Make Them Pay | Garin Hess at Consensus

In part one of my conversation with Garin Hess, the founder and CEO of Consensus, he talked about his product that dynamically assembles sales demos based on the needs and interest of the prospective client.

In this second part of our conversation, Garin tells us about one lecture in college that inspired him to become an entrepreneur, forever altering the course of his life. He also tells the story of his early failures—and how they led to his current success.

More information:

Garin Hess is a serial entrepreneur whose entire career has been in enterprise software, including in several roles acting as sales engineer. Garin has founded two software companies, three industry conferences, and a non-profit organization. He is currently the founder and CEO of Consensus, the leader in intelligent demo automation software.

Consensus helps sales engineering teams use interactive video demos to scale productivity by reducing wasted time doing repetitive unqualified demos so they can do more of what they do best: solution consulting. Garin recently published a book called “Selling is Hard. Buying is Harder.” that emphasizes an “buyer enablement” approach to B2B sales.

Outside of work, Garin enjoys reading history, mountain biking, hiking, writing, playing tennis, choir conducting, and spending time with his wife and their children.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Garin Hess 0:00
Until somebody pays you money, you don’t have anything. So no matter how many people tell you, you have something awesome, which everyone will, because they like you. So just don’t believe them until somebody gives you money. And the only way to do that is to reach out to people that you don’t know.

Alexander Ferguson 0:14
Garin, I’m excited to continue our conversation. Now hearing more of your story, your journey as a tech leader, founder? Where did it all begin? And how did you get to where you are now?

Garin Hess 0:35
Because I don’t know where to start. I look back on my childhood, and I was starting businesses when I was a kid, and I didn’t really realize it. They weren’t successful at all, when I was I was a computer nerd. And in in Junior High in high school, and I thought everyone in the world would want to learn how to program computers. And so as a 16 year old, I just started a computer programming education, my tutoring school, and practically no one signed up for it. So I didn’t, I didn’t realize that that was business, a cool thing, you know, to do and make some money. But what really got me fired up about entrepreneurship was I was actually an English Lit major in college. And I had to have a half a credit to keep my scholarship in my last semester. And I so I picked this entrepreneurship lecture series. And I had this view, like a lot of people in the humanities have, I think of business at the time of businesses, just a bunch of money grubbing sort of, you know, hypocritical, selfish, non creative people just, you know, focused on money. And that was kind of my perspective, which was completely uneducated, but sorry, but I thought this entrepreneurship thing sounded interesting. So they have these alumni come and speak. And I was just so surprised at how creative it was. And then, of course, started thinking about problem solving and solutions kind of inventiveness. And then the fact that you could, at the time, I think I was making all $5 an hour, my on campus job. And then, you know, the idea that somehow I could, I could have unlimited potential in terms of compensation in some way and not have to be stuck to like renting myself out, basically, just thrilled me and I immediately went out and started, like that semester, I started four businesses, which was just dumb. And I didn’t know that you shouldn’t start four businesses all at the same time. I thought, if they’re all good ideas, they should all just take off. I had a long learning curve. And it was really about 10 years later that I started my first technology company, and maybe 15 years 10 to 15 years. I’m an elearning company that evolved into the into the collaborative elearning authoring company that I started,

Alexander Ferguson 3:01
was that was that rapid intake? Or? Yeah,

Garin Hess 3:05
yeah, rapid intake. And, and so that’s kind of where the Genesis happened. And it was, it was very gratifying after that, those those 10 to 15 years to finally merge this growing love of entrepreneurship with my computer nerdy side that I had in Junior High in high school. I don’t know why it took me so long in that period to realize that’s what I should be doing. But it took me all that time to figure that out.

Alexander Ferguson 3:30
It’s interesting that the journey that our cells have to go on first, before we can really connect all the all the dots. Yeah. When obviously, then consensus is not the first company that you’ve run. Now, this being your second or third, a second technology company, second technology company that you’ve run the beginning foundations of, of it, it was actually called Demo chip before, correct? Right. Yeah. Which is a whole story to that. I’m sure. When you start it, was it. Did you bootstrap it? Did you get VC funding right from the beginning? How did that begin?

Garin Hess 4:07
So I took some of the proceeds from exit from my from rapid intake, and was the initial seed money basically, for the first nine to 12 months and got the initial product built, beta tested seven initial customers. And that was kind of the proof that they were paying me and so that was proof there was something there. And that led to them kind of getting this the official seed round. After that.

Alexander Ferguson 4:34
For your first company, did you rapid intake, did you get funding or did you bootstrap that?

Garin Hess 4:40
No, it’s interesting. It was all it was all bootstrapped. And it was quite quite the journey. We had mortgaged our house we had just kind of the typical thing, run up all the credit cards, my business partner, Steve Hancock, and he and I both leveraged everything we had, as kind of these called one of these classic stories. It was really cool. burden carrying in our wives were kind of looking at us with the stinky eyebrows sort of thing. And, and, and it was it was very, it was great to finally exit, get all that debt paid off, you know have quite a bit left over to do some other things and make believers out of our wives too. So that was, that was the first big step towards doing this company.

Alexander Ferguson 5:23
You make a great point as far as espouses of it’s easy to look back now and say, oh, yeah, everything worked out just fine. But when you’re in the thick of it, the middle of it, or the beginning,

Garin Hess 5:35
I was like Elon mouth, Elon Musk says that it’s like eating glass. Right. And I think that’s the best description I’ve ever heard of being a founder of a tech company.

Alexander Ferguson 5:46
If you had to share a lesson learned of of that initial stages of getting your first couple of couple customers and clients, neither business demo champ or consensus, or even the first one, you had rapid intake, what comes to your mind that you’re like, wow, you know, you would really want another entrepreneur to know a tactic that work or even a thought.

Garin Hess 6:09
Yeah, I think a couple briefings. One is until somebody pays you money, you don’t have anything. So no matter how many people tell you, you have something awesome, which everyone will, because they like you. So just don’t believe them until somebody gives you money. And the only way to do that is to reach out to people that you don’t know. So when I started consensus, which we call demo chimp at the time, we we wrote this great book called nail it, then scale it kind of along the lines of the lean startup. And, and they they advocated for the validation stage to just cold call a bunch of prospective customers and your target market. So we cold called about 100. And we got about a 30% hit rate of people that wanted to talk to us. So that was the initial kind of oh, people are interested in this if this problem. And then out of those 30, we got seven people willing to pay us, you know, a beta stage. And so that’s, I guess that the main point is to really get traction, you’ve got to and know that you’ve got something really you’ve got to get somebody to pay you money. And so you got to go through that difficult process of reaching out to people that don’t necessarily like you, like your friends and family. say they don’t like you. But

Alexander Ferguson 7:31
they Yeah, they don’t give you what you really need. You need actual customers tell you, this is what I would buy this. So 100 down to 30. That’s interesting numbers of how do you work that in today’s world where we’re just like, bombarded and overwhelmed. How do you How would you get people’s attention? What would you recommend getting someone’s attention where we’re overloaded with constant distractions?

Garin Hess 7:55
Early stage? Mm hmm. I mean, I think it’s the way we did it. And I don’t know if this is the best way. But we, we just said, Hey, we’re a couple of entrepreneurs. And we’re trying to solve this problem. And we really like your feedback. Are you interested in talking? And, and that was it. And I think the reason that that got through the noise is just because it’s not, hey, we’re trying to sell something. In fact, we specifically said, we’re not trying to sell something. We just want your feedback. And that was true. I mean, we weren’t, in the end, we did want them to, but our goal was really just to get feedback initially. And just go through iterative cycles of feedback. And at the end of every, so at the end of every feedback session, by the way, we would say, if this were live today, would you buy it? And that would if they would say no, we’d say why not? If they would say yes, we’d say why. And that would tell us a lot about it. And and so eventually, we would say so we are building this, and if it were alive today, would you buy it? And then it was now it’s built? Will you buy it? Like oh yeah, so some of them had to had to say yes, again, after agreeing all those times, I

Alexander Ferguson 9:01
suppose. I love that I love it, no matter actually how they answer. That’s okay. Yeah, it is okay. You be able to ask them either way. What would you say some common mistakes that you see people are doing right now in marketing in the 21st century that that, like you would say, from your experience? Oh, you should do it differently.

Garin Hess 9:23
Wow. Well, what I’ve learned about marketing, I’ve learned the most about effective marketing in the last 18 months really. And it’s, it’s really about using premium content to Drive content marketing. So this this came about. So at the beginning of our story, with consensus, we were focused on small business marketers and sales, sales and marketing. And without going all the details we’ve now completely changed over to sales engineering teams and large enterprise companies. And so when we When we got focused on sales engineers, we had to go try to find sales engineers. Well, there wasn’t a community, there wasn’t a place, there were no lists to buy. There are no conferences to go to. So how do you reach them? So we started thinking, Oh, SEO, maybe we need to write some blog articles. That’s the common wisdom is build a blog and attract people to your site. Well, that’s a really long tail journey, because it takes a long time to build up SEO authority and things. And we’re just thinking, so as we are researching keyword terms, we saw sales engineer, search terms, sales engineer salary, like Oh, sales engineers are searching for salaries. So we thought, I wonder how much they get paid. So we started searching for salaries. But turns out there was no information about sales engineer salaries out there. And so we decided, we thought if everybody’s searching for that, we should do a salary, compensate sales and during compensation report. So we surveyed about 450, sales engineers and sales engineering leaders published a report and then started promoting it on LinkedIn. And so that that was uniquely interesting to our audience. So that that is the basis of the success we’ve had the last 18 to 24 months is doing things like that, where you pick a premium piece of content that is missing, that that specific audience wants. And I would say that the mistake that a lot of founders make is pouring all that content marketing effort into the blog, a lot the blog is important. But but you can drive a ton of leads and results by just one really interesting piece of content.

Alexander Ferguson 11:44
You just hit a bunch of different insights right there. Briefly, you covered the fact that going from from demo chim, to to consensus, one realizing targeting only one specific industry and the power to that then to realize that just general SEO and just writing blogs, that doesn’t necessarily reap benefits, least not right away, for sure. Yeah. And but then to create a piece of content that they absolutely need, it may not have anything to do with your product, or even directly, that effort. But they want it

Garin Hess 12:17
brings the right people and gives them the awareness. So that was really an awareness stage. And we coupled it with this research around sales engineering workload, which underscored all the problems that they have, oh, it takes a week before people get their demos, oh, they have 30% of unqualified demos,

Alexander Ferguson 12:34
you know, things like that conversation over then too, right? It

Garin Hess 12:37
kind of gets them to move in that direction. Yeah. Nice.

Alexander Ferguson 12:41
Okay. This development, of creating the strategies and all that, obviously, isn’t you by yourself requires a team. So what are your insights on developing a good team to be able to execute both come up with the ideas and execute these plans and grow the company?

Garin Hess 13:01
Oh, man, that’s Yeah, I think that’s the hardest part, because the people are everything. And I don’t know that I have any fantastic wisdom about that. And one thing I guess, I’ve learned in this company in particular, is just don’t let people stay on the team that you don’t like, just get rid of them. Like, if you don’t like them, if you can’t work with them, don’t spend another day that I spent a couple years at the beginning of my journey with some people that I didn’t get along with, because I thought, you know, it’s just me, I don’t know this or that. And as soon as I got rid of all this is so much better. We made better progress. You know, and I shouldn’t say get rid of, you know, it’s a harsh way of saying it, but it’s just, you know, finds a better solution. And I think most entrepreneurs have made the mistake of just letting the wrong people stay on the team too long. And it’s definitely a mistake I’ve made several times in both companies, what qualities

Alexander Ferguson 13:55
do you look for and desire the most in an employee?

Garin Hess 14:00
You know, for me, number one, it’s genuine, genuine, authentic, you know, authenticity. I really can’t work with chest thumping, bro culture kind of people. That’s just me, some people love that kind of culture. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I like to have real, I like to do real work with real people. And, and I love that authenticity, also kind of look for a humility, in a sense, not in sort of a weak way that people who are just always learning, they’re passionate about growing. And that’s another thing is, every every person that I bring on a team, I hope has a passion outside of work for something. Because I know if they’re super obsessed about something, they’re gonna they’re gonna bring the same kind of sort of obsessive passion to work or they can. As an example, one of the engineers I hired was a topiary expert, which I didn’t even know what topiary was until like interviewed him. He’s the most quiet guy I’ve ever met ever in my life. I mean, he probably said 50 words total in our whole interview, it was so hard to get them to talk about anything, but topiary is shaping the shrubs into animals. And so he loved, he just loved that, like, he was an artist at shaping strobes. But he was a brilliant software. And so that’s just an example. But it’s, it’s kind of bizarre, but But I think, you know, hiring people that have passion, outside of work, shows that they can get excited about something and really pour themselves into something. And then as trying to help Trent transfer some of that passion into the common cause.

Alexander Ferguson 15:42
I’m going to move on to then more of looking forward in this current environment that we’re in, what kind of challenges do you see you’re going to need to overcome in order to, in order to keep growing both internally with your own employees because of COVID. And this is also distancing as well as externally with your clients. What kind of challenges you’re gonna need to overcome?

Garin Hess 16:08
I think one of the biggest challenges we’re facing right now is just is just growth. We had so many leads come in we speaking of premium content, we did this this initial conference, right, and they mentioned the virtual conference, we had 3000 people sign up. And that was just an overwhelming number of leads, we didn’t have enough people to really process those effectively right away. And, and, yeah, it’s a great problem. Yeah, especially, you know, given that, you know, a few years ago, when we were kind of wandering in the wilderness of indecision, trying to find the right target market. That, you know, it’s a great problem to have. But now that we were just really exploding in our lead generation pipeline development. We’re hiring a lot right now. And so I think putting an infrastructure for for rapid growth is one of the biggest challenges we’re going to have. As far as pandemic goes, we’re actually quite fortunate, you know, we’ve lost a few customers because of it, or we’ve had delayed payments and things like that. But because our software helps teams sell digitally, and remotely, effectively, it’s actually increased interest in a lot of our customer sites as well. So I’m hoping it’ll be a net positive all in all. So for us, the pandemic is not, is not posed, as big of a challenge as it does for some, some solutions or some industries. But, but I think the growth is, is probably the biggest hurdle, and helping the team that we have really stepped into the roles needed, or, or get used to being working with people that we may hire over them, you might say, as we grow, so I’m not looking forward to working through all that. But it’s got to be done.

Alexander Ferguson 17:50
As the as the CEO, you get the challenge of having to manage the growth and the people. And I mentioned you have to almost change your own mindsets as you meet new benchmarks as to new spots. Speaking of learning and growing yourself, have there been any pivotal books or audiobooks or podcasts that you’ve listened to and would recommend?

Garin Hess 18:14
A failure of nerve center right. This is by far the best leadership book I’ve ever read. And just as a little, a little teaser. Have you ever heard of a peace monger? I mean, you hear of war mongers, right about peace monitors. Basically a peace monitor. According to this authors, Edwin Friedman is a leader who cares so much about not making waves or hurting people’s feelings, that they sacrifice the progress of the entire team. And I think that’s a it’s a, it’s a major mistake. And I’m somebody who can empathize easily with other people. And I have in the past tended to over state the importance of thinking about other people’s feelings. And so, you know, failure of nerve is, is a really great book. I also like the one thing, which is my favorite business book in general, about personal productivity, and organizational productivity. So those are two recommendations, I guess.

Alexander Ferguson 19:26
Last question for you. What kind of technology innovation do you predict we will see in the near term, the next year or so and the long term 510 years?

Garin Hess 19:37
I am not good at this, I have to say so I’ll just say that up front.

Alexander Ferguson 19:41
All good. Whatever comes to your mind, whatever you think,

Garin Hess 19:45
Man innovations. One of the things I’m excited about, totally unrelated to our business are electric airplanes, zero emission airplanes. So I think that’s pretty exciting. It’s awesome. happening but about the self self driving self flying plane. There’s there’s an interesting jet by Cirrus that will actually land itself now. So if the pilot gets incapacitated, the passengers can just hit this red button on the ceiling. And it’s called safe land and it will navigate through weather and terrain, find the nearest airport, call the automatically call the emergency personnel and have them there in case anything goes wrong and land the plane. So that’s like that’s the first step and I’m looking forward to that.

Alexander Ferguson 20:36
So is there a pilot on the plane now that we have an autopilot, we’re fine. It literally will land the plane. Nice.

Garin Hess 20:41
Yeah. So So you know, that’s, that’s just a personal passion of mine is is aviation.

Alexander Ferguson 20:49
Exciting things we can look forward to? Yeah. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.



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