Dan Yates, CEO and founder of Opower, has had incredible success in his entrepreneurial pursuits. Dan has twice founded successful companies that he has grown and eventually sold to large, globally-recognized companies.
Dan’s first company was an educational software company called Edusoft, which he grew and sold to Houghton Mifflin, one of the world’s largest K-12 education content and services providers.
Following his foray into education, Dan entered the utility and power market when he founded Opower, the leading customer engagement platform for utilities based right here in Arlington, VA. Dan’s achievements with Opower were rewarded when the company sold earlier this year to global software powerhouse, Oracle.
With such unprecedented success in business, Dan has a wealth of experience and advice to share with other entrepreneurs and business leaders. And it was on full display when he recently addressed the ACG National Capital membership at the chapter’s September Monthly Meeting.
During his time in front of the membership, Dan discussed lessons he has learned during his career – from getting started, going public as a company and then being acquired. He also shared some business best practices that have helped him be successful throughout his career. Most notably, he provided a number of lessons that were of particular interest to me and that I wanted to share.
Here are some of Dan’s most poignant lessons:
Lesson One: Hit the GO button.
Be confident, believe in yourself and believe in your concept. Everybody starting a business has moments of doubt that they need to overcome. According to Dan, “You get to a point where you have to change your mindset from, ‘Is this a good idea?’ to, ‘yes, this is a good idea.’ I call this hitting the GO button…because you have to just go all in.”
Lesson Two: Your product is not for free, it is for sale.
Giving away your product, solution or service for free doesn’t do anyone any good. It devalues the company and its solutions and sets the expectation that essential services should be of little or no cost. Also, since it takes time to sell a product, actively selling your solution in a calculated way before it’s live can be essential to early success.
According to Dan, “We never gave away anything for free, and we started selling our product way before it was live. Between gaining signatures and contracts that take time, you will want to start selling early.”
Lesson Three: Selling is company-wide project.
Having a dedicated sales team is an accepted industry best practice for new business development, but recruiting and identifying new business opportunities is something that everyone across the enterprise should be encouraged to actively pursue.
As Dan explained, “Referral bonuses and competitions do not work nearly as well as company-wide projects where employees feel recruiting business is part of the job.”
Lesson Four: Know what is going on inside of your company.
It is mandatory for every manager to completely understand the details of what is going on inside of their organizations. “Nobody is allowed to just be a delegator,” explained Dan. “This is critical, because the moment you have someone ‘not that good’ working for someone else ‘not that good,’ it becomes damaging to the company.”
Lesson Five: Have a plan for where you’re going.
When times get stressful, and you and your company are having doubts or are unsure of where it is going, chart a focused ten-year plan with your team. Go deep, and spend some time writing out where you think your company is going in order to solidify the direction of your business.
According to Dan, “We spent a lot of time writing a manifesto of what we believed in and where we thought it was going, and it really made a difference and solidified and held together this very talented team.”