Northwest Entrepreneur Network Logo

see more

Jonathan Roberts of Ignition Partners spoke at the February Breakfast Buzz about the things that he has learned through his extensive marketing and business experience.  He held a number of high profile marketing and business development positions at Microsoft before becoming a founding partner at Ignition Partners.  His presentation included some of the fundamentals he teaches to engineering and business students at the University of Washington.

Roberts joked that he synthesized everything he has learned during his career.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that it only takes 2 pages.  He emphasized that as you grow in business, you learn a set of skills that you apply over and over again.  You need to take ownership of those skills.  He believes his skills include a faculty for strategic planning and go to market.

Four Paradigms/Frameworks.  He encouraged the audience to learn these key paradigms and apply them over and over again.

1.      Tell the story.  Why did you start this company?  What are the key insights you had?  Marketing is about amplifying your story.

2.      The A, B, C’s of business planning.  A, then B, then C, D follows.  A is the situation, the objective facts about the market.  B is the critical issues.  C is your objective.  D is the tactics that follow, given A, B and C.  Out of habit, people will talk about only the Bs and Ds.  You have to be clear on A,B and C, then you will know what D should be.

3.      The 2X2 of establishing your position in the market.  This is the market on vertical and horizontal axes.  How does this market function?  It is what is true about the market, not what you want to be true.  You have to be honest about the market.  Finding the axes is very important and takes time.

4.      The X, Y, Zs of product positioning.  X, that does Y, for Z.  This is how Roberts phrased it in answer to a follow-up question:


Complete the X, Y, and Z positioning exercise.   X, that does Y, for Z.  This really narrows in what your company is about and who it is delighting. The litmus test for a positioning is to see if it clearly repositions your competition.  All too often companies will say the same thing.  We do great stuff that makes money and is for everybody. The most common mistake is what I call, a lazy Z.  In other words, not being super clear on the person you delight.  You can have value propositions for other constituents but you have to delight somebody.


Roberts also made these points:  1)  After you find out who you delight, you need to know what your propositions are for everyone else; and 2) It is very hard to change who you delight.


The 3 steps to thought leadership are figuring out how to win, owning the future and figuring out a way to get between the two points.


Own the future by aligning to key trends that are bigger than your single company.  For example, some key trends right now are the consumerization of IT, empowerment of decision makers and the lack of technical lock-in.


Roberts stated that entrepreneurs are too evangelical.  If it’s a “nice to have,? it’s not budgeted.  Entrepreneurs need to sell to a “need to have.?  He stated that an entrepreneur must work with what a customer business has.  Don’t rip and replace.


5 Principles to Adopt


1.      Slavishly and constantly engage with your customers.  Seek first to understand.  Roberts described an anecdote about AOL.  He said that when AOL started out, it allowed people to build communities, that it had the beginnings of Facebook.  Then AOL stopped listening to its customers and lost what it had.

2.      Own the process.  You can’t outsource to consultants and you can’t let consultants drive the process.  He said that if he is helping your business, he expects you as the business owner to be at every meeting he attends on behalf of your business.  Otherwise he will not participate.

3.      Collaborate.  Humans are a social species.  Get informed outsiders involved to get around the forest for the trees problem.  Bring in new ideas.  Free associating with other people is how people work.  People don’t work well stuck in a cubicle.

4.      Iterate.  Show some intellectual humility.  Intellectual humility means that the CEO should figure out what she does not know and ask questions of others.  Be willing to change.  Don’t get stuck on an onerous 3 year plan.  Don’t overthink the process so much that you don’t do it.

5.      See it through.  Begin with the End in mind and get there!  Entrepreneurs are in crisis mode all of the time.  If it’s not urgent, they don’t do it.  Planning is not urgent, so it doesn’t get done. 

Roberts compared business planning to sailing – you set a bearing, but then you have to tack.  How often do you tack?

Roberts emphasized that when you are working with a company, find intelligent life and listen to it.  If it’s not in the room, walk down the hall and seek it out.

Thank you to Jonathan Roberts for his fast-paced, informative presentation!

1 year ago
  • Daniel Rossi Tonya came to play...and listen hard at last week's BB! Well done Tonya!
    1 year ago