A Single Complete Leader, w/ P3 Pres & COO Kellan Danielson

Rob Collie

Founder and CEO Connect with Rob on LinkedIn

Kellan Danielson

President and Chief Operating Officer Connect with Kellan on LinkedIn

Get to know the C-Suite of P3 Adaptive as we welcome Kellan Danielson to the show!  He’s President and COO at P3 Adaptive and is responsible for the development of so many of the essential inner workings that have allowed P3 Adaptive to grow as successful as it has.  His journey from humble introverted data and business intelligence enthusiast to humble company President is wonderful, and his business acumen is unmatched!

Episode Transcript

Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends, we're going to do something a little bit different today. Our guest is Kellan Danielson, President and COO here at P3, my business partner and the person I like to joke about as he and I combined make one good leader. This session took on a bit of a retrospective journey kind of feel. Today, our company P3, we really feel like we have it figured out. And that's an unusual thing for me to say, given myself deprecating nature. But I think it's a part of having been on this journey, and we've spent so many years figuring it out, so many years solving puzzles, so many years cracking the riddle that is our business model that today it doesn't really feel arrogant when I say that I think we've really solved it. But it was a hard road and it's one that Kellan and I traveled together over the last six plus years. And so a big part of what we talk about in this podcast is that journey, that road that we were on, the challenges that we faced and how we adapted.

Rob Collie (00:00:56): It's been a technical journey, it's been a business journey, but it's also been an intensely emotional and personal journey. I'm insanely grateful that Kellan and I crossed paths and teamed up. It just wouldn't have worked probably with anyone else. There's a very Jerry Maguire, you complete me sort of feeling here. And I do get a little bit emotional mushy at a couple of points in our conversation. I'm a little too close to this story, of course, and so it's hard for me to tell whether this will be one of our more popular episodes or one of our less popular episodes. We'll find out, won't we? I'm really curious to find out actually. So let's get into it.

Announcer (00:01:35): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please.

Announcer (00:01:39): This is the Raw Data By P3 Podcast with your host, Rob Collie. Find out what the experts at P3 can do for your business. Go to powerpivotpro.com. Raw Data By P3 is data with a human element.

Rob Collie (00:01:55): Welcome to the show, Kellan Danielson.

Kellan Danielson (00:01:59): Thanks for having me.

Rob Collie (00:02:01): Yeah. You're so thankful. This is the thing you're going to look forward to the most for like a week. I'm sure of it. Actually I was going to say, thank you for being a good sport and willing to join us. This is a little bit different. You and I work together all the time. Normally on these shows we're connecting with someone we've never met before or reconnecting with someone from the past. So we work together all the time. We almost need to explain to people our own history. Let's start here. You were one of the first two or three people to pass what we now call the interview of death.

Kellan Danielson (00:02:41): That's right.

Rob Collie (00:02:42): And at the time I was "just" looking for people who could do the job of consulting in the Power BI space and could do it as well as I could or better without a lot of coaching, without any coaching. I had no idea that I was going to be getting also the future president and COO of this company. It's a very interesting journey. Do you remember how you felt at the time when you were doing that test? There's this weirdo on the internet emailing you a DAX riddle essentially. Can you put yourself back in that place?

Kellan Danielson (00:03:23): Yeah. I think it was with stages because what you needed at the time was evolving. Initially I think it was more a like moonlight kind of a gig, which I was very into because what I was doing at Columbia Sportswear, I was just getting very good at it so it didn't take as much time. So I was like, "Well, I want more of a challenge." It was really all about the challenge. I want to help more people instead of less, I guess. But this is the same thing we talk about with new hires too. It's like, let's take them out of positions of unappreciated employees and put them in places of, not authority necessarily, but trusted advisors with clients that almost implicitly trust what they're saying because they are trustworthy and experts in it.

Kellan Danielson (00:04:10): And some people gave me that kind of respect at Columbia. Some people didn't. I have no ill will towards Columbia at all, but I wanted more of it. I wanted more of that kind of challenge, that kind of respect. And so moonlighting seemed like a good... I didn't know if I'd get the job or whatever, but it was like staged. And the stages happened, I think pretty quickly, at least in retrospect. I mean, I'm still today trying to slow my heart rate down because there's been so much change in the last four years. Probably so much change that... Actually, I have a good analogy. What I say when somebody comes into this job as a principal consultant, let's say, they learn more as a principal consultant in the first six months than they do in their whole entire career.

Kellan Danielson (00:04:56): I mean, they're going around the country talking to every single industry and vertical and department and various levels of an organization. There's just no substitute for this kind of work in the real cubicle world in a single company. Anyway, so that first six months was just a wild ride and then your guys'... but time PowerPivotPro, P3 needs changed. And makes sense because earlier on, I think you thought this change might come quicker and that's what's happened over the years too. It's like we hit these little step changes and I think that's what occurred. That's why I'm talking about these stages that I went through. First was moonlighting challenge, blah, blah, blah. And then the second was like, oh, maybe I should just do this all the time.

Kellan Danielson (00:05:47): And then that was a big one for me when I was taking that diabolical test, I got up the moonlighting thing and was like, that wasn't an automatic full-time thing. It was like, okay, well, I have a really comfortable 9:00 to 5:00 respected job, should I take this leap? And at the time I remember doing Excel work for my own budget, for my own finances. How much can I afford to lose?

Rob Collie (00:06:16): Another refrain on this podcast, only bet as much as you can afford to win. We're going to someday need to have the originator of that saying on the show. Scott [Suncresty 00:06:29]. We'll give him some time.

Kellan Danielson (00:06:32): No, he'd be a good guest for sure.

Rob Collie (00:06:33): You've done a lot of things. You have had a lot of jobs. Not Kevin Overstreet number of jobs, but some fractional number of Overstreets. You're on the Overstreet scale.

Kellan Danielson (00:06:43): I think I've had average nowadays. What I struggle with is, I tend to get bored if it's not challenging. I want to keep challenging myself. A lot of times that means trying new things. So over the years, probably in the last decade, I try to do less of that just because I have a family and people rely on me and things like that. But before P3, it was Columbia Sportswear more like an analyst planner. It would be more like global planning. I mean, I wasn't a demand planner or supply planner. I was helping all of them come up with the right forecast, aggregate threat information, a lot of sales reporting, selling type stuff. A lot of data, essentially data from everywhere. There was no department at that time other than FP&A and FP&A really stopped at a certain level of detail that they call the category like sportswear or outerwear, things like that, that no other department at Columbia focused on Skew almost like the UPC level where is actual product around the world? Where is it selling? Where is it located? How long we've been storing it? All that stuff.

Kellan Danielson (00:07:56): So that's a lot of data, and Power Pivot and just Tabular actually was same kind of thing. But it was so much data that Tabular was the solution to Columbia's problems. They just fought it every step of the way and I just kept saying, "No, we're going to keep going." And eventually it was done and it was just very cubed and they could report however they wanted; Excel, Power BI, Power Pivot and Excel, just PivotTables by themselves. I mean, there was analysts all over the company that I didn't even know that were using these models. And that was some of the benefit of it. The CEO, Tim Boyle benefited from those. He probably doesn't know, probably doesn't care but he would get those reports a lot quicker and more accurate and updates however often he wanted them. And then before Columbia, I was in distribution and warehousing.

Rob Collie (00:08:55): You did some stints over in the United Kingdom, right?

Kellan Danielson (00:08:58): Yeah. I was the, maybe a blend of a warehouse manager and a office manager, because a lot of the stuff I was doing was warehouse performance, distribution metrics, P&L management. So it was like a blend and we would implement new warehouses, and that's what you're talking about with the UK. When in London I was there for like a month, because there was an operation that went sideways and they weren't getting stuff out. So I was just at my laptop for a month. I still remember I was working 90 to 100 hours a week. It was brutal.

Rob Collie (00:09:36): They sent the Kellan. They sent the fixer.

Kellan Danielson (00:09:38): And it wasn't just me. There was a few other people there too that were... I was out there on the floor packing stuff sometimes. I wasn't just on the computer.

Rob Collie (00:09:45): Yeah. This is all just your training montage in the movie. This is all preparation for what you had to do at P3.

Kellan Danielson (00:09:56): I share this with my dad too. Actually my dad was at that same company. We just did some work for them this week, I think. And I share this kind of trait where I don't need to be sitting in the seat. I'm happy to go out. Let's make the numbers better by action. Put me in, coach. I like to be the player coach. I struggle with people to have this issue, I can get over it. But I struggle with where it's like they're almost too good for menial task. And that's funny because I like automation.

Rob Collie (00:10:29): Yeah, you do. You love it.

Kellan Danielson (00:10:31): But also I recognize the value of menial tasks. Sometimes you can't repeat in automation what a human gives you. Oftentimes times actually.

Rob Collie (00:10:42): Or it takes forever to build the automation that the human being could have gone and done one time. If you're going to do it one time, the human is usually better than building some system to go run once.

Kellan Danielson (00:10:56): I'm a big proponent of MVPs, minimum viable products, things like that where it's like, look, let's just see if this thing has any legs and I don't want to over build this thing. Let's just see if it's going to provide the value we think it is before we sink all of this cost and effort and exhaustion into it to then scrap it. That's where I learned that blend of technology and hands on work played such an important blend.

Rob Collie (00:11:26): You need a lot of clubs in the bag, to use a golf metaphor, and I don't really golf. But you need a lot of clubs. But you also need to know when to use which one.

Kellan Danielson (00:11:34): Right. I have a funny story, actually, one that now Power Platform can do this probably just in a second. But back then it was a little bit more challenging. We had this separate computer. Well, actually first we had an order planner. What she did was she just took orders from our clients, customers, and then she made them into waves and those waves would be then sent to the warehouse to be picked and packed and shipped. But that process was the same. And it was a critical thing. There was no way that she couldn't do this. She had to do this, put the orders in to the waves, send the waves, priority ones, priority two based on overnight shipping, whatever, all that stuff. But it was the same, no variation. The only variation was the orders, but they always got batched in the same way. I found this thing where it would just take over your mouse and keyboard and it would just... and this was AS/400 kind of system so there was no way to automate in a traditional sense.

Rob Collie (00:12:35): Right. No API.

Kellan Danielson (00:12:36): No API. So we just automated the task with enough spaces for... because they gave us not very good computers. So enough spaces to let the computer catch up and all this stuff, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, enter 40, all that stuff. We set up a separate computer that was always on so we could see it because it was kind of fun in the middle of the office. His name was Launchbot or her name, whatever preference. We had a chair with Launchbot in it and Launchbot was working and it would just do that task anymore... It was task that nobody wanted to do by the way. People were already overworked anyway. So there was no like, oh, we want to cut a head count. No, head count stayed the same, but people's energy went up, people could divert their attention to other things that actually mattered. It was a fun almost like foray into desktop automation.

Rob Collie (00:13:34): Yeah. But the fact that you had a separate computer set up because it was fun to watch, I have a name for this. I call this watching the Roomba. You don't want to vacuum your house so you get a Roomba. But inevitably when the Roomba starts, you just sit there and watch it. I remember the first several months we had a Roomba, when that thing started, I knew what I was doing for the next hour and a half. It wasn't saving me any time.

Kellan Danielson (00:14:07): Yeah. Exactly.

Rob Collie (00:14:09): I had the same experience back when Power Pivot... we didn't have Power BI back then, back when in a former job, really our first client, we had just these whole folders full of workbooks that were all front ends to the same Power Pivot model. For various pseudo security reasons, we had to keep all these workbooks separately. They were all identical, but they all had different filters in them. You want to make a change to your work books like, oh gosh, now I've got 41 workbooks I've got to touch to change the font or something on all 41 of them. So I ended up getting better at VBA in that role than I'd ever was at Microsoft.

Rob Collie (00:14:48): I'd have this whole library of macros. And by the way, anybody that wants these macros just email us. I'll give you this undocumented library of macros. I've given it to lots of people at trainings before and your mileage may vary. But I would kick these things off. And they would go ripping through the folder, opening one workbook at a time, making that change, saving the workbook, moving on to the next one. And what would I do? I'd sit there and I'd watch the damn thing. It's like I couldn't walk away. Watching the Roomba, it's a real thing.

Kellan Danielson (00:15:24): Yeah. Watching the Launchbot. So that was fun. Before Power BI, Columbia Sportswear was where Power BI was starting to hit the scene. And even then, towards the end, it was still a new tool. So before distribution of those OI Global, at that point it was really only two jobs. And I count those two jobs as almost like internships in a sense for this job. Like I said, with the whole, six months you learn more than your career is really true. And for me, it's probably like three months. It's almost like my resume doesn't matter. I don't know. It sounds weird. It does to some people. It doesn't to me that much.

Kellan Danielson (00:16:03): But the stuff that I've learned with fortune 100 companies, pretty high up in these companies, is just not even really an opportunity that my prior employers would've allowed me to even do, which in effect gave me the kind of experience in such a short period of time that sure, you have imposter syndrome for a little bit. I still do. But I do know that if I walk into the room, someone else might get nervous with, I'm pretty confident with my capabilities where I'm at. And that's why I never really had any issues with stage fright, that kind of stuff because if it was something I didn't know, I would. If it's something I know and I'm passionate about, I don't care.

Rob Collie (00:16:50): You're not the kind of person that's going to be on stage talking about something you don't know about. That's just not-

Kellan Danielson (00:16:55): That's not my personality.

Rob Collie (00:16:56): You're not going to find yourself in that spot. And I think a lot of people are waking up to this. There's a lot of people who are becoming voices in the Power Platform community that never expected to be community voices of any sort, never expected to be giving presentations and stuff like that. But it's like, when you're talking about your own life story, when you're talking about the things that you're good at, it's not nearly as challenging. Not to say that it isn't still challenging, because it is. But I'm a lot more confident speaking at conferences and things now about the things that we do and the things that I've learned since leaving Microsoft than I ever was when I spoke on behalf of Microsoft. Because when I was speaking on behalf of Microsoft, I was talking to the real world. I came from inside the ivory tower in a way. I didn't have time to go out and do the things that the real people were doing.

Kellan Danielson (00:17:49): Yeah. And I want to say something real quick, because everything is about a matrix. There's no simple issues in the world anymore. They all revolve around multiple topics. And if you think you're on one side or the other, you're probably just wrong. It's not right and left. And the issues are complicated.

Rob Collie (00:18:09): So many things in that story that just leap off the page. First of all, we talk about it and it sounds like it's bullshit. It sounds like it's a made up story in a way, because we think of career as primarily being about money. And yes, it is about money. I'm not going to say that it isn't. At the same time, if you're in some position out in the world in business where you don't think of yourself as an Excel analyst, that's how the business world flows through you is through Excel. You're like a symbiotic being with Excel that's doing something, and then you're doing something else like supply chain or whatever, then you discover these tools. You discover Power BI and it's like Neo waking up from the matrix. There's no going back. You cannot unwake.

Rob Collie (00:19:00): And it's not like your previous job you were properly appreciated. No one really appreciates the person who's good at Excel the way that they should. The business programmer that makes it all work. But now the delta between what you can be doing and how you can be valued and where you're actually valued is now just an order of magnitude wider. You still got to think about the money thing. It's not like that goes away, but that discomfort, it's weird. You became more capable and now you're less satisfied with where you are that you just can't go back to sleep. You almost wish you could in a way, but you can't. And this is the common thread for most of our team. Most of our company is that.

Kellan Danielson (00:19:44): I like the combination. So when I went full time, I was principal consultant and I split my time between training and consulting. And I really liked that. I have a family of teachers. I enjoyed the classroom teaching, even as an introvert. And I like being in the background in my current role, but I enjoyed people's light bulbs going off and seeing what it could do for them. And that's really, really true. I mean, you talked about it. They're starting to think like a different way. Wait a second, I didn't realize I was being undervalued even sometimes.

Rob Collie (00:20:21): Yeah. You're welcome for that piece of wisdom. Go back and be dissatisfied.

Kellan Danielson (00:20:27): That doesn't mean necessarily people are leaving the jobs or anything like that, but it does sometimes give a different narrative for them to use. It also helps when those managers are in those trainings too, and even if they're not going to be necessarily code writing, they start to see, oh, my team is unbelievably powerful. One additional headcount is insanely valuable. It's no parallel to it almost. I can't think of a whole lot of parallels where it's like you add one, let's say Excel analyst and you get so much for it.

Rob Collie (00:21:00): Wow. I never really thought about that. I've always thought about it from the perspective of, oh, it's great that their manager did come to this training. I've only observed it.

Kellan Danielson (00:21:08): Right.

Rob Collie (00:21:10): But thinking about it from the perspective of, yeah, you should bring your manager to the training. Try to drag them kicking and screaming.

Kellan Danielson (00:21:19): Yeah. A lot of times I'd be in those trainings and I wouldn't really have to worry too much about the analyst because they're going to eat it up. You almost have to convert some of the... The managers, obviously they're writing the checks, but I think a lot of times they're questioning what I'm saying in a sense almost like hyperbolic and it's not. That's the nice thing about our trainings is it's like multiple days. So I can ease them in to the, no, there's no hyperbole here.

Rob Collie (00:21:48): Yeah. You can walk the walk after we talk it at the beginning.

Kellan Danielson (00:21:51): It's really funny, when I've done trainings for Big Four firms, and those are really funny when you have directors and you're like, "Should I even be telling them this stuff?" The pie chart on need for this stuff is so much bigger than any one firm can swallow up. So it doesn't even matter. As a matter of fact, sometimes they go in and they got their other people behind them and they're ruining it in other ways.

Rob Collie (00:22:21): Yeah. There's some stories right there. There's a lot there.

Kellan Danielson (00:22:29): I think a big thing for me was, there's two key stages, I think, that mentally I had to get past. And I think a lot of this is entrepreneurial, that mindset like that was my degree so I should have been prepared for it, but I don't think anybody really is until you get into it. Going full time, leaving a comfortable job, getting on my wife's insurance, those kind of things. And the second was, when you asked if I wanted to not be a principal consultant anymore, because being a principal consultant, there's a lot of very visible benefits to it. You get client feedback, you get immediate return on that investment. Whereas a part of the management team or whatever, like growing the business is a different return. It's almost like you have to find that kind of feedback internally, as well as with your peers, which is just me and you essentially. And you almost need to live vicariously through your team, but still give them the dues they deserve. But also try to give yourself some too.

Rob Collie (00:23:36): The thing that originally dragged you in to moonlighting was that emotional satisfaction of doing what you were capable of doing for someone who appreciated it, right?

Kellan Danielson (00:23:50): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:23:50): So when you moved up the ladder here, basically it's like we built a ladder so that Kellan could climb it. I mean, there is a ladder now, but there wasn't a ladder. It was like, there is no spoon.

Kellan Danielson (00:24:05): Yeah. Let's build this ladder.

Rob Collie (00:24:08): But when you do that, now you walk away from the thing that drew you in, in the first place. It's a good thing we had some other places for you to scratch that itch, wasn't it? It turns out. I think when people look in at our company, if we described our company as ex Microsoft software leader, Rob, with a bunch of "former Excel analysts", I think that would really give people a very lopsided view of the talent equation here. And I think that's a natural picture to have looking in from the outside, but it's off. It's off, isn't it? First of all, I'm really not that important. The background that I had coming from Microsoft and all the things that I've done, I think that was important for spotting the need for a different kind of company, spotting this opportunity.

Rob Collie (00:25:04): If you focus too much on the ex Microsoft guy, you're really missing the point because it's the team, isn't it? The team, they're the rock stars. They're the ones that make this work. And as consultants, they are all far more talented than I am and far more talented than I think you would expect them to be. And it's probably because the people that we found, the people that make up our team, they had tremendous amounts of latent talent and capabilities that were not being properly utilized, if utilized at all, in their former roles. In a world that made more sense, the consultants that work for us now, in their previous roles, they would've been far more appreciated and far more used. They would've been able to tap into those talents. They would've been encouraged to tap into those talents. And the organizations would have actually built frameworks around them to leverage those talents.

Rob Collie (00:26:05): So in a way, all we've really done is righted that wrong. We've really put these people in a position where they can shine as brightly as they were really supposed to. For the people who are listening who don't know, which is part of why we're doing this, our company operates on an impossible business model. Let's let that sit there for a moment. All the jokes that we make about nobody believed in us, blah, blah, blah, there's a reason for it. We've set up our company in a corner of the market landscape that was previously thought inhospitable, uninhabitable. It's like the Mars outpost out in the middle of the desert or something. It's a difficult business model. Now, it's not a difficult business model in terms of the customers. It is the ideal business model for our customers.

Kellan Danielson (00:27:00): Yes.

Rob Collie (00:27:01): So that part's easy. Being the best possible deal, the highest possible tempo, the best possible results using the modern tools is a great deal for the customer. I think everyone knows that. But how do you keep things organized? The thing you said earlier where in the first six months of working here, you learn more than you learn in your previous career to date, that's true. There's this really nerdy thing. Like in physics, the inverse of frequency is wavelength. If you crank the wavelength down, which is what we do, the duration of a project that delivers value, we are insanely fast for our clients relative to our competitors and relative to the traditional model. But that also means when you crank that down, that means that for the individual consultant, you're seeing a lot, you're getting a really compressed treatment of how the entire world works, because you're moving through a lot of stuff.

Kellan Danielson (00:27:57): Definitely.

Rob Collie (00:27:57): And I live that because I was the first consultant, the first and probably least capable but the first. And I learned so much about how the world works because of that high frequency exposure. So if it's a great deal for the customers, there's a magic level of utilization that you need to maintain across your consulting team and in any consulting business. Unless you're like one of those insane people that charges $10,000 an hour. And that's not us. So whether it was possible to move at this high frequency model the way that the tools allowed it to move, the new way that became possible. So whether we could build a business that was internally sustainable, that sustainable business model thing, whether that could be done. And that was more of a question, wasn't it? I was committed to finding out and I was probably stubbornly committed to it being yes we can kind of thing. But that doesn't mean that I knew how.

Rob Collie (00:29:00): So you Kellan, more than any one person for sure are responsible for having solved that problem, the how. The dreaded Tetris problem. How do you A, make all these small irregular shaped blocks of work that are dictated by the clients flow with them? So how do you make all of those fit into the container that is an average consultant month so that we can be sustainable and be a viable business and continue? And not just that, but scale that. It's one thing if you are sitting there as a human being very carefully crafting all of these pieces together for an individual consultant and you're spending hours on it like a beautiful mind with the chalkboard or something. As you scale up, you can't put that effort in. It has to just flow. And I am not the person to solve that problem. I thought I was. You got to have some hubris, something about entrepreneurship. You have to almost have an irrational belief in yourself to even take the leap.

Rob Collie (00:30:17): So then the flip side is, at what point do you realize you're in over your head, you've got to get help? And this is where you come into my story, which is crucial. I underestimated how hard this was. The reason we got into this is because you said it was hard to step back from that frontline satisfaction of delivering what we do for our clients. That was the original emotional draw anyway. We had a little bit of a puzzle, didn't we, behind the scenes. I like to tell people that we're our own case study for the Power Platform? And it's not like we a hundred percent use Microsoft tools. That makes it even better. It's exactly what the Power Platform is supposed to do is make your "hybrid, best of breed"... Our company should be a case study for Microsoft. They have no idea. Here we are, look, the Mars outpost in the market absolutely thriving where no one dares tread because of the Power Platform support.

Kellan Danielson (00:31:28): Yeah. I don't think you're the least talented. The nice thing about a growing company is that you actually have to start diversifying where your talents are. In the beginning, it was 1099 consultants. If you couldn't do the work for a client, you probably weren't going to be on the team. Unless for a few require... like an accountant. It's things like that that we had to do to run a company. But now we have people with talents that other people don't have that we need. We have copywriters and designers and dedicated sales people. This is part of the equation.

Kellan Danielson (00:32:01): Tetris isn't just about an individual or team's utilization. It's about how do you make a company operate in such a way that it's not just efficient, but effective. And that requires a balance of financial priorities with client and internal priorities. That means shifting from 1099s to of full-time employees, because that's what they need. People need full-time jobs and they need benefits. We don't have universal benefits in this country. People need benefits. They have kids and they need work life balance, which 1099s, there's not always a good work life balance in the 1099 world because it's all about bill.

Rob Collie (00:32:46): Yeah. And let's pause for a moment there and try to slow motion that one so that people understand. I was operating the website back in, let's say 2015. So 2015 is when we crossed paths and I was basically fully utilized as an individual, as a human being. Between running the website, the blog, running trainings, doing consulting. And that's when I realized that I needed more help, but I wasn't prepared to hire people in a full-time capacity. There was more work than I could do, but not enough that I could get people to forsake their full-time paying gigs. When we say 1099, we mean people who are working as independent contractors. You can think of it as moonlighting, but it needed to happen during the day. Because our clients needed to interact with you during the day. We called it daylighting. So how many people in the world, how many total freak shows were out there that were willing and able to daylight for our company? We ran out of those people pretty quickly.

Kellan Danielson (00:33:56): Yeah. That's definitely a component as well.

Rob Collie (00:33:59): Yeah. So at some point you're right. But by the way, 1099 was a great fit for the "company" at the time. Because it was when work comes along, that little Tetris piece, we just farm them out. It was path of least resistance. It made a lot of sense at the time. But when the Tetris piece didn't fit or didn't come along, it wasn't the company's responsibility. Was it? You go back to your day job. So that transition to full-time W2 with benefits, it brings a lot of overhead. It was necessary because to do the work, you need to have people and boy does it complicate things, doesn't it? And that's in 2017. So we're really on the four year anniversary right now of people being full-time W2 employees with benefits at the company. It's crazy. It does seem like yesterday.

Kellan Danielson (00:34:56): Yeah. I think it was February 1st, 2017 was the first payroll.

Rob Collie (00:35:01): Crazy.

Kellan Danielson (00:35:03): Yeah. I think I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon.

Rob Collie (00:35:10): Yeah. You're on your honeymoon. Everything is going to be smooth sailing from here.

Kellan Danielson (00:35:16): Yeah. I do remember my wife not being too happy with me on my phone. I tried to set some rules but that's tough.

Rob Collie (00:35:23): Yeah. You're one of the least capable vacation takers I've ever met. You've gotten better.

Kellan Danielson (00:35:29): Yeah. I'm not very good but I try.

Rob Collie (00:35:33): You have gotten better. Yes.

Kellan Danielson (00:35:34): Yeah. I think a big part of this, which kind of relevant now, but it's been our lives, which is everyone's remote in our company. There is no office. I think that most people know that already, but that makes the company Tetris, the back office help, the principal consultants working on multiple clients, clients working with multiple consultants, all that stuff, funneling the information back to you and I extremely critical to making sure that we have the right Tetris pieces, we have the right skills, capacity, fit so that we can actually run a company. There's no hallway chats. I think a lot of people can relate if they really think about it for a second how much important things happen in the hallways.

Rob Collie (00:36:21): That's right.

Kellan Danielson (00:36:22): It's extremely valuable. Executives might think of it as time theft, but it's really not. There's an incredible amount of stuff that happens, "Hey, do you want to grab lunch real quick?" And all of a sudden a breakthrough happens or some critical information that you're not on that project, but you got somebody on the inside that now you tell them, "Oh no, but if you do that, that's going to really negatively impact me."

Rob Collie (00:36:46): Yeah. I was thinking as you were saying that, that imagine that we just magically did have a physical office and we all lived in the same city and there was COVID. That office would still be empty.

Kellan Danielson (00:37:01): Yeah. Probably.

Rob Collie (00:37:01): And maybe not really. But I guess in a real sense, this high velocity up tempo version of things, it's like you've got to be engaged with the customer. It wouldn't be the first consulting office in the world that was largely vacant during the day. I mean, again, even pre-COVID, the average Microsoft field office is a ghost town.

Kellan Danielson (00:37:30): Yeah, I've seen that.

Rob Collie (00:37:30): When they let me in over there to do something or whatever, I'm often the only person in the place.

Kellan Danielson (00:37:36): And sometimes they don't want you to use the room. And like, well, no one else is.

Rob Collie (00:37:40): Yeah. I'm just here for the free soda.

Kellan Danielson (00:37:45): No, that's a really good point. I mean, there's a reason why a lot of that hallway chat is done in airports. At least on five occasions that I can think of, I've met with consultants in transfers and layovers just because we happen to be at the same airport at the same time.

Rob Collie (00:38:04): Airports, what are those?

Kellan Danielson (00:38:06): I don't know. Haven't been to one in a while. And I think the only way that really effectively happens, especially with the team, which is growing rapidly now and has been, is tight, daily and weekly communication, knowing where people are and how they're doing and just having a friendly human kind of culture where it's like the president and a consultant or a president and designer. There's hierarchy but we try to make it pretty flat. We may bear more responsibility on the wins and losses, but it doesn't mean that we're any different. That's why I like working here. When we had our team meeting in October two years ago, we didn't do it this year, it was really great. It was pretty much a bunch of peers. And I hope to do that this year again. And hopefully October we'll see where we're at.

Rob Collie (00:39:00): It's hard on an audio format like this, to give people a sense of the living thing, the system that you have built. This network of systems that runs our company and that makes it possible, that sustains us in that... And it's not just technology. It's people, it's workflow and it's the blend of that with software. I do think that this system, the way that we operate is actually a form of intellectual property that we've developed. We're not just a bunch of really capable people. I mean, we don't want to give away too many secrets. Now do we? But we got a lot of complexity behind the scenes. It's more than just the Tetris problem. We have a lot.

Rob Collie (00:39:42): And so this living creature, the hybrid, the cyborg of software and different systems and also the human beings, is there any way to do that justice? Can we talk about it as a narrative over time like how we evolved it? At some point we decided that we were going to use Salesforce, and we made that decision originally, just to track leads. It was the purest sense of CRM, just like a sales tool for just tracking what's out there, what's possible. That's where the dangerous game began, wasn't it?

Kellan Danielson (00:40:22): Part of my background at Columbia was master data, which for those that don't know is really just your standard elements like customers, dates, vendors, all those kind of things that you just need standardized across multiple systems and that you have owners who own these things. But when we implemented Salesforce... Well, actually let me back up real quick. I think the key to anything is understanding what the overall workflow is, what teams you have, what's your overall goal. And our goal is increased revenue and maintain cost. So we need to balance supply, which is people that can actually do the work and everybody that surrounds those people that they need to do the work. And then demand, which is how many new clients we have, how big clients, and then everybody around that, that we need to do that work. So that would be like sales people, things like that.

Kellan Danielson (00:41:16): So Salesforce was just like you said, really just for leads, but quickly became... And this would happen with any CRM we chose. We just weren't going to get out of Salesforce.

Rob Collie (00:41:26): Once we picked it.

Kellan Danielson (00:41:27): Yeah. It's just really hard to get out of Dynamics or Salesforce or any real CRM.

Rob Collie (00:41:32): They know that.

Kellan Danielson (00:41:34): Yeah. I mean, that's their model. We had considered moving to Dynamics like a year ago. Once we did the due diligence, that wasn't going to happen. It might in the future, Microsoft, if you're listening to this.

Rob Collie (00:41:45): We'd love you to send a team to migrate us.

Kellan Danielson (00:41:48): Yeah. If we had a migration team and...

Rob Collie (00:41:51): Yeah. Maybe we can talk Austin into coming back for two years to help extricate us from the Salesforce he committed.

Kellan Danielson (00:42:00): He's pretty busy.

Rob Collie (00:42:00): Yeah, he's pretty busy. But what can be more meaningful than coming back in here and migrating us from Salesforce to Dynamics? I mean, really?

Kellan Danielson (00:42:10): Yeah. I think we would set him off. So we had that supply and demand kind of overall picture that needed to be solved. And the demand part, we got that Salesforce. That was for the demand side, let's track the leads, let's make sure we're responding to them on time, get them assigned to a consultant, which now we're into the supply side, which there was nothing. That's what I was talking earlier. The only thing we had was a coordinator, essentially, part-time coordinator, basically, that was like, "Who wants this?" There wasn't any type of what I call the trifecta in a sense like the skill, capacity and fit. There was no assessment for, does that person have the right capacity to meet that client's needs? Do they have the right skills? Not just Power Pivot, but maybe there's Power BI visualization or there's data platform. And fit like has somebody worked with them before? Do they have a good personality fit? So none of that was happening. It was really just like a free for all.

Rob Collie (00:43:15): It's like the old mainframe days. I want mainframe time. I'm talking about an era that I never experienced, but I've heard of it. I want mainframe time. So you go to the scheduler and you request mainframe time. And there's a human being that decides how to allocate mainframe time. And eventually that human being becomes what we know of as an operating system. Right now the CPU is balancing between a million things, a million different jobs and it's automating it. Originally, the operating system was a human being. So there's a parallel here. Our scheduler, our match making system was originally a part-time human.

Kellan Danielson (00:44:01): Yeah. I mean, in some ways I see myself in those days as an industrial engineer identifying the workflow, what are the largest bottlenecks? And then trying to eliminate or minimize them as much as possible. That's basically what an industrial engineer does is try to map out end to end what's going on. And it's like simplest forms as possible, but then they go all the way down.

Rob Collie (00:44:24): Oh yes, Mr. Detail.

Kellan Danielson (00:44:28): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:44:28): You go to all those boring places that are absolutely essential.

Kellan Danielson (00:44:33): Well, you have to start at the top and eventually go all the way down, otherwise it doesn't get fixed. So I think that big supply problem, the first solution we had with that was the biggest gap in that handoff was really training because there was a time where it was just you. And so pretty quickly it was like, Rob, Kellan, two other people, we have four people. And then now we're in 2017 now we have four other people. How do we transition Rob and Kellan off of this as much as possible so that they can do some of the management stuff and growth stuff and things like that? So we implemented really just, I would consider it MVP called trainer match, which was just effectively like a slot management tool.

Rob Collie (00:45:22): It was SharePoint, wasn't it?

Kellan Danielson (00:45:23): It was SharePoint. SharePoint Online basically allowed that coordinator, managers, directors, whatever, to put in the request as they saw them so that they could fill trading slot needs with the client in real time. Whereas before, there'd be this back and forth like, well, let me see who can do it and blah, blah, blah. So we could actually figure out really quickly... because they put their capacity in it ahead of time. That's key. So the trainers say, "I have four days this week," and they had to do eight weeks out.

Rob Collie (00:45:54): This is the first time that tech really entered the picture.

Kellan Danielson (00:46:01): Definitely from a supply side, because that happened before I think, we introduced Breezy, I think. That's three, four years ago so I don't know. But I went on a honeymoon, Austin and I had talked about Breezy and when I got back, he had set it all up. Literally. I wasn't gone that long. Now we obviously extended it more in the years to come but that was a very... I mean, I think we even have a case study on it.

Rob Collie (00:46:28): Yeah, we do.

Kellan Danielson (00:46:28): Okay. Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:46:29): Breezy, we're on their website with a case study. And that is "just our hiring process." So how many different technical software systems do we have?

Kellan Danielson (00:46:41): We have as many as we need.

Rob Collie (00:46:43): Oh yes. That's a movie quote for you. Tyler Durden fights go on as long as they have to. All right. So let me see how many I can think of.

Kellan Danielson (00:46:57): Okay.

Rob Collie (00:46:57): I am going to miss at least half of them. I know we have Salesforce. I know we have Harvest. We got to have an accounting system, QuickBooks Online like so many companies do. Those are pretty foundational. But now we have a system called Precursive. That's our new-

Kellan Danielson (00:47:19): That's the new trainer match.

Rob Collie (00:47:20): The new trainer match. That runs in Salesforce, but really, we might as well consider it a separate system.

Kellan Danielson (00:47:27): It can run separate.

Rob Collie (00:47:27): And it's highly customized to us. We didn't just buy that off the shelf. What else am I missing? I'm missing a bunch. I know that. But I just wanted to prime the pump with the easy ones.

Kellan Danielson (00:47:37): We use Asana for project management.

Rob Collie (00:47:40): That's right.

Kellan Danielson (00:47:40): Zapier for lightweight business automation in addition to flow. We use a lot of the tools in the Office 365 stack. So we have Azure and different databases and data warehouses and things like that, that you would expect a Microsoft data specialist to have.

Rob Collie (00:47:58): Power BI. I mean, we use that to death. That's not just talking our own book. All these systems... There's a hazy set of shoulders to that bell curve of systems. We've got Stitch, we've got WordPress, we've got AdWords and Google this and just crazy number of systems. It's like the smooth slope off into the darkness of systems just like really any company.

Kellan Danielson (00:48:32): Oh yeah.

Rob Collie (00:48:33): And so we have the same level of complexity in terms of mishmash of base systems and number of systems and variety of systems as really any enterprise does. It's on a micro scale in some sense, relative to the fortune 100, but really to operate effectively today, you've got to take on big company complexity at whatever scale you're at. That's part of the game. In fact, if you're bigger, you can almost get away with lower complexity because you can throw more human beings at a problem. From an IT perspective, we actually have a very complicated business and not a huge IT department to throw at it.

Kellan Danielson (00:49:15): I think what I'm struggling with is, people that are in it, they get that this is not something that happens overnight like overlaying BI and action with actual process almost seems like a tagline, but it's not, it's a skillset. Like you said, it's IP if you can do it right. And if you have all these systems and none of them are talking to each other, even at the BI layer, unless they're explicitly not meant to, which rarely is the case.

Kellan Danielson (00:49:47): I mean, it may be that you have one system that has a very specific task. It doesn't actually drive towards the overall goal like revenue or something. But if you have, let's say like a Columbia, you have Korea on a system, you have United States on a system. They're two different ERPs. Effectively somewhere... You don't have to change their ERP. Somewhere they need to be in the same analysis if you want to know how your whole company is doing. That's the hard part that I would like to drive home if we're talking about that, which is, we have BI as a mechanism for effective change. It's not just so we can see numbers. It's so we can act on them quickly.

Rob Collie (00:50:33): Yeah. And at all levels, there's tactical actions that are triggered all the time.

Kellan Danielson (00:50:38): We've had serious problems when we didn't have data bubbling up at the right times. We learned our lesson.

Rob Collie (00:50:48): Yeah, we did.

Kellan Danielson (00:50:49): We said, "Oh, this BI stuff seems like it's pretty good. Maybe we should do that ourselves." And now we have a suite of reporting that is not just squishy, it's extremely pain oriented. It's like, what are the things that I need to know so that I can act in the shortest intervals possible.

Rob Collie (00:51:12): There's something you were saying that I really, really wanted to key in on, which is that the reports that we use, the interactive, really amazing Power BI reports that we use, it's like the short story ethos, which is in a short story, there's no single word wasted. That's what they teach you if you're trying to write short stories is every single sentence, every single word has to have utility. That's what these reports feel like. They're not just information for information's sake. If a number's on that screen, if anything is on that screen, it's because we need it.

Kellan Danielson (00:51:43): Yes. That's critical. I think another thing too, is that our reports evolve because there are times where a number matters more than another time. Well, like for instance, our company dashboard, which is about all systems, really, all processes is meant to simplify it to our core. That used to just be a two month dashboard. I mean, it had the budget and things like that, but that was it. Now it's a three month and it has fields on it that didn't exist because it wouldn't have made sense for it to exist in that different time.

Rob Collie (00:52:25): Yeah. So there's an important takeaway there is that nothing's ever done. A report or a dashboard can be done at a particular point in time. And it turns out that in the old days we never even got there. And I'm not talking about P3, I'm talking about the world. Reports never, ever got to where they needed to be for that day, ever. But when they get to that point where it's like, hey, this is what we need today, you still shouldn't look at it and say, "Okay, that's done." It's done for now, it should remain flexible and pliable. And these systems do allow that, thankfully.

Kellan Danielson (00:53:03): Yeah. And I really try to harp on that with my consultants that given a very small preface to a client or internal customer, they're okay with done being where it's at right now. I think there's an illusion out in the world, I think, that's core to BI for some reason. But I think it's true in a lot of places, which is, until it's my done, it's not their done. I need it to be my standard without ever checking their standard first.

Rob Collie (00:53:39): Which is such a weird inversion. You're talking about essentially the BI professional, having a version of my done that exceeds the client done. That's weird because it used to be the exact opposite. The BI professional was well short. So what we're talking about now is a problem that didn't even exist before, which is that as consultants, we might have ambitions for where this thing goes that are out ahead of our clients. First of all, let's take a moment and just respect that we've reached the point in the world where that problem can even exist. That's awesome. But you're right. There's different ways in which the client might not be ready.

Kellan Danielson (00:54:24): Because this is a balance here. We have a core product, the Jumpstart. And the Jumpstart's requirement is that you're not going to be done, done. But what you are going to be is on your way. You're going to see stuff on paper. You're going to see results. That's the same thing. I would've never ever... Still to this day, I would've probably never actually had my dashboards out if it was my standard. All the lessons and the experience and the generated wisdom over the years has taught me that the numbers are the only thing that really matter. Make sure they're accurate, timely and presented in such a way that people can understand them. And a lot of times it's self-serving. Sure, they're my dashboard so I need to be informed. But a lot of times, I need my folks informed too. That doesn't mean it always has to be pretty. I'm a big believer in tables, as long as the table isn't a million rows long.

Rob Collie (00:55:26): Right. Again, every number is there because it's at least sometimes necessary.

Kellan Danielson (00:55:31): Right. My only point was that we can almost impress a client more with the generation of an incredible metric formula than we can with a pretty visualization because the impact that that single number does on their organization.

Rob Collie (00:55:51): Yeah. Do you remember at one of the data insight summits, I started it off with what I called the sexiest data visualization of MDIS 2017. And then the next year I just had the same slide with 2017 crossed out and 2018 replaced. And all it was, it was just an Excel grid of numbers that were color coded that was from the command scorecard from back in the day, where when the president of command or the CEO saw that for the first time turned to Mike Miskel and said, "I want you to press the gas pedal as hard as you can." This is the most amazing thing that they'd ever seen. It was so incredibly compelling for their business. And on screen, it didn't impress anybody. But the point was, it was valuable to that business, those numbers.

Kellan Danielson (00:56:49): And I talked a while ago about blending the overall goal with the workflow and we mentioned a bunch of systems that help us manage some processes like Precursive with scheduling and assignment, the whole capacity skill fit thing. And Google Ads or AdWords and different type of tools we've used for landing pages, Pardot, et cetera, all that stuff for the demand side of things. Our dashboards are really intended to bring it all together. I think a big one is just because of with COVID uncertainty and just our business model going through the different challenges with our business model, figuring it out was cashflow. So we have cash flow, uncertainty, which all stems from those two things; do we have the right people to do the work and do we have enough clients to satisfy our financial requirements?

Kellan Danielson (00:57:50): So all of those systems are critical for that. QuickBooks, we need our bank balances. We need to know what's on our AR our accounts receivable, what's on our accounts payable. Now, that just tells us actuals. What's out in the future? Well, Precursive, we need to know what kind of revenue we can generate and how much it's going to cost us to generate that revenue. So there's a lot of things that you need, all these systems to come into the same to understand, well, what's our margin going to be? Are we going to have enough cash? Is there going to be a cash short run? Do we need to pull in some of our line of credit or do we need to take action? There's a reason why we have every single report that we have.

Rob Collie (00:58:32): For people who are listening, given the nature of our business model and the speed at which we operate, for us, you hear us talking about two months and you go, "That's it?" But two months for us is like two years for a lot of people. And we're talking about seeing into a very distant future in a way. We don't hook people on six, 12 month, 18, 24 month projects.

Kellan Danielson (00:59:06): I mean, sometimes it happens, but it's not... But I think the key thing here is that the projects... The contract is a contract. That's different. But the project, they just so rarely last more than a couple of months.

Rob Collie (00:59:20): Yeah. They go as long as they have to.

Kellan Danielson (00:59:22): They don't need to. These are BI projects. I mean, sometimes there's some data platform parts that make it a little bit more complicated, but even then they don't have to go longer than that. We live and die on making sure those projects are a success as fast as we can do it so that we can sell the next project because we're like, "Look, we're not going to nickel and dime you. We want you to be happy and fast." That means fast. BI is fast. You have to be fast otherwise you're irrelevant in BI. One other thing about the dashboard I think that was important. There was some evolution with our reporting too, where it was like, I had reports that were almost like meant to make you feel good like this consultant killed it or whatever. Nobody ever looks at those. They look at them once. And then they're like, "Yeah. Okay, I feel good. I'm gone."

Kellan Danielson (01:00:17): The evolution that we made in that 1099 to full-time transition was like, look, there's a lot of things that work with the 1099, which is like, the incentives are implicit. You bill, it benefits both parties. With full time, that doesn't necessarily work that way. If you just think of it they get a salary. If they bill or not, it doesn't matter. The incentive is for them to not bill actually. So a big part of our compensation scheme across the board, not just for consultants, but for back office people too, is how do we let this be like a pull mechanism, not a push one? Because we're all remote and so our dashboards actually are leveraged, not just from a management perspective, how are we doing? Where's cash flow? Where's our forecast at? But also from a team perspective.

Kellan Danielson (01:01:11): Our consultants know exactly where they're at from an incentive perspective. They're looking at their incentive dashboards because it directly impacts their wallet. And I know how much people are looking at those because I have the usage metrics reports, and they're looking at them and they were not looking at the other ones. So incentive dashboards worked really well. They actually get looked at. They drive performance to wherever you want that... You got to make the incentives right. But if you got incentives out in front of people, it's not necessarily a carrot. They put whatever thing they want in it. So we try to make that cash as much as possible, but we have other things too. Anyway, so that's a big part too, is just like this operational incentives, that kind of piece. And then there's the strategic dashboard side to it as well.

Rob Collie (01:01:58): So many crazy ideas. I'm just going to be all kinds of touchy, feely, appreciative of. All these crazy ideas, the company, the fact that it could be done, leaning into this idea of incentives, sharing the upside. And as a result of sharing the upside, they're being more upside and weaponizing that. Having to systemize, build the systems to make those incentives work and follow that. I am so sincerely appreciative on this journey to have a partner like you who is willing to go on those crazy journeys first of all. But also to help make them reality. Even these ideas, these things that I wanted us to chase, I found out I couldn't have done them on my own. I didn't have the talent to deliver on the things that I wanted to see. So I don't want this recording to go by without me saying, thank you. It's been a hell of a journey, man. It really has.

Kellan Danielson (01:02:59): Well, you're welcome. And it goes both ways.

Rob Collie (01:03:02): It does. You come to me with like, "Hey, I want to try something?" Your batting average has been spectacular.

Kellan Danielson (01:03:12): We do try to keep that as a cultural thing, because if we're going to try new things, you have to be okay with them not working. You don't want them to end up that way. But if you can have an incentive program that you're humble about. Look, we are going in with this with the best intentions. Here's what we want to happen. If it doesn't happen, we're going to adjust it so that it's still... And that doesn't mean we're adjusting it to hurt you. We want it to help everyone that whole thing works with us too. So it's like, as a company, I think if we just consistently take that always learning philosophy to everyday, it allows for one person to not always have the right answer and it allows the right answer to come up, bubble up.

Rob Collie (01:04:00): Give time to evolve to it, just like the reports.

Kellan Danielson (01:04:03): Yeah. Just like the reports. Over time, we figured out, oh, we don't really need 30 columns, we just need 15 or whatever it is. Or we don't need five, we need one number. And we just evolve to where you need to be.

Rob Collie (01:04:16): Once again, I really just am so appreciative of having you as a partner on this journey. In some sense, a big part of that journey is behind us. A lot of things have been solved. I know that something you were saying earlier, you need a challenge and I do too. And we're going to do new things. I'm excited about what's ahead of us as well as proud of what we've done. And thanks for being a good sport and being on the show.

Kellan Danielson (01:04:44): No problem.

Rob Collie (01:04:45): Drag you out. You're more introverted. Get it out here. Talk about yourself, not something you typically do.

Kellan Danielson (01:04:52): My favorite topic.

Rob Collie (01:04:53): I know. So man, thank you so much.

Kellan Danielson (01:04:57): Yeah, of course.

Announcer (01:04:57): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data By P3 Podcast. Find out what the experts at P3 can do for your business. Go to powerpivotpro.com. Interested in becoming a guest on the show? Email lukep, L-U-K-E-P@powerpivotpro.com. Have a data day.

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