To have revenue growth, you have to get good at sales execution. When I say sales execution, it is the art and science of closing the deal. Every company has to figure out the path to predictable sales execution if you want to grow beyond where they are now. My guests today are Chris Cochran and Richard Hoehn, Co-founders of FreightWise. Their company was ranked #2 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. They share with us how they looked at sales in the early days of the company. There are some counter-intuitive strategies that they took to improve their sales execution. Improving your sales is a powerful force for growth. Discover how you can improve your sales execution in today’s episode.
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Chris Cochran and Richard Hoehn: The Transcript
Target Audience: Chris is the CEO at FreightWise while Richard is the CIO / CTO at FreightWise Focused on Growth, Client Success, and Lasting Relationships. FreightWise uses expertise and technology to help our clients create and maintain the most efficient supply chain possible. We save money and time by using the industry’s best process.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
To us as having the cells first mentality is no different than having a customer first mentality because if you align the motives and the behaviors and the incentives of your sales force to be customer facing and to and to benefit your customer then you tend to get the best of both worlds there.
And to add to that you know I think one thing that’s really important and with the salesperson is it also ensures from startup’s perspective that we don’t feel like you don’t want to build this massive platform and…
then not the element.
So I think that worked really well in arguments.
[00:00:44].250] – Gene Hammett
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs the fastest growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow.
[00:01:01].230] – Gene Hammett
Growing a fast company requires that you execute well on sales. I know you know this but I say it because it really does matter. And it also matters how much emphasis you put on sales early in the process because a lot of companies think that growth comes from only from having a product that is completely perfect bug free and that you can you know delight customers with and I get the thinking behind that. We all want to serve our clients to the highest level. But here’s the thing. If your product is so perfect and you’ve spent so much time to make it just so and you have not really thought about sales then you don’t know if what you’re actually creating is actually something someone wants to buy.
[00:01:48].120] – Gene Hammett
Is it solving a real problem. No sales is something that I know dear lady because I know that how important that is to the growth of companies. When I work with fast growing companies sales is one of the conversations that we have to talk about because getting that right really does unlock powers of you know to grow three growth five times growth in a year. Who do I talk to about sales and about growing your company well. I found freight wise they were number two on the Inglis in 2019. They grew at over 30000 percent the exact number is thirty thousand five hundred forty eight percent in three years.
[00:02:25].470] – Gene Hammett
How did they get there. It’s because they had the right approach to growth. They had an NDP product and they also put sales first. We talk about that inside the conversation what I love most about this interview is just the real ness behind the two co-founders and I got a chance to talk to. There’s a third one that wasn’t able to join us but we have Chris Cochrane and Richard Honan and they talked about you know their approach to growth and how they think about this and and their their level of ownership they had across the entire time this company’s been going and they really believed in themselves so without further ado here’s the interview with Richard and Chris.
[00:03:04].380] – Gene Hammett
Hi guys how are you.
[00:03:06].160] – Chris Cochran
[00:03:06].940] – Richard Hoehn
[00:03:07].770] – Gene Hammett
Glad to have you here. Growth think tank. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you but I’d love for you to tell it. Tell us about the story of freight wise.
[00:03:17].280] – Chris Cochran
Sure. First thank you for having us. So FreightWise is based in Brentwood Tennessee where a technology company in the transportation management space we actually combine technology around multiple modes of shipping along with services quite a few services of gathering collecting and paying and settling out our clients invoices for freight. We’re a company that’s been around for a little over three years. Operationally we have been founded and started the company with Richard not being co-founders along with Alex roosting only another partner of ours about five years ago. We started as a bootstrapped company.
[00:04:00].510] – Chris Cochran
We built freight wise from the ground up with our own funding our own resources and our own knowledge. We actually took freight wise with a handful of developers anywhere between four to eight developers full time from concept and build out to a viable first version product and then started selling from there. And we’ve grown remarkably since that point we’re actually very proud of FreightWise and the team that we’ve built Here.
[00:04:29].370] – Gene Hammett
Remarkably is one way to put it. I think a lot of people would say in the same growth thousand plus percent in three years. So congratulations.
[00:04:38].180] – Chris Cochran
[00:04:38].550] – Gene Hammett
It really is impressive to know that a company grew that fast and kind of what I’m here to do is to uncover some of those core principles about the way you think. So first you said bootstrapping is because you couldn’t find money somewhere else that people would know or that you just believed that you know it was better to invest your own money instead of someone else’s.
[00:05:02].040] – Chris Cochran
Yeah well quick answer no we could absolutely find funding that we get. We’ve had many many people approach us and everyone from from strategic investors that want to come in all the way to two people that just wanted to provide capital in order to fund our growth forward. Now the reason that we bootstrapped it as we’ll call it is because we had a core belief in the team that we were putting together the product and the talent and the technology that we had behind us and we we felt as seasoned entrepreneurs that we could really get freight wise off the ground and we could we could grow it nicely without receiving institutional funding. So we sort of use those cards to to be able to look at a better more higher value funding around later within freight wise if it if our strategy propels us forward to do so well.
[00:06:02].930] – Gene Hammett
I appreciate you sharing that with us because you know it’s not available to everyone and they have to go bootstrapping but you took a choice which I really appreciate you guys sharing that with us but also you know believing in yourself to that that core I mean that must have really taken a lot of confidence. Tell me just a little bit about that believing yourself.
[00:06:24].020] – Richard Hoehn
Well we I think a lot of confidence came because we’ve known each other a really long time. Chris has been successful with a number of other companies prior to that we went to school together we did business school together. We’ve we we felt comfortable in the way we communicate with each other and find ways to build a product offering. So sometimes when you bring in seed capital right from the get go you also have some other opinions maybe some strategic ways of going about spending the money. And we didn’t want that.
[00:07:04].770] – Chris Cochran
Yes we will.
[00:07:06].880] – Gene Hammett
I can appreciate that cut you off there Chris.
[00:07:10].390] – Chris Cochran
Oh I was going to add to it and say one thing that I’ve always been very proud of. Freight wise is the amount of tech talent that we have and the minds and the leadership led by Richard here when we went into it that way one of our first meetings as we were deciding to create FreightWise was we really talked extensively about the build versus buy methodology do we want to build certain market based technologies out there or do we want to buy them and then extend them from that. We really believe that we want the control and we want the strategy of being a technology company. We want the multiples that come from that in the marketplace too. And the only way to really get that and have that control and see the vision through is two from the first line. Control your own technology. And of course we definitely have the right leader to do that in Richard.
[00:08:04].450] – Gene Hammett
I talked to a lot of logistics company over the last few years. They tend to make that Inc list fairly frequently but many of them don’t describe themselves as a you know logistics or anything like that. They say they’re a technology company and I really appreciate you coming here today saying that you built it when you think about the next step behind the decision to to bootstrap. What was the real big principle that really drove you forward as you guys are where you are today.
[00:08:39].130] – Chris Cochran
The biggest decision we had and that led us to bootstrap only for the first few years was that we had a strategy that was based around a core set of products and a core set of nodes and then extending with integrations to large ERP common ERP platforms in order management and e-commerce platforms outside of that with the team that we have and the funding that we had in place. We had a quickly inferred that we were going to be able to do that with the funding we had. That did put a lot of pressure on technology to pull things off not to redo budgets not to not to go over in cost wise and to really check things down.
[00:09:23].470] – Chris Cochran
And it also propelled us to have very very low overhead but it was the strategy of how we started the business and the vision we had on what the first 24-36 months would be. That led us down that path. Absolutely.
[00:09:39].100] – Gene Hammett
Now I’ve always talked to leaders like yourself that had growth as a very intentional aspect of the business. So when you guys thought about the growth of the company even before you had Customer 1 What were some of the things that played to your mind.
[00:09:56].750] – Chris Cochran
One thing that Richard and I have talked about often is healthy growth and it’s not I don’t mean healthy growth as in controlling your growth to only 20, 30 percent year. But I mean healthy growth as in contracts that are good for our business. Things that are consumable from the operations side and to put ourselves in a situation where we are pushing the limits of what the business can achieve without seeing the business in a place of imminent failure. And that’s the kind of growth that we really tasked salesforce to go find and we test development to build to those functions.
[00:10:34].460] – Chris Cochran
So not only do we just want growth but we didn’t want growth at any cost and we didn’t want to risk the business greatly in growing like we did. So I like to think that the growth was intentional and in the type of customers that type of project we took on. We’re also intention.
[00:10:53].560] – Commentary
Now let’s hold on there for a second now healthy growth is very important but a lot of people mis understand what that means. It’s not about just growing at 15 or 20 percent a year because that’s controllable healthy growth in this context is about having the right customers the right customers are really the critical focus of the early stage companies that I know too many companies have just revenue and so they don’t think about the healthy revenue they think about just getting sales and getting sales doesn’t create the kind of partnerships you need to grow forward. And that really is highlighted in the conversation I had with Chris and Richard today back to their interview.
[00:11:33].850] – Gene Hammett
Did you guys follow an MVP strategy or something similar to that to get to market.
[00:11:40].300] – Richard Hoehn
We did. Yeah. So it was it’s of course much easier to communicate with the development team and the sales team to use a certain strategy. We used MVP minimal viable product. However we didn’t adhere to it strictly of course but absolutely we got a product out there we didn’t just sell vaporware where we made sure the customer was taken care of. Since we are dealing with trends know monetary transactions and all that. But we left it open did we could find ways to create value for the client that they might not even know yet.
[00:12:22].390] – Gene Hammett
So did you use the you know when you get this customers you know get the feedback from them to make iterative improvements on the product?
[00:12:30].910] – Richard Hoehn
Absolutely. So the design of freight wise was of course shipped daily so we deploy code on a daily basis if not twice a day. And these these changes always had the in kind of pressure. When we wanted to make sure a happy customer. If you react to their needs you know saves you when you do have a bug here or there.
[00:13:00].070] – Gene Hammett
Well I wanted to dive into one thing I was talking to you on the phone about that because we’ve got some context here about what business you’re in and how you guys thought about the business. But you guys had a real sells first mentality. Let’s uncover that a little bit why sales first and what exactly what did that mean to you.
[00:13:19].430] – Chris Cochran
Sure well to us as having the sales first mentality is no different than having a customer first mentality because if you align the motives and the behaviors and the incentives of your sales force to be customer facing and to and to benefit your customer then you tend to get the best of both worlds there. So the reason we went with the seller’s first mentality was first because we had to go to the business we had to go the revenue right. We are avid technology guys but we also know if you build it they will come does not work. You have to have great sales execution to the side of a great product as well. So we wanted to be very customer focused. We wanted to align ourselves with our customers value points and they are allow their customers would see. So that’s why we end up the company in that way.
[00:14:11].650] – Richard Hoehn
And to add to that. You know I think one thing that’s really important and with the sales first is it also ensures from a startup’s perspective that we would know if we fail quickly.
[00:14:25].380] – Chris Cochran
[00:14:26].120] – Richard Hoehn
Like you don’t want to build this massive platform and then…
[00:14:29].060] – Chris Cochran
not be able to move it.
[00:14:32].440] – Richard Hoehn
So that’s where I think that worked really well in our case.
[00:14:35].590] – Chris Cochran
Yes.I want to make sure I understand where you were when you were really trying to push sales hard. You had already had a basic product and had probably gone through many iterations so you had something very tangible to sell right?
[00:14:49].220] – Chris Cochran
Yes. Yeah. At our end our first client that went live. We we did have a lot of the base functions that are in the product now. It just of course not as extensive as it is at this time.
[00:15:00].630] – Gene Hammett
And you guys made a pretty quick decision to go after getting two or three clients. Hey we need to ramp up the sales execution and then keep and build an operations team that allows us to keep up with that level of growth. I know there’s more to it than that. So why don’t you guys fill in the gaps.
[00:15:19].640] – Chris Cochran
Sure. Yeah, So once we got to that minimal viable product and we started selling right we started selling with the the working team that we had in place. Most of the revenue and profits we rolled back in to sales as strategy first and then to operations second and then of course development had to grow alongside of that. We did it in those ways because we know there are certain things on the operational side that salespeople could actually tackle themself just with brute force. And then as more money came into the company and we were able to invest we took away from sales and we put together processes and departments that actually allowed them to ramp further in into their selling efforts.
[00:16:09].620] – Chris Cochran
Our VBA sells Alex Ruiz Yoni has always had a very great mind around sales execution. We make sure that we have solid our lives to every clients. So we’ve we’ve gone down that path that put a lot of risk on freight lines of shoulders but we did so in order to get the right customers in the door and to propel our growth forward.
[00:16:36].210] – Gene Hammett
What mistakes could you share with us along this journey. Because you know it sounds pretty basic to me. You decided to bootstrap you’ve decided on growth you decided to create an MVP be agile with your development structure and then we’re gonna sell the heck out of this. But what’s really what will happen behind that. Give me just one.
[00:16:59].160] – Chris Cochran
[00:17:02].110] – Richard Hoehn
Well we we’ve had a lot of problems of course too with rapid growth you know from from I think the biggest mistakes happened when we did things. Keep the sales team up to date on what products they were selling. So as we all commented and built out a profit POC product line sometimes sales assume that the trajectory would just stay the same. And that’s a real tricky balance where you do want them to sell for a future you do want them to. To get feedback from the customer but all of a sudden you put a huge burden on undeveloped land to to keep up. That was one of the tricky ones where we’re you know even to this day. How do you make sure that sales is in sync with the product development team. On what they can sell what’s difficult what’s not. I think we had some some pretty heated discussions every so often about what was going on there.
[00:18:12].690] – Chris Cochran
Yeah I think you’re right. That was an ongoing challenge education sales team. When I looked back from you know from my role my view of the company not say what were some of the biggest problems and challenges that we had. I think often in a quick growing environment we invested a day too late into a role or an owner of a product or an owner of a team. And sometimes we created too much pain before we got better. I would have that would be it would have been a benefit of having more money. I believe as this thing was doubling and tripling and just going absolutely crazy to the roof is that each time when we realized we needed an owner role by the time we got the right person identified hired in and trained. They were already maxed out. So in some ways our problem is just being on a treadmill of challenges that come day in and day out and always being a day late to the fix.
[00:19:15].640] – Commentary
I really appreciate them talking about some of the mistakes they made in this journey of fast growth because one of the biggest issues that leaders have and companies that are not growing fast is they believe they shouldn’t have mistakes or problems so they really kind of temper themselves or really try to guard themselves in a very adverse to taking risk. Fast growth companies I’ve found are willing to take calculated risk and they’re willing to learn from those and create a culture where failure is not only tolerated but accepted and are looking for places where they can fail fast and keep moving forward. Now I really wanted to share this with you because if you really think about growing your company fast you have to have a different relationship with failure and mistakes and you have to see that they’re not a problem they’re actually a chance for you to continue to grow. So look for those places where you can actually take more risk. So if you want to grow fast back to interview.
[00:20:08].280] – Gene Hammett
Well you know I’ve see at the other side too. Like you could have taken the money and spent it foolishly hiring people that you didn’t need all this extra stuff but you guys using your own money you had true ownership into this and I imagine a lot of that was translated into the team as you started to build out they started to have more ownership into the work they were doing.
[00:20:31].850] – Chris Cochran
I think that we did see that you’re right. Yeah. And when we saw we saw people sacrifice for freight wise I mean you know it’s more than just Richard and I sitting here we have a whole team behind us. And being in a fast growing startup typically you don’t get growth and margin at the same time it would be great if you did that you really don’t. So we had people that took pay cuts on you know on more comp. led plans to try to make more for the future. We we get a lot of cutting on travel expenses.
[00:21:04].760] – Chris Cochran
Richard and I have traveled together to large customers in Split rooms and split meals on the way there. So we have we’ve pinched pennies every which way we could to make sure that we control the ownership that we have in the company because we know that we believe that we have something here.
[00:21:24].690] – Richard Hoehn
And maybe this is one of the big things kind of a psychologist on the bootstrapping and that is like it helped quite a bit for the dev team to know that we were bootstrapping the company developers sometimes don’t like working for high cash infusion companies knowing that it’ll go up but then there’s somebody dead if they don’t see the margins happening or the growth they’ll just cut the whole program and all they work for all that ownership these developers and brand and operations people took you know just those posts with us I think a lot of our our employees and our team you know for that matter really. Owned it too. They knew there wasn’t much money. They knew that the bank account was very thin sometimes and so it generated a pretty good team atmosphere.
[00:22:17].570] – Chris Cochran
[00:22:18].680] – Gene Hammett
I want to wrap this up with a chance for you guys to maybe speak directly to those leaders that are running fast growth companies that haven’t put the emphasis on sales that you figure they should. So what would you tell someone that’s like Oh we just want to get the product just right before we really focus on sales.
[00:22:40].050] – Chris Cochran
I mean I think would cancel counsel in the product does need to be right. But the old saying is if you’re not embarrassed then you went too late. So we’ve always been a little bit embarrassed of the first things that we’ve rolled out because we wanted to get it out. We knew it did create a little bit of value for our clients and maybe it wasn’t the value that we thought it would create long term. But we also knew we could get it there right. Another part of my counsel would be fine clients that are open to going down that development road for you.
[00:23:15].200] – Chris Cochran
A lot of the really great products we’ve put forward they’re starting to separate us in the marketplace. They come they came from a genesis of a good account wanting to partner with us and roll forward to solve a business need of theirs. We have to check that internally and Richard has to make the decision is that customization for a client only or is that a market based need that we can replicate and exploit from our competition as long as it checks those boxes. We actually have a development partner in our client that can test it take it to the market and we can see what’s good or bad.
[00:23:50].270] – Chris Cochran
I think that has propelled our success forward because it’s allowed us to see the impact very quickly and then to make the changes to get things just right. So that would be my counsel is push hard on sales focus on our law and then have good clients willing to walk the road with you.
[00:24:07].850] – Gene Hammett
I love that detail and wrapping this up. I know one of the things that makes you guys different the marketplace is you’re not just a SAS company are selling technology. You’ve been able to wrap some services around this imparting what why was that important to you guys moving forward is to have services with that technology you want to get.
[00:24:29].330] – Richard Hoehn
Well take a first stab at it but like you know if you have services and you feel like SAS is sometimes hard to build a relationship with your client I would say. And building services and making a more holistic be more of an integrated partner I guess and just a monthly fee. It’s worked well for us frankly. We always went for.
[00:24:57].490] – Chris Cochran
Yes. And I think what Richard’s saying is right on and it’s actually in our opinion in our opinion it’s a new way of what SAS is you know where it was an application on a desktop run server it was an application online because there’s business value in that. And then there was a single tenant SAS application that you didn’t have to upgrade we could get rollouts faster. Now I see a lot of customers wanting more value than just using the application itself. And a lot of times that comes in an extension of their core business processes that will create more value and hopefully make us a more value partner as Richard was saying.
[00:25:36].170] – Chris Cochran
Right. So we’ve seen it in a handful of companies that have done really well had amazing success and even have gone public you know companies like service source and app folio and I a Laura that are doing more than just the application online. It’s also an outsourcing play of certain very niche tasks within their customers and that’s very much who we are. From a strategy standpoint we started being that and we’re going to keep going down that road because there is extra value in that for the customers that it’s there in the market for us to capitalize on.
[00:26:10].940] – Gene Hammett
Chris, Richard thank you for being here at grow think tank. And thank you for sharing the story of FreightWise and your insane growth to over 30000 percent. Number two on the list this year. So I appreciate you being here.
[00:26:23].400] – Chris Cochran
Thank you for having us.
[00:26:24].630] – Gene Hammett
Fantastic interview really love the fact that we really uncovered how they got to the core basis of the company how much belief they had in themselves so that they didn’t have to take money and they were able to execute on that at the highest level to create that level of growth.
[00:26:40].230] – Gene Hammett
Really impressive these two guys are someone to look to and really model from because I believe that they think about the product they think about the customer they think about sales but they also think about aligning the team around that and how important that is across the entire company so they can scale for it. I’ve had a good time getting to know them. Hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation as much as I’ve enjoyed doing it providing it to you as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time .
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