Think Thursday with Chris Carder at Bitmaker Labs

I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Carder speak on Thursday evening at Bitmaker Labs. He’s a co-founder of Kinetic Café, along with David Dougherty, former Principal of Innovation at Trapeze, and Gary Fung, founder of PING!

Kinetic Café is a Design and Technology Lab that helps Presidents, Founders and Founding Families tackle the biggest opportunities and challenges facing their business. Previously, Chris was the Co-Founder and President of ThinData, Canada’s largest email marketing firm, which sold to Transcontinental Inc. in 2008.

I’ll speak more about the lessons I learned, rather than exact details. That way, it’s still suspenseful for when you have the opportunity to see him in person yourself.

Winning As A Team

A theme throughout the night was the importance of teamwork and choosing amazing partners. David and Gary, at Kinetic Café, fit the bill perfectly. Kinetic Café’s success thus far comes from a mutual trust amongst co-founders, and having each other’s backs. They love challenges. They love pushing boundaries. They love to win.

Your First Client Type Matters

When Chris started ThinData, it was a web development company with high-profile individual clients. This worked well initially, but he wanted bigger deals – that meant corporate clients.

He realized that your first customer type strongly influenced the following ones. Product distribution channels matter. Winning corporate clients is challenging if your current customers are individuals or small businesses. Their needs are different.

Another insight is that it’s easier to win multiple corporate accounts when one adopts your technology. Corporations look for standardization, and your platform becomes that standard.

Also, the fear of missing out is real. After winning your first corporate client, you can call competitors and say, “Company X uses our product, would you like to as well?” No company wants to fall behind competitors. It’s social proof at work.

Use Crazy To Fight Big

Chris regularly pitched corporate clients for business. ThinData was under-sized, under-resourced, and under-the-radar, compared to the other large firms competing for the same deals.

How did he win those deals? He used crazy to fight big.

Specifically, ThinData delivered projects that beat the timelines and expectations of corporate clients. This involved devotion and trust from his team.

On one deal, ThinData pitched a client on a Wednesday, with the RFP due Monday. Competing firms flew in from across North America, and flexed their size by saying, “we have a fully staffed team, in a hotel, ready to start on Monday.” After ThinData’s pitch, Chris asked his team if they really wanted to win the deal. They replied with a resounding, “YES!” The bar was set. ThinData delivered a fully working prototype by Monday, not just the RFP.

In another example, ThinData had to submit an RFP in 6 weeks to win a large client. Chris looked at the RFP specifications, and realized his product had less than half of those required. Again, his team stepped up and rebuilt their entire product from scratch, with all the additional specifications.

It’s no surprise that ThinData won both of those deals.

Giving Comes Back Around

Chris often spoke about giving back and how that helped turn his business around at pivotal moments.

One time, an older woman approached him to build a website for her small business. She was on a limited budget, but promised to eventually pay back the difference. ThinData built the website within her budget, and at significantly below their normal rate. Another time, he helped a client’s contact with a job hunt by providing resume advice, coaching and contacts.

Both times, months went by and Chris thought nothing more of his help.

Eventually, Chris received calls from people associated with those he helped. The older woman and client contact never forgot his kindness. Both recommended ThinData for significant business opportunities.

It’s not always clear whom a person you help may know. You just trust in serendipity. You make your luck.

By Kerry Mui

Kerry Mui is a student participating in the March cohort of the Web Development program. This article was originally posted on his blog.