Tag Archives: communication skills

Burt De Mill: When Technical People Do Business



Burt De Mill is the President of BDM Consulting, a San Diego based consulting firm that works with small and medium sized companies who are in the biotechnology tools and clinical diagnostics spaces.  Burt helps companies define their products and markets, conduct new market research, and launch products.  Burt talks about the challenges scientists encounter when they interface with the business world.

Highlights:

Q: Burt, you are a scientist by training.  How did you move into business?

“I wanted to be a doctor.  I was the kid who wanted the chemistry set and microscope for Christmas.  I was a chemistry and biology major at the University of Maryland.  Then I applied to medical school and didn’t get in.”

“While I kept trying, I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital doing cancer research.  I was working with a very prestigious physician, Dr. Philip Burke, who said to me after I gave a presentation, ‘Burt, good job, but I noticed you had more fun doing the presentation than doing the work.’  I realized that I do like talking about the work.  I was also taking business classes there for free while I worked.  I felt that business was like a duck swimming on the lake to me.  It was simple.  It was easy.  That’s kind of how I ended up the failed scientist turned into a business guy.”

“I made that split over 25 years ago and never looked back.  I still do have a soft spot for the science, but I like it in a business context.”

Q: As the Sr. Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Genoptix Medical Labs back in 2005, how did you scale revenues from $4M to $184M in 5 years?

“It was kind of like running a marathon with your hair on fire, but it was kind of fun!  It was fun because we were building something.  There were some key points.  One was timing.  That’s something you can’t plan for, but it’s important for a business.  Is it the right business concept at the right time?  Is society ready for it?  Are customers ready for it?  A lot of good businesses are the benefactor of that.”

“There were three key things that we did.  We knew who our customers were and who they were not.  That is incredibly important for a startup….  We surrounded ourselves with a fabulous team…  The last one is we measured things.  This is really important when you scale…”  To hear the details, listen to the episode.

Q: As a leader, how does it feel it to not be the one doing it all but getting others in to do it?

“In the consulting business I’m in now, I work with some incredibly smart people—PhDs, MDs.  The talent is enormous in what I call their vertical.  They know that enzyme or they know that diagnostic test like the back of their hand.  But it’s very hard to be an expert in all areas.  One of the things I’d advise founders not to do is to get caught up in what I call ‘founder’s syndrome.’  Founder’s syndrome is: it’s my baby, I’m going to hang on to it all the way through, and I’m afraid to let anybody touch it because it’s my child.  Most of the time, it does not go to a good place.”

To hear what Burt recommends to prevent founder’s syndrome and what other leadership challenges he sees when he consults to small businesses, listen to the episode.  Burt has some great advice for technical leaders.

Words of Wisdom:

“Failure’s not a bad thing.  Sometimes you learn a lot about yourself.”

“You can’t be good at everything, so you have to rely on your team.”

“If you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen.”

“Scientists also have to sell to bankers and lawyers and business people.”

Shout Out:

To the Rady School of Management at UCSD for helping science majors get exposure to business at the undergraduate level.

Contact Burt De Mill for a free one-hour consultation:

Email: burt@bdmconsulting.org

Phone: 760-707-9519 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.


Adam Cuppy: Building Confidence in your Soft Skills



Adam Cuppy is the Chief Operating Officer at Zeal, a web and mobile apps development company.  He is also an actor.  He helps Zeal focus on how process drives success.  He says he has “no idea” of what he does.  Already, you can tell this is an entertaining episode.  Really what he focuses on is business development, evangelism, speaking nationally and internationally on confidence and process-driven team development and how to apply the soft side of life into the highly technical side of life.

Highlights:

Q: As an actor, what draws you to high tech?

“I went to college for acting and worked for a large regional theater company in a small town in Oregon, called the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  While I was there, I learned a lot about general human psychology.  As an actor, your job is about simulating and replicating the responses and reactions that a fictitious human being would have in a given situation.  You learn a lot about the human physicality and the general patterns they follow in life.  I was really fascinated and loved it a lot.’

“However, the profession of acting is a really tough one, to say the least.  A more senior actor told me that every three months he didn’t know what would be next.  That wasn’t for me.  While I was totally into the art form, the profession was not for me.”

“I went from psychology to psychology–acting to marketing.  I took what I learned as an actor to understand what and how someone might interpret what they saw in an ad or something.  Being in marketing, you’re dealing with computer systems and minimal applications development.  That took me down the path of websites and web apps, and here we are.”

Q: How do you make connections with nerds?

“Sometimes making connections comes down to very simple things, like identifying as quickly as you can what do you share, what do you know?  Sometimes there’s some basic stuff.  It might even be cliché, like family.  We all have parents!  Most often, you have siblings.

Building rapport quickly might be as simple as not introducing yourself as, ‘Hi, my name is Adam and I have a brother,’ but something simple like finding a unique story that you can tell consistently that is not overwhelming, is quick to get to, and might be a good conversation starter.”

Q: What is your method to help technical people develop confidence in their soft skills?

“It’s called Mechanical Confidence.  We take for granted that, if you’re an actor, you rehearse.  The standard time is 4-6 weeks of rehearsal.  The only reason you do that is to embed the movement and text into your body so that it’s automatic on opening night.”

“Every actor, musician, and technical person will have a process that creates this confidence in their body.  Having gone on stage so many times, it’s become automatic for me.  It’s a very logical, mechanical, procedural thing.  It’s not a feeling.”

To hear Adam’s process, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“To keep your audience engaged, find something small and physical to make the audience do.”

“Habits are incredibly powerful.”

“Talk to your dog (or cat or rubber duck).”

“Don’t presume chaos will get you there.”

Contact Adam Cuppy:

Twitter: @AdamCuppy

Email: Adam@codingzeal.com


Joe Molina: People Strategies for Techies and Vets



Joanie interviews Joseph Molina, the Executive Director and CEO of the Veterans Chamber of Commerce.  Joe draws from his experiences in the military, teaching at Cal Poly, being an entrepreneur, writing books, and working with veterans to bring us his lessons learned about the people skills needed to be an effective leader.  He talks specifically to veterans and techies.

Highlights:

Q: How did your varied experiences lead you to be the CEO of the Veterans Chamber of Commerce?

“I’ve been teaching since I was a teenager.  I always wanted to teach.  My first class was teaching adults how to get their GED, and I loved it.  Then life comes around and you start going in different directions and I started doing business and teaching business.  I always enjoyed doing business. It gave me the opportunity to try things out.  One thing I’m not afraid of is failing.  Learning has always been part of my life and I’m always moving forward.”

Q: Certainly, people in the military have had experience conquering their fear. How does that help them when they transition to the workplace?

“When we get out of the military, when the vast openness comes in and we go from having one, two, or three options to having a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand options, that becomes the challenge.  Regrouping becomes the issue and the mission.  We all feel that way. One hundred percent of people I talk to feel that way, of feeling lost, and wondering what to do now.”

“When we are in the military, we have a purpose.  We have an identity.  When we get out of the military, that identity has shifted and maybe even disappeared. Coming out you are somebody different.  It brings up so many questions.  That’s what motivates me to really, really want to work with veterans.”

“When we are in the military, we have a good support system.  We have a lot of friends.  The moment we cross the gate, we can’t go back.  For someone who has been in the military for ten years, when they go home, nothing is the same. Things have changed.  Friends may not be there anymore.  Lives have changed.  When we come out of the military, we become a ghost. The new community doesn’t know us. We’re not connected to the old community anymore. What do we do now?  One of the programs we’ve created at the Veterans Chamber of Commerce is to connect veterans to organizations.”

Q: How do you help techie veterans connect with organizations?

“If I’m the person who has the techie skills, I need to understand the person doing the hiring is probably an HR person who is not techie.  The first step in applying a job is the resume.  The resume should have what it is that I know how to do so that anyone can understand it.  Transmitting that message in the way that a nontechnical person can understanding it will give you a leg up.  Communication skills for the techie person, the nerd, are so important.”

Q: What can organizations do to support veterans, such as hire them?

“One thing that organizations should be aware of is that you get the best employees when you hire veterans.  You have individuals who are committed to reach the goal, together, with other people.  They know the team approach.  They always complete their tasks; nothing is left half-way done.  They always follow you; loyalty is huge.”

“When we’re talking about techie people, we know that this individual is going to perform 110%.  They’re going to follow the instructions given.  They’re going to complete the task or the mission the way it’s been presented.  This presents a challenge to the manager, because the manager needs to know how to communicate their message with their vision clearly so that others can understand it.”

Joe talks about much more than just veterans.  To hear Joe’s advice for leaders, like how to motivate techie people and how to delegate, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“There’s one thing that stops people from moving forward and that’s the “f” word—fear.”

“Anyone can be trained in a computer language but you cannot train someone in motivation.”

“You get the best employees when you hire veterans.”

Contact Joe Molina or the Veterans Chamber of Commerce:

www.vccsd.org