Mapping the Road to Innovation, w/ Mike Reynolds - P3 Adaptive
04.12.22

Mapping the Road to Innovation, w/ Mike Reynolds

Listen Now:

On Today’s episode special guest Mike Reynolds defines digital product and the genius behind InnovateMap. Mike explains that businesses must go digital if they touch a consumer or risk losing relevance. While most consumer-facing companies have embraced this tenant, many B2B companies just haven’t accepted this yet and those who have are advancing quicker than ever.

Rob and Mike also discuss Covid bonding and the pattern analytics that helped companies ride the storm. Revisiting the past couple of difficult years, the takeaway is clear, Covid19 was a wake-up call for businesses to expand their digital product and their office flexibility.

Finally, Mike, Rob, and Tom discuss the great remote work migration and why it works for some and not for others, and the future of remote work.

As an added bonus, during the conversation, Rob shares the history of Mullet Man and his connection to Mike and InnovateMap. You too can learn how the great icon of Raw Data by P3 Adaptive was created!

Also on this episode:
Mad Men: The Wheel

Wordle

Seinfeld water cooler

Buck Rogers robot, Twiki

Far Side Thumb wrestler

March Data-Ness – The Method Behind the Madness

Jack In the Box Commercial

Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello, friends. Today's guest is Mike Reynolds, CEO of a digital product agency named Innovatemap. What is a digital product agency, you ask? Well, we'll let Mike explain that in his own words. But in a hyper-simplified sense, you can think of it as a design or branding firm. And to that end, P3 in fact is an Innovatemap client. A few years back, they helped us with a complete overhaul of our entire brand, image, and website. And in what might be a shocking twist for listeners of this podcast, they also designed the Mullet Man Raw Data mascot.

Rob Collie (00:00:36): We were so pleased with all of the work on the website and the podcast that we, P3, still circle back to Innovatemap for a handful of projects every year. And along the way, Mike and I have become sort of like back-channel informal business advisors to each other. He's in Indianapolis. I'm in Indianapolis. Our companies are similarly sized. And especially during the COVID crisis, boy were we calling each other a bunch. So we talk a lot about COVID in this conversation, about how it's impacted the operations of our businesses, how it's impacted our clients, and how both of our firms navigated that crisis and then resumed growing against a very, very different backdrop.

Rob Collie (00:01:15): Overall, this was a conversation about business and specifically thriving in the digital world, about the intersection of design and market fit, about the interplay and distinction between the value you need to demonstrate to potential customers and the value that you must deliver to existing customers. So if you live in the digital world, if you live in the business world, and if you're in the habit of creating brand new things and then evolving them over time, and really, isn't that all of us, then I think you're going to find this to be an interesting and valuable conversation.

Rob Collie (00:01:49): He's sharp, he's driven, and he's incredibly transparent, and he's on the very short list of professional relationships with whom I exchange text messages regularly. And now you'll get to see why. So let's get into it.

Announcer (00:02:03): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?

Announcer (00:02:07): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast with your host Rob Collie and your co-host Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.

Rob Collie (00:02:31): Welcome to the show. Mike Reynolds, how are you today, sir?

Mike Reynolds (00:02:34): Rob, it's great to be here. I'm doing great.

Rob Collie (00:02:36): I appreciate your courage coming on the Raw Data podcast. What are you up to professionally these days, Mike?

Mike Reynolds (00:02:41): I lead a design agency called Innovatemap. We describe ourselves as a digital product agency very much focused on helping companies describe their products through digital channels, describe it well so it resonates with a buyer. And then if there's a digital component to a product, we actually can do the strategy and design of that product. We'll work with tech companies and tech services to help explain what they do well through strategy, words, and design. And then additionally, we can work on that product itself. We've got a full UX competency and strategy group there.

Rob Collie (00:03:10): Yeah. Just so the listeners know, we're not going to bury the lede here. P3 is an Innovatemap client. The revamped website... At this point, probably a few people remember even the original. But the website that you see today for P3 Adaptive, that was a big project, and it was the first time we worked together. And yes, we're having you on the show, so obviously we're very happy with our website. If we didn't like the website, no, no podcast.

Rob Collie (00:03:32): Now, listeners of this show should know that Mike's firm, Innovatemap, created the Mullet Man, the podcast Mullet Man, which... Did anyone at your company expect the Mullet Man to eventually find its way into a 3D wearable rendering?

Mike Reynolds (00:03:46): Rob, it's our greatest accomplishment in company history.

Rob Collie (00:03:50): That's when you know you could just call it a day.

Mike Reynolds (00:03:54): Through all this design, there's game-changing business outcomes, but nothing, nothing could have foreseen the Mullet Man. It's stupendous.

Rob Collie (00:04:01): Luke, do you have it? Do you have it on... Give Luke just a moment. We originally hired Luke away from talk radio in South Florida to start producing our podcast, and we've subsequently discovered that... First of all, that's not a full-time job. And secondly, he's really good at a lot of operationals. He's kind of like assistant to our COO, president and COO, but he's really got an attachment to the show and to the Mullet Man. So after I wore it into your office, I did the only responsible thing and shipped the costume to Luke.

Mike Reynolds (00:04:32): Outstanding.

Thomas LaRock (00:04:33): Why don't I have one?

Rob Collie (00:04:35): I asked you in a text if you wanted to spend $1,000 on a Mullet Man costume and you never even replied to me, you bastard.

Thomas LaRock (00:04:42): I'm still thinking about him. And now that I see it...

Rob Collie (00:04:45): Yeah.

Mike Reynolds (00:04:50): What gives us much joy is, we do a lot of digital design, but for that digital design to manifest itself in a physical world. Oh, that's good stuff.

Rob Collie (00:05:00): It's awesome. I felt like I've gotten wiser and smarter working with your team. Digital design firm, digital product firm? I forget exactly what you said there.

Mike Reynolds (00:05:07): Digital product agency.

Rob Collie (00:05:09): Digital product agency. Is that a defined industry? Do other people in your line of work, would they use the same term?

Mike Reynolds (00:05:17): They would not. I would tell you, with our own, we've been identifying ourselves as that since day one. I think some of the strategy behind it was almost like being our own dog food, which is, we had to position ourself uniquely in the market, certainly relative to perceived competition. I intentionally use the word perceived competition. So if I were to say we're a design agency alone, we could be lumped in a bucket with marketing agencies and things like that, and that isn't what we do. And if I had to go very heavy on the product side, we help you with your digital product. We get confused with dev firms or engineering firms.

Mike Reynolds (00:05:46): A digital product to us is a website and app or a SaaS software. And we'll do the design of all those, but what kind of makes us unique is we're not painters. We do the strategy that precedes the design so that, yeah, it's going to be well-designed, but it's actually going to work for your business goal. For the P3 website, and Rob knows this process, it's not just that it looks good. It's going to look right. It's going to use your visual identity, but it's got to have the right flow, words, positioning, visual dynamics, brand, and that's going to make the site serve the purpose you want it to serve. It could be a credibility site. It could be lead gen. It could be to transact. It could be for content. And so, we get at the heart of what you're trying to go build, and then design is an element of it.

Rob Collie (00:06:23): It's always that blend, right? In our business, it's like, you need the technical skills to wrangle data, but you also need that human plane. Sometimes, you call them soft skills, but you need to understand what the business goals are. You understand what their questions are, what their ultimate goals are. You're not just working with data. You're working with people and people's ambitions and people's missions, and the data and the tech is a tool for that.

Rob Collie (00:06:43): And it's really hard to disconnect them, farm them out to two different agencies or two different people. You're just not going to get to the same sort of result as you will get when you're able to juggle them simultaneously, and I saw that. As the primary representative of P3, I saw that every day that we work together. Sometimes, there were these ideas that would only spring up because people were aware of both simultaneously. You could never have sequenced design and strategy separately. They needed to happen at the same time. That's hard to do.

Mike Reynolds (00:07:09): I agree.

Thomas LaRock (00:07:10): I want to make a bad joke.

Rob Collie (00:07:11): Sure. Bring it.

Thomas LaRock (00:07:12): If somebody's looking for help with their digital transformation, is this something that your company would help them with?

Mike Reynolds (00:07:19): It's a great question. The answer is no. I'll definitely explain why. It's something we get asked because we're in the digital space. Companies that are maybe analog or trying to prioritize a digital play, I would put them in the category of, well, they're probably worried about digital transformation. I've got to transform my analog business to now start thinking digitally. They're too soon for us. They're probably looking for change management. They're looking for a precedent or inspiration or a candidate looking for consulting.

Mike Reynolds (00:07:44): Post-digital transformation, should that company now be all in, bought into digital, and have prioritized and budgeted to back an idea, we're the ones you call. So should you have a digital priority... So it's almost like, to use us, you're already transformed, to be blunt, and now you've got a budgeted digital priority and maybe even an idea or a business need and you don't know where to start. You start with strategy and design. You don't go right to code. We don't pour concrete and put up frames for a house before actually thinking through what's the goal and what's the feature set and what's the design. So that's a very similar pattern to us.

Mike Reynolds (00:08:16): But even in our own position, we've tried to be very transparent that we don't do that because when I say digital, certainly the market for digital transformation is large, especially in the last years. But having gone through that process mentally and philosophically is a prerequisite to anyone really finding value in what we're going to do.

Rob Collie (00:08:33): While we're on the topic, let me confess too. I very frequently find myself in a spot that... We can call it naivete on my part. We can also call it an honesty. I'm not really sure. We could position it different ways. I could go to Innovatemap and have my naivete rebranded, positioned as a cleanliness and honesty. But honestly, I don't think it's really either. It's just a factual thing.

Rob Collie (00:08:53): I hear terms like digital transformation and I just go, "All right. Well, what does that even really mean?" Mike, you just said that's not something that your company does, but we're going to ask you. What does it even really mean to go through a digital transformation? I think I'd really like to hear from someone who doesn't do it what it actually is.

Mike Reynolds (00:09:09): Well, I will tell you this. Some of my confidence that we don't do it comes from we tried and found it was not a sweet spot. I'll be honest. So we're in our ninth year as a firm. I originate from the SaaS scene, so I was starting to see the value of just getting the digital channels, whether it'd be marketing the digital product, if you got a software. All these things really being a way to scale experiences with your company.

Mike Reynolds (00:09:32): People who had the appetite in the early days for us to doing this well were really primarily tech companies. They spoke the speak, right? They knew what UX was. They obviously have a digital product initiative because it's what their company does. So about year four of our company, non-tech companies, think of a bank, think of a restaurant, think of a manufacturing company, started saying, "Hey, we got to start thinking about digital," and they were calling us. Certainly in the local Indiana area, we had a reputation as being the digital experts. We didn't gain that reputation by servicing these non-digital, non-tech companies, but we had that reputation. They think digital, we were getting the phone call.

Mike Reynolds (00:10:06): So we definitely tried to, at the time, contemplate and experiment with service offerings for them, and it's through those lumps... And by the way, we had successes too, but it's through those that we realized the profile that was a nice sweet spot for us, and it wasn't really the top of funnel of digital transformation. Now that I gave you that background, I'll kind of explain what I think it means. Digital transformation is really embracing a philosophy that a digital play has a place in your business, and it can be to either complement your core business, transform your business, or differentiate your business.

Mike Reynolds (00:10:39): So for example, banks weren't very digital or didn't have digital components, but if you're a bank and you don't have an unbelievable online banking experience and mobile app that's very feature-rich integrated with Venmo and can take pictures of your check, I don't know how you're competing. So I would never call a bank a tech company, but I would say some of the more winning or cutting-edge banks have probably embraced digital transformation to the point that they might even have winning digital complements to their core business. That's a really good example.

Mike Reynolds (00:11:08): And so, there's tons of industries that haven't yet, in my opinion, fully transformed. Most of the ones that I've seen that haven't fully transformed yet are really more B2B. If you are touching a consumer, think of like media and entertainment... Netflix, right? Media entertainment, movie theaters, retail. Anything that touched consumer got transformed 10, 15 years ago. Retail is a great example. If a brick-and-mortar store hadn't figured out its digital play, which is to have a complementary e-commerce component, they're probably screwed unless they have just local champions in the community, but that's it.

Mike Reynolds (00:11:38): I used to describe digital and tech as a vertical. You got verticals. You got automotive, retail, media entertainment, agriculture, banking, and tech, and tech companies' spin in that. I no longer think of tech as a vertical. I think it's a horizontal. I think every vertical has a technology or digital component or digital play to it. Some have figured it out like retail. Some, it hasn't happened to them yet. And if you took a slice across vertical industries, you could kind of see that many of them are ripe for digital transformation, agriculture, heavy machinery. They're probably thinking IoT first or data first that they haven't gotten to digital.

Rob Collie (00:12:12): I'd like to circle back at some point to why digital transformation isn't a great fit. At the same time... I think that's also a little bit too soon because we haven't talked enough about what your actual fit is. So what's sort of the prototypical Innovatemap client? For instance, us, we are B2B. We're a consulting firm. I wouldn't expect us to be necessarily like some huge outlier for you, but also not the center of mass for you either.

Mike Reynolds (00:12:36): Yeah. I would say, someone who identifies as a tech company, whether it'd be a tech product or a tech service, is already landing you in a sweet spot for us because you're speaking the same language as us, and we don't have a hurdle to even get there. So I'll just state, we love tech companies, companies that identify themselves a tech company. Yeah.

Mike Reynolds (00:12:52): If I were to flip to what do we offer, we really have two sides to the house in terms of the competencies and superpowers of the agency. We have a brand and a product marketing team that is going to make sure your business or product resonates with its buyers. We're going to brand visual identity, positioning, words, messaging. We can even take it as far as demos and content to convey your business value or your product's value. That side of the house, brand and product marketing, making sure that your product or service resonates with its buyer.

Mike Reynolds (00:13:20): Now, the other side of our house is our product management, UX team, and they're going to make sure that your product resonates with its user. So an ideal profile is really a tech company that needs both. So picture a SaaS software company. We're going to do all of the UX and definition and design of the SaaS product, and then we're going to be very well-equipped to be the ones who talk about it to the world and position and package and brand it so that that company's marketing and sales team can do what they do. We will do the brand and product marketing and the product management, UX for their entire core of their business.

Mike Reynolds (00:13:54): If I take someone like P3, it may be opportunistic for us to help with some of the design of some of your digital products, but really you guys hired us more for the brand and product marketing side. And a real sweet spot we have there is, because our group had originated from the technology space ourselves, we can comprehend very technical products, and we get hired by tech services companies that are really typically tech-heavy in terms of the caliber that they're either analytics, data, IoT, cybersecurity.

Mike Reynolds (00:14:21): And I'm going to say this as a compliment to them: They geek out on the tech to a fault, where they don't speak English to the buyer. And so, a lot of times, we'll come in and they'll be like, "Tell us why someone should buy it," and they just want to geek out on the science. So proud of it, as they should be, but that's not pain or gain to the eventual end buyer. And so, sometimes we'll come in, and to do our job well, we have got to be sharp enough to comprehend the caliber of the tech so that we can then be a translation layer of maybe how to explain it to the buyer or the market.

Mike Reynolds (00:14:50): And I think, Rob, seeing our team, you got to be sharp to be part of our team because we get hired to solve those problems. We don't get hired to rebrand a bakery. You could probably hire a brand firm, a marketing firm. We do live in the tech space.

Rob Collie (00:15:02): Yeah, indeed. The separation between making the product work for the buyer and making the product work for the user, that was a lightning bolt moment when that finally dawned on me in my Microsoft career that those weren't the same thing.

Mike Reynolds (00:15:14): Oh yeah. Well, I'll tell you, the biggest breakthrough we have is there's B2B and B2C, but probably a third of the market is B2B2C. So let me give you an example real quick, edtech. Right? So we have a lot of edtech, and they're selling to the schools a technology that the students are using. So that's a very interesting positioning challenge. So the brand has to be, in many cases... Let's just say you're selling colleges an app that all students would use. The UX has got to be modern, relevant, and friendly to a college student. But the go-to-market, the website, the sales deck has to be presentable enough and credible enough that the university will approve. So it can't be a consumer brand.

Mike Reynolds (00:15:55): So even right there, that positioning challenge, there's two audiences. And I'll be very honest, you might see two distinct positionings based on the personas. Hey, the words to describe this product in the sales deck is very different than the words that describe the product in the App Store next to the screenshots that convince the user to go download it, or educate or orientate the user on the download. It's not the same words. And what's funny is, a lot of companies will just split the difference and just talk inward-out. It's too much tech speak. It's too much product speak. It's not enough buyer-user speak. That's what we'll come in and help with.

Mike Reynolds (00:16:28): But I did want to just say I wasn't trying to pile on Rob when you're saying it was an eye-opener to you, but we will help some companies where it is game-changing because not only did they see the user and the buyer different, they didn't even see that they might be two different audiences.

Rob Collie (00:16:39): I mean, I would say that of all the revelations in my life... And it was a slow-dawning revelation but a punctuated equilibrium. There were lightning bolts, but it was still like, over time, that change, that stretching of my brain is probably the one that I value the most in my whole career. I think we've even talked about it and linked to it before in this show, but one of the great examples of this, from pop culture, is the Mad Men episode with the carousel projector that the engineers are calling the Wheel. "Emphasize the wheel! Wheel it, wheel it!" It's all about the tech. Don turns it into something completely different. We'll link that scene again here for those who haven't seen it before.

Rob Collie (00:17:15): But just amazing change, right? And you can think about it one way or the other. You can be good at one and bad at the other. When we learned, for instance... I learned from a mentor of mine, that if there were two features we could put into the product, into Excel, for instance, of equivalent value to the user, and we couldn't really differentiate between them. We had to choose one. We couldn't build them both. We didn't have the budget to build both. One of the tiebreakers we could use to determine which one to build was, which one of these lends itself better to a screenshot that you can put on the back of a box, for instance, that gets people's imagination going?

Rob Collie (00:17:47): And again, in this vacuum, frictionless world where these two features were of equal long-term usefulness to the user, break the tie in favor of the buyer. Principles like that, we could actually do quite a bit with even such a simple, simple little rule.

Mike Reynolds (00:18:01): You know what's funny, Rob? This is even part of our company tagline. If you were to dive to the depths of engineering and agile, they'll say good product is valuable, usable, and feasible. So the feasible is really inserting the technical feasibility. What's absent in that from my view is the way that we describe our value. So feasibility and quality and stability and integrability, that's the engineers. In my opinion, I said, "That makes a great product. That's table stakes. That's got to work, but we'll describe a better product is valuable, usable, and marketable." And that marketability, I feel like, is a key thing that's lost. It's got to fricking sell.

Mike Reynolds (00:18:34): And if you can get value, it solves the problem I intended to solve, usable, I get it, I understand I don't have to go to training or click help, and it sells, it resonates to me, it's something I want to transact, you're going to have a better product. And that's kind of a little bit of what we... I don't want to say preach, but that's certainly philosophy we stand by. A great product's well-built, but a better product is marketable, valuable, and usable. And those are the three things that we're going to help with.

Rob Collie (00:18:56): This might not be the canonical example of this principle, but at the same time, it's in the zone. At the Innovatemap offices, what was the reaction to the Wordle craze?

Mike Reynolds (00:19:05): Oh.

Rob Collie (00:19:07): It seems like a masterclass in something, right? It's crazy, right?

Mike Reynolds (00:19:12): Yeah. For starters, it consumed us. How I found out about it was at work. Right? It has actually become a daily ritual where it's been done by everybody in the company within the first 30 minutes of their morning, or at least certainly within the first 30 minutes of being here. I'll tell you, because we have a lot of positioning and messaging experts. We got a lot of word experts here, Rob. I'm always fourth, fifth, or sixth guess. We get people getting the second or third. I just throw that out there.

Mike Reynolds (00:19:35): I have not gotten it many times. I think I'm the only person in the office that has not gotten it. They always get it. But anyway, the funny comment to it is, yeah, the craze definitely took over here. I'm called a little daily delighter. How about you guys?

Rob Collie (00:19:47): I mean, I think you've probably heard the stories. We don't have a physical office, so it's not as much of a group ritual. But at home, my wife and I, we wake up, we go downstairs, in some order, we pour the coffee, we feed the cats, we unload the dishwasher from the previous night, and then we sit down and we Wordle.

Mike Reynolds (00:20:02): That's great. I'm going to date myself. 25 years ago, the water cooler conversation was the Seinfeld episode, but the water cooler conversation, absolutely, in offices that are back is Wordle.

Rob Collie (00:20:12): So I'm sure you've heard the story that Hotmail existed for a while but wasn't very popular and it didn't have much of a footprint. And then one day, they were just sitting around brainstorming about, "How can we get more people to sign up?" And they're like, "I don't know. We're free. People really can't complain. Let's just put a link in the signature of every email saying, 'Want your own free email? Click here.'" And suddenly, boom. In a matter of months, they were just a massive thing and were being courted by and purchased by Microsoft and all of that.

Rob Collie (00:20:41): And by the way, dirty little secret, turned out that the engineering wasn't very strong. When Microsoft bought them, they were kind of like, "Oh, all right." To me, the thing about Wordle, it's a well-designed game. It's good for the user, but those damn little Tetris-y looking colored diagrams that you share, that's the Hotmail equivalent of having the link in the signature. That game might not be the most fun word game that's out there today, but that little sharing image, it was so attractive and mysterious at the same time. You saw it on Facebook over and over again. I ignored it for a couple of weeks, all these Wordle diagrams showing up in my social media feed.

Rob Collie (00:21:26): And then finally, I'm like, "Oh, okay. I'm in." I don't think I've ever shared one. I didn't get to discover how good the game was without that marketable virality of just those colored squares. That's the thing I was specifically wondering if there's been any conversation about that at your office.

Mike Reynolds (00:21:41): They may have stumbled into it, but I'll tell you, if they're viewing the lens the way I just described it, you think of their product team or the guy who made it if they didn't have a product team. It's very valuable, very usable. I mean, the green and the yellow. I don't know if it was intentional. They have a feature that is coded that definitely sells. It definitely creates virality. A tool like that certainly could have lived on word of mouth alone. But it's a great example, certainly in my world, where you can digitize something like marketing and sales with a feature. It's very wild.

Mike Reynolds (00:22:12): I don't know if we studied that one in particular. We study viral bursts of companies all the time just to see what took off and what hack did they either invent or lean into or leverage. That's definitely one.

Rob Collie (00:22:25): So I'm wondering, if we at P3 can develop some sort of two-dimensional grid of colored squares that we publish about what we did with this particular client today, it's just some completely abstract... Right? And people go, "Ooh, I want one of those." That's what it was, right? In the end, is that I wanted to know what was behind those squares.

Mike Reynolds (00:22:46): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:22:46): It was the mystery of what was behind the green, the gray, and the yellow squares that got me to try it. Earlier, you said B2B2C. It rolls off the tongue. I've only heard that a few times. Have you ever, even in like a joking situation, gotten four levels deep with those abbreviations? Have you ever gone B2B2B2C or whatever? Have you ever heard it go four-deep?

Mike Reynolds (00:23:10): Oh yeah. There's no way it hasn't. There's no way I'm going to claim I've never done that. Well, one, it's just fun to say too.

Rob Collie (00:23:16): Yeah, it is. We're all old here, right? So we all remember the robot on Buck Rogers. B2B2B2B2B2C.

Mike Reynolds (00:23:25): It's great.

Rob Collie (00:23:26): So back to that branding and design split, which is not really a split. They obviously have to interplay. And you're right, we've been mostly a branding. Certainly, there's a lot of design in that, but not the UX. Our business is heavily digital behind the scenes, like our back office. But the front office, our actual touchpoint with customers, the way we operate, is really, it's a consulting process. It's normal communication channels and things like that. We don't have a product. There's nothing about us to really UX.

Rob Collie (00:23:52): Certainly, I'm familiar with what UX looks like. That's a prior life for me and still an occasional, something I dabble in. But I think there was something else when we were first starting to work together. One of the questions that you all had for me, for us, was, "Do you want to lean into our market research capabilities?" And we did not because we kind of already knew a lot about that. We weren't a clean-slate startup. Do you still do that kind of stuff for people as well?

Mike Reynolds (00:24:15): Yeah, we do. So we don't... In the way that we talk about our offerings, research is almost part of our process, and we have a variety of research. So if we're doing brand and product marketing, brand and positioning, we can do buyer research and market research. If we're doing features and UX, we will do user research, maybe even competitive research. And so, we have a complete research competency. We've got focused pockets in our business, but it's a horizontal competency across all of our solution sets.

Mike Reynolds (00:24:44): When companies either experience that from us or are aware that we do it, we will get hired on occasion to do exclusively a research project. But usually, we get hired for other outcomes like, "Help me resonate with my buyer," or "I need my product design," and we are the one saying, "We are going to do research because that's just how this is going to get done well." And so, it is definitely a core competency and something we do. Yes, still do that for sure. It's almost ingrained in our methodology.

Rob Collie (00:25:10): This is a data podcast. I know that nothing's ever just purely numerical. Are there any numerical methods at all sort of like behind the scenes? Because again, this is not an aspect of your business that I've witnessed. What does that look like? Do you ever find yourselves compiling data?

Mike Reynolds (00:25:24): We intersect with data often. We're never responsible for that, but I'd say a third of our software clients have a strong data component to it. And then we got a lot of clients that are data-heavy in their strategy, so it's a professional service. It's a competency that we have to comprehend and explain. So we are interacting with the word and the expertise all the time. We're never responsible for it, but we get as close to it to do what we've been hired to do.

Mike Reynolds (00:25:50): Half the software plays that we get hired to do UX for have data scientists. They certainly have an analytics module. They certainly have a homepage with dashboards, and we've got to not just design those elegantly, but design those to be valuable to the user. So they might have all this data. We're the ones maybe winding it or rightsizing it to the user's workflow or use case. We're coming at it from the other end. We're going to come at it from the value or the user end, and then we got to meet the data in the middle.

Mike Reynolds (00:26:17): Yeah. We're in those conversations quite often. I mean, it could be as simple as, "Hey, we just did user research and it said that these are the three things people want to accomplish or see when they log in. How feasible is that to produce?" We get in data conversations of like, "That's good to know because we would twist, manipulate, and calculate." We get in those conversations quite a bit. I would say that we're on the utility and the visualization end of it.

Rob Collie (00:26:36): Yeah. Visualization. So there's a couple of directions we can go from here. Whenever you have the opportunity to branch the conversation in two different directions at the same time, you got to do it. Right? That's a must. So let's talk about the visualization thing. But first, in the course of running a business or doing something behind the scenes that ultimately needs to eventually create a chart that you would show for a client but there's a data component to it, a company your size, you've got to have an Excel guru or two.

Mike Reynolds (00:26:59): Yes. I'm in Excel every day. Just to unpack our team, we're a team of 38. I would say two-thirds of our team, they're experts that we put in front of a client. But a third of our team is sales, marketing, biz ops, leadership. They're all very process-minded, right? To even run this business at 38 people versus at 20 people, we've had to rely on data versus word of mouth. We've had to rely on insights versus intuition. Manual things don't scale. So if I answer that looking through the lens of how we run the business and the competencies like sales and marketing and just general biz ops, all day long.

Rob Collie (00:27:33): If there was going to be some sort of intramural competition on the Indianapolis scene where you had to send your Excel champion to compete in the Battle of the Network Stars, but in the Excel event, do you know who it would be? I mean, there's that old Far Side cartoon where they put forward their champion thumb wrestler and it's this person with a thumb that's bigger than their head. Who's that person for Excel for you? You don't have to name them, but do you know who they are?

Mike Reynolds (00:27:54): I have a different answer. Between the people who are most analytic or process-minded, it may not be Excel that the tool they're using. It may be, they're in the metadata and analytics of our CRM all day. So it isn't always Excel. I would say, different people come to mind when I say who's the most analytical thinking and in that all day versus who's using Excel and the Excel whiz. I actually would have a different answer.

Rob Collie (00:28:16): Interesting. I've been in your office numerous times and I'm always there as a client. I'm in a different mindset. But if I was there just sort of like this random stranger and you allowed me to just kind of like walk around for a while, a different thing would happen. I would deploy my sensor nets and I would be walking around. I'd be looking for this person. And within about 90 minutes tops, I'd come back. I'd tell you who this person is.

Mike Reynolds (00:28:35): That's great.

Rob Collie (00:28:36): I realized that most offices I go into like that, that's what I do. I go walking around looking for, quote, unquote, "my people". I've never done that in your office. I'm just going to come stealth ninja around for a day at some point.

Mike Reynolds (00:28:46): Give yourself more than 90 minutes because you got to let people get the Wordle off their screen.

Rob Collie (00:28:50): That's right. I'll arrive after the Wordle. Not even an hour, right? Your people don't take more than five minutes.

Mike Reynolds (00:28:55): No, that's true. That's true.

Rob Collie (00:28:57): Right. So Innovatemap, founded nine years ago. Hey, coincidentally, P3, also founded nine years ago. We're of a similar age in many ways. What were you doing before that? What's the origin story of Mike Reynolds?

Mike Reynolds (00:29:08): Yeah. So I was head of product for a marketing software company. I was in my third year, post-acquisition. I had come to Indianapolis for a startup software company called Aprimo in year 2000, joined in its early stage, and honestly joined as a young consultant. I had worked... I was in consultancy prior to that, but it is at that product company that I found my calling to be product. They don't have that major in college back 25 years ago. That's where I was like, "What is that role?" Well, those are the guys that are telling the engineers what to build and thinking through what's the right product, and I'm like, "I want to do that."

Mike Reynolds (00:29:39): And so, I went up the ranks. One of the co-founders, he was a product visionary. He was my mentor. And then just through the years, I ended up as we grew, leading product. 2011, the company was acquired. At that time, we were 350 people in size, just to give you a magnitude of the scale of growth we had. Well, the acquiring company was Teradata. This is not a secret. They were 12,000 people. So in those three years, post-acquisition, I ended up leading product for a couple of the applications in the business, ironically many of them data applications.

Mike Reynolds (00:30:06): But I give you that background to just say I had executive roles overseeing product for a variety of product lines. And having led product, I was a believer in its value, but I also had groomed and build out emerging product competencies like UX, like product marketing, research, and so forth. So what really started the Innovatemap idea is, when I knew my next chapter was to begin... I was the product guy. I was the idea guy. I had a software idea every week. So everyone kind of thought I would start a software company, and I didn't.

Mike Reynolds (00:30:32): One of the reasons I didn't is, I always got hung up on the fact that I was such a believer in doing the product side well that I couldn't imagine starting a software company without absolute excellence, like A-caliber product team. There's some quandaries in the early tech seed stage, which is, you got to build and sell it first. If you raise any funds, engineers, you got to have that first. But I really believe that the differentiator is if you did product well, but you just can't W-2 that. It makes no sense to do that.

Mike Reynolds (00:31:00): So the reason I didn't start a product software company, honestly, I came to the conclusions because a firm like Innovatemap didn't exist. And so, the vision that kind of overwhelmed me is, I built the firm I wish was available to me if I ran a tech company, which was an agency... An agency model was key because it was not a consultancy. It's not billable hour. It's not rotating through bodies. I needed expertise. So kind of like a fractional product team if you will.

Mike Reynolds (00:31:23): I needed access to the full breadth of excellence, research, product strategy, product management, UX, product marketing, positioning, all that. And that was kind of the vision of the firm. Vision of firm was to be a fractional product team very much focused in the strategy and design side and to support the tech companies. Now, I will admit, the original origin was, I had this appetite and desire to get back to the startup scene, but as I was now a business owner for the first time, you can only get so much money in client revenue from early-stage startups.

Mike Reynolds (00:31:54): Our sweet spot was actually helping existing tech companies that really just needed a renovation or a jolt in product excellence. And to this day, those are the audiences we serve. So probably a third of our client base is early-stage tech startup or the idea, the founders come in to help us bring to life what's maybe in their head through product screens and through the preliminary positioning and their first website and stuff like that.

Mike Reynolds (00:32:15): But the majority of our clients, the other 70%, is we're getting hired by an existing tech product or service to help them do what we do very well, whether it'd be a, "Renovate my UX, adoption is poor," or "Help us sell, equipping my sales and marketing team with better words and better digital strategies." It's funny, I went into a professional service, but I solved...

Mike Reynolds (00:32:33): What kind of overwhelmed me was the idea of, "Hey, I'm going to do what I know how to do, and I'm going to do it for those who I believe need it most." You don't pick a profession that is a professional service if you also don't have this DNA that you want to help and serve. And so, that... I did always enjoy working with people. Maybe that rooted back in my consultancy days, maybe rooted in my personality, but I like the variety versus just running product at one software company for nine years. I've actually worked with over 250 tech companies and love it.

Rob Collie (00:32:59): Yeah. When you develop a certain, a particular set of skills, like the Liam Neeson,-

Mike Reynolds (00:33:04): Yeah, Liam Neeson.

Rob Collie (00:33:05): ... sometimes you find that particular set of skills can be very well-utilized in a single organization. Other times though, you feel underutilized. And whether economically or just even emotionally, that feeling of underutilization, you just don't sit tight. It's the story of Power BI expertise for sure, our consultants. There's this commonality in their story is that they got good at it someplace, but that someplace did not fully utilize what they were capable of. And so, they go looking for a place where they get fractional exposure to a much larger cross section of the business world, which is what we do.

Rob Collie (00:33:38): There are some commonalities in what you were saying and why I ended up starting this company. I was a software person. The term head of product hadn't found its way into Microsoft's lexicon at the time that I left Microsoft, but that was the career path that I was absolutely on at Microsoft. And so, I think a lot of people would've expected me to go and start a software firm. Software startup would've been a natural guess, is what I've done next. Instead, I find myself in professional services.

Rob Collie (00:34:02): And I think I just didn't have a killer software idea, but I had a killer idea for what was missing in the world. I loved how, at the very beginning, you said your perceived competition. I like that because we have perceived competition as well, but we really don't have anyone really that's actually doing exactly what we do. And so, we needed something completely different in the world, and that was clear to me, and I couldn't get that out of my head. Even if there had been other ideas, other things I could have ended up doing, I couldn't see them through. They were eclipsed by the magnitude of this idea. Yeah, I had to do it. How did you name it Innovatemap?

Mike Reynolds (00:34:36): I don't get that question very often. So this is back in 2013. At the time, our brand new team will name companies. So I say this with confidence. There's always company naming conventions and trends. Well, at the time, nine years ago, taking two words and shoving them together was hot, so I'll just say that. Facebook is first piece of digital transformation, just meshed two words here. That was certainly trendy back then.

Mike Reynolds (00:34:58): A very key component was, I knew one of the words was some derivation of the word innovation, which I know is a little bit overused now, but it was very important because I'll just tell you, we're not painters. We really are best suited for really hard projects and we really bring a real fresh thinking, and it was something that even culturally for team members I wanted to aspire to. So innovation, and then I really was looking for some metaphorical to help and we would take you in the right direction, so like navigator, map, guide. Just playing around that stuff. And those two very core feelings I wanted to be part of the brand.

Mike Reynolds (00:35:30): Once I got that, I went to what domains were available. And so, we eventually came to Innovatemap. That's the origin of the name. All the properties were available. And then once you're past that hurdle, the name, now you're onto brand, and brand is the opinion that someone has about your business. So once the name was locked down, we've spent nine years building the brand. Right? And the brand is not the name, and you could call yourself Squirrel or Teacup. You see a lot of wacky names because I think a real big trend right now is, the market is caught up to realize that the name is just a name. It's what you make of it.

Mike Reynolds (00:36:00): There are certainly some industries that it shouldn't be mysterious and a quirky name wouldn't work. It works well in a consumer brand, a lot of B2B brands. You kind of want to demystify that and kind of let a little bit of what you do come across in the name, and we advise clients as such. But yeah, that's kind of the story behind that. I really wanted to guide and help as well as innovation to be a very key component of how people thought of us.

Rob Collie (00:36:20): The availability of domains is such an underrated component in naming anything. I think all the silly names that we've got for companies these days are at least in part driven by the fact that if it's a silly name, it isn't camped.

Mike Reynolds (00:36:34): The one that's really popular, I probably applaud half of the instances, not all of them for sure, is the butchered misspellings of names just to get the domain. It's funny. Back when I started this, getting the dot-com was really important to me. That's less important now. No one hand-types in URLs. They go to Google, search it, and you want it to come up. So it isn't so much for that reason, the dot-com, but it's the email suffix, it's how people are going to see you when you send emails, the social handles, is it available on LinkedIn, is it available on Twitter? That stuff is what matters. I would almost weigh that equal footing as the dot-com these days. There's a lot of other comparable or acceptable suffixes at this point, but back nine years ago, that was not the case.

Rob Collie (00:37:12): Mike and I do talk on the phone periodically. Have I ever told you, Mike, about my crown jewel of URL that I found and camped, despite being primarily on the victim end of URL camping? All kinds of names for things that is like, "Oh, come on." Right? It's unbelievable. Every two-word combination in the English language seems to have been registered.

Rob Collie (00:37:30): But years ago, researching what PowerPivotPro was going to become in the future, given that people were identifying us as P3 informally. In fact, we even had a P3 icon when we were still PowerPivotPro. In the course of researching, I found a URL that was unguarded. You spell it out. The word three, the letter P, dot IO. We owned Threepio.

Mike Reynolds (00:37:49): Oh, wow.

Thomas LaRock (00:37:49): Why didn't you do anything with that? What the...

Rob Collie (00:37:53): Someday. Someday. I'm going to go back to Innovatemap and say, "Okay. It's time to launch Threepio." The subtitle is, "Translating the human experience."

Thomas LaRock (00:38:00): You know that's going to get shut down by Lucas or Disney at this point in about five years.

Rob Collie (00:38:05): I don't know. I don't know. I think the rules about this kind of stuff have changed quite a bit in the last two decades. You can't sue everybody on the internet that makes a meme about Star Wars. There's been so much fair use dilution. I did look. I don't think Threepio is actually a held trademark of Lucasfilm. C-3PO is, but the word Threepio is not.

Mike Reynolds (00:38:25): Yeah, it definitely was a nickname.

Rob Collie (00:38:27): Yeah. So it's an homage, Tom.

Thomas LaRock (00:38:30): I think, in your business plan, you should have an idea of like, "Well, when Disney comes, what's the number they have to bring me to give this up?"

Mike Reynolds (00:38:38): Yeah. By the way, I can see the company presentation right now. He's given the trajectory of the company. And then all of a sudden, 2026, there's this inflection of revenue, and the team's like, "Well, what is that? What is that?" Oh, that's when I'm selling Threepio.

Rob Collie (00:38:50): And then it goes to zero immediately thereafter. Right? This is the business plan.

Mike Reynolds (00:38:54): Then the lawsuits happen.

Rob Collie (00:38:55): Yeah. Agitate, agitate, agitate, stop.

Thomas LaRock (00:38:58): No, seriously. You got to do something with that.

Rob Collie (00:39:01): Oh, I've even mentioned it to Mike's team. It is. It would be like a personal passion project as well.

Thomas LaRock (00:39:07): That's awesome.

Mike Reynolds (00:39:08): I'd get a booth at a Star Wars convention, and the only thing in the booth is, "Threepio.com for sale," and just let that audience just imagine what would be... Let them imagine what they can make. You might have a fan page. You might have content. You might have a business.

Rob Collie (00:39:25): Do you remember the old Jack in the Box commercial where there's this teenager sitting at some food services convention? He's sitting at this booth. He's got a booth, but he hasn't bothered to decorate it at all. The Jack in the Box mascot is walking by and says, "So you're a..." And he's looking at this paper sign that's been scrawled. "You're a chicken nugget consultant?" And this stoner kid is like, "Yup." "And the $50,000 tasting fee is?" And the kid goes, "Per nugget."

Mike Reynolds (00:39:51): That's great.

Rob Collie (00:39:56): And Jack goes, "Any takers?" And the kid goes, "Only need one." That's the scene that I imagine at the Star Wars convention. We're the Threepio web services domain consultant. "What do you do?" Well, we just sell the domain. Just need one taker.

Thomas LaRock (00:40:13): See, I think Threepio would be great for some type of analytics service, but it's not that you guys have or sell.

Rob Collie (00:40:19): The real bonding that Mike and I have done was because of COVID. Until that point, I was just a client, didn't really talk to Mike very much, worked with his team a lot, and then along comes COVID. Now, suddenly, Mike is not just the founder of this firm that I find delightful. He's also a fellow entrepreneur in Indianapolis who's facing at the same potential... Sort of looking at this meteor, like me, going, "Is this going to make landfall? How bad is this going to be?"

Rob Collie (00:40:46): There were some really terrifying months at the beginning of 2020. Still ended up being really a terrible crisis, and many businesses, many, many, many businesses did wink out of existence as a result of COVID. It had nothing to do with your merit as a company or your value to humanity. It had everything to do with what your business model happened to look like and whether it was subject to shutdown, or whether it's serviced an industry that was subject to shutdown. It's just random lottery where there were only losers. Mike and I found ourselves on the phone like, "Okay. What are you seeing?" I remember calling you, Mike, at a point in time when I think most people weren't taking it very seriously yet.

Mike Reynolds (00:41:24): Yeah. I mean, it was a bonding moment in our friendship. I felt like you and I were in the same boat, and not only that we were seeing the patterns of something come in. A lot of our clients are SaaS CEOs, but they're well-funded. So they raised seven million and their advice from their board is just, "Don't hire anymore and slow down the burn," but they weren't profiting anyway. Right? So when this stuff was going down, they were friends, but they did not have the same things on their mind that I had, and I found myself gravitating to others like me.

Mike Reynolds (00:41:51): Rob and I at the time were in very similarly sized agencies, both professional services. I respect the heck how Rob thinks. And what was the weirdest about that time being an owner or CEO was, we thrive ourselves on pattern recognition and seeing the future for the benefit of the company, but you didn't know what it would be. Heck, I didn't long for stable footing. I longed for even just sand or ice. I just had no idea where the next step would be. What I found at least therapeutically was, commiserating with other like-minded CEOs, and in Rob's instance, someone who's running a very similar business was where I got my best information, and I would share with Rob what I had heard and you'd share what you heard.

Mike Reynolds (00:42:26): And I found that I made a lot of the adaptation decisions for my firm through those very meaningful conversations that I was having with CEO peers. Someone said this to me. This is... I didn't originate this. Every company went into three categories. 25% of them were absolutely unaffected, even positively affected by COVID, shipping or make toilet paper. I don't know. There were companies that thrived and they were, I'll just be honest, awful to talk to because you come with all this concern and worry and they'd be like, "Really? Business is great. I don't even know what you're talking about." And they offered no value.

Mike Reynolds (00:42:57): So anyway, 25% were thriving. 25% were dead on arrival. Absolutely toast. And there was this 50% in between that was affected, and they were, over the course of the next 12, 18 months, going to fall in either of the two extremes. They were either going to thrive or they were going to be screwed. And that was all then based on how they figured out how to run their business and adapt, in my opinion, the quality of their leadership and team. I'll just be very honest. You can't adapt a whole organization with just one person.

Mike Reynolds (00:43:24): And so, I was hell-bent on, what is our play? How is Innovatemap going to adapt? Because I've got to figure out a way to not just survive, but put us in the thrive camp. That just consumed me daily. And as best as I could get information at the time, and I thought my most valuable information was through peer conversations with other CEOs, go and do the same thing. Yeah. Very important.

Rob Collie (00:43:43): I had been to the Chicken Little rodeo before as sort of like the harbinger of doom. I'd had a few cuts at that apple in previous years with different things, like in the 2008 financial crisis and all that kind of stuff. Enough that I'd become calibrated. I wasn't going to just jump to, "Oh, this is going to be awful." I'd become a lot less emotional about it. But when I was looking at COVID coming, like in January, February of 2020, what I was seeing was just a math problem. This is coming ashore, and it's coming ashore... It's inevitable.

Rob Collie (00:44:12): It was actually reaching the point where I had to come up with a more fanciful theory as to why it wouldn't than why it would, and that's when I actually developed the confidence because, again, I've been burned on in my younger years predicting crises that never really... So I'm like, "Okay. I'm going to go do it again, but this time I feel a little better about it. It's a little more certain." Did Kristin and Meghan tell you about my all-time prediction?

Rob Collie (00:44:33): I had a meeting with members of Mike's team, the people who were working most closely with us rebranding our website, and the team that ultimately came up with the Mullet Man. I had an in-person meeting and I had been walking around already sort of like confidently telling people like, "Yeah, this is going to be a really big deal. This is going to wreck a lot of stuff," and people are sort of like jumping back and looking at me like, "Really?" There's a lot of, "Tomorrow's going to be like today." That's the only safe human prediction you've got. And Kristin was going to a wedding in Texas that weekend. So I was meeting with them on a Wednesday and she's getting on an airplane to go to Texas on a Thursday or something like that.

Rob Collie (00:45:04): I looked at her and Meghan and I said, "Oh, well, last weekend for air travel for a while." They looked at me. We had known each other for a while at that point. So they weren't quite sure what to think. "Maybe he's right. Maybe he's just crazy." She didn't even get to fly back. She had to drive back from Texas. That should have been it. That should have been... I should have just left on a high note. Just walked off into the sunset. Never showed my face again. That was the high point.

Rob Collie (00:45:31): We should have T-shirts, Mike. The Indy CEO, we survived COVID. And again, part of that is effort. Part of that is judgment. But a lot of it is just luck because, again, 25% of businesses were just DOA and that situation, and there was nothing that they could really do about it. So it's like, you got to recognize that there is some luck in all of this. I think, in the end, I would guess that being a digital product agency, COVID has ultimately, long-term boosted your business.

Mike Reynolds (00:45:55): It has. I had a feeling, if we could survive this... Not something I had ever been through as a CEO or business owner before. If we could survive this at a business level, this would be a wake-up call for many companies to prioritize digital and things would be good for us. So 2020 was all about survival and adaptation. And I'll be honest, the biggest adaptation for us was an ability to serve a national market because of remote.

Mike Reynolds (00:46:19): I think people got very comfortable that they didn't need a local service provider, had every meeting in person, and then we actually got very comfortable delivering our experience online. I love in-person. To me, that's definitely an "and" and not an "or". I was just in New York two weeks ago and called on, visited in person and broke bread and drank beer with four of our clients that are in New York. But I'm telling you, pre-2020, we would not have had New York clients.

Mike Reynolds (00:46:42): So for us... And we always knew, at some point in our history, we would think outside of Indy or the Midwest, but we had such an in-person component to what we believed was an imperative to our experience that we just couldn't foresee any way that wasn't boots on the ground, local presence, and that was very costly. And so, this got us to... We're in year nine. COVID was year seven for us. I didn't think it would be like till year 10 to 15 that we'd be servicing clients outside of the Midwest. Indy is 25% of our clients. Midwest is 40. So for us... And I'll just even use numbers on team size, because we entered COVID at '20. That's at year seven of the company. We probably hired three to four a year. We hired 18 last year. So we're now a firm of 38.

Mike Reynolds (00:47:23): So forced us to scale, forced us to respond to a greater market demand, forced us to figure out how to serve clients remotely, opened up the doors to serve the entire national market of tech ideas that need product help. We had hoped that would be the case. It just relied on us navigating and adapting this very well. So I answer that proudly, Rob, because I'm really proud of the team. Long answer to a simple question of did that affect us positively. 2020 was hell. We were not numb to that, the way that we navigated it. And I really mean navigated, the imagery of a ship just stormed, getting their butt kicked, had no clue, survive, adapt, and then we've kind of figured some things out. Kind of happy where we're at now.

Rob Collie (00:48:00): And you know this, but I had exactly the same sort of feeling in those moments of trepidation in February of '20. I had seen multiple times that crises, downturns, whatever, always lead to a higher premium on making better data-informed decisions. The 1999, 2000, 2001 dot-com crash, business intelligence spending was the only IT sector that went up while everything else was falling, and then the same sort of thing happened in the 2008, 2009 crisis. The only two components of tech spend that went up were, again, BI and the second one was cloud. There hadn't been cloud to go up.

Rob Collie (00:48:35): Should we go back to your map metaphor? One of the things I've been using a lot lately is that when things have been stable for a long time, even if you don't have a great data strategy, you just sort of, over time, survival of the fittest manner. You'd essentially... You find grooves in your business that are actually comfortable and at work. You end up developing these maps for your world, even if they weren't the most data-driven. You just sort of like have walked everywhere over time, and certain places worked better than others, so you sort of begin to discover the map via brute force, but then you write it down. You remember it.

Rob Collie (00:49:04): Then when the world changes just overnight, all of those maps that you had, they're no longer valid. You got to throw them out. You've got to go develop a new map and you got to develop it quickly. And this is why our business, we survived, obviously, COVID. We actually grew a little bit during that year. On the other side of it, business is booming because, again, not only did COVID invalidate so many maps, but it just continues. There's a whole new evolving, rapidly shifting normal. But I wanted to plug your map metaphor there. Oh, seriously? More than half of your business is now non-Midwest? That's crazy.

Mike Reynolds (00:49:36): I literally just looked at the report from February. It's consistent with November, December, January. So now I can call it a trend.

Rob Collie (00:49:42): There you go. None. Yeah. Two points!

Mike Reynolds (00:49:46): Two points.

Rob Collie (00:49:49): Okay. So 60% non-Midwest. I know that you now have not the same size or presence, but you do have a physical presence in New York City. Roughly what percentage of your business is with people where you have no physical presence in their city?

Mike Reynolds (00:50:05): I would say that's the majority. We have a physical presence in New York. Think of that more from a talent community and hospitality play, not from a biz dev or revenue play. Eventually, we hope the local investment creates some brand where I would expect a high percentage of clients from their community. But really, I wanted some Northeast representation of the firm for a lot of the in-person, hospitality reasons, and then to be very honest, different town pool out in the Northeast, a lot of B2C expertise in the Midwest, a lot of B2B, that's making the strength of what we can solve problems for stronger. We'll have an Atlanta client and the Innovatemap team that's servicing them might be three people from the Indy headquarters and one person from New York.

Rob Collie (00:50:39): Mm-hmm.

Mike Reynolds (00:50:39): You're getting served by the Innovatemap team, so the clients can be anywhere. Now, that being said, the physical presence we do believe has a community role. So we do events that may drum up some business, but our go-to-market is definitely at a national level.

Rob Collie (00:50:53): If you're listening to this and you need a branding firm, you should really look at Innovatemap. I loved it. If we'd done this podcast three years ago, it'd be like, "Well, if you happen to live in Indy, if you happen to be headquartered in Indy and you need a digital product agency..." Not a branding firm. Silly me.

Mike Reynolds (00:51:06): Oh, you're good. That's great.

Rob Collie (00:51:09): Isn't that cool? In the same way that you wouldn't expect to have a firm like yours operating digitally. So funny, right? You're a digital product agency. For the first time, you operate digitally.

Mike Reynolds (00:51:19): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:51:20): Oh, the irony. You just wouldn't expect that type of service firm to have a remote operational model, even as a minority slice of their book of business. To have it as the majority slice is an insane difference.

Mike Reynolds (00:51:33): Yeah. I think about a lot of the agency owners I know, and I'm probably bringing a lot of marketing agencies here. Some of them are very well-equipped to serve remote and some are hyper-localized, but it's not the commonplace. I would agree.

Rob Collie (00:51:43): I say this tongue in cheek, I guess halfway serious. In one way, COVID has been, quote, unquote, "bad for our business" because it has brought so many other firms, just in general, into a remote operational model. It hasn't really affected us from a client acquisition perspective. We're still not running into a lot of competition in the data consulting space that is hungry to operate remotely and can do it effectively like we have forever. From the beginning, we've been remote in that regard.

Rob Collie (00:52:07): However, in terms of competition for talent, our 100% work from home with a little bit of travel model has always been very, very, very attractive. You could live anywhere. We've had people living in the weirdest places in the United States. We don't have to recruit, just in particular, geographical centers. And so, now we're facing more competition, I think, in that market. But even Microsoft, have you heard what Microsoft is doing?

Mike Reynolds (00:52:29): No, I have not.

Rob Collie (00:52:30): They told everybody basically like, "Work from home forever." Right? That was the announcement some number of years ago. And now you're starting to hear, "Well, maybe, maybe." So what I'm hearing is things like, "I suppose you can continue to work remotely forever, but if you don't come back to the office some number of days per week on a sustained basis, we're giving away your office." And I've seen things on social media lately where there's a number of employees and mid-level managers saying like, "Oh, if you're going to be in the office on Tuesday, I'm going to bring in cookies. Just take my card key to work."

Thomas LaRock (00:53:05): Could you open my door and have the lights go on so they think it was me? Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:53:10): I do think some number of these companies that have said that they've gone remote are now starting to regret it and are trying to close the barn door after the horse left. It's going to be interesting to watch.

Mike Reynolds (00:53:21): Oh, yeah.

Rob Collie (00:53:21): Grab the popcorn. I know Microsoft employees who have moved to Key West and Maui and Austin. They have zero intention of moving back to Seattle. Zero! And to watch these new initiatives like, "Well, we're going to blah, blah, blah." Like, "Oh, well, there it comes."

Mike Reynolds (00:53:38): I think the companies that did the best on this or will probably do the best were the ones where the leaders really reflected on what was ultimately long-term going to be best for their business. And for some, they chose, "We're going to be remote," and they're transparent about that choice. They're going to do a lot of good matchmaking culturally with people they hire over the next few years because they were transparent about it.

Mike Reynolds (00:53:58): Same thing on the flip side. If you're kind of, "Hey, we've thought about this. We really are at our best work when we're done in person. I know you're home now because we need to keep you safe. But when this is all faded, we need you back." I think the ones that haven't given an answer are going to be in trouble. I think ones that have guessed wrong and are flipping the answer are going to be in trouble.

Mike Reynolds (00:54:15): I really have no opinion about one is better than the other. I know what's best for our business, and I gave that a lot of deep thought and was very honest and consistent the whole way, I mean since June of 2020. And I spent a lot of mental cycles on this, and I talked to a lot of other CEOs. I've certainly come to peace that you really need to figure out what's best for your business, your team, and your culture. And not just for your team. That's a big piece I want to say, because I know a lot of the stay at home was great for employees. It wasn't always great for employers. I think that people have to have an appreciation for that.

Mike Reynolds (00:54:44): It's going to be fascinating to watch this, Rob. I agree with you. And I think some of the winners will be the ones that got convicted to how they intend to be and were transparent about it and consistent. The wishy-washy is not good. "I'm still at home, but they've not said if this is how we'll always be." And so, they're in limbo, and this has become actually pretty important to people. I mean, I've led and managed for years, and if you kind of rank everybody's top 10 employment satisfaction criteria, for some, pay is top, for some, pay is seventh, and commute and safety and access and growth. And everybody's got their different list.

Mike Reynolds (00:55:17): I've never seen "how or where I work" enter the top 10 until after 2020. You'd make an offer and people would be like, "So what time is everybody in the office on Mondays?" would be the first question to get back. Now, the question is not asked after an offer. It's probably asked on the description. It is a qualifying filter, how you work, in both ways. I mean, there are some people who, "I cannot get shit done at home because of my kids and I'm in a metropolitan area and I have no office. I got to come to work." It's just important to everybody, on all spectrums.

Mike Reynolds (00:55:45): And so, I think that's what you're seeing a lot of the movement of employment going around, is everybody's re-matchmaking to how their company is intending to operate and their now new preference for how they want to work, and it's matchmaking. It is. So companies that can't figure out or declare how they want to be, ah, that's tough.

Rob Collie (00:56:02): The broader cultural forces that drive announcements like that, it's really hard to get outside of your own sort of... where you live. But our friends in Seattle are still doing things like looking and saying, "Oh, there's a new wave of COVID that's going to be coming and landing around May, and I will not travel during May because it's going to be bad. And so, if we're going to do some sort of gathering, we got to do it in April." That conversation doesn't happen in Indianapolis.

Mike Reynolds (00:56:30): No. No.

Rob Collie (00:56:31): Playing armchair quarterback here, armchair general. I think that it became such social norm in the Pacific Northwest to flatten the curve, like a social duty, that for better and worse... While that's going on in Seattle, everyone's just... They closed schools quickly. They went remote work quickly. They did all those things. At that same moment in time, I was sitting in a parking lot in Indianapolis watching the most packed all-you-can-eat sushi and prime rib buffet that I've ever... It's just the most... The strongest contrast ever. I think we've been given a little bit more leeway to make decisions.

Mike Reynolds (00:57:05): It's definitely regionalized, and I don't even think Indiana's been an aggressive, reckless one. I mean, we're probably in the middle to be honest with you, but I think you point out a good one, which is, it's different based on company cultures, company size, it's regional, it's very complicated.

Rob Collie (00:57:18): Microsoft C-suite was under a lot of pressure, social, ethical pressure, to declare early that it was sort of indefinite. It's hard to imagine the collaboration of designing software. Of course, the way that they design software and the way that whole process works is very different than when I was there. But I was such an in-person, in your office collaborator. I even hated the phone. If I didn't have a whiteboard in your office, we weren't getting anywhere.

Mike Reynolds (00:57:43): I think companies, one thing I've seen, ones that have thought through this that have looked at demographic data or maybe psychographic data or maybe how it is they work and have made a very intelligent distinction... I'll just speak to our firm real quick. I mean, we're a design agency. We get hired to solve very creative, collaborative problems. Our best work is done with the team collaborating in person, whiteboard. Very little is done from our company where it's one individual just completing work.

Mike Reynolds (00:58:06): That being said, the team member's got a lot of heads-down design. That kind of work is very well-suited to be almost location-independent. You might choose to do it at work if you can focus, but you might choose to do it at home. But definitely working with the ill-defined strategic work, collaborative work. Can it be done remotely? Yes. Don't shame me for that comment. It can be done as well, and sometimes it can be done better or it can be more efficient. For that ill-defined work, that creative work, that spontaneous thought, idea, build off of each other, that's well suited for in-person.

Mike Reynolds (00:58:34): And so, there are many businesses where their mix of that kind of work is very different. And I'll just even say what I've seen. It's not even a blanket comment for the whole company. I've seen... These departments have a lot of a certain kind of work where they're able to do it well remotely. These pockets of our company aren't well-suited. And so, we'd like them to be in every day, and because they are, it'd be nice to see the other ones once a week. So you're really seeing, it's so tailored per company. I've kind of almost stopped entertaining if this is a binary... It's this or this and there's a clear winner. It's not like that.

Rob Collie (00:59:06): If you work in the hardware division at Microsoft, you're going back to the office.

Mike Reynolds (00:59:09): And it's funny. Very grateful to Ben at digital, but I have a good friend in Indianapolis. There's actually a... We're a digital product agency and there's actually a hardware equivalent. Boy oh boy, they're doing firmware and hardware and ideating on products and doing prototypes that are all physical. They need to be touching it. Being shut down was very impactful to them. And now they're able to go back in, and now they're facing supply chain issues. So he's in physical innovation. I'm in digital innovation. I'm very grateful for it, but that'll all come back.

Rob Collie (00:59:35): I want to go back and make a distinction. There was no discussion before this podcast of like, "Hey, Mike, come on the podcast and promote your company." It's always about the story and the wisdom. But while we're here, let's make sure that people understand that your team is largely in the office, even though, now working with a large number of remote clients, the conversations about what the mission are and guiding details and working with your clients in that regard, that can all be done remotely. You've learned to do that remotely.

Rob Collie (01:00:04): But then when your team goes to do its magic, there's a lot of in-person collaboration still powering that that's off camera for me. I have now become a remote client, even though I'm in the same town as you. I've become a remote client. We've done some work with you lately, and it was people in New York, people in Indy.

Mike Reynolds (01:00:23): Just to paint a picture of what this looked like pre-COVID, we were a team of 20. We would work about 20 clients a day and we had a touchpoint with every client each week. In a given week, 19 of those 20 would be an in-person visit in our office. Our office was hot. It was a revolving door of clients coming in and just awesome hospitality. We're a bigger team now, so now we service about 30 clients at a time. We'll have three clients come in the office in a given week. And we roll out the red carpet because we love it, but I would say the energy you're seeing in the office is the Innovatemap team. It's not Innovatemap team plus client.

Mike Reynolds (01:00:55): So you are correct. We are collaborating for our clients, and the work that might be presented to you remotely was probably a byproduct of some in-person spontaneity and awesomeness. But it's changed. The energy in the office is the Innovatemap team, which I value the heck out of. It actually brings me a lot of joy. I had to make a trip to New York to just meet in person and have trust-building and camaraderie with a couple clients.

Rob Collie (01:01:16): Do you think your in-office team, the people in the office, have gotten to know each other more closely as a result of needing to pull more energy from each other relative to pulling from in-person client visits?

Mike Reynolds (01:01:28): Yeah. Without a question. I'll just tell you, Robbie. A lot of the remote work, it wasn't the work that I've ever seen be the problem. I think people can do their work well. And it's funny, a lot of the remoteness was defending that. "I'm productive. I'm doing my work well." Honestly, that was never in question. It was the idle time. As a CEO, I want that idle time filled with camaraderie, joy. I don't want you actually on an 18th Zoom call. I actually want you to clown around in the break room, building relationships, building trust, because that's kind of stuff that creates company bond, the friendships and the relationships, and it builds trust.

Mike Reynolds (01:01:58): And so, to me, it wasn't the work. I always trusted the work. To me, it was the time in between. Individually empowering to go for a walk because you're home. As an employer, it's also pretty awesome when that walk is taken with three other team members, which happens in our office. We're on the Monon. That's what I'm really delighted to see. So it's a culture thing. It's not a productivity thing.

Rob Collie (01:02:16): And within that culture, you end up accidentally learning a lot of things from each other that you don't intentionally go out of your way to learn. It's not like, "I want to sit down for a mentoring session." You're just talking about something and light bulbs go off, even though you weren't talking about any particular client or any particular project or something like that.

Rob Collie (01:02:31): We try to encourage that kind of thing remotely on our team. We have a lot of technical teatime talks and even just coffee breaks and things like that. If you're a fully remote company like we are, you have to fill that void, what we're talking about. You have to fill that cross-pollination.

Mike Reynolds (01:02:45): And you're doing the right thing by identifying that that's a gap and then being intentional about how to fill it. Culture and camaraderie. I got to make sure my people don't feel an island and... But you're committed to a way and then thus you're all in and committed to making it a great experience.

Rob Collie (01:02:58): In fact, I can't run over on this recording because I have to go to one of those technical teatime talks and hear how Mitch on our team built this tournament model for March Madness-

Mike Reynolds (01:03:08): Oh, yes.

Rob Collie (01:03:08): ... using machine learning. I don't even know how the Power BI model... It's crazy. You pick a winner with a radio button in this Power BI report. It ripples the implications of that win or loss through the rest of the grid report. It looks like a March Madness printable bracket, and I got to know how he built this.

Mike Reynolds (01:03:24): Go for it.

Rob Collie (01:03:24): Mike, first of all, I appreciate everything that your company has done for ours. We have grown a lot while you've been helping us. I appreciate you waiting into this completely agenda-less.

Mike Reynolds (01:03:32): I can roll.

Rob Collie (01:03:35): I figured you'd be okay with that. I didn't think you'd be uncomfortable, but I really appreciate you spending, more than anything, couple hours of your day with us. Thank you very much.

Mike Reynolds (01:03:45): I've enjoyed myself, so I am grateful for being a guest. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 3 (01:03:48): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Have a data day.

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