Steve Pogorzelski, CEO of Avention, has more than 25 years of management experience in various global leadership roles. Previously, he was the chief revenue officer at Vocus and the CEO of ClickFuel. He also served as the president of Monster.com and group president of Monster Worldwide.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:01] – Steve was a journalism graduate
- [01:30] – The degree taught Steve to ask tough questions
- [01:44] – He teaches a class under Career Initiative
- [02:09] – Steve’s area of expertise is leadership
- [02:43] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: “Coaching is a gift–you give it and receive it in that spirit.” Steve’s 5 principles and 5 practices on coaching
- [05:18] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: “Mid 2000’s, while I was president of Monster.com, the CEO was an entrepreneur and he didn’t like the review process we had… and he asked what the smart risk we took for that quarter was and we didn’t have any answer.”
- [06:49] – You lose when you stay in your comfort zone
- [07:07] – Take calculated risks on a continual basis
- [07:32] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: “When we built a digital agency business and we started to look around our competitors – we decided to make something unique and went into the direct selling business.”
- [08:51] – We had to critically take an honest assessment of the market place
- [10:13] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “I believe we’re at the dawn of data driven management.”
- [12:14] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “My ego”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “If you’re going to be successful, you have to value analytics over anecdotes, value results over relationships, and value people’s beliefs over their appearances.”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “I write a list of things”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – True Motion
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
- [15:00] – I can live with failure but I’ll choose not to live with regret
- [15:16] – Connect with Steve via email
John: Steve is the CEO of Avention and has more than 25 years of management experience in various global leadership roles. Previously he was the Chief Revenue Officer at Vocus and the CEO of Click Fuel. He also served as the President of Monster.com and Group President of Monster Worldwide. Steve, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Steve: I think the gap I would fill in is that I was a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin, which is in the School of Letters and Science, and for me it’s the subject that’s really important is that I believe liberal arts are a great foundation for aspiring leaders. I think all sorts of qualities that are important for a leadership success, including critical thinking, emotional intelligence, especially empathy, and communication skills can be linked to having a liberal arts background. So for me that liberal arts degree taught me to ask tough questions and buck the status quo.
And to give you a glimpse of my personal life I believe in that so much that I’m on the Board of Visitors for the School of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin, and I teach a class called Career Initiatives. I actually teach it via Skype to liberal arts majors who are trying to figure out what their next step could be in their career path and how can they use that liberal arts degree for a career in business.
John: So Steve talk to us a second about what you consider currently your area of expertise. Take a couple of sentences just kind of expound upon that for us.
Steve: My expertise is really around the things that are important from a leadership perspective and that is making sure we have the right strategies set in place, removing obstacles that are in the way of people on my team so that they could perform, and making sure that they have the right resources. So I’m a really operational focused CEO who is good at strategic planning, scaling business, and making sure that we go profit at one time value for our shareholders.
John: Well Steve on that note within the leadership area, what’s something that us as entrepreneurs, the listeners of this podcast don’t know that we probably should?
Steve: I believe that managing talent attract at retaining A players is the single most important role and everybody knows that. But what I wanted to talk about that I firmly believe in and I believe that coaching is a gift, and you give it and receive it in that spirit. And for me coaching allows us to celebrate leadership as the everyday act of improving each other’s lives. So Drew Dudley you should watch his head talk he talks about leadership is often made up beyond our control or beyond us. So the way that I look at coaching is I’ve actually built it into five principles and five practices I’d like to share with you if I could.
John: Yeah, please do.
Steve: So for the principles if you’re talking about your leadership skills and how you can coach and develop talent is five things. It comes from the heart as well as the head, and you need people to succeed, but you have to also truly understand people’s aspirations and their goals so you can build it up with trust. It’s a way of life. It’s not an event. You allow yourself to be coached because you want to grow. Coaching allows us both to give it and receive and continue to develop our professional aspirations, and I think you want a coach because you believe that good people push you up not out, and coaching doesn’t discriminate. It’s really not about hierarchy, status, gender or age.
Quickly the five practices in business and in life, silence is agreement, and we can hurt people’s careers by not talking to them about what they need to do to improve and recognizing them when they do. I mean the worst thing that can happen and it happens all the time in business is somebody who gets a performance appraisal and they’re surprised. That’s just a total lack of leadership. No. 2, coaching is opportunistic you never force it. Coaching is much about positivity as it is about correcting behavior, and it’s ecratic but directional when necessary and last for me coaching is a process it’s not a project, and a process is root, recognize, reward, repeat.
John: Fire Nation hope you’re absorbing all of those things because leadership is so critical this day and age for entrepreneurs. So if you have to hit the rewind button a couple of times, go back, listen through those things, absorb that because we’re moving right on, Steve, to your journey as an entrepreneur. I mean I’m looking at this 25 years of management experience, various roles with Vocus, with Click Fuel, with Monster.com, my friend you have been there and done that. I want to hear your worst moments to date on the business side. Take us to the lowest of the low and tell us that story.
Steve: In the mid-2000s while I was President of Monster.com we used to have quarterly business reviews at our corporate office in New York while Monster was part of a larger company with some vision. And at that point in time the CEO, chairman of the company, was an entrepreneur named Andy McKelvey who was a self-made billionaire and on the Forbes list, a very charismatic guy. He didn’t like the quarterly business review process. We would sit there for eight hours and go through every single number that we could actually analyze and present.
This particular time we had come in and we had blown out our numbers top line, bottom line, any metric you want to look at, customer renewal, customer retention, consumer engagement, consumer attraction, our brand numbers, you name it, we killed it. We just did a phenomenal job. About halfway through he got really upset. He threw the big briefing book on the table, and he said, “I’m sick of listening to you folks. I want to understand one mistake and one risk you took in that quarter because you’re all fat and dumb and happy that you made your numbers, but tell me what was the smart risk that you took?” We had no answer.
I’ve got a little picture of Andy on my desk, and it reminds every day not to get complacent and to look beyond the results of the current quarter, the current year, and focus on the future, and to remind me that it’s okay as an entrepreneur to take smart risks and to make mistakes as long as I understand why they happen, and make sure they don’t happen again, and don’t perpetuate a problem.
John: Fire Nation, you will lose if you stay in the comfort zone. We all want to be there. I know it, I love it, I love the comfort zone, it’s all good here, the fire’s roasting, it’s great. You have to get out of the comfort zone every now and then that’s where the magic happens. You have to take calculated risks, not stupid risks, not crazy out of left field risks, take calculated risks on a continual basis, and if some of them flop and fail learn from them, move forward. So what I kind of want to shift to, Steve, is what you consider one of your greatest ah-ha moments, kind of on the flipside now. Like what’s one of those things that you just say wow that was a great idea?
Tell us that story and then kind of walk us through how you turned that actual idea into success.
Steve: An ah-ha moment I think it really was when we were at Click Fuel and we had built additional agency business. It was really difficult and I’m in a tough competitive market, but we had built a marketing dashboard that really was unique that nobody else in the space had. And we started to look around at who our competitors were and they were companies like Yahoo and most of the newspapers, and we decide that we had something really unique. Instead of competing against them on the digital agency side, we would go and pivot the business entirely, get out of the direct selling business.
And the only product that we’d sell would be this marketing dashboard that nobody else had, which created great efficiencies internally but also created great customer satisfaction and loyalty externally for those people, customers. So we turned it around and within six months we had signed up nine newspaper groups and some other big partners, and they went and white labeled this one tool our product that we built for an internal purpose.
John: So Steve kind of stepping back and like looking in hindsight, what do you want to make sure that Fire Nation gets from what you did right? Like what were the steps that you took to really make sure that okay this idea that we had actually is gonna turn into a successful fruition? As entrepreneurs we’re always looking to piece the puzzle together how can you help us do that?
Steve; I think we have to critically take an honest assessment of what was happening in the marketplace and our opportunity to execute our competitors, and actually I’m either on the board or advise seven different startups, and it’s tough I think for entrepreneurs and it was for me to pull yourself back from that day-to-day battle to really do a really strong and honest and critical environmental scan, and really take stock of what your assets really are. And if they don’t measure up or no amount of money is gonna get you there, you tend to kind of say well what niche can I fill or where can I move the company. Without that I think you just fool yourself.
John: Fire Nation, a lot of us get stuck in the weeds, the day-to-day, but if you pull out, actually give an aerial view of what you have going on, you actually have an opportunity to spot something that might be a pretty cool macro trend, and then you can jump on that. So yes you’ve got to do the day-to-day, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, but you also have to schedule in time to step back, to breathe, to reflect, and maybe get a pair of [inaudible] [00:08:37] eyeballs in on there too. I mean you might have that cursive knowledge and you just don’t want to make sure that you are just getting stuck in that simple day-to-day routine where you look up ten years have gone by and you haven’t innovated once.
Steve, let’s kind of fast forward to today let’s talk about Avention. Like what are you most fired up about right now?
Steve: Well, Avention’s a big data company. We have a sales and marketing and research enablement application. We have an application for account-based marketing called Datavision, which helps people clean their data, gives you one central source of truth, and we also do master data management. What really gets me excited about being in this particular space is that I really believe we’re at the dawn of data driven management. Data driven management will touch the entire organization and it cuts across almost every function and every job. So what we’re starting to see by this onset of data driven management is it’s leading to innovative new business models and products.
It helps organizations with analytics that help them run their businesses more efficiently, and it gives such deep insight into customer prospect behavior that you can act differently than you ever could before and around intent and other types of things. So what we’re starting to see, and I believe, is that data analytics has evolved into a core general management skill similar to maybe corporate finance or cost economy, and the other thing that’s really great about this new era of data driven management, which my company participates, is we’re starting to see this onset of what I would call the democratization of data.
But it’s not for just people in a certain function that are at the top. This data analytics is running throughout a company and it helps everybody at all levels.
John: Fire Nation, as entrepreneurs we really need to get down to the core of what’s working for our business like what do we stand for? What are our missions? What are our values? And continue to amplify on that and what I’m kind of reading from this, Steve, is that you guys really know at the core what works for you and how to amplify that to continue to grow. And hey there’s a lot of things you’re not gonna be good at, and if you try to be good at those things you’re number two or number three in the market, hey, why am I wasting time, energy in being okay. We want to be great, and Fire Nation, we have a great lightning round after we thank our sponsors.
Steve, are you prepared for the lightning rounds?
Steve: I hope so.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Steve: My ego was my enemy. My ego became a controlling factor in the way I made decisions regarding my career, and it really got in the way of my development, my willingness to change, my willingness to grow, my willingness to learn, and most of all my willingness to take risks. But going back to coaching, I have a mentor who coached me and made me see that my ego was getting in the way at one point, so I kind of dropped my ego or kept that out of that conversation running in my head. I was able to take risks and do things that I really wanted to do.
John: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Steve: I had a CEO tell me one time that if you’re gonna be successful you’ve got to value analytics over anecdotes, you add value results over relationships, and you certainly have to value people’s beliefs over their appearances.
John: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Steve: A lot of people do a to do list and I do that every day, and I can crank my way through it. But what I do a little differently is at the end of the day before I go home, I write down a list of things and the title of the list is how did I do? Did I give a good presentation at the board meeting? But how did I handle situations that called for me to assert my leadership any my influence and my coaching. I go through those scenarios throughout the day and I grade myself and look for opportunities to get better.
John: Can you share an Internet resource like in Ever Notes with Fire Nation?
Steve: I’m really intrigued by a new application called True Motion, and if you’ve got kids who are just driving, this True Motion application will detect whether or not they’re texting, emailing, or using social media when they’re behind the wheel.
John: If you could recommend one book, Steve, what would it be and why?
Steve: I’ve been recommend Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, and it’s because if I could describe the book on a PowerPoint slide, it’s really two equations. It’s talent times effort equals skill, skill times effort equals achievement. In other words, effort counts twice, and I firmly believe that. It’s a great book.
John: Steve, I want to end it today on Fire with you giving us a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Steve: The guidance that I’ve had in my life as a professional is that I can live with failure but I’ll choose not to live with regret meaning that I’ve been always open to new opportunities whether it’s living in different places, or taking on different challenges because I would never want to wake up five years from now and say I wish I would’ve done that.
John: And what’s the best way that we can connect with you?
John: Is there really another Steve Pogorzelski that took that?
Steve: At the onset of gmail I was shocked, yes there was. He’s got bad credit of all things too because I get mixed up.
John: Oh man what an unlucky situation. Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you’ve been hanging out with SP and JLD today, so keep up the heat, and hit over to EOFire.com, just type Steve in the search bar and his show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today, best show notes in the biz, timestamps, links galore. And Steve, I just want to thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you, brother, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
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