Today, on the show we’ve got Mike Levy, who’s the co-founder and CEO of TitanHouse, a platform focused on one core market — tech sales. Mike is a career salesperson, turned co-founder and CEO, and he’s got a really inspiring story to share with us. We’re excited to bring it to you.
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Now let’s get into today’s fantastic interview with Mike Levy!
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Show Agenda and Timestamps
- How to move from contributor to leader [6:30]
- What drives success [11:30]
- VP of sales vs CRO vs CEO [17:00]
- Distinguishing between perseverance and a failed strategy [19:00]
- How to assess both sales leaders and candidates [22:30]
- A tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit [27:30]
- Sam’s Corner [31:00]
Show Introduction [00:10]
Sam Jacobs: Today, on the show we’ve got Mike Levy, who’s the co-founder and CEO of TitanHouse, a platform focused on one core market — tech sales. Mike is a career salesperson, turned co-founder, and CEO, and he’s got a really inspiring story to share with us. We’re excited to bring it to you.
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How to move from contributor to leader [6:30]
Sam Jacobs: You have this incredible background. How did you move from being an individual contributor to a leader in a CRO, and then ultimately to a founder?
Mike Levy: I started an internet-based kiosk business when I was really young and ran that for a couple of years, barely making my money back.
After that, I joined a startup in DC that was called Big Dough, a SaaS platform way back in 2000. I joined as an individual contributor. When I interviewed for the job at Big Dough, I was selling financial services products. I also understood technology from starting the kiosk business.
In its latest acquisition, the businesses that acquired Big Dough were sold to S&P. So really a phenomenal story for that company. I was at Big Dough, later renamed Ipreo, for about seven and a half years. I was one of the top producers. I was exploring new opportunities, but not actively just because we were having such a great ride. One day, I got a call from the original founder of Big Dough, a guy named Bill Kapner.
I had just gotten married. I had just built this house. I was the top producer at this company. And Bill said, “Hey, Mike. I’m starting another business. I’d like you to come over and take a look at it. If you like it, you can invest in it and you can help me get it going.”
I took a look at the platform. I did a bunch of research on the marketplace, and I decided to invest every single spare cent in the business and take a leap of faith. That business was a company called RainKing.
What drives success [11:30]
Mike Levy: At Big Dough, I was the youngest member of their enterprise sales team. And I was overwhelmed in the first couple of months. About a month into the business, I started to realize that the most productive people on my team, the most successful sales reps, didn’t have any kind of supernatural power. They didn’t understand the technology any more than I did. They didn’t understand the marketplace any better than I did. They had a little bit of experience that I didn’t have, but they really didn’t have anything on me that had an advantage over me.
But they were working harder. When I got into the office every morning, they were there, and on the phone and working. During the day, they seem to be working harder than I was. When I left in the afternoon, they were still there going at it. It took me about a month for me to pick up on this, but something clicked in my mind. It’s the competitive spirit. It’s probably more so a fear of failure.
I said, these guys don’t have anything on me. I am going to be as good or better than them. I made it a point to make sure that I always worked harder than they did. So I started getting in as early, if not earlier than they did. I started working harder during the day and structured my day more effectively than they did, spending more time on the road in front of clients than they did.
Then I would stay later and make sure that I was putting in the extra time. It took a couple of years, but I ended up being the top producer there. And that light bulb coming on at that moment for a young professional really kind of set my career path because the founder and CEO of Big Dough saw that work ethic, which led to him calling me in late 2007 and asking me to come over and help him get the ranking business off the ground.
But it was that one moment in time in 2000, that kind of set the course for my career.
VP of Sales vs CRO vs CEO [17:00]
Sam Jacobs: You’ve seen all the roles. When you think about the three executive roles of VP of sales, chief revenue officer, and chief executive officer, and founder, what do you think are the things that separate each of those roles?
Mike Levy: When you’re a CEO or a CRO, you’re making decisions that are more expansive, that have a broader impact. So a VP of sales role can take on a bunch of different meetings at different companies, different sizes, different industries, but a VP of sales in my experience is still focused on an individual part of a business. So you’re making decisions as a VP of sales for that specific unit that you’re responsible for.
As a CRO, with responsibility for the entire client-facing business, your decisions impact client success. They impact the SDR team. They impact operations. They impact account management. They impact field sales. So your decisions have to be elevated and more thought out and more expansive.
As a CEO, you’re going up another level because your decisions impact the product. Your decisions impact marketing. Your decisions impact operations across the scale of the business.
“The breadth of the decision-making responsibility goes up a level or two for each role.”
Distinguishing between perseverance and a failed strategy [19:00]
Sam Jacobs: How can you tell the difference between perseverance and the wrong strategy?
Mike Levy: I think another trait that elevates [VPs of sales to CROs and CROs to CEOs is the ability to have perseverance, but also understand when they need to change.
Perseverance combined with the ability to look in the mirror and say, “This isn’t working, we need to test something differently. We need to try another angle. We need to admit that our perseverance isn’t working.” It’s mandatory.
There’s lots of leaders who are great leaders. They’re great leaders of teams. It could be of multiple teams, but if they don’t have the ability to look themselves in the eye and say, “this isn’t working. We’re working as hard as we’ve ever worked. It’s not working. But we need to have that same energy, that same drive, that same motivation, but focus on a different angle.”
That separates the people that have the ability to rise to the top.
How to assess both sales leaders and candidates [22:30]
Sam Jacobs: Most sales leaders do a poor job assessing candidates, and you actually believe that candidates do an equally terrible job assessing sales leaders. Tell us a little bit about that perspective and what’s your suggested solution?
Mike Levy: Let’s talk about the sales leaders first and their ability to assess candidates.
There’s a bunch of issues with the way sales leaders go about sourcing and assessing candidates. I think one of the biggest issues that sales leaders struggle with today is that they don’t have a clear and open communication channel to their talent or sourcing teams or HR, if they’re even fortunate enough to have those individuals.
The sales leaders have a responsibility to communicate effectively to their talent sourcing teams, to let them have very clear parameters of what good looks like for their reps. And good doesn’t look the same for every role and every responsibility, every position, right? Good can look completely different on a field AE versus an inside rep, or an SDR, or an account manager.
I also believe that sales leaders spend way too much time determining who they want to move forward with within an interview process based on information on a resume. In my experience, resumes are 100% inconsistent and they’re all structured differently.
You get a stack of resumes and you’re trying to determine who you want to move forward with. And that in itself is a broken process because again, the data is not structured. You’re so busy and you’re moving a million different miles a minute. And the next thing you know, you’re looking at these resumes.
Part of the reason I built the system (TitanHouse) is to create more efficiency and more effectiveness around that process, to help sales leaders get to the right people really quickly and have the information they need at their fingertips structured in a format that they can consume.
Generally speaking, reps do a horrible, horrible job, assessing the sales leaders in the company. When a rep gets into an interview process, my experience is that they often fail to ask the heavy questions, the underlying questions that determine fit and really kind of dig into the position, the flow of the position, the leadership style of the person you’re working for.
Often they’re not even talking to that person until the end of the interview. At that point, they just want the job: “I’ve been through three or four interviews. I’ve spent 10 hours of my life. I really want this job. Now. I’m not going to ask this leader all of these heavy-hitting questions. I just want them to like me.”
Because they don’t ask those questions, it leads to poor decisions on opportunities that are just bad fits. Then you see it in their resumes. You see it in their profiles where they’ve got six months here and 10 months there and a year and a half over there. It’s not because they’re a poor seller or a bad corporate citizen, it’s because it was a bad decision.
A tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit [27:30]
Sam Jacobs: When you think about great books you’ve read, people that have really had a big impact on you, people that you think we should know about, who comes to mind?
Mike Levy: I mentioned Bill Kapner, the founder of Big Dough and RainKing. And he was my co-founder here at TitanHouse. Unfortunately, Bill passed away a couple of months ago. Bill fought a really courageous battle against a disease that there was no cure for, ALS, a debilitating disease. He went at it with everything he had just like he did when he was building those two companies.
He was a visionary. He really had that entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to have a presence that people wanted to rally around and was able to build really great teams around him that all had tremendous drive and belief in the vision of his companies and his businesses.
He was just a tremendous influence all across the board from an individual contributor to leadership, to the way he dealt with his employees, the cultures that he would facilitate within the businesses, and the loyal following amongst his clients.
I obviously have to talk about Bill as being the biggest influence in my professional career for sure.
Sam’s Corner [31:00]
Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody. Sam’s Corner. Great conversation with Mike Levy. I love that story about the light bulb that went off when he had first joined Big Dough, now called Ipreo. And he said, “What’s the difference between me and all of these other folks that are 15 years my senior?” And the answer was work ethic and motivation.
The second thing just to point out is how many people make bad hiring decisions based on relying on resumes, not really developing a proper assessment for candidates. And for candidates, not developing a framework for how to think about evaluating not just the company, but the potential manager, the leader. What kind of management style do they have? How do they treat their people? How do they work with their people? What kind of one-on-ones will you have?
So all of that was really useful insight and context from Mike.
Don’t miss episode #162!
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