Innovation Nation
Innovation Nation

Episode 32 · 3 months ago

Innovation Through Teamwork & Collaboration w/ Rick Bullotta

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Innovation only happens with a strong foundation built from collaboration and a drive for success. 

Creating that drive is where the challenge lies. But can it be acquired? 

In this episode, I speak with Rick Bullota, Advisor an d Mentor for various companies - Founder of ThingWorx , about how working with founders and making a difference in a company to set it up for success.  

Join us as we discuss:

  • The importance of the customer 
  • Advising founders and the importance of teams 
  • Real world examples of success and failure in startups  

Tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or w herever you listen to podcasts. 

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Innovation is all around us. In fact, everyone innovates, often unbeknowns to themselves. Many mistakenly assumed the innovation is either a big capital project, a figurative bolt of lightning that brings inspiration, or the province of some exceptionally gifted person. This is the myth of innovation. But you can innovate as well. You're listening to innovation nation, the podcast where top executives and industry experts are sharing their insights on harnessing the power of innovation. We're here to help you stay ahead of the curve by driving your own innovation. Here's your host, Jasmine Martyr Rossen hi. Welcome to Choosea's innovation nation podcast. This is your host, Jasmine March Roustin. Our guest today is rig Bulata, who is an innovator personified. Rick created the thing works, the first industrial iot platform. Welcome, great thank you, Jas it's great to have you on the podcast as a guest and, as I said, you are innovation personified. You conceptualized, developed and created thing works, the first industrial iot platform, and then you sold it to PTC. It's successful innovation by every single measure we can think about. Tell us what inspired you and how you came upon the idea and drove it. Sure, and to be to clarify, I'm just one of the key pieces that made things work. Successful. Obviously takes a team. The rowing incredible, really talent team helped bring that to market. But most of what I've been involved in from a product perspective has been ultimately a byproduct of things I experienced as a user right as either some need or demand I saw as a customer, as a user, as a systems integrator ultimately led to trying to create products and solutions to help build those gaps that at the time the IOT was was pretty much a buzzword. We had a lot of very, very large companies evangelizing things like Smarter Planet for...

IBM, or Internet of everything from Cisco and you know, you name it. Everybody was doing our marketing for us, but there weren't a lot of products that actually delivered on that promise. So again, we're all kind of byproducts of the things we've done in the past. been an industrial automation worked at enterprise software companies and you know, a lot of different roles and this kind of bubbles up into all right, what would have what would the tools and platforms to make always the goal. I ascribe to the you know, Peter Tel zero one and up to read it. But the X mancher right. If what you're doing, at least aspirationally, could be ten times better, you're probably onto something interesting. So that was kind of the goal. Who reduced the time and cost to deliver connected applications by T X and that led to thing works and certainly PTC has been a very successful not only combining that, but they brought their innovation ideas as well, combined it with euphoria for the augmented reality experience, kept where for conductivity. So sadly, I think in most cases acquisitions aren't successful. So I'm excited, you know, to have been part of one or two that have been very, very successful from both the customers point of view, the acquires point of view, and the company's point of view. You started out by saying that it's it originated with your user experience. He's so gap, in effect, and you acted upon it. But it's so many of US experienced, majority of humanity experiences those gaps, but not everybody acts on it. What force drove you? Yeah, the good well, the good news is I kind of feel like I cheated on the test, so to speak, having been through the startup grind before. But also, I would honestly say that the tools and technologies that we build upon nowadays when you're building a product or a company, are much much richer than they were, you know, twenty thirty years ago, right where you pretty much had to had to create everything in your stack.

Now were blessed to be able to do be sort of building on the I guess, the Lego Block, so to speak, that that are available with, whether open source projects or commercial software, cloud software, you know, just infrastructure that we didn't necessarily have at our disposal to, you know, to build from. And in fact, in a lot of the places that you know, you we see platforms today there's still a strong diy mantra pe. A lot of people are still building their own. You can like valid cases, you know, the both directions on why people still do that. But that was also my you know, my objective is if, working under the assumption that, you know, eighty to ninety percent of the spend in some of these areas was in do it yourself, the question was, do you want to do a shrink or APP product that would serve as a really tiny slice of that market. Where do you want to develop tooling and and solutions that help that eighty to ninety percent do what they're trying to do much more quickly? Again, having lived through that with industrial automation software, MBS software, all the kind of historian it's all the software asset that we use in the industrial world. You know, I think the other reality is that there's no shortage of really bright people that that can that can create cool stuff. The hard part, be honest with you, is building a business around it and bringing it to market. And you know that's a lot of what I do today is advisory work and mentoring with other startups and founders and I find that that's that whole go to market and and operating a company is kind of the part that's that's most challenging. That's great insights. So what are the key learnings that you try to impart to those companies that you're mentoring and advising to for them to innovate better? Sure cut me a couple aspects. One is the importance of team right you're particularly your first few hires and having a team that understand all the comprehensive aspects of running a business, not just developing. A lot of teams are very technology led, developer founder, you...

...know that kind of thing. You need. You need a diverse team that knows how to raise money, operate a business, do marketing and create your brand awareness, set up channels and selling and support your customers, and those are very diverse skill sets. So team super important. Focusing on your customers. I mean inevitably, at the end of the day, if you focus on your customer and that's the center your universe, creating value for them, everything place. It's everything works out. Yet there's some exceptions to that, but it's a pretty good, you know, pretty good strategy to focus on making your customer successful. Yeah, and I guess you know the other the other challenges that a lot of companies space, and our space, is it's it's typically not a hyper and industrial it's kind of been a it's nice to see it cool again, but historically it was kind of a fringe market, kind of boring, difficult to get investors and slow growth and things like that for variety of reasons. I think that's changing. We've seen a lot of investment flow into it, so you know. So that that aspect of growing and starting a business, I think, is also the bars lower than it ever was. And I also find it a lot of this stuff I end up talking with, particularly founders, about a joking. The call it founder counseling. Right, you're you're having a bad day, right, you barely made payroll or some some customer deal you thought was going to happen, or a key employee moves on. You know what that's that's that's life, right. It's just like any relationship, it's like any it's life exactly. And you know, dealing with those kind of aspects, getting through them and understand that a whole lot of other founders are going through that too. That's important as well, and then helping them understand that you know that their business is going to change over time. The that fun, you know, tight little group, when when you hit fifty people or two hundred people and a thousand customers, you don't know all your customers are, you don't know your team, the vibe changes, the people you need on your team change. Is...

...just kind of helping him understand, you know, that part of the journey as well. That, though, you've made some really excellent points that would serve any enterprise well. But a number of times you've talked about the importance of teams, founders. These are old people matters, right. So how do we ensure that teams Gel together at different stages of the enterprise development to continue that sense of innovation? I think the last few years have kind of turned it upside down in the sense that we all used to be in the same room, right. M I mean I personally believe there's still not a lot of substitute for in person collaboration, particularly early in the stages of a product or company, where you're constantly changing your brains, may be brainstorming, very interactive and collaborative. So that aspect of having people physically together, people that they don't need to be, you know, best of friends, but that can have a it's more than just a professional relationship where you kind of know how to work with each other, everyone understanding what's going on. In fact, if I've looked at a lot of companies that have dysfunction, particularly as they get to a certain size, it usually can be traced to some form of communication problem where what's in the founders head or the founding team or managing team's head is it? No one knows. No one knows what that objectives are. The vision is for that year solving those regular communications, having everybody understand what the near term and long term and game and I'm not a big process person or you know, but you know the things like okay ours and some of these kinds of things can be helpful tools. I think we kind of did that informally. We set and this you gold hey, this, you know, for the next six months we want to get ten marquis customers for rollouts, three successful installations and then whatever those objectives might be, making sure everyone understands them and as on board room. And then the old...

...you know, the other thing. You've got two years and one mouth. So as you listen twice as much as you talk, open open your open your ears and listen to your customers, your colleagues, and don't be afraid to learn right. Don't assume you have all the answers. So true, and you've been emphasizing the importance of customers, but very often there's this established dynamic as an organization grows, and you said it yourself to they lose touch with customers. They did not know who all the customers are. What do you command organization do to keep that outside in thinking, to make sure that the voice of the customer does not become an afterthought, you know, a minimally sharing customer success and fail your stories with your team. We do it all the time in marketing to share with perspective customers and analysts. Let your let your team know about that. I think multifunctional training in your team as well. It's like the old you know, you do a ride along. If you want to see what a police officer goes through, you do a ride along for a night. You'll change your perspective on what they're you know what their job is. Similarly, have a technical person go along with the salesperson on a couple calls. Have a salesperson do some Qa test that you know in inner and I've actually extended that, or we've extended that even outside on our companies to our partners like systems, integration partners and reseller partners. Have them kind of, you know, share those olds and then then you start to see and feel not only what your peers are feeling but, more importantly, how your peers are interacting with your customers. We also used to do, you know, the kind of traditional customer council type things. But ultimately it's like personal relationships. You you need relationship you you can have honest feedback and I found that I've worked in very large companies and very small companies. I find that very large companies tend not to get honest feedback. There's massive like bias in the response. He ask a customer what their problem is and they sometimes get star struck by a big company and you know what does...

...what they want me to say, as opposed to with small companies, they tend to be much more candidate on us. So you get you get good customer feedback in those interactions. I just encourage anybody and their interactions with their vendors and partners to be honest. It does nothing, does no good to to not give on US feedback. And then there's a dynamic that evolves as organization has become bigger. They become focused on this is how we do things. Yeah, but that the market may have moved and that may not resonate with you know what the market expects. You have you dealt with those kinds of situations and how do you address the sure and you know we I was joking with someone the other day. You your the term pivot. Write a couple startup pivots. They make some change in their strategy, but if you're pivot enough times, you're kind of back to where you start it. It's the three turns and your your back. What I've seen happen is a lot of it's not to we focus a lot, and I get a linkedin post on this the other day. We focus a lot on product market fit, which is also a temporal thing, right, that changes over time. But the companion piece is process market fit. When I say process I mean how you sell, how you support all the others activities besides the product that make your customer, you're a company, successful or not, and those really do change as you grow. Right, you can support a company when you're five people with with five customers dramatically changes, right, the way you deliver and test software and in those dynamics actually are interesting also in that they play into what happens when large companies acquire software company. So it also plays into I've seen big companies try to internally innovate, like incubator type models and things like that. What happens is almost the inverse happens. They take very nascent and early products and processes and then try and mainstream them into the way the big...

CO sells supports software. That doesn't fit right. You have to there's a time in a place for those kinds of transitions, maturation. Sometimes there's negatives to that too. Write. As you grow, as your process he's become more rigorous you used you can lose flexibility and agility. It's sort of the nature of the beast. But just being aware of that, that things will change over time. And it's not just your product in your marketing, it's, you know, it's how you do pretty much everything. In a says the only thing that's constant in that marketplaces change pretty much if you're doing it right. We've all we've all probably encountered people are companies that you know they'll stick to the script even all the way to the grave. But you know that's you have to be prepared to change. It's the dreadful this is how we've been doing it, mantra. Yeah, or sometimes organizations will fall into the trap. Well, our competitors are doing this. Another dangerous one, because I've I you know, previous life industry automation software company I work for. I can't tell you how many times a customer was made aware of us because one of our competitors mentioned us in a disparaging way. And you know, we it was unlearned, but it made them aware of us, so it was awesome, right. It's like. So it's in that that whole idea of how you you know, how you deal with your competitors. Don't obsess on them. Hey, if they're if they're doing something great, acknowledge. Negative selling never works, but neither does me to write if you're just doing me too, that's exactly your parody. You know, you what can you do to be better or how can you identify the things that you fundamentally do better than your competitors? I see that a lot today, like in the whole Industrial Iotai space. I joked at everyone's powerpoint compatible. They all all their powerpoints exactly the same. They're messaging the but how can you tell the difference really and without you know, and it's difficult for the customer to access assess the difference? Yeah, and the analysts don't have the time and...

...skill sets anymore to do really decent comparisons of vendors. You know, I kind of always discount Matrix matrixes and quadronts and awards and all that stuff. So, yeah, it's increasingly difficult. I guess the best, at least for me, the best source of information is other customers and real success stories or failure stories or whatever. So I think it's in comment upon vendors to use those kinds of things to show off what their you know, their unique magic is. Yeah, a lot of ratings and matrices and quadrants. They're pay for play situations and they're backwards looking right. You know history. They started that process nine months to a year ago and there's some new entrance into the space or people have dramatically change their offerings. They're always dated, they're always incomplete and, quite frankly, they're they're always wrong. Well, they kind of utilize the principle of social proof because people like to know what others are doing and it's almost an easier sell, and so they capitalize on that special spin on confirmation bias. Right, exactly how many people? Is just so true. How many people have you bought a car or a TV or a something and after you've purchased it, you go read the reviews just to kind of make yourself feel better that you made a good choice. I'm sure that's not just me, it's true and frankly, sometimes when it's a disappointing choice, people are afraid to speak up. It could be even a movie or a book. Yeah, that everybody just loves, but people would be very hesitat to say well, this is not quite listinating with me. If you if you followed anything I do on tricully Linkedin, you'll know I don't have that that issue. I'm usly not afraid to call you know, and I'm not always going to be right. If I'm but if I if I...

...see something that just doesn't pass the sniff test or the the sanity test, let's call it out. Let's at least get a discussion. My ideal outcome is a dialog starts to happen and people who know a lot more about it than I do can chime in, or people that are right and you know, in the middle of it can chime man and we all learn more. But sometimes you have to challenge things to get that dialog to have and you nailed it. It's not about being wide or wrong, it's about moving the conversation forward, because that's where they're really collective wisdom and insights come out, because if everybody is just singing off of the same song sheet, nobody's really thinking that and exactly, and just see. You know, the right decision nowadays is the shades of gray decision. Right, it's a five thousand, two hundred and forty eight or you know, you and it could have a profound difference which you choose, but it just not that clear cut. So the more information and that you know. That ties in with a philosophy of being a lifelong learner. To write. If you want to assess all these things you're being told, you kind of need to have a unit of an expert but a functional knowledge or or people in your network who you trust, like, you know, the the was it the six degrees of Kevin Baking kind of the yeah, we used to say it's one or two, like the you'rre trusted circle is really wanted to when you're talking about a key hire or someone that you're going to trust to give you strategic advice on something that's like like almost like your death. You rarely go one or two degrees from your yourself. Right and maybe that's good, maybe that's bad, but I don't know. I've just kind of seen that that work reasonably well. But you need that trusted you can't be in an echo chamber. You need people that will give you counterpoints, that will challenge you, but will give you honesty. You're absolutely right. Most decisions are within the shades of rate. Yet socially, in the media, especially social media, promotes a lot of this. It's either black or wh that polarization, and the reality is very...

...few things are very clear cut. There's more ambiguity and, frankly, I personally believe that in today's world, people who deal well with with ambiguity our best equip to, you know, thrive and succeed. And ironically, that's another facet of the you know, the start up life versus big colife and a startup. It's all about ambiguity, right. It's you might end your even your role is ambiguous. You might be doing five different things in the same day as you. As a team grows, a company grows in a larger organization, you tend to be, you know, very kind of pigeonholed into a certain function. So you know people and Cour frankly, some people thrive in that. There's nothing wrong with that. It's all question of our personalities and strengths. I've I've seen that two kinds of people. Those that always want to be really like structure, really like to know what's happen in next week, predictability, and then those who are just completely comfortable with chaos and there's a place where everyone in the world it's just anning. I think people having the self inside and understanding, you know, what drives it in, but also learning to you know, you said, being a lifelone learner, having that open mindset, growth mindset, stepping out of the comfort zone. But sometimes people don't even know what they do not know, and I think if you're going to have put forth a coach and argument with someone on a topic, it helps to have at least read multiple perspectives on it. That's the other thing. How many times do people jump in acting as if they're, you know, expert, based on one point of view? So I channel Surf the news. Right, I want to see what everybody saying. But absolutely right, we would all do better to just be listeners just as much as we talk. So earlier you mentioned how you advise and counsel founders. What are some key points that people would benefit from knowing? Like...

...as a founder, whisper, sure I can share with this. Well, I think we touched on all up. You have like this, like you know, the the hang in there your team like also, you know you're you're not on as your team. Really important but dysfunctional aspects your team. You can't. You can't keep those around for a long time. Something's not working out. It's like pivot in your business. Pivot your team, change your team, correct your team. Things like you know, as a small company, I happen to have grown up in the capital efficient mindset that it's not about raising. How much money you raise is not a measure of success. That's silly. How much money you make your customers. So being humble, being customer focus, as we talked about, one area where I talk with a lot of founders that I think kind of goes against at least the conventional startups wisdom, is that you should never think about some say you should never think about your exit. I don't agree with that because I think that, you know, some companies are certainly IPO track. That's an option for them. Some companies just inherently their innovative engines, innovation engines that are going to be acquired by larger companies. It's the nature the beast, right, particularly in our space. Nothing wrong with that, right. So I know a lot of those cases. I emphasize the importance of the bed roll, the business development role in addition to the sales role, because those partnerships, so strategic relationships, not only are the great sources of revenue and customer contact early on there your potential future suitors, right. So you know those kinds of things. Yeah, just, you know, just just the spectrum really of kind of startup related stuff, partnership stuff, go to market stuff, excellent and ultimately, what's amazing, every angle of the conversation has come back to people. Sure it's it's probably true of most things in life, even if we don't want to admit it. Right, it's so it's the people...

...that drive innovation. One of the final questions. I know you worked with sap previously on launching another products. Can you share more about that and what was the difference is for? So this was kind of when the tools we had to build companies, when we're primitive but started a company in peace was like one ninety nine. That was a fired two thousand and five by SAP. I'm proud to say both of the acquisitions I've been involved in have been super successful. For, yeah, the customers, the acquirer, the investors and the employees. What people, people, people, but the difference there was when you go into a machine with the size and scale of a sap or a PTC right, your ability to amplify your message, amplify your access to customers, it's just insane. And I don't, you know, it's the products probably not superactive nowadays, but it's probably done. You know, it's probably in thousands and thousands and thousands of plants and tens or hundreds of thousands of end users have used it to make their life a little bit easier and that's that's kind of exciting. And you know, once I got into the company I did some work in the research side of things on, in essence, what we would call Industry for oh today. So that term kind of grew out of we had some teams in Germany that were worked as part of a German government initiative. That ended up. Our CEO at the time was deeply involved in the story four our initiative we called future factory and it led to a lot of like ideas. Okay, if we're going to if we're going to realize all of this potential that we see with future factories, future retail, future energy, future everything, how we what are the what's the technology it's going to enable that? And at the time I actually did try and entrepreneur that. We had a whole business pitch funding everything, and it just it was obvious that the it's a challenge, right, it's a challenge to get those things funded internally. In a big company it's difficult to...

...get the process this no, no knock at all against sap, one of the best companies I've ever worked for. It's just the that kind of impedance, mismatch, if you will, on everything from as we discussed earlier, like how you develop software, all the processes and rigger and everything about it is just different. So that led to kind of spin it out and thing works kind of became the the net result of that. A lot of companies have tried these internal external incubators and I'm unaware of any really huge successes. I mean the one that's kind of interesting that I'm certainly keeping an eye on because there have been some certainly interesting tech is what Google's doing with alphabet right really into robotic stuff and other you know, other mini businesses coming out of that. But yeah, time will tell if that model is kind of a good one or not, or will continue doing we're doing and BC's fun startups and there the innovation engine for what comes next. It's amazing to see, you know, is you tell this story how innovation weaves itself through different channels and boundaries and countries. We don't think normally of governments as promoting much innovation for se, but in essence German government's funding of SAP helped launch industry for data. Well, of this, of this reason, it resis. Yeah, it's a contributor and it's a term that actually comes more out of Germany and we have some Consoorcia in the US. They're not exactly the same, but, says me, is an example. Isn't any of the trying to bring together, you know, academia, vendors, big COES, customers. Where I think we're falling down on that front and innovation. This is actually a really interesting topic. Is, if you call them almost the first thing I said was we shifted towards were doing a lot of building on technology.

Yes, that exist. We I think we are failing on fundamental research, right. That that truly groundbreaking. Fundamental research is an area where I do think government governments have a responsibility, along to through academia and through public private partnerships, to fuel a lot of that primary innovation. And it happens in pockets for sure. And of course I mean even the US government. Right, if you think about it, all the military technology, all of that is innovation to sure, but the average person does not necessarily seat or think of it that way. But there are dimensions on this all over. So, as a byproduct of the space race, you know, I grew up as a kid idolized the engineers and the people that last for not that achieved some pretty amazing things with some pretty primitive technologies. Right, I see the potential there. Right, if we, if we great example is, you know, energy and dependence or a cleaner if we had a you know, a mandate or a quest and made the same kind of investment and commitment that we did to go to go to the moon, we'd have this problem solved in five to ten years. I've no doubt about that. Actually, take a linkedin post yesterday about you know who your hero is, right. One of mine is Gene Kratz, and gene was the mission director for a Paul Eleven, apoul thirteen. Everybody knows him from Apol Thirteen, the guy in the white vest, you know, the let's pull over bit together and solve this problem. But in talking with them, you know, that's one of the things he was lamenting, the lack of a national quest lack of a national passion to go do something challenging. And I think it's time. I think we need something like that. Isn't that partly driven or a tributable to very sometimes short term thinking? We want something that will do results next week, next month, this quarter, rather than investment into the mock term, and that's a different frame of thinking. Absolutely and, you know, really twisted way. This is actually why I think our this whole startups get acquired...

...by big coast thing. This is the theory. Let me throw it out here. Yeah, but if you think about it, let's imagine there are plenty of smart people in big companies right that are technically skill, every every bit is capable, as the people in start up companies. One of the challenges, let's say, there is an sort of an intrinsic inefficiency for a lot of the reasons we discussed earlier. Process, you know, over all, just big cost up. But let's say it costs, you know, four to five times as much if you were going to organically develop it inside the big versus, you know, versus what it costs a small company to do it. But then in the end the big coins up pan much more than that to acquire the company. And I was why? And it comes down to that short term long term thing, right. Typically that goes right to the bottom line and people are under earnings pressure. They're not investing for the long term, right, whereas you acquire a company, that's a special line item. You right at all. It's a counting cork just as much it is, you know, what's the right thing to do. And again, don't get me wrong, big companies innovate as well as much as they acquire. But it's yeah, it's just there's something sort of structurally odd there that I don't know if it's if it's fixable. Fascinating insights. What's the question you wish I'd asked you about this that I did not gosh, that's a tough one. What I guess? What are some of the interesting, exciting areas? Yeah, that you not keep it an eye on and a lot of what I'm but we jokingly started calling them industry five Oh initiatives, but they're they're the softer elements around us. There are things like, how does humanity play into into this? How do we treat people, you know, respect for the frontline workers? How do we augment their capabilities with cobots...

...and technology and AI as opposed to just mantra replacing them? How do we leverage how do we design our process he's facilities and technology for sustainability right, for all these kinds of things? I think you would become increasingly front and center in the decisions we make, or I hope they do, and we'll see. We'll see if that changes or not. That's a powerful statement. Stay focused on humanity because ultimately that's our, you know, goal to people's lives exactly. I'm hopeful. I'm a I'm a skeptical optimist. Well, break, it's been a great pleasure speaking with you. Thanks for joining our podcast. Our guest today, but again, was rik Bulata, innovator, creator of thing works, and this is your host, Jasmine, more to Russian. Thank you. Thank you. You've been listening to innovation nation. For more, subscribe to the podcast in your favorite podcast player or connect with us on Linkedin. Thanks for listening. No.

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