Amie is a strategy consultant focused on municipal infrastructure. I interview Amie about how she goes about leveraging strategy in her engagements. We discuss the challenges of aligning a large organization and what goes into a strategy plan.
Amie Devero has been a strategy consultant and executive coach for over 25 years, and has run a number of startups in the smart cities industry. She currently works with high-growth startup founders and executives both on developing and executing strategy and as a high-performance coach.
Frank Bria (00:00):
The 6 to 7 Figures Show. Episode 79. Ready? Let’s hit it.
Broadcasting from the Valley of the Sun outside Phoenix, Arizona. This is the 6 to 7 Figures Show. Tired of working so hard and having no time? Take your six figure practice and turn it to a thriving seven figure enterprise. And now your host, author, speaker, mentor, and strategist Frank Bria.
Frank Bria (00:30):
Hey everyone. Welcome to the 6 to 7 Figures Show. I’m your host, Frank Bria, and in today’s episode we are going to focus on strategic consulting and high performance coaching. But first a quick message from our sponsor. This episode of the 6 to 7 Figures Show is brought to you by High Ticket Program. Did you know that you are only 12 projects away from turning your six figure practice into a thriving seven figure enterprise? In the High Ticket Program Accelerator, we guide you through every step of the growth and scale process, something we call leap. Imagine having a world class project team guiding you and your team through every, each and every step of pain-free growth, all with the goal of becoming a seven figure enterprise and moving away from painful, time-consuming business operations and client delivery. Get a taste of leaping your own business by downloading our free high ticket program core offer Blackbook that contains more than 60 pages of standard operating procedures for your business, including onboarding, customer service, graduation, financial management. You can get that for free by going to the show’s homepage at 6to7.show That’s 6to7.show for your free Blackbook. I am absolutely pleased to introduce today’s guest Amie Devero, who has been a strategy consultant and an executive coach for over 25 years and has run a number of startups in the smart cities industry. She currently works with high growth startup founders and executives both on developing and executing strategy and as a high performance coach. I mean welcome to the show.
Amie Devero (02:03):
Hi. Thanks for having me.
Frank Bria (02:04):
Absolutely a pleasure. So for those people who don’t know, what is the smart cities movement, what is that all about?
Amie Devero (02:11):
Well, it’s a horribly overused and ill defined buzz word that means essentially taking cities. You know, most of our cities have been here really long time and they have pretty old fashioned technology running everything. And utilizing the tools of digital technology. So that means data and wifi and you know, sort of internet connectivity and utilizing those tools for everything from citizen engagement to managing sustainability concerns like electricity, smart grids or traffic patterns. Most people get their first sort of inkling of smart cities by paying for parking with an app. And that is the actual businesses that I ran. I was at the very skinny end of the wedge of smart cities.
Frank Bria (03:03):
Well, it sounds like the bleeding edge of the, cause we did see a lot of that come first and then now there’s all sorts of other things that are going on. So would your clients then be the cities? So you would essentially contract with the cities themselves?
Amie Devero (03:19):
I have had city clients, but that’s not really what I mostly do when I was running technology companies in that sector. They were my client. Yes. But it’s a peculiar kind of business interface because while the city contracts with you, your actual end user customer is the public. So if you’re providing mobile payment for parking, it’s people like you and me who use it and the company makes its money when the citizens use the product. So the city brings it in, but the city doesn’t actually use the product except on the back end for parking enforcement and interfacing with their parking ticket system or other aspects of the parking and transit interface.
Frank Bria (04:09):
Yeah, that’s interesting. That would be, I think, a fascinating sales model where you’ve got the user and the contracting entity kind of different. Those of us who have done some enterprise sales work might recognize that. But for those people who sell to smaller businesses, that’s a complex sales process.
Amie Devero (04:29):
Well, and it’s cause you’re selling to the public sector. Of course everything is done through a procurement process. But then you’ve got the other side of the equation, which is if you’re venture funded or you’re funded by investment capital of some variety, you also have to answer for revenue. And so you have to develop the expertise that serving your city client, but also becoming a retail marketer to get customers to use the things that you make some money. It’s a challenging and interesting business.
Frank Bria (04:56):
Yeah. It’s a B to G and B to C play all at the same time. That’s that’s fascinating.
Amie Devero (05:02):
And B to B because you can also provide it to private parking operators or hotels or you know, all of the other, there are plenty of private operators in the parking world.
Frank Bria (05:12):
That’s a really growing technology space. That’s a fascinating place you’ve been, but you’re doing a lot of high performance coaching work now and a lot of strategy work. Who are you primarily working with these days?
Amie Devero (05:24):
So most of my clients are not so different to what I was when I was running those companies. Although I was not a founder, I was hired management. But so most of my clients are founders and the executive teams of post revenue startups. So these are companies that are tech startups. In fact, all of my clients are in tech in some way, shape or form. And they founded this company, they’ve gotten venture funding, so I don’t work with them unless they are actually earning money and have funding because my real skill set is with 25 years of strategy consulting and authorship and development of an approach, my skill set is decision making and strategy and dealing with the relatives, you know, sort of demands and needs of various stakeholders. So that’s everybody from the public, the marketplace and the investment community and the becoming a leader so that you can serve your team and so forth. So that’s mostly my clients and I still deliver both sides of that equation. But strategy consulting and executive coaching, sometimes for the same clients, sometimes not.
Frank Bria (06:32):
Yeah, it’s great that you’ve identified that post revenue phase for those companies who the problems are vastly different for the pre-revenue, pre-funding phases and the post revenue funding phases.
Amie Devero (06:44):
And quite honestly, I don’t know enough about taking it from an idea to revenue. I really don’t know how to do that.
Frank Bria (06:53):
But that’s the power of, of niche. That’s the power of specialization, which I think a lot of consultants don’t really do. They don’t really recognize that their specialty is probably what makes them more powerful than sort of a broad strategy consulting. I think a lot of us have, at least at one point, I know for me personally have fallen into the trap of, “Oh, I can, I can solve that. That’s, you know, I’m a smart guy. I’ll figure it out”. So good for you.
Amie Devero (07:23):
And in fairness, I think that’s a really challenging problem. I mean, I see it with my clients too. Is that specialization or I would say even something more grand than that. I would say genuine strategy means knowing what you do and knowing what you’re not doing. And it’s very, very hard to do that because when your business is growing or worse yet, when it’s not growing in the way that you want, you really, there’s a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear wrapped up in saying no to anything. If somebody is dangling revenue in front of you, you feel like an idiot to let a burden the hand go when everything else seems like just potential and potential doesn’t pay the bills.
Frank Bria (08:07):
Right. So that’s a really fascinating direction because you talk about decision making processes with your clients. So how do you get them through that decision making process? How do you get them to focus on longterm winswhile passing up what could be potential short term gains but have dead end paths to them? How do you get them to sort of up level their thinking?
Amie Devero (08:36):
Well, I don’t know that I always succeed at it. I mean, it depends on which part of my business. So in the strategy consulting, it’s an easier nut to crack because there, we’re really dealing with the brass tax of “What is your business hypothesis? How are we testing it? What is the plan for executing against that end”? At that point, you have a lot of data and a lot of hopefully evidence that says this is the right decision and this is the right path and that’s the consulting piece. And there we can take a hypothesis and we can drive it all the way through a strategy map, which is a very useful strategic plan as opposed to most strategic plans which are really not very useful. But on the coaching side it’s a little bit different because in the moment when, let’s just take one of my clients, has a, you know, a million and a half dollar prospect that’s ready to sign, but it’s not quite where they ought to be. Saying no to that can often be virtually impossible because they are not remembered. They’re not like small businesses. They have investors and those investors are often institutional investors and they have seats on the board. And if they see a million and a half dollars of revenue vanish because of a “strategic decision” that can just seem like bad leadership. And so the real role of the coach in that scenario is not to say do it or don’t do it, but to walk them through the decision making such that when they look back on that decision, regardless of what the outcome is, it was the right decision given everything they knew at the time. Because you know, hindsight is really an amazing kind of brilliance, but you don’t have the benefit of that on the front end and on the front end when the notice coming due or you’re going to market and they want to know where the revenue is. Sometimes you have to actually bite the bullet and do the thing that isn’t strategic because it pulls the revenue in.
Frank Bria (10:41):
Right. And because it might be the only thing that is keeping things afloat as you go. Again this comes back to, I have an affinity for decision systems and decision making processes. Cause I just think it’s fascinating and we don’t do enough of it. I think in business a lot of times we like to apply sort of one size fits all rules or intuition, very simplified kind of views of the world and the fact that you’ve laid that particular decision out with the level of complexity that says, “Hey, actually, you know, it’s a situational. You really do have to look at all of the different things” and with that overlay of you’re making the best decision you can right now given all of the information you have, those are really powerful principles that I think a lot of business leaders forget. That will second guess themselves on Monday morning will, be trying to apply sort of the wrong example to their situation and think, well, this is what we’re going to do. Even though it doesn’t feel like it’s the right thing to do without looking at it from a broader perspective, that’s a robust skill set that I don’t think a lot of leaders have.
Amie Devero (11:56):
Well, and I think even when you do have it, it can be really difficult to do it by yourself because you know, it’s like, I don’t know about you. I have an athletic background and I know that I am clueless about what, when I’m swimming, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I know what I think I’m doing. I know what I feel like I’m doing. But until a coach or a video camera shows me what I’m actually doing. It’s very difficult for me to see myself. We really can’t, you know, it’s the sort of thing when you’re walking past a shop and you kind of try to catch yourself in the mirror, but you can’t really catch yourself how other people see you because the minute you look in the mirror, you’re looking in the mirror. So the utility of a coach is that, that’s the person who’s going to kind of be you outside of you. The other thing I would say about decision making is that what we are often guilty of is sort of indicting our decision when we don’t get the outcome we wanted. And you know, so there are a lot of things at play when decision outcomes emerge. It can be luck, it can be the market taking a downturn, it can be you had an employee that sabotaged you. I mean, there’s a million things that could happen that can make a decision turn out badly even though the decision was really the right one. And so sometimes what we do is we get a bad outcome and then we go, “well, that was stupid. I never should have done that” when the truth is that was actually smart. It’s exactly what you should have done. It just didn’t turn out the way you want it.
Frank Bria (13:27):
Yup. That is a powerful principle. This idea of that look, all decisions in life, not just business, have an element of risk associated with them that anytime you make a decision, all we’re really doing is we’re trying to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome and not creating 100% potential for a successful outcome. And then when it does turn bad, a lot of times we’re learning the wrong lesson from those outcomes. And to have, I think you’ve done as you’ve outlined, this incredible strength of perspective from an outside coach where you’re seeing things from outside of yourself from a different perspective that you would never have the ability to see and you’ve got someone you know, talking you off the ledge. I as it were occasionally when things don’t turn out exactly the way that you expect they’re going to. And so you’re able to say, “well, wait a minute, actually let’s think about it. This actually, we did all of the right things here, even though the outcome isn’t the way we would have hoped”.
Amie Devero (14:34):
Better yet, if your coach does this, which I do, they have hopefully documented all of that. Because I usually have copious notes about what the conversation was, what the considerations were, what the decision matrix looked like, and how that decision got reached. And so even if you’re not keeping your own decision journal, which I often think is a very high bar for most humans I start off every year meaning to keep one and then somewhere around March it languishes, you know, but having a decision journal or at least having a record of what your thought process was, how you made that, that particular decision, what you thought the probability of success would be, knowing that as you quite wisely point out, there is risk, there is luck, there is just simply terrible things happen. I mean, 911 happened and everything went awry for everybody for the next still happening, you know. And that is how life goes, so you never can make a perfect decision. You can only make a perfect decision given what you know, and then hope that the stars aligned to, you know, to sort of push your probability over the edge into the right, you know, right outcome.
Frank Bria (15:47):
And what a great idea to have a decision journal. That’s such a fascinating…
Amie Devero (15:51):
Not my idea. Stole it, I completely stole it. But it’s a great idea.
Frank Bria (15:56):
Well, it’s the first time I’ve heard of it. So I mean you’re going to get credit for it, but.
Amie Devero (16:01):
I will take the credit, but I’d want to make it clear, it’s not my idea.
Frank Bria (16:05):
That’s fine. That’s fine. There are very few truly, you know, original things in business anyway, a lot of times we’re piggybacking on someone else’s thought, but what a great opportunity to document, you know, all the thought processes and the context. Because from my perspective, I think a lot of entrepreneurs, I know I’ve fallen into this trap myself. A lot of us will second guess the decision making and then make the mistake of second guessing our abilities. The decisions didn’t turn out the right way and we forget in the fog of difficulty or failure, as we might want to call it, that actually this was some pretty smart stuff going on behind the scenes. And that as a leader you were doing the best you could. And as the stakes get bigger, as the number of people you lead increases and you’ve got a larger, more complex organization, I’d imagine the power and the advantage of having that kind of context with you has really got to be, has gotta increase. That’s gotta be a great thing to have at your side.
Amie Devero (17:12):
I think it is. And the other thing I think that plays into this need for coaching and/or consulting depending on the situation, is that, you know, I think we underplay how cognitively sort of disabled we are when we’re in the throws of frustration or pressure or anxiety or desperation. All of those things come into play. Certainly for my clients. Certainly for me in my life, probably for you too. We’ve all had those experiences and there’s a tremendous amount of data right now that shows and where the data comes from is from looking at poverty that when people are desperate about money in their own lives, their IQ falls and there’s actual documentation about that. But the same things, the same brain processes that make somebody less smart in the moment when they don’t have a job and they can’t pay the electric bill. Those same emotional and psychological pressures are on a startup CEO when the runway has, you know, come down to a month. And if they don’t get that next round of funding, the company is going to be gone. And so with those pressures on you, then expecting yourself to be this kind of, brave, powerful, optimistic, visionary leader, which is the sort of absurd paradigm of leadership that we have. It’s unreasonable to expect yourself to make your best decisions in that situation. And that’s why having a decision journal and having somebody who can lay it out with you to look at all of the competing needs and competing stakeholders to make the right decision given the information is so valuable because it adds to your own potentially flagging IQ in that moment. And I must say my clients are brilliant. I mean these are people who I am in awe of, but they are not at their best in that level of pressure or anxiety. None of us are.
Frank Bria (19:17):
Yeah, I think we can all identify with that sense of confusion or fog or uncertainty and self doubt. And ironically, I think a lot of leaders who are in this exact moment will cut the spending on the exact thing that will get them out of this hole. Strategy consulting, strategy work is sometimes the first thing to go when funds are tight and organizations really don’t see a lot of future in the runway. You know, and again, this goes back to poor decision making in times of stress.
Amie Devero (19:58):
That’s funny you say that. I actually got my job, my first job running a startup while desperately unemployed and broke when the bottom fell out during the great recession and nobody would pay for my speaking engagements or strategy consulting cause everybody was cutting that. And so there I was broke and ended up one of several people on the front page of the then St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times with an article called something like people you would never believe can’t get a job. And I was one of the people and that’s how I got that job because I would come cheap, you know, it was like, “Oh wow, here’s this really qualified person for way less money than they’re worth”. And that’s kinda how I ended up with this pivot in my career to technology and smart cities.
Frank Bria (20:48):
Oh, nice. Yeah. And you never know. Sometimes those things just come out of nowhere and we look back at the path and think, “I don’t think I would’ve planned it that way”. But I want to pivot a little bit here to talk about the work that you do, get a little bit more into detail about that. So as you are engaging with an executive or their team, what are some of the outcomes that they’re looking for in an engagement with you? What are some of the problems you’re typically solving?
Amie Devero (21:20):
So there are a couple of sort of problems that come up repeatedly. When a company is going from being a very small intimate team. You have to remember how most startups form is this very intimate team with young, my clients, the leaders are not necessarily that young they’re usually in their forties, but the team that they have around them is often quite young. And these people have been called upon to be everything from the CMO to the chief bottle washer and everything in between and to work 18 hours a day. And so there’s a tremendous intimacy and, loyalty. But at a certain point, as you bring in more capital and the board grows and the team grows, and the levels of management grow, that has to change. What doesn’t necessarily change though, is the mentality of the people on the team who were there from day one and they have an expectation of very immediate access to the CEO and of a kind of tenure that their own maturity may not warrant either because they’re too young and inexperienced or just arbitrarily because the investors say no, we want somebody older, more seasoned with a better track record or who’s more famous. And that can be really difficult for the CEO and the C suite in general to navigate that transition. So how do you go from being a startup founder with an intimate team of cohorts who you adore and are instantly accessible to, to being the leader of an enterprise that may grow in orders of magnitude over the course of a couple of years from, you know, 25 people to 5,000 people. That’s a huge shift. So that’s a big portion of my work is navigating that, creating systems and processes, having the conversations that will empower the subordinate such that they stick around and hang in there because you know, being a director when you used to be number two can be a blow to the ego. But if it comes with a massive increase in potential wealth because of the valuation of the company, then sometimes there’s work to be done there with those folks in a subordinate levels to deal with their ego blow while understanding that they’re going to gain out of this. So that’s one piece. Go ahead.
Frank Bria (23:44):
That’s a huge dynamic that I think if people haven’t been in a venture capital funded firm, I don’t think they appreciate the complexity of that dynamic. You know, we look at people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs and we think, although Steve Jobs is probably a counter example since he was fired and then brought back, and we look at founders and we think, “Oh well, they just immediately became the CEO of this big, large organization and everything’s all happy and wonderful” and that’s usually not the path for most founders as the tech companies grow. And there are these sort of right hand people, right-hand men and women who then get sidetracked into other positions because the company’s growing and oftentimes that person doesn’t have the skill set to perform at the enterprise level, immediately out of the shoot. And it can be a challenge and that dynamic is tricky. So that’s again, for those people who have not been in an organization like that may not appreciate the battle you’re waging.
Amie Devero (24:47):
Right. But it is a battle because you have to satisfy the folks who have been there from day one for one thing, they’re the only people who really do have that intimate knowledge of every aspect of sometimes the code. I mean, they may be the ones who understand how to make everything work because usually things aren’t working quite how they appear. There’s a lot of man behind the curtain stuff usually going on. That’s one piece of it. The other thing though, that I see a lot, which was very shocking to me because my consulting history was largely with legacy companies, is how hard it is for leaders who are largely millennials and the subsequent generation to be tough. You know, I’m old enough that my bosses were mostly really kind of assholes along the way. Nobody seemed to mind being an asshole. But that’s not true today. Today there’s an expectation that everybody is kind and generous and inclusive and empowering and that makes it really difficult to draw boundaries and set limits and push back and be the kind of tough loving boss who says, you know, “Your performance review didn’t go that well. Here’s what you need to work on. Here’s your performance improvement plan”. That doesn’t come naturally to people just slightly younger than me. I don’t know your age, but then near you. And they’ve just been raised in a very different way. And certainly their juniors even more so.
Frank Bria (26:15):
Yeah. So I, late forties, I totally get this dynamic. But yeah, there’s a very different expectation for how people engage with each other. And the tech industry in particular, I find that a lot of times there can be some really rough stories. I was reading David Horowitz’s book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and he tells a lot of stories from the tech industry about the way people talk and I know a couple of the folks the book and I’m like, “Yep, that’s how they work”. It can be a little challenging.
Amie Devero (26:48):
It’s a great book by the way. Almost all of my CTOs just have, they all recommended it to me, which is how I came to read it.
Frank Bria (26:55):
Yeah, it is a really great book. What do you find is one of the pieces that you really have to work on with these founders to get them sort of over that hump to kind of begin that transformation? Are there things they need to do or mindsets that need to change that you find are kind of common themes or elements in that work you do?
Amie Devero (27:17):
Well, some of it is sort of setting the table up front is how to create the right expectations with your team. So I often come in right before series A, so they’ve had seed funding and they’re in revenue and they’re making money, but they’re going out to get money. So they haven’t necessarily hit that yet. And the big challenge is coaching them through the communication to have with the team in advance of outside investment coming in or big outside investment coming in so that the team is ready. So they understand that “look, anybody could be gone in the next iteration or could be demoted or moved sideways that, I’m no longer the last line of decision making”. And that’s a hard lesson to understand for yourself. And remember most of these CEOs went to Columbia for MBAs or to Harvard for MBAs. I mean these are super smart people I’m talking to who know all of these things conceptually. But it’s a whole different thing to have to now say to your 12 people who have been there from day one in the little accelerator space working away 19 hours a day to tell them like, “Listen, as we get this new money, they’re going to get board seats and they’re going to have demands, and if those demands mean that you become a director so that we can bring in outside management, I’m doing that and you need to understand that”. And those conversations are the ones that I coach them through or that I have with them, with their team, because I typically work with the whole executive team, not just with one person.
Frank Bria (28:53):
That’s smart. Yeah, exactly. What a great, I mean, the expectation setting is such a critical element in any consulting engagements. But that’s got to really help. I mean, it doesn’t make things easy down the road, but I think it really smooths things that could be challenging.
Amie Devero (29:14):
At least it kind of averts giant dramatic disaster. That’s your hope at least.
Frank Bria (29:19):
Surprises. Yeah. It’s like, well, we talked about this.
Amie Devero (29:24):
Yeah. Don’t be too surprised, this is what we said might happen. The other thing is it’s also really important for leaders to figure out or at least to learn if they don’t figure it out on their own, how to deliver a message that is both, “I appreciate you and you make a massive contribution and here’s what needs to get better”. Those two pieces go together and I think a lot of times when leaders are coached into being a little bit tougher, they forget about the appreciation piece. And I don’t mean that as a kind of puffing people up. I mean genuinely appreciating the fact that you have folks on the team who are loyal beyond what any business can possibly deserve it is after all just a business, but to let them know that their skill sets and their sacrifices and their work really does make a difference. It is not unnoticed even if you’re too busy to talk to them. And that while there are these corrections in these things to improve, if there weren’t things to improve, you might as well just be dead or have become white light. Right? I mean, we are all in the process of becoming something, becoming better at something. And if you’re already a done deal there, that would really be problematic.
Frank Bria (30:40):
Yeah, and I mean what a contrast that you’re drawing between what is sort of conventional wisdom, good news, bad news, good news sandwich, which everyone knows is a tactic and doesn’t play very well. But to truly be authentic in the appreciation because you do point this out, in really good tech companies, those teams, they do put in time and dedication. I know when I was involved in tech startups, there were times we were doing the insane and I slept at the office for 36 hours to get code out the door like that. That was part of the process. So that it’s great that you mentioned that. I mean unfortunately we are out of time. I apologize, this is a fascinating conversation. I’d love to keep talking with you about this mostly because I love hearing the work that you’re doing in parallel to the work I did in tech and I yes, that would’ve been so nice to have somebody talking to me. But thanks so much for being with us, really appreciate it. I know you’re busy and thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule. One question before we go though, as folks are listening to the work that you’re doing, if they want to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to reach out and make make that connection?
Amie Devero (31:55):
Probably just go to my website and fill in a contact form. They come directly to me. They’re not filtered at all. So it’s amiedevero.com, and you can figure it out from there. We all know how to work a website.
Frank Bria (32:12):
Terrific. And we have that link below the video. It’s on the show notes page for the show. If you’re out and about listening to the audio, come on back to the show notes page and just click on through to connect. Thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.
Amie Devero (32:25):
It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me and have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Frank Bria (32:28):
Thank you very much. And thank you all for being with us on the 6 to 7 Figures Show. I’ve been your host, Frank Bria. And just a quick reminder about the high ticket program core offer Blackbook contains more than 60 pages of standard operating procedures on how to run your coaching, consulting or expert based service business. You can download that for free at the show’s homepage, 6to7.show That’s 6to7.show For your free Blackbook. And we will see you on the next episode. [inaudible].