In this interview, Danielle Gillespie explains the methodology for bringing your ideas to life in a customer-centric business.
About Danielle Gillespie
Danielle Gillespie founded CorkGuru, a digital wine platform. After selling the company, she began working as a consultant helping startups create products that customers really want. Danielle’s guiding principle is that big ideas are secondary when it comes to the success of a new company. In her podcast, Ideas Last, Danielle interviews startup founders whose success comes from focusing on superior idea execution.
Read the Transcript
This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview
Deliberate Leaders I am your host Allison Dunn, executive coach and founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. Super excited to introduce our guest today. We have with us Danielle Gillespie, she has worked in the startup world for the majority of her career, she has founded her own company held various product development roles, and actively advises a number of tech companies. She has taught many concepts to life that began as an idea on the proverbial paper napkin. After working in product development roles for startups in various sizes and stages, Daniel founded Cork Guru, which is a digital wine platform and a super cool digital wine platform. By the way. It was after she sold cork guru that she began working as a consultant, helping startups create products that customers really want. Daniels guiding principle is that big ideas are secondary when it comes to the success of a new company. And her podcast ideas last Daniel interviews startup founders whose success comes from focusing on superior idea, execution. Our topic today that we’re diving into is the true meaning of a customer centric business. Daniel, thank you so much for joining us here today. Thank you, I’m really excited to be talking with you today. Awesome, I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. And so if you would be willing to share your number one leadership tip with our leader or deliberate leader listeners today.
Sure. So I would say my number one tip is something I discovered accidentally. And that is to have an accountability partner. And I’m sure it’s probably not novel information. But for me, as a startup founder, I discovered that having somebody outside of my company and off of my team, that I could be completely honest with and someone to help me set goals and wade through all the inputs, and then follow up week by week to see how did I do on those goals? What are our goals next week, and, you know, if I, if I had maybe not a great week, someone that just, you know, pat me on the shoulder and say, It’s okay, it happens. So, and I think this applies for leaders of any size company. People are always looking to the leader to have all the answers, and a lot of leaders don’t even want to ask questions. So, you know, I mean, and so it’s tough, right. And so I don’t know, you know, some of your, some of your listeners may be early stage and startup founders. And just because you don’t have a big budget doesn’t mean you couldn’t trade some options for a mentor, somebody just meet with you 30 minutes or an hour every week or every other week, just to kind of keep you on track. And then as you grow into a bigger, more developed company, then there’s, you know, all kinds of coaches out there and accountability partners and growth, you know, growth strategies, and I just found for me, having that one person every two weeks that I could just, you know, just unload on was super helpful. And it’s something I really miss. I mean, I kind of, I sort of Wish I could go back to that right now. Because that I had a really great relationship with the guy that I was using. And, you know, he was funny, it was good temperament for me, but he really kept me on track. And I wasn’t second guessing my decisions. I wasn’t spending my time and energy wondering if this is the next thing I should do. a decisive Yes, that’s the next thing you should do.
That’s awesome. You just totally sold the concept of coaching and accountability. So Daniel, thank you very much.
I genuinely believe it. I mean, I just I couldn’t have done it without, you know, without that kind of help.
That’s fantastic. And I’m just super curious. I mean, not to dive too much into that as the tip because I think that is like a fantastic tip. And you highlighted all the reasons why have you found that there’s a significant difference between an accountability partner and a mentor and what have they? Has there been a difference for you?
Well, I think that when you have a mentor is someone I would say you’re meeting informally, you can have their email, you have their text, you can check in with them and say, Hey, you know, what about this Could you introduce me, and mentors to me are super useful. And I, again, I’ve been really, really lucky, I’ve had a lot of great mentors along the way. I think when you decide to call it an accountability partner, you’re making a formal relationship with someone, no matter how you’re paying them. But you’re both agreeing that this is a little more than a casual conversation once a month, this is a, you know, this is something we’re both putting on our calendars and you know, life comes up, but let’s really try and get into the cadence of, of, you know, meeting with each other.
Fantastic. Outstanding tip, thank you. So, in, in your experience, and over the last few decades of all of the, you know, the things that you’ve been doing, when did you realize that focusing too much on big ideas can cause major problems.
Um, so probably, I would say, within the last 10 years or so, I had two different experiences that are one of them is just mind boggling. I was working for a company and I was part of the tech team. And this guy had this really great IP, and it was for first responders. And we built this beautiful, elegant solution. And, you know, the guy was very committed to just his idea of being the thing. And even though his idea was the heart of the tech that we built, we started we built a little more around it, that made it extremely useful, and quite valuable. And this, this man who he had, he, you know, he owned all the, the IP, and he was the founder, and he kind of lost his brains. I mean, he, we, he went, he stopped responding to the team. He, I mean, he had like a real, you know, a full team of people working on this stuff responding to the team, the I remember sitting at a board meeting, and I’ve never seen a group of professionals behaved so badly. And no one knew what to do, we went into hiding, they had to send him like certified letters to the basement of his house, because he wouldn’t come out because he was so upset by the fact that this product is sort of evolved into something slightly different, but honestly, really great. And, and that’s an extreme example, I mean, that, hopefully, you know, nobody can that that one doesn’t resonate with a lot of people, but especially the guy in the basement, but it’s, I mean, that was my first thought, like, Oh, this things could go really wrong. And then a few years ago, I was working with another company that, you know, we were considering doing merging with, and they had several million dollars in funding. And they had a big team, and they were turning along, and they had users that had organic growth, they were probably in the phase where they were paying a little too much to acquire new customers, but the customers were coming back. And again, they were this this founder was so committed to her idea that she that they couldn’t, as a team, just, you know, branch out and explore some slightly different tinge gentle product ideas or industries that could have made this product really pretty great. And it just wasn’t, you know, the vision of the original idea, and the whole company ended up just dissolving. All this millions of dollars gone. And as you just look at anything, what with just a little bit of you know, where I’m not talking about dumping the whole thing I’m talking about just, you know, rejiggering things a little bit and testing some different industries or, you know, 10, gentle enhancements, product offerings, that kind of thing. It just, it makes me shake my head. I just think it’s there. We’re so close.
I really appreciate you sharing both of those examples. And I can actually kind of almost like resonate with people that I know that are in you know, like they could have in that path, you know, certainly and that would be very sad. That happened. hindsight 2020 so passion is something you want to harness, right? For sure. It is what creates great napkin ideas. Yes. So in like a typical startup, how do you move from like the passion of the idea to the actual like reading it to Reading money, and some of the things that you know, are either hurdles or things like you got to decide like, what is the North Star when you’re trying to get it to birth? Right?
Um, well, so a lot of that is for and I agree, okay, the, as a startup founder, you need to have a lot of passion, because passion is what’s going to bring everyone else along on the ride. And you do have to advocate for what you’re thinking and your idea. What I think we’re things maybe go a little bit astray, is, first of all, the founder themself has to be coachable. So and you can tell that right away, I’m sure you can tell when you’re talking to someone, this person is open minded and willing to adapt where they’re not. So you can’t teach someone a mindset of adaptability. It’s, you know, the Go ahead, maybe you’ll be lucky. And that’s your maybe not right for me. But, so, so this, so that, so you start by, you know, kind of testing your idea around, and I’m not talking about testing your idea to your friends and family, because they’re likely to say, oh, great idea. But, you know, a few key people that, you know, are kind of plugged into the industry. So, an investor or someone in VC, someone like me who I don’t, I’ve talked to several different people just about their initial ideas. And if it’s something that’s in my wheelhouse, I can say, you know, I’ve done this research, I see what’s out there, I know what’s going on, you know, this idea with this caveat, good idea, this idea, and probably not the best thing you can do. So, you know, a lot of finding the taking that paper napkin and finding a place to start is evaluating what’s in the market, what tools are available? How much of this can I do manually or semi manually? without needing to, you know, how far can we get on a very little budget without spending gajillions of dollars creating AI machine that maybe nobody wants? That’s an extreme example, but you know, so like, you have to look at these different pieces and say, okay, great idea, here’s where we start. And we can get meaningful feedback on this first place that we’re starting. And if it’s, you know, there’s certain industries, certain products that just need the very capital intensive, there’s no way around that. But there are a lot of products that could start small, and, you know, wiggle to the right place.
I’m thinking, based on my experience, there’s the the original idea that comes from the founder, and then the team that implements it, you’re talking about the team, they had a big team around the table. So there’s marketing and sales and the actual, like, development or engineering portion of things. out, at what point do have you bridge that gap, I guess, because they are coming at it from different perspectives, and really maximizing and leveraging the talent they have around you to create and get to that next level.
So interestingly, a lot of companies now more established companies are hiring Chief Product officer. And that’s a, that’s a, you know, it’s a grand title. But it does actually describe something really important. And something that you don’t necessarily need a full time person for. You could do this with contract services. But that’s the person who is able to bridge the gap between what what’s, you know, first budget second business case? Third, what is possible? What are the customers saying, you know, any of these, each part is really important, but any siloed part, can’t make a decision for the whole. And sometimes the founder doesn’t have that experience. They might not, they might be a great leader, or they might be a great business person, but maybe not a great technical person. So this, so this, so having this sort of umbrella of product officer, or whatever you want to call it, that is listening and observing what’s happening in each of these business units. And the business unit might be, you know, one person per unit. But each of them, each part has going to have a different kind of feedback that each person is going to have a different perspective. And they’re going to try something and then that’s going to yield some sort of feedback and until you consider all the parts together, it’s very difficult to make a decision on one piece and all of the parts are important. And at the end of the day, the idea has to be last right? It’s got to be what’s the consumer responding to? What marketing? are they responding to? What product features are they using? What are they telling you? You know, what is their? What do you observe them doing? So it’s, it’s a, it’s, it’s been really, you know, it’s like a cool, I love it, obviously. And I’m like really excited about that kind of space. But it’s an important function and more companies are starting to roll out this role of product officer, understanding that you kind of need someone bridging that gap between all of the different parts, because each parts important, but together, the whole is, is going to be greater than the sum of the parts.
I think you’re highlighting a really critical component that I think would be a solution for many listeners that we have, through the podcast that if you don’t have someone who really is actually advocating to understand all the talent that you have at the table and their perspective, a lot of things can end up being like, we can’t do that. We can’t do that. We can’t do that having one party saying that it is you know, whether or not unified the communication to figure out how will How can we do it? If we can’t do that? What can we do? To move exactly as opposed to just still meeting which I think is what I am most common? Here happening is a stalemate. Right. And it’s, it’s that it’s them against it’s engineering against marketing, and they’re against sales.
It’s like the classic battle, right? And it’s, but yeah, but, you know, agents it or like, Oh, yeah, exactly. It’s, it’s one of, well, everyone’s against it. But No, I’m just kidding. No, no, I’m totally kidding. But it’s, it’s Yeah, I mean, I get it just it’s like, you know, no one’s against anybody. We’re all on the same team. But we all need to be sensitive towards each other. And, you know, sometimes you’re in the middle of something, it could be the most sensitive person in the world, but you might be like, down in the weeds, and it’s hard to pop your head up and take, you know, appreciate someone else’s sort of viewpoint. Yeah. Yeah.
Great tip. What would you say? Are the informal rules of communication, when you’re working in a tech startup that differ from maybe other industries?
Um, well, I think what the tech world do you have this other element of engineering, right? So you, you have the engineers themselves, or, and I’m an engineer, so this is this is my own observation is that, you know, we’re given a problem, we want to solve the problem. And we want an elegant solution. And we, you know, in general, could maybe go a little bit heads down and just say, you know, let’s churn through this. And sometimes, you need somebody that could recognize it, maybe the solutions, not the best solution, or it’s, it’s awkward, or it’s clunky. And instead of just pursuing the mission and doing what the boss said to do, someone needs to just maybe have a little more of a forum where you could speak up and say, you know, you know, this is complicated is expensive, we could do this semi manually and see if it works, or there’s something on the market that we could plug in here. So I think just in the tech world, having that little bit of extra sensitivity or forum for saying, you know, maybe this solution isn’t the best is very advantageous for tech companies.
And recognize that being in being comfortable of actually, like leaning forward and saying, Yeah, I’m not so sure this is the right path for us, correct?
Yes. Yeah. And I think, you know, some engineers will not feel comfortable doing that, and some will, and some just can just grind out amazing code, but not necessarily stop to think about whether it’s the right thing and both of those people I mean, like that person is I love having that person on my team. But everyone’s while it doesn’t, doesn’t really hurt to have a check in to make sure that all the pieces are really going to hang together in the end.
Yeah. I’m super curious. I’m, I’m often focused on strategy. So from a standpoint of a viable product, so I’m gonna go beyond like it’s beyond the minimal viable product like you’re having successes like people are loving it, people are using it’s, it’s dynamic, and it’s unique. What are the best strategies to amplify that in Really actually get, you know, your investment of the design and the engineering to get users or, or subscribers or whatever it is buyers of it.
What are your favorite strategies? Um, I mean, a lot of it is, again, this is sort of related to your budget and how much manpower you have. But I think a lot can be learned, just by seeing how people are using your product. So I mean, either visually observing them using your product, or in a lot of products in in a not creepy way. You can, you can get user stats, like you can pull a certain amount of stats out of most products that are, you know, they’re not sensitive in any way. But it just shows how people are using how often people are using how often are people coming back. And I think that using getting that those two elements and weaving that into what you’re going to do next is super important. And it doesn’t, again, it doesn’t have to be this really expensive process. I was working with another team, and we had released a product had some nice organic growth 1000 users. And, you know, we could find out who our power users and how often were people using it, and when people abandoning where they, you know, so big based, and then and then we ran, we tried to run. And so we were at this point where it’s like, okay, we’re ready to accelerate. And we were buying some Facebook ads, they seem to be working, but we weren’t getting the engagement that we really wanted. So you know that our step was, let’s sort of let’s dig into what engagement because it doesn’t matter if we have 10,000 users, if they’re only using at one time, we need our 1000 users or 100 users or 15 power users, we need to figure out what they like and what is why are the next people not coming back. So we had so you know, from their use, you observe what’s going on in the product? What could be better? What do people want? How are people using it for something other than you expected them to use it? And then and then, you know, make some decisions from there. So in the one case, in the case that I was just talking about, we decided to try and do some surveys and some stuff like that, and we couldn’t get the engagement. And that’s where it’s like, Okay, well, there’s something wrong here. Like, if you can’t get people to be like, if you can’t pay people to take a you know, like gives you usability stats on your or like feedback, usability feedback on your product, there’s something wrong there. I mean, like, yeah, it doesn’t mean that the products trash, it just means you got to go back to the drawing board and think about what’s going on and figure out how to just tweak it a little bit, then suddenly, everybody’s using it.
But I just, you know, that’s the first thing that I recommend is look at people, how are people using it? And how frequently and how engaged so truly applying, like the just old fashioned, you know, it goes to product technology, anything like if you have a consumer and they’re using it, like figure out how they’re using it and how they want to use it in like, adjust from there. So yeah, that makes it tough. I’m Danielle, I’m super curious, what would be your one piece of advice that you’d give to anyone thinking about doing a founder startup type of role? company?
Don’t do it? No, no, it’s I mean, it’s extremely rewarding. But I will say you have to have extremely thick skin. You have to have you have to know your it’s very likely you’re going to fail and you will 100% make mistakes and mistakes are okay failures, okay? You the your, your best outcome is going to be if you have a good network of people that can help you. And I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about people with business sense that will you know, throw a few hours in here or there or make some introductions or have some ideas if you get stuck. My mentor network is extremely strong, given a ton of free cycles by a bunch of people and I really try and give back as many free cycles as I can to people But I would say, I mean, your network, your emotional network and your professional network are going to be huge. And, and don’t just create a startup because you want to be an entrepreneur, like really put some time and thought into what it is that you’re building. And because you’re going to be stuck with that thing for quite some time. Yeah.
Excellent advice. I would say. I concur wholeheartedly of having a strong base to rely on and bounce off of and tap into for energy, just energy and affirmation or direction is huge. Yeah, I’m on your cork guru. Would you share, like, what would have been you consider to be one of your, your biggest lessons learned, not calling it a failure, but it’s just a huge opportunity for growth. So that, you know, maybe we can learn from that.
Hands down. I, I love to build, I build a product before I create a business case. Because I love to build. I’m an engineer. So I saw this need I would I, you know, a need, and I could get the product Bill and I did it. And it was the most backwards way you could ever go about building business. So then after a while, it’s like, well, this is this is a pretty expensive hobby, I should probably maybe, you know, hire someone and build a business case and see if there’s something here. So we I did and then I raised money. And you know, turns out the business case was good. But yeah, I did it completely backwards. And I still even to this day want to build before defending the build. But I’ve I don’t do that anymore. But I still I guess I could say I empathize with people who want to just keep building.
Can you high level talk about refraining from actually like building all the way? What must be in a business case to have it be a viable, justifiable investment to build?
Um, so I mean, the way I evaluate that is, and it’s, I will only help somebody if it’s in my wheelhouse in industries, I understand. So you have to understand what’s happening in the industry to begin with, you have to understand what trends are out there. And then you need to, if you can talk to a lot of people and people are like, Oh, that’s exactly what I need. And they’re just genuinely responding, then it’s probably a good idea if people are glad, but you know, glossing over and being like, Oh, yeah, you know, good go, Wait, way to go. Probably not a great idea. And, you know, you know, those products, right, I, I know, I met the founder was no way it was sold to Yelp. And it was the it’s a waitlist, write a text based waitlist application. So you can go to a restaurant and get in line, and then they text you when you’re when your tables ready. And when I heard that, I was like, I am the person that this has been built for, because I’m always going to the hostess stand going, Oh, come on, I can’t you just text me on the tables, right? I want to stand in here and three kids, it’s so crowded, it’s close. But, you know, like, that was a great idea. And I was the demographic for it. And you know, it took off. But you know, if you have a lot of people saying, Yeah, that’s a great idea, and I have that problem, then you’re going to be able to raise money, and you’re going to be able to get customers but, you know, some of its just feel and experience in the industry and understanding, talking to people who are involved in that part of the industry. And part of it has to be something you’re very passionate about. And part of it is identifying somehow through whatever you do a deed or perceived need.
You’ve mentioned once or twice about, you know, going and raising funds for do you think? Do you think that is mostly the case that you need to be able to get outside vendors to kind of take it there? If it’s a big idea?
I think most ideas know most ideas, you don’t need that much money. I think there are a few things that are you can’t do with a lot of cash flow. But I think there’s almost nothing that you can’t do with a very small amount of money.
I love the fact that you’ve said that. I think sometimes we think in order to get our ideas out there that we have to somehow go and raise funds and give up equity and you know the things that go along with it and you’re saying no So no, thank you. Thank you. Yeah. That makes me happy. Yeah. Daniel, thank you so much for sharing so generously your insights from startup to launching businesses, I just want to make sure that our listeners know how to best connect with you, or contact you.
Sure. So, my website Daniel Gillespie. dotnet. Is has you know, contact me forums, it talks a little bit about this ideas. Last framework, how I, I, you know, discovered it or, or started using it as my methodology. There’s links to articles that sort of give a high-level explanation of what it is. I mean, really just reaching me through the website is great or LinkedIn. I’m very responsive to LinkedIn as well.
Fantastic. Danielle, thank you so much for joining us today. listeners. If you found today’s episode, valuable, I encourage you to go over to our, our podcast, leave us a five star review and gives Daniel a nice some feedback. And if you do that we have a special offer for you in the notes, show notes. Thank you all have a great day. Thank you.