Interview: Sales Meets Fantasy Football, Gamification

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Interviewee: Travis Truett is the Founder and CEO of Y-Combinator incubated Ambition. We connected earlier this week and here is the interview:

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Jorge: I know you are a business guy converted technical. Tell me about your professional background and how you got into startups.

Travis: Attended the University of Tennessee – Knoxville where I graduated with a degree in Enterprise Management. Worked throughout college in retail sales while simultaneously completing several internships in the logistics space. Upon graduation I fulfilled the desire to travel and pursue passions, spent two years working as a climbing instructor in Zell am See, Austria anda retail sales manager (ski bum) in Park City, Utah and South Lake Tahoe, California. Started my first company and learned to program after this two year sabbatical.

I’ve always been entrepreneurial and competed in our university’s Business Plan competition (with the same founding team as today) where we won second place.

Jorge: What is the startup scene like in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Whats the ratio between b2b and consumer startups and how do you foresee it trending in the future?

Travis: Startup scene in Chattanooga is in a really exciting phase right now, it’s still very intimate and special while simultaneously gaining legitimate momentum. When I moved here three years ago there were a couple startups, now there’s thirty. A local company, QuickCue, was recently acquired by OpenTable for 10M within eighteen months of operation. Local incubators are hosting summer programs, bootcamps, conferences in addition to providing both Seed and A funding. Chattanooga being the first city in America to have 1Gbps internet to every home has been an incredible symbol for everybody here, something to rally around as a lot of hard-work is starting to pay off.

The ratio is more heavily weighted towards B2B with even the B2C startups generating revenue very early on. It’s probably due to the more conservative mindset that prevails here in the south but I think it’s a positive thing… more startups here are interested in becoming sustainable companies.

 

Jorge: What has being an entrepreneur meant to you both personally and professionally?

Travis: It’s definitely been an adventure, impossible to truly prepare for… most people think of themselves as an “entrepreneur” before fully understanding what it means, myself included.

Personally, it’s meant slowly losing the ability to relate with friends and family. You love work and enjoy talking about it, they generally do not. It’s meant watching relationships either fall apart or never get off the ground due to the sacrifice of time and sanity. Work, employees, investors take precedence over almost everything else. On a positive note it’s an indescribably empowering experience. I go to bed every night proud of how I’m spending the short amount of time given to me on this Earth.

Professionally, it’s meant learning to roll with some punches. I don’t have the “clout” of working for a large corporation and in most parts of the country (read: outside Silicon Valley) being a startup entrepreneur isn’t taken very seriously. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you right? It’s also meant building up the confidence to essentially not act your age. We’re told our entire lives to respect our elders and wait our turn… being an entrepreneur means you don’t have time for that, you have value to provide and you will be taken seriously. It’s ironic when the tables turn and you have corporate executives asking you for advice… your friends working at these large companies can’t believe it.

 

Jorge: What advice would you give an entrepreneur building a startup outside of a traditional tech hub like silicon valley?

Travis: Play to your strengths, being a big fish in a small pond has perks in terms of press, hiring, and people wanting to help. Embrace the fact that you are building a business and that your costs being 1/4 of what they would be in Silicon Valley is really practical. More people need to ask themselves “What Would Warren Buffett Do?”

With that being said, Silicon Valley is an incredible resource and something you should take seriously. World-class talent, investors, strategists, visionaries, people. Network as you can, my “entrance” to getting connected here started with a small, intimate conference where I was able to build relationships that I still leverage today.

 

Jorge: Tell me about your company Ambition and what the motivation was behind building the company.

Travis: Ambition drives employee productivity through camaraderie and competition. We’ve effectively adapted “Fantasy Football” for the office and the results are substantial… consistent increases in engagement, productivity, and profitability. Our motivation was simple, we’ve been there both as employees and managers and keeping employees inspired and productive is as hard as it is important.

The way we see it, the majority of people spend the majority of their time at work where they feel unengaged and apathetic the majority of the time. That’s a shame, life is too short and work energy follows you home. We thought to ourselves, what if we can align incentives and create a win-win? The answer was surprisingly simple, utilize an existing framework (Fantasy Football) to drive productivity without requiring a substantial learning curve or change in behavior (a lot of people play Fantasy Football and thus champion Ambition).

 

Jorge: What does Ambition do and how can companies best leverage it’s capabilities?

Travis: Ambition connects with a company’s CRM and Phone System and builds sustainable competition around performance metrics. For example, a manager syncs SalesForce with Ambition and then benchmarks/weights the metrics he uses to gauge employee performance (think emails, calls, leads, opportunities). Now employees can form teams and compete week-to-week across a season culminating with playoffs. It sounds simple because it is… it’s also really fun and effective.

Our platform is a very powerful tool, one that can be used and abused… it’s important for managers to measure and “gamify” the right things to reward the correct behavior. We work closely with our customers to help them achieve their goals.

 

Jorge: What are 3 quick tactics that sales teams can employ to begin to implement game mechanics into their sales organization.

Travis: 

  1. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Pick a goal and work backwards, what does it generally take to achieve that goal? Measure these things.
  2. Recognition is incredibly powerful, it’s the foundation of game mechanics. Whether it’s via email or bullhorn, praise your employees when they do well.
  3. Install Ambition’s SalesForce package… you’ll be up and running in no time.

 

Jorge: What does “sales” mean to you?

Travis: Building a relationship with the goal of providing somebody with something of value.

 

Jorge: What do the best sales team do in your opinion that the rest don’t?

Travis: The best sales teams care about their culture. It’s still the prevailing thought that salespeople are replaceable widgets… the organizations who work to inspire and motivate their people will succeed where others won’t.

In addition, I would simply say that they measure their people. It’s hard to be a fair, effective manager when you don’t truly know good from bad.

 

Jorge: Anything else you’d like to share about yourself, Ambition, or the Chattanooga startup scene?

Travis: Ambition is hiring…. we’re looking to bring on talented, driven engineers and salespeople to inspire and motivate the workforce.

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