Companies that have sought out true interims will tell you that during initial conversations, the executive interviewed the company as much as the company interviewed the executive. Having jumped into everything from manufacturing to healthcare, to AI, interims are choosy about the assignments they take on. They are not shy about a challenge, but want to have major impact. The best interim execs have a finely honed internal screening check-list to decide what’s best to parachute into.
Cleve Adams is no stranger to high growth situations, having built a SaaS cyber security software company from pre-revenue to a $1B IPO in three years. As an interim exec and four-time VC-backed CEO, Cleve says there are four vital components to evaluating a company.
Cleve asks: Does the product make sense? Does it work? Is it something that can be solved? For example, the internal-communications tool, Slack, won over millions of customers with a very defined and focused product, which tackled pain points in companies struggling to remain transparent, with clear flow of communication and collaboration among team members. But some products never make it past the start line: they just don’t make sense. Inc’s article on the 21 worst product flops of all time, summarizes some of the worst product launches in history, from Pepsi AM (a soft drink for breakfast), to Heinz Purple Ketchup, to Harley Davidson Perfume. Knowing exactly what the product is (and isn’t) is the first step to gauging a company’s potential.
What if there’s just no market for your product? Cleve instantly asks himself: what kind of market are you in? Is it a market that’s on an upswing or downswing? Where does the product fit in? It doesn’t work if a product is too early to the market – remember Friendster? No? Ok how about Plaxo? Or it could be the market’s been destroyed (Three Mile Island was not so good for the nuclear energy industry for the next 40 years). Maybe it’s that the market got saturated. After Groupon, 300 coupon sites launched, and none are left standing now.
This also should drive how a company goes about product development. Companies get stuck when teams climb up in their ivory tower for months (or years) to develop the perfect product, only to find it gets no traction when it goes to market. Instead, effective companies have a habit of taking an iterative approach, testing the market and getting customer feedback to make changes and improvements along the way.
Cleve notes: the best ideas won’t work unless you have a quality team laying the groundwork. “I think the executive team is something that needs to happen right away,” he says, adding that skillsets from the CEO to marketing, sales, business development, engineering, and support, need to be lined up from the start. Joe Piscopo realized the power of forming a strong team, having founded software firm Pansophic Systems when he was 24 years old, ultimately growing to 1,600 employees, customers in 60 countries and $230M in revenue. In How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, Piscopo says “hiring poorly prepared people, weak people, or bad people – and each has a different kind of background – is probably the cause of 75 percent of company failures.”
4. Go-To-Market Strategy
Without excellence in go-to-market, everything else will likely crumble. Cleve says he always looks for speed when he asks “how do we want to take this to market?” He scans multiple possibilities – from online channels to direct sales, inside tele-sales, outside sales organizations, and channel partners.
Like a house, a company needs a blueprint and good foundation. As a founder, investor, or member of the executive team, that blueprint may not yet be fully mapped, but that’s where an interim comes into play, often starting with an operational roadmap to make sure the four pillars of success are in place. Is your product, market, team, and GTM ready for prime time?