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Artificial Intelligence in business development is an area seeing disruption thanks to mass adoption of this technology. This industry is expected to see massive growth beyond the pandemic, which is why the first tech IPO of the Covid era was one of the most-talked about of the year. With a stock price that soared over 60 percent above expectations in its June debut, ZoomInfo (NASDAQ: ZI) – a SaaS platform that helps B2B sales and marketing professionals identify and connect with their next customers – is clearly here to stay. To discuss the company’s success story, I had the pleasure of hosting a chat with co-founder and CEO Henry Schuck for the seventh episode in Comparably’s “Leadership Lessons” series with Entrepreneur.
Related: Free On-Demand Webinar: How ZoomInfo Developed a Winning Go-To-Market Strategy
During these virtual fireside talks, I ask CEOs to share some of the invaluable lessons that they have learned on their path to the top and advice they would give other entrepreneurs as they embark on their own careers. I found a real kindred spirit in Schuck. He also grew up in southern California and founded his company while in law school. After earning his business degree at UNLV, he went on to earn his J.D. at the Ohio State University where he co-founded ZoomInfo (formerly DiscoverOrg) in 2007. The go-to-market intelligence solution went through six M&As and now employs 1,300 people in multiple offices, helps 15,000 customers worldwide and has $350 million in recurring revenue.
Watch the full webinar to learn more about Schuck’s origin story and how he took the company public from the ground up. These are 14 key takeaways from my conversation with this incredibly transparent and captivating leader:
1. Believe there is nothing you cannot do
Schuck says it wasn’t until his late 20s that he realized that not everyone grows up with a can-do mentality. Despite growing up in a single-parent household with modest means, he still believed that if he worked hard enough he could do anything: “If you believe in yourself, you should jump in and get going. No one is going to believe in your business more than you believe in your business.”
2. There is no secret sauce to success as an entrepreneur
Despite many sleepless nights wondering if he was doing everything he could, Schuck eventually came to realize that there are no superhero entrepreneurs or CEOs out there. They are simply human beings who put their pants on one leg at a time like anyone else. There’s just a spectrum of difference, and that’s how hard they are willing to work and how open they are to learning and improving on a daily basis.
3. Invest in yourself
You’ll need to be your own first customer. If you’re confident the idea is the right one, go all in on your dream. With little idea of what the VC or private equity market looked like, Schuck and his co-founder started ZoomInfo (then known as DiscoverOrg) with $25,000 they put on their credit cards to get the business off the ground. The first customer came five months later.
4. Make sure your product solves a problem that every customer needs solved
If you walked into a room with 2,000 of your ideal customers, in the best scenario they should all be able to say your product solves an existing pain point for them. You can mess up a lot of elements of a new campaign, but you can’t mess up the marketing when it’s “lights, camera, action” with customers.
5. If you’re a CEO, you’re also a salesperson
If you don’t believe you are, Schuck says, he can guarantee you won’t be successful: “If you’re not in front of the customer selling your product and service, hearing that feedback and getting beat up along the way, it’s not going to work.”
6. It’s okay to make mistakes, but if you’re not honest with yourself about those stumbles, you up the chances of making them again
People are generally not very good at identifying things that they are bad at. They will avoid thinking about those things if they can. But a successful leader cannot afford this kind of thinking. He or she needs to be able to confront those failings and learn from them so it’s not repeated twice.
Related: 8 Leadership Lessons with Indeed CEO Chris Hyams
7. Feedback is a gift
If a manager feels a certain element of an employee’s performance stands to be improved, it’s incredibly valuable for the employee to hear that criticism, even if it is uncomfortable at the moment. If the employee is left to his or her own devices to choose the areas they need to improve in, they’ll likely choose the wrong ones, and there will be little alignment.
8. Don’t be afraid to act like a serious business if that’s your company identity
Do this, despite the pressure to add more PlayStations, ping pong tables or beers on tap in the break rooms. Schuck mentions ZoomInfo has a more buttoned-up identity when compared to other workplaces in the burgeoning tech space, but that over time it’s become a strategic value to the business, because it’s capturing the right people.
9. If you see long-term value in an investment, don’t focus too much on short-term pain
Don’t worry about investing money now for something you’re sure will be valuable to your business in the future. If you’re as convinced as you need to be about the investment, then the time is probably right to pull the trigger.
10. Do not settle on talent; instead, hire the best people you can possibly find
Take the necessary time and due diligence to hire the right people for your organization with the best at what they do and a good culture fit, with the ability to be coached. Schuck admits it was difficult to do this effectively when he tried to scale his successful 10-person sales team in the early days. It wasn’t until he utilized the Omnia cognitive test that things turned around. They found core qualities the team all had in common and looked for those same attributes in future employees.
Related: 10 Leadership Lessons with Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall
11. There are countless questions you need to ask yourself before the potential acquisition of another company, especially one that involves sales and marketing
Can you upsell the tech to existing customers? Does the combination of both companies improve both? Will your business grow faster with the acquisition of that company? Is it already profitable, or can you get it there? The ZoomInfo acquisition by DiscoverOrg was like a merger of equals, and it was clear that one company did some things better than the other, and vice-versa. Being focused on the best talent from both companies will find you the greatest value.
12. The recurring annual subscription is a hugely valuable business model
It creates the highest-value companies and puts you on the line every year to present a version of a report card to your customers, centered around whether your product continues to add value.
13. Make a commitment to earning great talent early on
In the early days of ZoomInfo, Schuck says he loved to hire people who were often overqualified in terms of experience so that he would feel committed to grow the company enough to make it worth that hire’s while: “If you feel that way about talent, then you’ve probably got it right.”
14. B2B businesses offer first-time entrepreneurs access to a multitude of problems that need solving
Many entrepreneurs starting out of college are focused on consumer-facing products, as that’s the context of the world they know so far. But the sooner a young entrepreneur can get into working on products for the B2B market, the better, as businesses have an endless number of pain points to solve for that are inherent to their operations.
Related: 10 Visionary Leadership Tips from Warby Parker’s Dave Gilboa