18 points of wisdom on rTraction's 18th birthday

rTraction turned 18 this month. The company may have reached ‘adult’ phase, I like to think we’re still kids at heart. I spent some time considering how to commemorate the milestone. One thought stood out while reflecting on rTraction’s up, downs, and overall success : You can’t raise a company without help from others.

To commemorate the 18th Birthday of rTraction I thought I would share 18 of my favourite quotes from mentors or people that have helped us along the way (or the occasional internet memes). [ Editor’s note: The quotes are attributed to the person I originally heard them from - they may be taken from another source! ]


1 - “Always be closing.” Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glenn Ross

 
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In my experience there is no space allowed for taking your foot off the accelerator in business. A large sales funnel can be a false comfort - you gotta close the business or someone else will. I will also say that in my experience there is no second place prize (not even steak knives) in the sales game.


2 - “ABC - Always be closing, always be coding” - Brian Foster, RHA Accelerator

 
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Brian has added his unique twist on Alec’s famous line. In the pursuit of new sales you also need to keep an eye on your product and service delivery. If you’re not always ‘coding’ then you run the risk of competitors catching up, your product getting stale, or losing engagement internally. Focus on closing sales, yes, but not at the expense of your product development roadmap.


3 - “Plan and Execute. Repeat.” - Joe Dales, RH Accelerator

 
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There are various different versions of saying this same idea - Joe’s version is the simplest. It took me a while to understand the difference between “working on the business” and “working in the business”. It has been a particular challenge for me as working in the business is fun.

I have learned the value in coming up to think about the company strategically and getting a look at the strategy every now and again.


4 - “All competitors leak, the ones that are successful do so less than their competitors” - Eric Morse, Ivey Business School

 
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I found this lens helpful in recent years. We use the EOS system here at rTraction - and I would say that the most useful aspect of the model is helping you to focus on the biggest leaks, first, and acknowledging and mitigating the other leaks you don’t have time to fix. Trying to fix all the leaks vs. the most important ones can lead to a lot of challenges with resource management.


5 - “There will always be work!” - Skip Stocks, retired (my first “boss” @ Van Waters & Rogers)

 
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It took me a while to understand the wisdom of this particular quote. I believe it ties in nicely to #3 above. My interpretation is that if you try to put all your time in energy completing your task list then work has a nasty way of filling the list back up again. Put your energy into the tasks that matter and make sure that you save some of your time to putting energy back into yourself.

(As a side note, I will say that I appreciate the wisdom of this one - adopting the philosophy is another story.)


6 - “Business is 51% great success, 49% getting kicked in the teeth - the 2% gets us up every morning.” - Bruce Croxon

 
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It’s true. All of it.



7 - “Every morning wake up running” - Bill Johnson, former CEO McDonald’s Canada

 
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“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

I have been reflecting on this one a lot lately. In running a business you can be so focused on clearing one hurdle that it’s almost surprising to you that there is another hurdle after the one you just cleared. And another.

Note: Google tells me this may have initially come from Christopher McDougall. 


8 - “If you’re doing a deal with multiple people and can’t figure out who is getting screwed in the deal - duck.” - John Rodgers

 
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I will put a small disclaimer here that I do hope that as we adopt multi-stakeholder frameworks that it is common to have more win/win/win scenarios across various deal structures. I don’t believe it’s inherent in our economy that there has to be a loser in a transaction to have a winner also emerge.

With that being said it has also been my experience that man organizations do not have a multi-stakeholder view and will be looking to maximize their benefit - so this is a good lens to put on when analyzing any deal.


9 - “Good is the enemy of Great” - Jim Collins

 
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This likely ties into #7 - you can have a good business that is doing well. The fact that a business is doing “good enough” is likely going to be the largest thing from keeping it from being great. In order to be great you have to risk losing what is good - that’s a leap that’s likely hard for many business owners.


10 - “Look what’s at the bottom of your inbox - there’s someone who is excited about doing that type of work.” Grant Robinson

 
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I mentioned the EOS model earlier - it has another activity called “delegate and elevate”. You learn very quickly how hard it is to earn a dollar when you run a business. As a consequence a business owner is often hard pressed to part with cash. I will say that I have made the mistake several times of not investing in help in areas of the business that I do not like doing.

My perspective is now that if something drains you of energy then you should invest in mitigating that as quickly as possible, even if it means losing some operating capital in the short term. I believe that the energy you regain that you can put in revenue generating activities makes it a relatively safe short term investment.


11 - “It could be that the sole purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others” - Despair.com

 
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I don’t have much to add here.





12 - “Set up relationships with banks when you don’t actually need money.” - Reinier Mesritz, Co-Founder of vTraction.com (and technically the first President of rTraction)

 
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I’ve heard this saw a few different ways - when you’re facing liquidity challenges and could use the assistance of a bank is exactly the moment that you’re too high of a risk for a bank to set up a new relationship with and therefore it’s hard to get access to capital.

I could probably write several blog posts on this dynamic but I will leave you to ponder Reinier’s wisdom.


13 - “Start with Why” - Simon Sinek

 

Simon Sinek caused somewhat of an existential crisis that’s lasted for several years - why does my company exist? I can say that I am grateful for the journey and results as it has helped me to be able to get increasing clarity on why I get up every morning to work on the company.

PS - James Kingsley does an excellent Simon Sinek impression.


14 - “Never tell me the odds” - Han Solo

 
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The odds of having a successful business are ridiculously low.

Fairly frequent stats on startups succeeding is between 10-20% mark. I once used a tool provided by BDC to put in our industry type, revenue and years in business (we were 15 years old at that time). The tool put our chances of being around the following year at 42%.

It’s important to remember that not all business endings are bad (you can get acquired, choose to wind-down/retire, etc) but still. If I take the chance of surviving the first 3 years at 90%, and the remaining at 42% each year, the chances of making it this far are around 0.000022322321353%.

And yet here we are.


15 - “Nobody is actually going to die.” - Rachel Berdan

 
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Rachel brought this wisdom into the room at various points where we had to make some hard decisions. Quite frequently the choices we have to make in business are between a bad outcome or an even worse outcome. It’s important to remember that accepting a bad outcome and making a hard decision is not the same thing as a permanent affliction like death.

An additional perspective I have added is that as long as we learn from the experience and become smarter then even if the lesson is painful it is still ultimately beneficial.


16 - “Consistency creates credibility.” - Alanna Williams

 
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Alanna spun this one out in a meeting off the top of her head. I love it - and not just for the alliteration. We are big fans of being clear, concise and consistent in your marketing message.

Put another way, creating clear, concise and consistent communication creates credible companies. (OK maybe it is about the alliteration).


17 - “You already have no. You may as well try to get yes.” - Robert Wolthius, Co-founder vTraction.com and founding member of rTraction.

 
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My recollection is that this is a traditional dutch saying that perhaps loses a bit in translation. This is yet another example of a saying that has grown on me over the years. Sometimes our own fear of our own flaws (corporate or personal) gets in the way of asking for what we want.

I have found that sometimes you get yes simply because you asked for something that you want or need. If you assume that the answer is no then that is the answer you will be stuck with - so you may as well ask to see if you get the yes!


18 - “Grit and resilience are probably more important than being smart in growing a business. However, planning smart will hopefully help you avoid needing either.” - David Billson

 
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I am hoping to be able to add my own for reflection #18. It’s new let me know what you think.


In closing, I would like to thank the thousands of people that have been involved with the rTraction story over the past 18 years - to the clients who trusted us with their online presence, the alumni who shared part of their career with us, the amazing team we have now, and the families of the team who share the journey.

I don’t know what the next 18 years will bring - I do know that I need to find some more quotes! Share any of your favourites in the comments if you’d like them to be included in 2037.

David Billson