The Revenue Engine

Unleashing the Power of Your Network with Thor Ernstsson, CEO and Founder at Strata

July 15, 2022
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The Revenue Engine

Each week, Revenue Operations expert Rosalyn Santa Elena shines the spotlight on founders, CEOs, and Revenue Leaders from hyper-growth companies and dives deep into the strategies they implement to drive growth and share their learnings. Rosalyn brings you inspirational stories from revenue generators, innovators and disruptors, as well as Revenue Leaders in sales, marketing, and operations.

You know how important relationships are. Building, nurturing, and sustaining strong relationships are critical both personally and professionally.

From a professional perspective, your network is gold. It is one of your greatest and most valuable assets. But it takes effort, time, and energy.

In this episode of The Revenue Engine podcast, Thor Ernstsson, the CEO and Founder at Strata, shares his perspective on the importance of your network and how you can unlock - and leverage - the full potential.

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Connect with Thor on LinkedIn and find out more out about Strata at Strata.cc.

Follow Rosalyn on LinkedIn.

The Revenue Engine is powered by Outreach.io.

The opinions expressed in this episode are the speaker's own and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Sales IQ or any sponsors.

Rosalyn Santa Elena
Host @ Revenue Engine Podcast + Chief RevOps Officer @ Carabiner Group
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Thor Ernstsson
Founder at Strata.cc
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[00:00:00] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Welcome to the Revenue Engine podcast. I'm your host, Rosalyn Santa Elena, and I am thrilled to bring you the most inspirational stories from revenue generators, innovators, and disruptors, revenue leaders in sales, in marketing, and of course in operations. Together, we will unpack everything that optimizes and powers the revenue engine. Are you ready? Let's get to it.

We all know how important relationships are building nurturing and sustaining strong relationships are critical, both personally and professionally from a professional perspective, your network is gold. It is one of the greatest and most valuable assets, but it takes effort, it takes time and it takes energy.

[00:00:57] Sponsor: Today's podcast is sponsored by Outreach.io. Outreach is the first and only engagement and intelligence platform built by revenue innovators, for revenue innovators. Outreach allows you to commit to an accurate sales forecast, replace manual processes with real-time guidance, and unlock actionable customer intelligence that guides you and your team to win more often. Traditional tools don't work in a hybrid sales world. Find out why Outreach is the right solution at click.outreach.io/RevEngine

[00:01:34] Rosalyn Santa Elena: In this episode of the Revenue Engine podcast, Thor Ernstsson, the CEO and Founder at Strata, shares his perspective on the importance of your network and how you can unlock and leverage the full potential.

So excited to be here today with Thor Ernstsson is at Ernst's son? Am I saying that right?

[00:01:58] Thor Ernstsson: Perfect.

[00:01:58] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Perfect.

[00:01:59] Thor Ernstsson: It's literally, my dad's name is Ernst, so I'm son.

[00:02:02] Rosalyn Santa Elena: That's right. The CEO and founder at Strata. For those of you who may not be familiar with Strata, Strata is for people who know that their network is their most valuable asset and who want to build stronger professional relationships and realize the full potential of their network.

So welcome Thor. And thank you so much for joining me.

[00:02:20] Thor Ernstsson: Thanks for having me looking forward.

[00:02:22] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Love it. Thank you. So let's talk a little bit, maybe about your background and your career journey prior to Strata. I mean, you have just an incredible background. You know, you have a graduate degree in computer science. I saw that you have an MBA. You've also been in so many different roles, you know, as a developer, an engineer, you were a CTO, a founder, right. Among tons of other roles. So in addition to Strata, I saw that you're actually also currently a founder at feedback loop. So I have no idea how you get all of this done, but can you maybe share more about your background, you know, your career journey prior to Strata?

[00:02:55] Thor Ernstsson: Yeah. Happy to, and you just reminded me, I need to update LinkedIn. Sold we sold Feedback Loop a few weeks ago.

[00:03:02] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Oh, congratulations.

[00:03:04] Thor Ernstsson: Should put that on there. But anyway, so , my career is really around solving the same kind of problem over and over and over in different domains and different areas. And that problem is how do you leverage a massive amount of information into really simple actions, recommendations, or, you know, things that someone can do.

So today with Strata, that means analyzing all the data. We can get our hands on from your communication, from your email, from your calendar, from your network, from all the stuff that sort of defines who we are in relation to other people. And then drive that into dead simple, send this email to Rosalyn, thanking her for the podcast last week. and offer X, Y, Z.

And it'll, pre-draft the email with that context. And then it'll also give me a trigger to say, oh, and by the way, thank the person that introduced you to, and just continue that conversation and then think of it as like deploying these algorithmic playbooks to do that previously exact same thing for product managers that are trying to validate.

An idea, and that idea could be something as high level as what type of podcast are people interested in and something as tactical as what's the best onboarding experience for my product. And that's what feedback loop is. And now now owned by disco and In there you have kind of unlimited options.

You have all this data and all these hypotheses, how do you distill that into like, what's the thing I should do right now before that was a healthcare company called rally health, exact same thing. You have all your clinical data, self-reported data and observed data. What are the highest impact, highest value actions right now that you're likely to take, not just like, oh, go lose 40 pounds.

But rather simple things like take the stairs and, and a lot of like behavioral economic stuff that we see. Today, everywhere, like it's in, I mean, mental health is a huge thing. And just taking the first step towards engaging in some way. There's a lot of investment in that physical health obviously as well.

And just engaging with healthcare in general is, is really cumbersome. So it's a long winded way of saying I've been doing the same thing for a long time, but it, it takes the shape of different companies and. Sort of different domains.

[00:05:26] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Got it, got it. I love that. So, you know, when we talk about, on this show, I talk to a lot of founders right now.

Oftentimes when they do start a company, it sort of stems from that personal, you know, either person personal or maybe a professional experience, right. Or a challenge or some kind of problem that they're trying to solve. When you decided to build Strata, was there an aha moment or maybe a specific problem that you faced that sort of led you to this idea?

[00:05:51] Thor Ernstsson: For sure.

I mean, it. Just like a, I guess, a frustration more than anything else that I worked with all these amazing people over the last 20 years and I'm in touch with almost none of them. And it just, you know, it was like, it felt like such a shortcoming on my side, because all it took is just sending an email.

And I can't tell you how many times, like I'll reach out to somebody thinking that we talked recently and then realizing it's been five or six years or even more. and I've just totally fallen out of, out of touch with them. And it's not because it was deliberate on either side it's just because it was never the highest priority that day mm-hmm

So the same metaphor you can look at in, in investment. And so in other areas that like small actions have a creative value that over time becomes very significant. So managing and staying on top of your professional relationships. Is something that I learned. Isn't just my problem. But virtually every executive that I talked to said, the same thing is that their network is their most valuable asset mm-hmm and they put so much effort. Into trying to stay on top of it. And yet they feel like they're dropping the ball.

[00:07:03] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Got it. Got it. Yeah. And so, I mean, then we all know, you know, how important those relationships are, right? Both professionally and personally, and those relationships, you know, especially your network from a professional perspective, as you said, is, you know, one of your greatest and most valuable assets.

So maybe we could, can you talk a little bit more about that? You know, how do you view this and, you know, what would you say maybe to someone who hasn't really come to. Stand, you know, the value and power of their network.

[00:07:31] Thor Ernstsson: Yeah. So virtually no sort of later stage career person needs to like needs the explanation.

They all get it. Cuz they, they live it . But a lot of times I get people that are either changing careers or or even new, you know, fresh out of college or grad school. And they might say like, well, I don't know anybody. So I don't really, I don't really know who to reach out to or what, what value could I possibly have for X, Y, and Z.

And and the answer is usually pretty surprising. So if you reach out to somebody. That you meet at a conference, let's say, and that's one of the core use cases that that's just so insane to me and all of us really, that you put all the time and effort and investment into going to a conference, traveling to a conference.

You walk out with a stack of business cards and don't bother following up ever and all of us do this. We're all guilty of it. So we, we, we do the hard work, but not the actual thing that converts into, you know, something of value. So just showing up and just doing what you say you're gonna do is, is enough to stand out in most cases.

So even junior people they're, they think that they don't have anything to offer to the CEO of whatever. You know, we might be surprised and. The one thing you know, is that if you don't try, you're not gonna actually get it at all. But if you put yourself out there and you, you know, follow up, reach out, stay in touch.

There's the possibility of something opening up. And, and again, if you don't do it, you know, that it's not going to, so that's really the, sort of the best advice for somebody that needs to hear it. Mm-hmm but one of the things that we've learned pretty early on is if we have to explain why it's probably not the right person to use our.

[00:09:23] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Yep. Yep. So you either get it and you need the tool or you don't get it and you need some other things. First, you need to, to learn a few things.

Yeah. Yeah. I, that makes a lot of sense. And I mean, I think when I think about, you know, being on the revenue side, you know, in business, especially in sales, sales roles, you know, we know relationships are gold, right?

Who, you know, who you trust who you respect, right? These are incredibly valuable when it comes to determining, you know, who you decide to partner with, right. And who you, who you will do business with. When, when you think about, you know, leveraging these relationships, what are some of the things that you see, you know, go to market teams, you know, really doing right with this and what are you seeing, maybe they do wrong?

[00:10:05] Thor Ernstsson: Yeah. So I'd say the best ones are ones that look at the individual on the other side, as opposed to you know, an entry in a spreadsheet or a CRM mm-hmm . So if I reach out to a prospect and I treat them like a prospect and throw 'em on a mailing list and into some direct marketing flow, That's a fast way to lose the relationship, right?

You, you undermine trust and all these other things, because you now sort of dehumanize the person. You you've made them a, a, you know, a number versus actually caring about them as a person and, you know, knowing things about them, for example, but then also being personal in your outreach and your one-on-one outreach, where it doesn't take a whole.

Could literally be the difference of mostly templated email versus like two extra words at the end of it. It doesn't matter what it is. Something that just shows that you know them and who they are and what they care about. And that's probably the biggest, like single point of, of leverage is like understanding them as a person and showing that you do, obviously you can take that.

Much much, much further and revenue teams by that. I mean, sales, customer, success, marketing and, and all the other various players. You know, really, if you're selling B2B, you're not selling to a company or selling to an individual at that company and right. Using tools to manage the relationship with that individual is fine, but don't lose sight of the fact that they're a person.

And one of the other things. It's personally seen work over and over and over. It's kind of following that person across their career, across different companies. They may go to mm-hmm like then some cases even facilitating it, helping them find their next job mm-hmm so they might work with you cause they know you're plugged into a community of people that are like them.

And therefore they're gonna bring your solution on so that you can help them in some other way, outside the scope. Of that. So lots of ways that goes, but that's probably the, the most important I could.

[00:12:05] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Yeah, that's great. Thank you. Thanks for sharing that. I think it's super helpful. So let's talk about Strata a bit more, right? Because it helps not just from a sales perspective, but you know, other areas right. Where your network is really powerful, you know, you talked about, you know, sort of helping find that next opportunity. So, you know, finding top talent, right. Mm-hmm acquiring investors, right. Building just peer to peer relationships.

That there's so many aspects where your network is really powerful and valuable. So can you talk maybe more about what you're building and how you're approaching this opportunity to really leverage somebody's network, to drive better outcomes? You know, whether those are outcomes from a personal or a professional perspective?

[00:12:44] Thor Ernstsson: Yeah, sure. So most of what we do is on the per on the professional side, almost all of it. But again, going back to treating people like individuals there, the lines do a blurb. Mm-hmm a lot of times you are working with your friends. One of the best lines I heard from It was one of our investors. It was that his goal is to build friendships with transactional benefits.

[00:13:09] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Oh, I love that.

[00:13:11] Thor Ernstsson: You're working with people that you like and that you want to continue being around, but then every now and then there might be, you know, there might be a transaction of some sort down the road, but not necessarily. So the use cases. I mean sure. It's sales, but it's, it's really in the relationship building side.

So it's not transactional sales if you're dialing for dollars. I'm sure there's better, better tools for you, but if you need to. You know, really get to know somebody and build a relationship over a period of years before something happens. Then, then it's a perfect tool and there's lots of industries where that's the case.

But then if you're a founder or senior executive or number of other jobs, you kind of have to do that. Always. You're always raising your next round. You're always making your next E hire. You're always working on strategic business development deals or partnership deals or, or something like that in the background.

So that's really where the tool shines is when you have a series of related tasks of different, where you have to sort of keep the ball rolling or keep a relationship form. People that go to a lot of conferences is, is also another kind of core use case because. You have to stay in touch with people that you meet there, you have just follow up with them afterwards.

You should also reach out to other people that might be in the same city at the same time. And then of course also just sort of generally staying on top of an outside of the event in between them. And it's really hard to do and a CRM doesn't quite get you where where you need to, because there's too much data entry.

It doesn't quite map to your organic communication patterns and sending templated emails that are fed to you from marketing. Again, is. People generally don't appreciate that.

[00:14:56] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Yep. I love that. You know, as I think about the revenue engine and this podcast, I'm always hoping others will be able to really learn how to accelerate revenue growth, right.

Empower the revenue engine. So maybe from your perspective, you know, what are the top couple of things, you know, top two or three things that you think CEOs should. Really be thinking about today that will have the biggest impact on revenue growth.

[00:15:21] Thor Ernstsson: That's a pretty broad question. So I'd say it depends a lot on, on there the VC's called go to market motions. Now that they're moving on to other things with product led growth, but mm-hmm, if you're looking at revenue from a sales driven organization, which like most of. Most of the people here are. For me personally, it's all around incentives and alignment. So if a salesperson and a sales manager and the marketing team and the customer success team is properly incentivized.

And I don't just mean with dollars and commissions. Not all just coin operated, right. But really like creating a, a structure in an organization that has a virtual loop so that the better job the salesperson does, the easier the handoff to customer success, the better job the customer success team does the easier handoff to maybe account management, maybe back to sales, whoever, whoever, however, that relationship is managed and really understanding how to align all the incentives there.

Because so many times the sales team is incentivized. Literally by dollars to close a deal, any deal right now, by the end of the month, no matter what. And then it's on somebody else to keep the customer happy. So you create this tension that really isn't needed. And the way around it is really putting the customer in the center of it.

It's like your timelines and your deadlines are not really the customer's problem. So if the customer's engaged and involved in helping you. Get a deal done in time. Great, fantastic. But really it's like, it needs to be about the customer in some way. How is the, how are they in the center of all the decisions that the, your organization is making?

And that is a thread that I've seen fall apart very quickly. Once you get one level into the organization. So ideally you tie that all the way back to engineering that an engineer knows how their product is going to be used. They're working on a feature that's going to drive. Revenue, but it's going to drive, I guess, success for each one of those stakeholders internally, as well as most critically the customer externally.

[00:17:26] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Yeah, you are speaking my language from a rev op perspective, you know, talking about the handoffs, the alignment, right. And putting the customer really in the center of everything that you do. It's interesting cuz people always ask me things like, oh, what's the perfect, you know, tech stack or what's the perfect, you know, this and that, but you know, similar to kind of what you were saying about, it's a very broad question that I.

You cuz it really depends. But at the end of the day, it's always tying back to your customer. Right? How, when you think about the te even the technology, it's like, how do you want to engage with your customer, with your prospect and with your customer and where, how do they wanna be met, right. And where do you want to meet them?

And what's that interaction look like and just kind of tying back to that is amazing. So mm-hmm, I totally agree. What if there was like that, like one piece of advice that you would give maybe to another CEO or founder mm-hmm , you know, what is that sort of one thing that maybe makes all the difference when you're starting your own business, or maybe it's something that, you know, you wish you could go back and do differently?

[00:18:28] Thor Ernstsson: Yeah. So one piece of advice I would give is to really adopt a learning or experimentation mindset. Mm-hmm to really think of everything about the business in terms of hypotheses, because I advise and mentor and help out hundreds of founders over the years and vast majority of the conversations.

Are the founders making some claim and me asking some version of what makes you believe that mm-hmm and then that conversation leads down a rabbit hole that almost always ends and well, try it out, find out what experiment could you run to see if that is actually true or not? Because if it's not true, Entire business falls apart, if it is true and great, then you iterate and you move on to the next assumption.

And what ends up happening is even if it is true, you learn something and if it's not true, you learn something really valuable. And that same thing is true for good market motions. I mean, for, for enterprise software, for example, like what would it take for somebody. Citibank or Pfizer or whatever company to buy your software, because if you're a founder and you're telling me that it's the best thing since life spread and it's amazing, and it's gonna make all these people's lives easier and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And I just ask, you know, a simple question, like, what would it take for them to buy it? Where's the budget gonna come from? Like, things like that that are just dead simple. Mm-hmm and then what you realize is, okay, well it turns out they don't have anybody trained in using that kind of software. So really it's a multimillion dollar.

You know, organizational transformation effort that this would be a part of. And that means that nothing's gonna happen until McKinsey's done. And then by the way, you're selling to Accenture or cognizant or whoever, because the end customer is not even gonna be using it themselves. Mm-hmm so there's all these things you learn in the process.

So like putting yourself out there. I'd say, you know, engaging customers way before the product is ready. Mm-hmm just to understand their problems and really focus on their problems over anything else and not jump straight to the solution, which may or may not address the problem. Right. And then being open to learning, being open to what you're hearing and having a bias to action, to try something out. It's like every minimum of every week, a founder should be testing something. With a customer.

[00:20:55] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Yeah. Wow. I love that. I think that's great. That's really, really great advice. I think a lot of what we're doing is, is testing and experimenting and I mean, it's constantly changing, right? We always talk about how change is the only thing that's constant and it's constant ITER iteration of everything that we do.

[00:21:12] Thor Ernstsson: Exactly

[00:21:13] Rosalyn Santa Elena: I love that. Well, thank you so much for joining me. Today, Thor, you know, as I, we wrap up and before I let you go, I always ask every guest two things. So one, what is the one thing about you that others might be surprised to learn? And two, what is the one thing that you really want everyone to know about you?

[00:21:32] Thor Ernstsson: First one. It's usually fun at a conference or something like that, because usually there's more people at that conference than where I grew up. A rural fishing village on the north coast of Iceland. 450 people.

[00:21:48] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Oh wow.

[00:21:49] Thor Ernstsson: So more people will hear this than literally where I grew up. And then the second question was what I want everybody to know?

[00:22:01] Rosalyn Santa Elena: Yes.

[00:22:02] Thor Ernstsson: Generally happy to help. So if any of this is useful, reach out, it doesn't matter if you're a first time founder or a seasoned entrepreneur. Like there's always, there's always value in bouncing ideas or getting feedback or making introductions or whatever it is that I would do to send me a, send me an email. Find me on LinkedIn, anything like that. Yeah, happy to help.

[00:22:22] Rosalyn Santa Elena: That's awesome. Thank you so much. Well, thank you so much for being, being on the show though. I really appreciate your time and just all of the great insights that you've shared with us.

[00:22:31] Thor Ernstsson: Of course. Thanks for having me.

This episode was digitally transcribed.

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