Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is David Bishop, and I started Agile Worx, an organization that provides tools, training, and consulting services to technology companies. Our main product is “Metagility” a new, patented framework that leverages agile principles to help technology companies become #1 in their market.
“Metagility” is based on the concept of Agile Vorticity, which was derived from over 10 years of peer-reviewed scientific research. At Agile Worx, we’ve productized this research into an entire ecosystem of products and services that maximizes productivity, efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction for our clients.
Although there are other “agile frameworks” on the market, “Metagility” is the only framework that has received a US patent and proven by scientific peer-reviewed research to accomplish what we say it does.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started programming at age 13 on a Commodore VIC-20 personal computer. I enjoyed taking the thing apart as much as I did creating my own games. It was at that time that I decided I wanted to be a computer engineer. I spent years taking the hardest math and science classes available and eventually managed to get into a top tier engineering school. One of the greatest attributes of a career in technology is that you are always learning, and for many years, I certainly did. However, after my first decade in the business I began to realize two things:
There was no knowledge equity in what I was doing. Unlike medicine or law, the knowledge I accumulated over time lost value, instead of gaining value, because the technology changed so much. I would spend months becoming an expert on something only to find that knowledge obsolete in a couple of years. Even though learning was fun, I started to feel as though I was treading water and throwing my life away.
The business was changing drastically - for the worst. Most of the work was being outsourced overseas to lesser educated and experienced people, and companies I worked with started experiencing severe quality and performance problems. After the “.com bubble” bust in the early 2000s, wages and career opportunities stagnated. I realized that I had to make a change.
After a great deal of soul searching I decided to go back to school and get my Ph.D. Did I want to go into academics? Not really. What I wanted was to finally be THE expert on something. You see, having a doctorate means that YOU CREATE YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE. As an IT guy, I was tired of constantly chasing after the latest and greatest piece of technology with some silly name, only to throw the knowledge away after a few years and start all over. I wanted to create a LONG LASTING BODY OF WORK. Something that had substance, value, and impact which would build on my existing talents, and that’s what I set out to do.
As all entrepreneurs know, any good product or service needs to solve a problem, and at about this time in my life, I found one. The firm I was working with at the time was developing innovative smart grid technology, but there were a slew of competitors about to beat them to the punch. The leadership at my firm was anxious about losing market share, and so they began to adopt new management and development techniques for a competitive edge. One of these was “agile” and “scrum” based on the principles touted in the “agile manifesto”. The firm attempted to adopt these techniques multiple times with little success, even after hiring some of the best consulting firms in the industry. I quickly realized that they were going about it the wrong way, and set about applying my new found research skills in my doctorate program to solving the problem. Almost ten years later, I have a body of research on the topic, a new scientific theory, a patent, a textbook, and my own agile framework certification program.
I soon realized that the real opportunity was not in the software tool that I had built, but the knowledge behind it. At this point, I realized that I needed to focus on building a training program.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Initially, I had decided that the best way to productize the research was with a software application. I later found otherwise, but that’s another story. I wanted to develop a program and project management application that would serve business intelligence from an agile perspective. Based on the agile vorticity theory I had developed, this tool would give business leaders the intelligence they needed to make optimum decisions in relation to development teams, market timing, and technology innovation, giving them a serious edge over the competition.
The first design was the main project management screen, which I had drawn first on a small sheet of paper and then hand-drawn onto a larger sheet. I created several screens and then sent them off to an artist who helped draw them out and make them into a clickable demo. I then created the entity-relationship diagram for the database and hired a couple of developers to help build it. This eventually grew into a small team, which included people from all over the world.
We had all sorts of challenges throughout the process, not the least of which was money. But after almost a year, the MVP was finally completed and ready to be tested.
The following three pictures illustrate the evolution from drawing to the real screen:
Describe the process of launching the business.
Although we could do most of the work ourselves, we still needed money. We couldn’t get an SBA loan because our company had no “collateral” like buildings, vehicles, etc. In fact, we were pretty surprised at the lack of knowledge most banks had about technology. Hey, this is 2015 right? Surprisingly, unless you were a restaurant, construction business, or something that bankers understood, chances of getting a loan even from the SBA were unlikely. I then started working with incubators and became a member of the largest and oldest one in Atlanta. Despite the fact that I had an MBA, a Ph.D., and 20 plus years of experience in the business, they totally dismissed me because I still had my “day job”. All they wanted to do was run me through their gauntlet of educational courses, which were designed to teach young kids about business. I attended a few but didn’t learn anything. Although the incubator had tons of resources in terms of investor networks, potential customers, etc, they would not permit me access. I tried a Kickstarter campaign but it went nowhere. Most crowdfunding relies on already having a huge potential donor network that can be leveraged, and that’s something that I simply didn’t have at the time.
So, I approached a couple of friends of mine and made them partners. We cracked open our 401k, pooled our money together and got the ball rolling. We were engineers and knew how to build a product, so that part was easy. I supplied the vision and they helped with the muscle. We even built a team to help.
Getting customers was the hardest part. Approaching our existing company was out of the question, for obvious reasons. After hiring a salesperson we managed to land a few deals with companies willing to be beta testers. The results were good, but not what I expected. “We really like the tool, but what we really need is consulting and training around how this agile process works.”
I soon realized that the real opportunity was not in the software tool that I had built, but the knowledge behind it. At this point, I realized that I needed to focus on building a training program. After a great deal of work, I managed to land a publishing deal to release a book on my research and created a set of courses and a certification program around it. The “Metagility” framework was born. Since then, I have been offering my consulting and teaching services all over the world and the response has been overwhelming. After “pivoting” a couple of times with my business, I had finally hit on the product that the market REALLY needed.
As an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to kill your babies. The market opportunity may not be what you think after it is tested, so you must develop the ability to “pivot” into an entirely new product line if necessary.
Networking is something that doesn’t come easy for many people especially techies, but its a skill you MUST develop. The more you do it the better you get. Results are a numbers game, the more people you meet the better chances you have of meeting potential clients.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
My business is a knowledge business based on the research, patents, and books I’ve developed. As such, I’m as much a part of the product portfolio as they are. This is true with most other competing agile frameworks. Dean Leffingwell and J.J. Sutherland are inextricably linked with scaled agile and scrum respectively, so it is with me and Metagility. First, I needed to establish myself as an expert. My research and Ph.D. already set me above the competition, but I needed to translate this to the practitioner community. The first step to doing this was to write a book, Metagility: Managing Agile Development for Competitive Advantage. I followed this with articles, blogs, interviews, videos, and speaking engagements. I set about evangelizing my idea to as many people as possible.
I’m a big fan of Richard Heifetz, author of Leadership Without Easy Answers. One of the things he says is that we all too often try to find technical solutions for managerial problems. I think tools are good, but I think people rely far too much on marketing apps, social media, adware, etc. These things have not worked for me at all, despite my best efforts. I know many people believe in them and get results, but honestly, they’ve been a total waste of money and time for me.
What has worked, is good ole’ networking. That and some honest to good public relations help. You’ve got to pound the pavement and knock on doors. Networking is something that doesn’t come easy for many people especially techies, but its a skill you MUST develop. The more you do it the better you get. Results are a numbers game, the more people you meet the better chances you have of meeting potential clients. High touch methods are critical.
Today, everyone is inundated with “noise” from social media and related channels, so building a personal connection with people is a critical differentiator. Getting a good public relations person to help you with building content and accessing new sales channels is also very helpful. PR takes time to build, but its all about volume. Just keep doing it and eventually you'll reach a critical mass. By the way, I’ve written a book on networking too!
Retaining customers is a matter of trust. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you can’t do it don’t commit to it! Be honest with the client and yourself. Be passionate about what you do, and it will rub off on those around you. People will be attracted to your passion, and that will feed the excitement even more!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I started this business almost five years ago. Today I’m very profitable but that took time. Originally, I thought that software would account for the majority of sales, and that training and consulting would be a sideline. The market needs forced me to flip this business model. Today, the majority of my business is consulting, followed by training, and then a very small percentage is attributed to software. My goal is to minimize the consulting in favor of training as my largest product, with software second. With consulting, you’re always trading hours for dollars and there are only so many hours in a day.
Any spare money I have is invested in marketing and public relations. Any spare time I have is devoted to writing books, creating content, or creating new business ideas. I have several of these “irons in the fire” right now.
I am devoted to spreading the news of this new “agile framework” and expect that it will be the premier framework in the industry within the next two to three years.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Well, I certainly made a lot of mistakes people could learn from! Here are some hard-won lessons:
Pick your partners carefully. I know it is hard to do things alone, but if you go into business with someone take it as seriously as you would a marriage because in effect it is one. A bad partner can make you miserable and ruin you financially. Be sure you know them well, trust them, and set clear expectations on what their role is and what you want from them. Above all, make sure they believe in your idea and that they are totally committed.
Don’t rely on incubators. Some can be good resources but the incubator I was a part of was all about money and pushing their political agenda. If you had lots of cash or fit their politics they opened doors for you. If not then all they would do is send you to classes with their “pseudo-entrepreneurs”. These supposedly successful entrepreneurs would stay a few months and jump ship for the latest “nine to five” job as soon as they had the chance. The companies they bragged on the most had leaders with unimaginative business ideas and unimpressive resumes. Stay away from organizations like this they will get you down and crush your dreams.
Don’t work for free, EVER! The recognition or “free PR” won’t happen.
Network, Network, Network! There’s really no secret tool, service, or program for getting clients. Just get out there and meet people.
If it doesn’t feel right, say no, no matter how bad you need the work. Listen to your gut.
Yes, LUCK is a factor, but the more people you network with, and the harder you work, the better your chances will be of having it.
The quickest and easiest way to go into business for yourself is to BUY ONE!
B2B sales cycles are long and hard. Go B2C if possible.
I missed a chance to buy a business from a Japanese entrepreneur that would have been a great fit for me. His product line would have fit in well with my ideas. You see, buying a business is a much better proposition than creating one from scratch. An existing business has revenue, and that means that the SBA (or banks) will be willing to loan you money to buy it, as long as you have funds of your own to put with it. Once you buy that business, it is yours to do with as you like. Well, you don’t want to run it into the ground obviously, and existing product lines should be maintained, but you can add new product lines and leverage the existing client base to beta test and grow them. I would highly suggest buying a business instead of creating one, if possible.
Keep your day job as long as you can before jumping ship. Build as much of the product, MVP, or book, or whatever it is before quitting, and be sure to have at least one customer, preferably more.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Most people are surprised when they hear that a tech guy like me is not a big tools fan. I use tools that work, tools that really help me, and tools that make sense. All too often people learn tools because it is the latest fad, or because of peer pressure. The problem with certain tools is that they force you to work or think a certain way, and that isn’t right for everyone. I’ve found that people sometimes push you to use certain tools because they want you to work as they do. In a sense, it is a form of process bullying. “Hey, you need to think and work like I do, and adopt my process, or else you will not be working correctly.” People like this are afraid that if THEIR way isn’t adopted, they will be forced to learn somebody else’s tools! Is there someone like this in YOUR office?
I use most every social media channel available, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. To make things easy I use Buffer to manage all of my postings. I use WordPress and Adobe tools quite a bit to build illustrations, media, or websites. For my business, Quickbooks is great for managing finances, and DocuSign is great for managing contracts and getting fast signatures. I also like InvoiceHome for building nice looking invoices. Appearances are important.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read tons of books, about everything from technology to publishing, marketing, and differential equations. :-) I like reading success stories, especially from other authors who struggled to get published but eventually became the best selling writer. Robert W. Bly was an influence early on because he was an engineer who became a writer and eventually a solopreneur.
People don’t do enough reading these days. I read often. Not only does that make me smarter, but it also makes me a better writer and keeps my mind sharp.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
No matter what business you’re in, moving from a secure nine to five job to working completely for yourself is a scary proposition, no matter how smart or capable you are. Many would-be entrepreneurs I’ve talked to are looking for a formula for success. Well, there isn’t one. Going into business for yourself is a lot like swimming. Spend time learning to breathe, learning the right strokes, how to float, etc. At some point, you’ve got to just dive right in. Don’t be afraid to fail. Get up and try again, but learn from it and try something different. Don’t repeat the same mistakes. Here are some other recommendations for those just starting out:
Keep your day job as long as you can before jumping ship. Build as much of the product, MVP, or book, or whatever it is before quitting, and be sure to have at least one customer, preferably more.
Save at least six months worth of income before quitting your day job.
Be careful of “big ideas”. Find a problem that needs a solution, not a solution that needs to find a problem.
Stay away from negative, jealous, or fearful people, even if they are people you love.
Remember that if you have your health, you have everything you need. You’ll never realize the importance of this until you lose it.
People buy the sizzle, not the steak. Pay attention to appearances. This goes for yourself, as well as your online presence.
Focus. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You have lots of good ideas, but pick one or two to focus on. Create a vision, a plan, and stay on track. Remember that ideas are cheap; its execution that counts. Decide what’s important and don’t be distracted by what isn’t. A house is built one brick at a time. Focus on each brick as you lay one on top of the other. In our ADD society of video games and fast-moving edits, I find that this is the hardest thing for people to do these days.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m always looking for talented trainers and coaches passionate about agile and excited at the potential of becoming one of the first “experts” on our new framework.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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