This article is a part of our Protect the Hustle series where we explore the truth behind the strategy and tactics of B2B SaaS growth to make you an outstanding operator. Each week we publish an interview with a SaaS founder or executive going deep on a topic and then a longer form piece on an area of SaaS growth. This is the latter where we explore coaching, the stigma around it, and how I've evolved in my thinking on coaches.
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Getting "one of those" coaches
Our industry is full of a lot of bullsh*t artists. Charlatans. People who haven't been there before, but sure will sell you that they have all the answers.
Part of this is our fault—we're insecure and vulnerable in trudging into the unknown and trying to create something from nothing, so we're highly susceptible to those hawking advice or help. Most of this isn't our fault, because while human nature hopefully trends positive, there are those amongst us who peddle goods with get-rich-quick marketing that leeches on all of us under the guise of "coaching."
I thought Dan Martell was one of those leeches.
For those who don't know him, Dan Martell runs SaaS Academy, a coaching program for SaaS founders and executives. He's got 60.4k YouTube subscribers (a lot for SaaS), half a million subscribers on TikTok without dancing, and he's founded five SaaS companies. He also posts things like this—and while I'm generalizing, I tend to put my guard up with folks who post these types of inspirational posts. Of course, that says more about me than Dan (especially since this picture is fire. :)).
I first met Dan a decade ago and all my B.S. alarms were going off. He's a phenomenal speaker, helps without you asking, and is one of the nicest human beings I've met in tech. Basically he was the perfect recipe for what ,most of the time, ends up being a charlatan. All talk. No substance.
What I learned in chatting with him more and more as we became friends, is that while bad actors out there push mastermind groups for $10k to help you "get rich quick by working a day a week," Dan was legit. Unfortunately those bad actors and not being able to tell the bad ones from the good ones, made me have an aversion to coaching.
I thought coaching was only relevant if it were from someone who'd been there before—an old grey haired sherpa who'd been in the world of business for decades trying to help me up my own mountain. The problem I kept running into is that no one's been in our industry for that long, so how could someone know more than me? At best, they'd only know marginally more and even then, my situation can't possibly be the same that they went through, right?
My own arrogance aside, I've learned the hard way that this isn't why coaches exist. There's a reason Marc Benioff—the grand poobah of SaaS and Founder of Salesforce—still has a coach. Zuckerberg, Sandberg, the Google Gents, and all the people who came before us still do, too.
It comes down to perspective.
You're in your lane moving as quickly as humanly possible. You've got a lot people around you who are in the same lane, or at least parallel lanes. A coach is someone who's outside the lanes observing and holding you accountable over time. Their job is to:
Challenge your personal awareness
Hold you accountable to your personal development
Provide a safe, independent place for feedback
Give you the wider context
The bad-actor coaches make it about them and hype you up with motivation and cool perks. The good-actor coaches make it about you and tailors advice to you.
As founders and execs, we're an ironically confident bunch. We're constantly oscillating on the precipice between, "everything is going to be amazing" and "the world is ending." I find solace in coaching that keeps me focused on the long game, while helping me optimize the short term for the most compounding outcome.
As we grind into 2021 with a lot of distractions still around us, one focus we should all have is to get more, consistent coaching.
Here's the framework I came up with for seeking a coach:
Directness and honesty in feedback The coach needs to know how to get through to you. Some of us are overzealous; others of us are insanely insecure. Neither of these are bad and many of us go back and forth, but a coach needs to be able to properly work with you and push you to get better. You need a coach that isn't one-size-fits-all, or at the very least, plays to your strengths. This isn't your friend; it's someone to make you better.
Experience in what you're optimizing for Industry specific experience is very helpful. While the coach doesn't need to be a multi-decade veteran, they at least need experience with the inputs and outputs of your industry. They also need the ability to level you up as an exec, so it's hard to find a coach that hasn't been an exec and faced the decisions you're facing.
Helps you build systems and holds you accountable Coaching is more active than something like therapy. Your coach should be helping you compound as a leader, talking through and helping you implement systems to push your business forward. You should also have an element of regret if you break a commitment that you made to them.
I find solace in coaching that keeps me focused on the long game, while helping me optimize the short term for the most compounding outcome.
If you're in SaaS, I actually recommend you check outDan Martell. He's one of the only folks out there who checks all the boxes of my framework and has a lot of structure around his program, which is helpful as most of us are a bit less structured than optimal. I've referred a lot of folks to SaaS Academy, and not one has had a bad experience. He's helped me along the way, too.
I told him I was writing on coaching in January—and that I was going to talk about my first impression of him (which we've laughed about since). He graciously offered some 1:1 time with him and his team to ProfitWell subscribers.
Most importantly, make a commitment to coaching and feedback. 2021 is going to be a tough year, but there's a lot of opportunities in that toughness. Make sure you take advantage of it in an accelerated manner with coaching.
This is a ProfitWell Recur production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space.
By Patrick Campbell
Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.