee. Being a founder and able to drive vision is my happy place. I love building businesses. I’m a growth junkie.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I am blessed to have found a business partner who I have worked with since 2005 — Michael Pytel. We self-funded NIMBL, an award-winning enterprise software and services company in 2009 during the Great Recession and recently sold to a global publicly traded competitor.
During those 10 years at NIMBL, we partnered with enterprise customers ($300M+) looking to digitally optimize their business processes. We often were asked to build custom logistics solutions both software and hardware. Some “Minority Report”-level stuff! While we brought game-changing innovations to market (including real-time San Francisco 49ers stadium game-day analytics and IoT-connected industrial manufacturing hardware), we never brought them to market under our own IP.
After selling NIMBL, we meditated on what we know, what the market needs, and what would get us excited to start yet another startup. Fulfilld was born… the intelligent 5G ultra-wide band (UWB) location-aware cloud-based warehouse management orchestration platform. We are the only location-aware WMS providing innovative bundled hardware (our own scanners) and software via monthly subscription.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Besides my co-founder Michael — without question — my father. My father has been and is my inspiration. He instilled in me at a very young age the importance and power of grit and ethics. He dreamed of owning his own business and sacrificed his entrepreneurial dreams for his family. He constantly challenged me as a kid to strive to do more and continues to this day. Love you pops.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Fulfilld is truly disrupting the warehouse orchestration world both technologically and with its go-to-market strategy.
From a technology perspective, we are the only location-aware cloud-based warehouse management orchestration platform proactively providing real-time machine-learning recommendations to reduce labor, optimize warehouse activities, direct tasks between humans and robots, and more. Beautiful mind stuff.
From a go-to-market perspective, we are providing a frictionless customer buying decision by removing up-front capital cost and instead selling via a monthly per use bundled subscription cost (including BOTH software AND hardware). Also, because Fulfilld is customer-implemented, there is no longer a need for expensive third-party implementation costs. Sorry IBM.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Doing good is an important part of our company and our personal missions. We strongly believe in giving back in both time and treasure. Our employees are able and encouraged to donate volunteer time to their philanthropy of choice. All employee volunteer time ispaid (no PTO lost), and we have a corporate philanthropy fund for employee-led/recommended causes.
We are also planning on building a warehouse-worker partnership program providing employment opportunity for populations looking to get back into the workforce. Fulfilld’s vision is being much bigger than software and hardware — we are looking to disrupt positively the warehouse experience.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
That’s an easy one. Grit. Decisiveness. Passion.
Grit is fundamental for business success. Having great ideas is not how startups succeed. It’s the unwillingness to give up and perseverance which makes the difference. There are too many examples of when pure will-power made all the difference, but I’ll highlight one because you asked. 😊 Early on in my previous startup (NIMBL), we had a game-changing opportunity to work with a Fortune 500 company at major scale when we were only 30 people strong. This company, an Ohio-based global services professional giant, and their leaders trusted us and our ability to figure it out. In 90 days, we had to: hire 30 people, build the appropriate systems and processes to support business criticalapplications, and not burn-out our company. The experience was insane and painful. Countless hours were spent performing, pivoting, regrouping, and persevering. We ultimately succeeded via sweat and sinew. The opportunity took our firm to the next level and ultimately a major reason for our company’s overall success.
Too many people, companies, and leaders are obsessed with perfection and knowing everything before making a decision… “analysis paralysis” as they say. Waiting to have all the answers — which is often impossible — is a killer. In my opinion, quick and decisive decision making is crucial in a startup. Without question, mistakes will be made AND that is where learning (and magic) happens. Making well-thought out and quick decisions is a must.
Work is not a hobby. It’s a choice and a life path. As such, business leaders must be passionate about what they are doing in order to be successful. Now that can manifest in a myriad of ways meaning it could be passion related to corporate vision, your teammates, your role, whatever. I am passionate about sales, marketing, brand, and people. Having my own company allows me to fuel the fire of those passions. If I was in it only for the money, it simply wouldn’t be successful.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Great question. Never spent any time really thinking about it in such a direct way.
Super tactical but one bit of advice I wish I never followed was investing in strategic partnerships.Now I am all in favor in investing time, money, and energy into MUTUALLY beneficial partnerships; however, unfortunately, too many are all give and no get. Early on in our first startup, we partnered with a MAJOR software player with grand visions and promises of incredible deal flow. In fact, we hired our business partner manager because we felt she could not only assist in navigating this complex partnership but leverage her 10+ years of relationships. Not only did we invest hundreds of hours into zero return but thousands of dollars in vendor sponsorship. It was a very hard and valuable lesson.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
In year three of my previous startup, I had transitioned from a billable consultant into pure sales in order to bring full-time focus into revenue generation. I had never been a “salesperson”; I wasn’t trained and had no experience at all in enterprise software sales. Our business was small and the leap — which I had pitched to Michael and we strategically both agreed to — was a big one. After three months of failing to close a single deal, we were both frustrated and disappointed. I was full of self-doubt and fear.
One stressful day, Michael and I went outside to talk privately. (Our 1,200 square foot office was filled with our 12 employees sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in one long desk.) “You told me you were going to sell something!!” Michael screamed at me nose to nose. “It’s been three months and you haven’t sold anything!” It was perhaps the lowest point in my entrepreneurial career. And while the delivery was far from ideal, he was correct, and the future of the company rested on my soldiers. “Give me time,” I said dejected. “It will happen.”
Two weeks later, after presenting a research paper at an industry conference, two gentlemen approached me asking if I had time to speak with them regarding their enterprise software challenges. This was the Ohio Fortune 500 company I spoke about before. This company changed our business.
And that hard time experience gave me the confidence that we can, would, and will be successful.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
My natural attitude towards challenges is to run right at them. I am gritty, competitive, and hate failure. I believe 60% is DNA (nature) and 40% is how I was raised (nurture). As a father of four children of my own now, I find myself often in “teaching moments” to my own kids. As with anything, receiver absorption has to do with one’s delivery and the audience. Let’s just say my teaching varies greatly based on the child.
In terms of strategies to assist in building resilience muscle (pun intended), I believe strongly in exercise. Working hard through physical (yet reasonable) discomfort not only provides me with a sense of accomplishment and endorphins but reaffirms hard-core and mental focus can allow me to overcome challenge.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Funny you should ask.
I am in the process of writing a book called, “The Startup Sutras,” which captures a few (108 😊) personal learnings I’ve captured over my entrepreneurial experience. In the book, I try to share mistakes I have made and a few wins when blending startup grit with mindfulness tradition.
One of the most recent Sutras speaks directly to the Buddhist concept of “The Middle Way.” While at the brink of death, Buddha realized adherence to either of the two extremes (indulgence and deprivation) was the wrong path to enlightenment. By instead following a Middle Way, we are most capable of realizing our truest potential. If interested in reading more, this Startup Sutra can be found here.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
If you are able to bootstrap, it’s an absolute no brainer to do it. Self-funding provides you as a Founder with ultimate control without giving away any ownership.
We self-funded our first venture which was primarily services (consulting) but are now raising venture capital for Fulfilld this round because of the capital-intensive upfront requirement for building an enterprise software product.
If we had the option to self-fund Fulfilld — we’d do it.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
While there are many important factors, in my experience, these five have served me best. Here goes…
- Co-Founder: Partnering with a co-founder who complements you has been fundamental to my success. While definitely not easy regardless of co-founder, having that rock to lean on, share responsibility/pressure, and bringing a different lens and expertise is priceless. My co-founder of 16 years is very special. He is the 1% of 1%.
Early on in our previous startup, we had a game-changing opportunity with a Fortune 500. The customer had asked us to perform a “cold eyes” review on their behalf with their current vendor. Their vendor, a tier-1 incumbent, was less than thrilled of our exercise. Michael and I walked into a packed conference room where literally 20 employees of the competition were seated cross armed. The objective of the meeting was to “learn” more about their current software system processes; however, our intention (and everyone was aware) was to find flaws for our advantage. Michael did amazing! It was biblical David versus Goliath. While I knew how amazing Michael was/is — he still blew me away with his cool, calm, and collected performance. We closed a small deal that day, which turned into one of the largest contracts in our history just several months later. (Epilogue: Years later at a conference, the CEO of that competitive vendor came up to me sharing how impressed he was of our technical, sales, and professional win. He remains a friend/mentor to this day.)
2. Sales-first approach: My startups have always been sales-first driven organizations. Revenue is the lifeblood of any business ESPECIALLY a new one. I believe strongly that a focus on sales is imperative and creates the flywheel for growth. Every person within your company has the opportunity to sell from the office manager to head of sales. Create a culture where folks are incentivized (referral bonuses) to recognize opportunity and then bring in your sales team. Some of our biggest opportunities came from a non-salesperson speaking to a friend at another company and identifying a lead we NEVER would have found.
After we sold our first company, the acquirer management had a delivery-first approach. Pre-acquisition, we would have sold deals and found a way to deliver it. Sure, it was bumpy and not without some bruises, but we managed through it. This delivery-first philosophy started prioritizing “delivery-excellence.” Resources and energy were diverted towards systems, processes, and meetings. To be honest, the quality of delivery was no better AND the sales slowed down dramatically. Not the result one aims for.
3. Thought-Leadership: In the book “Rework,” the authors behind 37 Signals speak to the concept of “Emulate a Chef.” Essentially, the idea is sharing recipes as Master Chefs Emeril or Rachel Ray do, It’s a wonderful and effective way to sell. Giving away one’s special sauce is the best way to win customers you ask? Absolutely! When sharing knowledge (by being a thought-leader), we are able to build credibility with our audience which in turn can (and does!) drive sales. We consistently create, encourage, and incentivize (again) our team to blog, speak, and write. It has been the biggest revenue generating engine for all of our businesses.
I had just written my first book, “Outsourcing SAP Operations,” and was able to get a pre-con speaking slot at one of our industry conferences. Attendees paid extra to attend this full-day seminar where I presented key book themes and discussed with the attendees specific challenges experienced within their organizations. During the course of the day, a pair of folks continued to move closer to the front of the room until they were sitting in the front row. They asked thoughtful and sophisticated questions. I did my best to answer as well as I could. At the end of session, they approached me and asked if I would speak with them at greater length over a beer. (Who turns down a beer?) The drink(s) turned into a deep dive, two-hour discussion and a two-week strategic assessment. Ten years later, that company is still one of our largest clients and became the platform for our startup’s rocket ship growth.
4. Team: While the concept is trite, it honestly took me a long time to truly understand the importance of team. All of the leadership books speak to people development, strong mentoring, emotional intelligence, etc. As a hyper-focused and new entrepreneur, I believed in team but focused more on revenue. With a ruthless pursuit always on sales, I was obsessed with closing the next deal, and if I’m being honest, I neglected to pay enough attention internally towards the folks making it happen. It wasn’t until many years into our startup did I begin to spend more time inward and really make the effort to focus on team.
We had this incredibly talented engineer who always was able to solve our customers’ hardest challenges. He was a technical genius and an emotional train wreck. I knew his interpersonal skills were not the strongest. He was rude. He was condescending. He was short-tempered. Nonetheless, we tolerated his behavior because he was a technical rock star and a cash cow. I prioritized his technical contribution more than his social detriment. It was only after this brilliant engineer got arrested (true story) did I have the realization that regardless of revenue, he should not be a part of the team.
Team is so much more important than any one individual. I realize that now.
5. Peer-Support: Having objective peer advisory is so important for leaders especially in the startup journey. Even the most self-aware and evolved Founder (which I am not) doesn’t see all perspectives nor have the experience of others — whether more junior or senior. I have been blessed to be part of a peer-network group called Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) where I have access to countless leaders across the globe to tap into. I also have a small forum of peers locally with whom I meet regularly to share challenges, triumphs, questions, and experiences across the full spectrum of personal, family, and professional. This band of brothers has been priceless in my startup from the early days through an exit and now onto a new startup.
It was a particularly difficult day, and I was at my wits end. My business partner and I had a disagreement related to a strategic decision. Michael was wrong I thought. Full stop. As with many of my challenges, I reached out to my YPO Forum to seek their consul. “Yosh — stop being such an idiot.” My forum mate said. “You are so focused on control and ‘being right,’ you are not even listening to Michael’s perspective. He’s correct. You’re wrong. You are better than this.” My forum had put a mirror to my face. Their peer-support was and continues to be invaluable. Having trusted, confidential, and outside perspective is crucial for personal development especially as a startup founder.
There are many national and international groups which provide professionally focused peer support. Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and Vistage are another two which can drive tremendous value. Also, you could create a forum experience on your own. If you aren’t part of some peer-support construct — do it. It will change your life. Seriously.
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?
I spoke about this briefly above but believe strongly so I’ll dive a bit deeper. One of the most common mistakes I see startups make is confusing sales with delivery. Sales is the absolute lifeblood of any business especially early-stage companies. If you don’t have business, you won’t have a business. So many companies focus on perfection and delivery excellence as the apex. Don’t get me wrong — creating and maintaining a strong sought-after product is VERY important; however, it’s not THE MOST important.
Build sales pipelineand close deals. This revenue fuels growth which in turn is reinvested in your product. It sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how many companies I know die on the vine because of product/service perfection obsession. I write about this concept in detail in my Sutra of the same name: Startup Sutra #99: Don’t Confuse Sales with Delivery.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
I mentioned this a bit earlier regarding the importance of physical exercise. I am religious about making time daily for personal physical activity. Somedays it might just be a walk around my neighborhood.
In terms of mental wellness, I am a strong believer in “Sitting” (aka meditating). I carve time out almost every day — most often before the day begins — to sit and breathe. I practice Vipassana but any stillness practice allowing one focus on one’s breath works.
There is always enough time for that which one prioritizes.
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. 🙂
Not sure I am a person of great influence, but I do believe we all have the power to influence those around us and most effectively through action (aka walking the walk). If I could start a movement cultivating good, it would be something related to self-empowerment. Empowering people to help themselves impacts a lifetime and has powerful ripple effects. Helping someone for a moment — while important and noble — is not long lasting.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
For business — I would love to meet Jeff Bezos. He is such a visionary and constantly evolving.
For life — I would love to meet the Dalai Lama.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Be well. Be Fulfilled.