Pam O’Hara is the CEO of Batchbook social CRM, which she co-founded in 2006. She is responsible for setting the overall direction and product strategy for the company. As a businesswoman and mother, she is committed to running a company that can adapt to the unique needs of both its employees and its customers in order to foster better organization, increased productivity and more balanced lifestyles.
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- “The enemy of good is perfect.” – Geoff O’Hara
- Pamela has always lived the life of an Entrepreneur, and so she has some great stories to share in this segment.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Sometimes we have those lightning bolt AHA moments while we are thinking about or doing something else. This is exactly what happened to Pam, and she tells it so well here.
- Batchbook is doing so many things so well, but listen to the one thing that really has Pam excited.
Small Business Resource
- Pam’s top Internet resource is a Kindle… you know her book recommendations are bound to be goodies.
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John Lee Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply elated to introduce my guest today, Pamela O’Hara. Pam, are you prepared to ignite?
Pamela O’Hara: Absolutely!
John Lee Dumas: Alright! Pam is the CEO of Batchbook Social CRM, which she cofounded in 2006. She’s responsible for setting the overall direction and product strategy for the company. As a businesswoman and a mother, she’s committed to running a company that can adapt to unique needs of both its employees and its customers to foster better organization, increase productive in a more balanced life.
I’ve given Fire Nation a little overview, Pam, but why don’t you take it from here? Tell us a little bit about you personally. We want to get to know you. And then tell us a little bit about your business.
Pamela O’Hara: Thank you so much! Thanks for having me. I’m really excited.
John Lee Dumas: My pleasure.
Pamela O’Hara: So a little about me and my business, as you had mentioned, I have three children, and the fourth is my business. They like to rotate around to who takes up the most of my time, but it’s a really fun juggle. I started the business about 6 years ago. My youngest was born 5 years ago. So that can tell you I really am doing it all at the same time. The impetus for my starting this business was really taking all of the sort of energy I had around technology and software development, but being able to craft my own schedule, my own efforts so that I could spend the time I wanted with my family as well. So that’s really what started it. Some weeks I’m more successful with that than others, but I really have been able to spend a lot of time working with technology people, building something we really believe in, putting a lot of time and being passionate, but also being able to intertwine that with spending a lot of time with my kids, being really involved in their schools, in their other activities. So it’s been a wonderful way to make it all work.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome, Pam! I really look forward to delving into that more later. But before we do, let’s start with your favorite success quote. EntrepreneurOnFire, we’re all about getting the motivational ball rolling. You have some great content for us, so get us pumped up with your favorite success quote.
Pamela O’Hara: Well, my favorite success quote actually comes from my husband who is a huge part of my making all of this work. Having that support network, that’s how you do it. His quote, which he probably tells me weekly, if not daily, is that the enemy of good is perfect. He tells me this a lot because I am a perfectionist and I am apt to spend a lot of time, whether it’s on the art project I’m helping one of the kids with or the new project we’re trying to launch with Batchbook or the new campaign we want to do. Whatever it is I’m working on, I really like to dig in and work on it until I feel like it’s perfect, and he tells me again and again, “Get something out there! Give it to your team. Give it to the kids. Get what you’re doing out in the world. Get feedback from others. Don’t keep it to yourself until it’s perfect. You’ve got to get it out there.” That’s been just a huge part of my being able to do as much as I do, is that I am able to share things even before I feel like they’re ready to be shared. I’m able to share them with my team and with my family and get their help, and that really helps move me forward.
John Lee Dumas: I love that. And just so we can attribute him correctly in the show notes, what’s his first name?
Pamela O’Hara: Oh, he’s name is Geoff.
John Lee Dumas: Alright. Well we will link that up. I love that quote for so many reasons, I don’t even know where to start, but one place I can start is just – we bring this up a lot – Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup. He focuses so much on you need to get your minimally viable product out there so you can get feedback from the customers because if you’re waiting to create that perfect product, one, that you’re never going to create it and you’re never going to launch it, and two, if you do, it might be perfect for you, but it’s not perfect for the marketplace. So I love that aspect.
Another thing about that quote, it just kind of brings back memories of back when I was an officer in the Army and we were getting ready to deploy to Iraq so we were doing all of these different training exercises. One of my platoon sergeants really hammered home. He’s like, “Lieutenant! A good plan now is better than a great plan later because we might not be around later.” So that’s really kind of the mentality in the battlefield as well, is that you need to come up with a good plan now. If you wait to make a great plan up, you just may not be around to make that great plan. So there’s so many aspects of that I love, but Pam, take it down to the ground level. How have you actually applied that quote, “The enemy of good is perfect” to your everyday life, to a specific example?
Pamela O’Hara: Well, as you mentioned, we definitely are very much of The Lean Startup mentality here, and what we do in our product development cycle is we will take an idea and we will go through a discovery process. So our team will come together and let’s brainstorm. Okay, this new feature that we want to add to our product, what do we think we should do with this? So a bunch of people will input information, and then in that meeting we’ll take it down to the “MVP” that you talked about – the Minimum Viable Product. What’s the least thing we can do to get it out to the world and get people using it? After we take it down to that level, we’ll put it aside for a couple of days or even a week, and then we’ll come back to it again and say, “You know what? Let’s cut it down a little bit more.” We’re so excited.
That’s one of the hard things, especially in the small business, I think, because resources are so limited. You want so badly to do all of the things that you can do, but you’ve got to keep coming back to that. Let’s do something good. Let’s do something valuable. And if someone has something in their hands today that’s valuable, that’s better than having something in their hands a month from now that’s ever so slightly more valuable. So we put that into practice a lot here with our development schedule.
John Lee Dumas: That’s so, so true, Pam. Thank you for giving us that real example. That’s what it’s all about. EntrepreneurOnFire is about your journey. So we’re going to continue your journey and reach back in time. You’re an entrepreneur. You fail or you come across challenges or obstacles every single day, but at some point, you really had a telling failure or a telling challenge that you just really had to overcome in order to maintain and to continue on as an entrepreneur. Share with Fire Nation that story. Bring us down to the ground level and really share with us how Pam reacted to this situation.
Pamela O’Hara: I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I had a lot of opportunities to learn from the mistakes, but the hardest things to overcome tend to be the people things, at least for me. That’s when as a business owner, there are times when there’s a team member that is just isn’t quite the right fit. That’s really difficult because again, with the small business, we’re a family. We’re very tight, we spend a lot of time together, we’ve done a lot together. But as a business owner, I also have to understand that I am taking care of everyone on this team and if there’s one person that’s not quite the right fit, it’s my responsibility and I owe it to my team to make that right. So that can be really, I feel like, the hardest part of being a business owner for me, is that time when you have to put your business interests first for the sake of everyone at your business, but sometimes it might be a difficult decision or a difficult situation. I’m in this for this team. I love this business and I love what I do because I work with such wonderful people, but that’s what also makes it so hard when every once in a while, the situation just doesn’t work out.
John Lee Dumas: So Pam, these challenges and obstacles that you’re talking about in a very abstract way are so important because they can apply to all of the listeners in any industry, and that’s what I love about talking about things abstract. So I’m glad you [led] it with that, but this is again really about your journey, so take us down to the ground level. Share with us an actual time. Take us there.
Pamela O’Hara: I appreciate your calling me out on that.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Pamela O’Hara: I was intentionally abstract because I do feel like in those situations, they are personal situations, and so I just don’t feel like it’s right to sort of air that situation. It’s hard to do without being a little abstract. So what I will say is as a business owner, there have been a couple of times, probably a handful of times in the 6 years that I’ve worked here, that there was just a situation with an employee where they weren’t contributing what we needed them to contribute to the team, for whatever reason. In every single situation, it’s been wonderful people, it’s been people who’ve been dedicated to this team, but for whatever reason, it just wasn’t the right situation for them.
In probably half of those times, going to them with that information, being very clear, explaining to them that it wasn’t working, explaining to them why, in some situations, we were able to turn it around and they ended up being amazing contributors. They just didn’t understand or they didn’t realize or they didn’t see the situation. In other situations, they weren’t. They weren’t able to turn that around, and ultimately, we had to part ways. So that’s really what I’m describing in there, is having that situation where you’ve got someone who’s not able to contribute, and it’s holding the team back. Being able to really talk to that person, address that person directly, help them see what’s going on, and then ultimately making the decision, can they stay as part of the team?
John Lee Dumas: That is such a tough part about being an entrepreneur, is that…
Pamela O’Hara: That’s the hardest part [Laughs]. I think.
John Lee Dumas: Or in Pam’s words, the hardest part.
Pamela O’Hara: [Laughs]
John Lee Dumas: Because you are so excited and you’re so passionate about your own business, and then you reach the point where you need to bring people on and you look at it like a family. So you hire these people and you bring them on with this passion and enthusiasm and everybody’s on the same page, or so you think, and you’re moving forward and things are just going great and you have this vision, these allusions of grandeur that everybody’s always going to have the same passion, drive and energy that you do, and when that doesn’t happen to be a reality and when there’s just a piece of the puzzle that’s not quite fitting, it’s so tough to go to your “work family,” to your entrepreneurial family and break them off and kind of move forward without them to stop that anchor that’s dragging you back. So I definitely hear what you’re talking about there, Pam. It’s a great lesson to learn and I respect that you don’t want to get exactly personal and very specific about it so we’re going to take that.
We’re going to move on to the other end of the spectrum, and that’s the aha moment, because another aspect about being an entrepreneur, just like failing, just like facing challenges, is that innovation side. It’s having those aha moments, those light bulbs that are going off that are just inspiring you and driving you forward and just making you get up in the morning and saying, “Wow! I really want to do this. This is going to resonate so well!” Can you share with us an aha moment and how you specifically took action on that aha moment?
Pamela O’Hara: The origin of Batchbook, the aha moment that was the start of this company was when I actually was hired, I was at that time still doing some consulting work with a business that I cofounded early on in my career. I had taken some time off to start my family and was doing some consulting for that business and for some other small businesses here in the Rhode Island area. That’s where we’re located. I was hired by a local tech company to find what the owner called an “electronic rolodex,” and she wanted basically a CRM system, although she didn’t know that that’s what it was or that that’s what it was called. She was a publishing firm and she needed something that would be very flexible. She had 15 people on staff, but then worked with a lot of other writers and editors. She had an advertising network and she did online webinars. So she had this network of very different types of people and she had different relationships and some of them overlapped. Some of her best content providers were also advertisers or were also instructing her webinars or attending the webinars, and she was having a really hard time keeping up with all of these different relationships.
So she hired me as a consultant to come in and find the right product in her price range to help her keep up with all these, and I couldn’t. I spent over a month researching, trying to find something that would sort of capture all these different relationships and all the different conversations the different parts of her business were having with this group and we couldn’t find the right thing. So literally, I was in my garage – I remember this – painting a large refrigerator box into a princess castle for one of my daughter’s birthday parties, and I was like, “You know what? I could build this. This is what I do.” My background is in design and systems development and application development and I just spent a month searching for something that is not out there that is a very important and huge part of at least one person’s small business growth. Let me go out and see if there are other people looking for something like this, and that’s where it started. So I found some folks to help me build it, I found a lot of people who needed it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Pamela O’Hara: [Laughs]
John Lee Dumas: Or “herstory.” One of the two.
Pamela O’Hara: Right! That’s true.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] So Pam, have you now had an I’ve made it moment?
Pamela O’Hara: It’s funny. You have a lot of I made it moments and you have a lot of when am I going to make it moments, and that you go back and forth [Laughs] the whole way. There have been some really big, exciting stories published about us, events we’ve been able to go to, launches that went very successfully. There have also been changes we’ve had to make, rewrites to our product, that you say, “Wow! We’ve still got a long way to go.” So yes, I think you talk a lot about other people who inspire you and advice that you’ve gotten. One of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve gotten was I was interviewing Mike McDerment who’s the CEO of FreshBooks at one point and I asked him the secret to his success and he told me it’s a thousand tiny victories, and I’ve remembered – that was years ago – I’ve remembered that ever since then and I love that. I’ve found there really isn’t one thing that sort of tips you over the edge. It’s a thousand tiny things. That’s what keeps you going, that’s what keeps you motivated, that’s what keeps you inspired, that’s what keeps you dedicated when there is a setback or something does happen. It’s all these little wins, all these little somebody liked it, someone tweeted it, someone wrote it down, we had customers this past week.
We’re on the East Coast so we were in the path of the storm that came through here, Hurricane Sandy, and we had customers writing in to us, saying, “I hope you guys are okay.” From overseas, people writing and saying, “I hope you guys are okay.” That was one of those little tiny moments that you’re just like, “Wow! That’s awesome! There’s someone out there that cares about my team.” They’ve made such a connection with the support folks here or with the dev team that they took notice and they care.
John Lee Dumas: I love those kind of stories too. I, actually, the day after Sandy hit – I’m up here in Maine – and I had an interview bright and early in the morning with a guy from Australia. And so I just was kind of in my Australian zone and I called him up. We were having a little pre-interview chat and he’s like, “So are you okay?” I’m like, “Well, yes.” He’s like, “Oh, I was worried about you. I saw that you were about to get hammered by Sandy and I was just wondering if everything’s going to be okay.” I’m like, “Wow!” Like it’s crazy in this day and age, the reach that our industries have, that our businesses have, that we have in general, to the world and just how fast that can be translated.
Pamela O’Hara: Yes. It really is. It’s heartwarming.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. It truly is. So on that note, because this is also heartwarming, your current business, Pam. You have a lot of great things going on. You’ve touched on a lot of them, but let’s just get into the present moment right here. What’s one thing that’s really exciting you about your business right now?
Pamela O’Hara: My team, and it’s the thing – sorry to sound like a broken record [Laughs]. I’ll change my answer. It’s my yellow wall. No, no, no.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Pamela O’Hara: I do like it. We have new offices. I do like my yellow wall. But my team is amazing and we keep growing. We have 22 staff now. This is twice what we had about a year ago, and it’s so exciting to see folks here grow. We’ve been able to bring in some new folks. We’ve got about 5 new staff in the past few months. They’re just amazing and I feel like we’ve grown up to a point where we’re really able to work as teams and work as a really cohesive group. Not that we weren’t a cohesive group before, but there’s definitely when you’re first starting out, there’s just a lot of fires to put out. Sorry for putting out your fire!
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Pamela O’Hara: It’s a lot, it’s a frantic existence, and I feel like we’re at the point now where it’s not such a frantic existence. It’s still very passionate, and every once in a while something starts smoldering, but it’s a much more organized and progressive existence, and I like that. Back to the start of the interview when I mentioned that I’m a perfectionist. It’s fun to see things really start to click into place for us.
John Lee Dumas: Well on that note, Pam, what is your vision for the future of Batchbook?
Pamela O’Hara: We want to just keep doing this. I think we love what we’re doing, we love technology, we love small businesses, we love befriending people from all over the world the way we can with our business and with the tools that we’re providing. So I look at Batchbook and I measure our success by our ability to accomplish the things we’re trying to accomplish versus numbers or percentage games. I really look at it as we want to keep doing this. As long as we can keep doing this, we are successful.
John Lee Dumas: So take a couple of seconds here. How would your ideal client be using Batchbook in an ideal situation?
Pamela O’Hara: What we provide to our customers is that, as I started with, basically that help understanding the relationships that their business is forming. So we really designed our product for that early stage 2, 5, 1o employee businesses that are just starting to grow beyond one person with an idea and an email account and maybe a newsletter list. They’re really starting to get to the point where they’re hiring a team, they’ve brought people in to help put together some more targeted campaigns. We’ve noticed that the people with red hair read our email much more frequently than the people with blonde hair, so let’s look at that, let’s understand why and let’s focus in on the redheads because what a fiery group they are. That sort of thing when you’re sort of moving beyond the I just have an idea and your idea has clicked. That’s when we come in. We love that moment in time and we love helping businesses sort of clear that hurdle and make their idea work in the marketplace. That’s the hardest part of starting your own business. The idea is great, but making it work in the market, that’s the hard part. So we love being a part of that.
John Lee Dumas: Well, thank you for sharing that insight with us, Pam. It’s always good to really have the curtain kind of pulled back and see inside the mind of different companies and entrepreneurs and businesses. So we really appreciate that and we’ll use that to move into now my favorite part of the show, which is the Lightning Round. This is where I get to ask you a series of questions and you can come back at us, Fire Nation, with amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Pamela O’Hara: Okay. I’ll get my mind-blowing answers ready [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Pamela O’Hara: I have always been an entrepreneur. I don’t think anything ever did! I was in college, I was in high school, I was painting and designing. I sold Christmas ornaments to my college friends. I sold crafts at the marketplace for my first job out of college. I’ve always done this, so don’t ever let anything hold you back.
John Lee Dumas: Love it! What is the best business advice that you ever received?
Pamela O’Hara: Enjoy every little moment. I will go back to that because I really have used that as a benchmark for me. Don’t mess the little things. It’s all the little victories that are why you’re building this business. Don’t focus on if I could just get in this newspaper or if I could just get this account level. Be very excited about all of the little victories and you will enjoy building your business and it will come back in spades.
John Lee Dumas: True, true insight. What is something that’s working for you or Batchbook right now?
Pamela O’Hara: The personal connection. We spend a lot of time with our customers. We have a fanatical support team. They are wonderful. They do phone calls, they do email, they are on Twitter, they are on Facebook, they’re everywhere, and we spend a lot of time trying to find ways to connect with the people in our network, and there’s a lot of people who really love Batchbook and they’re just “why not?” to everything possible you can to really build a strong relationship with those folks, the folks that are out there telling the world, “Hey, I really like this product.” Like why not spend a lot of our resources? Thanking and appreciating and keeping those people connected and informed and involved in what we’re doing.
John Lee Dumas: What is your favorite business book?
Pamela O’Hara: Oh gosh! My favorite business book tool is the Kindle, and because of the Kindle, I am now constantly reading about 4 or 5 books at a time, so it’s hard. I just started Chris Anderson’s new book. “Makers” is his new book, which is great. I am also reading “Future Perfect,” which is really interesting. Brad Feld just came out with the new “Startup Communities.” We have a really great startup community here in Providence. We have a really great accelerator program, and so I’ve been really interested. Brad Feld’s book is about what they’re doing in Colorado. How they started the amazing startup community that they did out there. So I’ve been reading that just to sort of see some of the similarities in what we’re trying to do in Providence.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome! Well I love to hear that Providence is on the road to startup world. It will always have a special place in my heart. I went to Providence College.
Pamela O’Hara: I saw that! You went to PC. Very nice!
John Lee Dumas: PC.
Pamela O’Hara: I live right down the road from there.
John Lee Dumas: I was just down this weekend for their basketball game against Rhode Island College. It was a blast!
Pamela O’Hara: Oh, nice! Did you win?
John Lee Dumas: We blew them out, yes.
Pamela O’Hara: Oh, nice!
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Pamela O’Hara: Of course!
John Lee Dumas: So this is my last question, Pam. It’s definitely my favorite, but it’s kind of a toughie. So take your time, digest it, and then come back at us with an answer. If you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to earth, but you knew nobody. You still have all the experience and knowledge that you currently have, but only $500 in your pocket, a computer with Internet access and your food and shelter is taken care of. What would you do in the next seven days?
Pamela O’Hara: Knowing me and what a planner I am, I would probably spend the first day doing as much research as possible on what societies have contributed, and from a very macro level, what has been contributed so far, and then I would put my brainstorming hat on and say, “Okay, what’s coming next? What are the sociologists anticipating? Is it tech? Is it environmental? Where do we need to go? Where do I need to help take this world?”
So now I’ve used up two days, so I guess I have five days left now to go ahead and advance as much as I possibly can in that area. It would probably be entrepreneurial because you’ve heard me. How up until now, how excited I get about starting new businesses, but in some way, how can I use what I’ve learned, what I know about what motivates people, what people can accomplish, what markets will accept, what markets will reject, to advance that thing that I feel like society needs right now. So that’s how I would use my one week on an island. Hopefully, it would be such a newsworthy event when I’m rescued from that island, that whatever it is that I came up with would be broadcast around the world and accepted and rejoiced and actually accomplish that one step forward [from behind] that I intended at the time.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] Alright! Well, a very interesting take with your island. So I really like all of your insights, Pam. They have just truly been valuable on so many levels for Fire Nation. Give us one parting piece of guidance, then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Pamela O’Hara: My guiding principle would be to enjoy every day of what you’re doing. Enjoy building your business. People ask me – as I mentioned, I’m involved in the startup community here in Providence. People ask me all the time, “How do I get new customers? How do I grow my business? How do I get new business?” The thing I tell them is I think the most important part of getting new business is enjoying your business. If you love what you do, if you love the people you’re doing it for, that will come across. People would feel that energy from you. They will feel like you care about what they’re doing and what they’re trying to accomplish and what you’re giving them that will help them accomplish it. They’ll feel that. So the most important thing is to enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying it, it’s going to become a chore and you’re going to quit doing it, and it’s going to be harder and harder and harder to get in business. If you love it, if that’s what excites you and gets you up in the morning, you’ll want to do it and you’ll have a hard time going to bed at night because you want to keep doing it. So just enjoy. Enjoy building your business. Enjoy the challenge that is growing your business.
My plug, of course Batchbook can help you do that by building relationships, by helping you understand the relationships and share with your team the relationships that you are building so you can get help from your network, from your employees, from your customers, from your suppliers, from your partners, from your vendors. You can share all of these goals and aspirations and victories and defeats with that network and you can all enjoy it together.
John Lee Dumas: Love that, Pam! That was just such great actionable advice the entire time. You were so generous with your time. We truly appreciate it. Everything will be linked up in our show notes, EntrepreneurOnFire.com/84. So come check it out. Pam, again, Fire Nation, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Pamela O’Hara: Thank you so much, John. I really enjoyed this.